Braille Monitor                                                                                                      June 2004

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For Laura

by Barbara Walker Loos

Barbara Walker Loos
Barbara Walker Loos

From the Editor: After the following story appeared in To Reach for the Stars, the twenty-fifth in the NFB series of paperbacks, the Kernel Books, Barbara Walker married Brad Loos. She continues to live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her story begins with President Maurer's introduction:

 

Barbara Walker lives in Nebraska. She is well known in the National Federation of the Blind for her quiet integrity and her thoughtful leadership. She is active in the United Methodist Church, and I am sure that her friends there find and admire in her those same qualities. With both love and joy she shares the progress she has made in helping others to understand that it is respectable to be blind. Here is what she writes:

The circumstances which brought Trinity United Methodist Church Circle III together in the kitchen that night weren't altogether pleasant. A former member who had moved away and recently returned to Lincoln had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. We had decided at our previous meeting to do a cooking night at the church to make about fifteen recipes geared to provide most of what Laura and her two children would need for the next month.

A day or two before the event, I felt myself waffling. Other avenues, such as making something on my own, began to look both easier and more practical. After all, wasn't the main object to get food to Laura and her children? No one would be likely to question my change of plans. Maybe they'd even be relieved. I already knew some were uncomfortable with me and uncertain about a blind person's ability to help in the kitchen. And, frankly, that kind of noisy, multitask environment isn't really my thing. Then I thought about Laura. I didn't want just to provide food for her. I wanted to emulate her spirit. She is a champion of people's interdependence. When we were both in choir, she suggested that I contact the church to see if I could get bulletins on computer disk so I could run a Braille copy to use during Sunday worship.

When I commented that I felt bad prodding people to work out bugs in the system, thinking that I was imposing on them, she said that I was actually being instructive, not imposing. She added that I had as much right to participate in things with relevant, usable information as others did.

I began by getting bulletins on disk. Now I receive not only those but also the church newsletter and other communications via email. I have the options of reading them from my computer with speech output from a screen reader, printing them in hard copy with a Braille printer, or putting them into a notetaker with a refreshable Braille display. It occurred to me that Laura would see my impending cop-out for what it was and would probably find it disappointing.

Shortly after I arrived at the church kitchen, the woman in charge asked how I was. Determined not to be dismissed and trying not to betray my edginess, I said I was feeling useless and would like an assignment. Activity bustled around me. I heard the sounds of the chopper, the utensil drawer, the dishwasher, the microwave, food packages, and recipe papers. The aromas of main dishes mingled deliciously with those of desserts as upwards of ten women threw themselves into the tasks at hand. Think "instructive," I told myself, not "imposing."

"Can you chop onions?" It was Deanna. Feeling at once both aware that no one else would be asked such a question and grateful that an opportunity was being offered, I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.

The chopper was bigger than any I had ever seen and required that I slice and place the onions under it before firmly rapping on the top to press the blades through. Several recipes required onions, and I was asked to make sure they were finely chopped, since the family preferred them that way.

Someone asked if I needed to have them pre-sliced. To my surprise, a simple "No, thank you," from me resulted in her replacing the knife on the cutting board. No hovering. No motherly admonitions about sharp objects. Wow! Were my years of persistence paying off?

That job completed, Deanna invited me to scoop out baked potato halves for twice-baked potatoes and to fill them after other ingredients had been added. Then some dishes needed to be dried. As I dried them, I remembered a time some five years ago when I had gone to the kitchen after an event and asked if anything needed to be done. The response was "nothing." But, when someone else came in and offered to dry dishes, she was welcomed by the comment that with her help everyone would get out of there more quickly.

That exchange had both humiliated me and fueled my resolve to continue to participate and educate. Now it seemed fitting that years of effort were coming to fruition during an event for Laura. I hoped that this labor of love would nourish her body as it had fed my spirit. Handing the dampened dishtowel over with a smile to be laundered, I could hear her husky chuckle of approval.

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