Barbara Walker with her son John

 	   Barbara Walker and her son John

  Children, Fruitcake, and Rectangles

                        by Barbara Walker

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     From the Editor: The following story appeared in Wall-to-

Wall Thanksgiving, the thirteenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series

of paperbacks. It begins with Dr. Jernigan's introduction.

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     Barbara Walker is no stranger to readers of previous Kernel

Books--her sensitive and thought-provoking stories having

appeared in a number of them. Here she reflects on the key

ingredients of her own childhood, which enabled her to find her

place in the world--as a leader in her community, her church, and

the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what she has to

say:

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     When my son John, at the age of three, said he wanted some

fruitcake that had been in the refrigerator for quite a while, I

said: "Just a minute, please. I need to see what kind of shape

it's in." His response was immediate: "It's in a rectangle shape,

and I want some." Somehow, his response got me to thinking about

my own childhood.
     I have always been blind. My sister Laurie is also blind.

Our older brother Lani isn't. There was, to our parents'

knowledge, no history of blindness in our family.
     Discussing my sister's case, the doctors said they didn't

know the cause of blindness but thought there was probably a one-

in-a-thousand chance of recurrence. Since I arrived--blind--

fourteen months later, either I'm one in a thousand, or they

didn't know what they were talking about. All of us are now

grown, married, and have children--none of whom is blind.
     Our parents knew nothing about blindness. They struggled

with stereotypes as all of us do, but their hope for us was the

same as that for our brother--that we would eventually be

contributing and fulfilled adults, no longer needing or wanting

to live under their care.
     My sister, from what I remember my mother's telling me,

crawled, walked, and talked at about the same time as neighbor

kids her age. She ran away from home more than once while still

in diapers, handled everything she could get to, was adept with

her fingers, questioned incessantly, and insisted on a prominent

place in her world.
     I, on the other hand, neither walked nor talked until I was

about two, showed little visible evidence that I was particularly

curious about my environment, and was clumsy and awkward with my

hands and body--breaking many things with which I came into

contact.
     As toddlers and preschoolers, we continued to show

contrasts. Laurie, at age two, walked along the piano, reaching

up to pick out melodies on the keyboard. She generally chose

gentle play--interacting with others, real or imaginary--and was

afraid of high slides, going on carnival rides, and the like.
     I loved rough play--wrestling, running hard, swinging and

climbing high, flipping over and off bars, throwing and catching

balls, etc.--and I loved high slides, carnival rides, and the

like.
     Mom, the more verbally expressive of our parents, said there

were many times when she didn't understand how we would or could

do things, and it scared her to have us try. But she didn't stand

in our way. She learned Braille so that we could correspond

privately.
     She persistently went to bat for us when we were left out or

mistreated--not in ways that made us dependent upon her, but in

ways that preserved respect and dignity for everyone and provided

us with experience in everything from fielding questions to

finding alternative methods for doing things ordinarily done with

the use of sight.
     Dad showed his acceptance of us in other ways. He showed us

how things worked. He pointed out nonvisual qualities of things

generally perceived visually, like the contrasting cool and hot

pavement where his shadow passed. He made us doll cribs and a

playhouse. Dad also took me fishing and encouraged my interests

in competitive sports.
     My sister and I were given hands-on experiences whenever

their availability and our interests coincided. I was a very shy

child, and sometimes my self-consciousness prevented me from

taking full advantage of these opportunities. If Laurie was

along, I generally asked her later about whatever we had seen,

and she would explain it in detail--sometimes creating a replica

to show me.
     Underlying all of these things was our parents' respect for

us as people and their encouragement toward our finding a place

in society--not a pigeonhole created by them or anyone else, but

a place we could earn as others do. That attitude of genuine

respect and affirmation of our worth and dignity did more than

all the experiences and skills combined in allowing us to grow

and become contributing members of society.

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