by Homer Page
Homer Page is totally blind. He is a university professor and an elected official in his community. He attributes much of his success in life to his mother, who also happens to be blind. Here he tells his mother's story.
D'Arline Creech was born on September 12, 1915. She came into this world in a small farm house near Troy, Missouri. She attended school in a one room schoolhouse, no more than three hundred feet from the place she was born. In many ways her life was uneventful, but in many other ways she represents some of the strongest dimensions of the human experience. It is her story that I want to tell. It is a special story to me because D'Arline Creech Page is my mother.
Blindness is a condition that has existed in my family for many generations. There are at least six generations of us who have learned to live positive, productive lives as blind persons. I am the first in this line who has received an education and made my way in the broader world. Much of this is due to the changing times and to the effect that the National Federation of the Blind has had on the attitudes of our society. Yet one does not make a successful life without being grounded in a strong personal identity drawn from past generations.
I am 50 years old. I have been blind from birth. I have earned a Ph.D., and I have lettered in wrestling at a major university. I have taught in universities and I currently serve as a County Commissioner in Boulder County, Colorado. My life has been enriched by friends and family from across this nation and the world. I now have a grandson who at this writing is six months of age. As I look back on my life and my blindness, I become more and more aware of the way in which my mother taught me to have pride and worth as a blind person.
My mother was born on the same farm in Missouri where I was born. She always had very low vision, but as she grew older, her vision decreased. She dropped out of school after the tenth grade and lived a very limited life for the next ten years. Her mother was also blind. They lived together after her father's death on the family farm.
During this time, my grandmother and my mother provided a home for a number of foster children. This was during the depression of the 1930's and money was very scarce. They scraped by and managed to pay the taxes on the farm and not to lose it. Many of their neighbors were not so successful.
My father and mother had grown up together and attended the same one room country school. They were married in 1940. My father had grown up as an orphan. He had made his way as a rodeo cowboy and a musician. When my mother and father were married he moved in to the family farm and took on the responsibilities of managing it. My mother and father raised three children and improved their economic position through hard work and the careful use of the scarce resources that they had available to them. They were married over thirty-five years before they took a vacation. My mother canned fruits and vegetables each year. They grew their own meat and dairy products. We were always well fed, clean, and well loved. We never knew that we were economically deprived. We always thought that we were just fine and I think we were.
However our family had one very difficult winter. In 1947, the crops failed. My father had just returned from the army and our resources were practically non-existent. He and she went to town to find jobs. My father was hired to work on the railroad, and my mother found employment in a local garment factory. This was hard work for her. She had to cut and sew women's lingerie. She had to follow a pattern. It was stressful work. It was hard for her to keep up with the production quotas. She got paid by the piece. However, she worked all winter and with the income that they each earned, they bought cattle and seeds for the next year's crops. It was the only time that she had to work outside the home. She never complained and was glad to make her contribution. However, she was also very glad to be able to quit.
My mother was never a leader at the neighborhood church or in the local school. She was always quiet in meetings. She was not a leader in the family. She never tried to prove herself to anyone. Yet, I learned more about living productively from her than anyone else. What was it then that this simple woman offered to me that I found so valuable?
My mother looked for ways to be productive around the farm. She didn't have to look very far. She was patient. She defined the jobs that needed to be done and that she could do. She did those jobs well, and with consistent discipline for many years. She washed our clothes on a wash board. She cooked and cleaned and canned. When my father got a job as the local town marshal, she washed and ironed his uniforms with great pride. He looked very professional in his well pressed uniform, and she took great pride in that.
My mother cared for her children. She defended them as well as disciplined them. She made sure that they went to school and did their homework. She also made sure that they did their chores. Often blind and sighted persons alike will say, "Well, what can I do, what can I do that is worthwhile and meaningful?" All too often, we fail to recognize the obvious. There are many valuable things which each of us can do if we choose to do them.
Is my mother a model for this generation of blind persons and especially for blind women? In some ways she is not. She never had an opportunity to learn Braille or to travel independently. She never went to school and developed an occupation outside the home. She was not a leader, nor was she outspoken on the issues of the time. In many ways she was dependent on others. First on her mother and then on my father. Yet in spite of all of these things that she was not, I believe that there is much that is instructive about her life.
Throughout the generations blind persons have not had the opportunity for an education or for full participation in our society. It was easy enough to sit down and allow others to care for them. Many did, but many like my mother patiently waited for the chance to serve. They found that chance in different ways. Some were street musiciansthey created the blues. Others worked in sheltered workshops. Still others like my mother raised families. They were proud persons. They had belief in themselves because they knew that they were contributing. They had a kind of mental toughness that allowed them to endure through all of the self-denying experiences which was their lot in life. Even though they were dependent, and even though others may have felt sorry for them, they patiently waited and when their time came to give, they took advantage of it.
To these enumerable blind persons who (in spite of everything) found ways to be productive, those of us who have found our way in a broader world owe great debts of gratitude. They never quit trying. They were patient and they waited. When their time came they produced. Those of my generation and the generations to come have doors opened for us that those before us did not. Yet we too have our barriers to overcomefrustrations, and those stubborn, pervasive societal attitudes that would keep us dependent. From those who have gone before us we can learn endurance and patience. We can also learn the joy that one can derive from giving, from being of worth to others, and from being productive.
My mother was a very happy person. She drew joy from her family and from her sense of personal worth. She knew we needed her and that gave her great pleasure. She knew she counted. She never became cynical or depressed because she was not something other than herself. She knew she belonged. This joy and wholeness is still anther gift that the generations who have come before us can sometimes offer to us. They suffered. Their dreams were diminished because of the lack of opportunity, but they endured. My generation and those yet to come will have more opportunity. I hope they have as much joy and as much of a sense of self worth.
Often I am asked to discuss what it is like to be blind. There's always a need to try to change the attitudes of sighted and blind persons alike, so I talk about how easy it is to live as a blind person. I talk of the rather simple adaptations that allow me to do all of the things that my job and life demand. I talk of all of my blind friends who are involved in exciting, challenging careers. All of these things are true, and they will be true even in greater degrees for the generations to come because we truly are changing what it means to be blind. Yet I will always remember what happened when I left home to go to college. My mother gave me money that she had saved and said to me, "Do well. You're going for all of us."