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Books / Petey
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Petey
Published by Hyperion Books for Children, 1998

You Are A Child Of The Universe No Less Than The Trees And The Stars . . . In 1920, a baby was born with cerebral palsy. His parents did everything they could to care for him, but they finally had to make a difficult choice - the infant, Petey, was given into the care of the state. Petey was misdiagnosed as an idiot and sent to live in a mental institution. His life within the boundaries of the institution was unimaginable by modern standards. Yet still, the boy touched many who knew him, amazing them with his joy and zest for life.

In 1990, Petey is an old man. He hides within himself, mistrustful of people. So many people have come and gone in his life. So many promises have been broken. Until one day he trusts a teenage boy, Trevor. Through Trevor, Petey just might have another chance in the world.

Petey is a touching story of friendship, discovery, and the domination of the human spirit over physical obstacles.

THE CREATION OF PETEY . . by Ben Mikaelsen
During a chance conversation at a Montana barn dance, I first heard of Petey Corbin (his real name was Clyde Cothern). I found that in 1922, Petey Corbin was born with cerebral palsy. Though mentally acute, his affliction left him locked inside a grotesque and twisted body unable to communicate. He was misdiagnosed with idiot-stage retardation and committed to the Montana Insane Asylum.

Clyde as a yong manDespite a limited, degrading and frightening life, Petey possessed an irrepressible happiness. Initially, I was merely curious how anyone could exist locked inside their body. After meeting the real-life Petey, however, I became entranced by the depth of his perceptions and appreciations-considering he came from the time-warp isolation of an insane ward. I discovered that for fifty-five years Petey had been befriended by a slightly retarded, clubfooted boy.

The two had developed a close, life-long bond-becoming islands of hope for each other in a chaotic, insane world. Their close relationship was severed in 1973 when modern institutional reform discharged them to different locations. After several years, they gave up hope of ever seeing each other again. Realizing the tragedy of their separation, I became obsessed with locating Petey's friend and reuniting them. That effort changed my life forever. I uncovered a world filled with tales of murder, courage, fear, heart-breaking love, and separation.

When I decided to write Petey, people came from every conceivable source to help me piece together the haunting jigsaw. Slowly I gleaned a rough and astonished comprehension of Petey's life. My main concern writing this book was that I might be digging up ghosts of a past best left buried. These concerns were swept aside by a flood of gratifying events. I fictionalized the story first for liability reasons. Also, I could never pretend to know all that happened. For brevity, I combined the more important aspects of several people into single characters. Fictionalizing gave me license in reconstructing much of the dialogue and events. I let research and Petey's recollections guide my efforts. The story of Petey is 90% a true story. I have tried to remain true to the spirit of the real life Petey, Clyde Cothern. I hope each word helps convey the triumph, hope, and joy this special man found in life. Clyde Cothern did become my real life Grandpa Petey.

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