What do toothpaste and railroad tracks have in common? Just about the same that axes and law books do—nothing and everything. They are the building blocks of the routine of daily existence. In a very real sense they are the essence of humanity itself.

When I was younger (maybe 40 years ago), there was a popular song called "Little Things Mean a Lot." It dealt with what the title implies, but its message was much more than that. It was that each little incident (relatively unimportant in and of itself) combines with all of the other trivial events that are constantly happening to us to form the pattern of our lives. It is not the major events but the recurring details that make us what we are—that determine whether we will succeed or fail, be happy and productive or sad and miserable.

This is the eighth Kernel book, and it is the logical extension of those that went before it. Some of you have been with us from the beginning, but for those who haven't, let me give you in the order of their production the titles of the first seven Kernel books. We began with "What Color is the Sun" in 1991. Then we followed with "The Freedom Bell," "As the Twig is Bent," "Making Hay," "The Journey," "Standing on One Foot," and "When the Blizzard Blows." Now we come to "Toothpaste and Railroad Tracks."

The Kernel books have a constant theme and a common purpose. It is to let you know something about the details of everyday life as blind persons live it. Mostly we are not world famous celebrities but ordinary people just like you—people who laugh and cry, work and play, hope and dream—just like you. The stories that appear in these pages are true. They are written by those who have lived them. These are people I know personally—former students, colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind, blind men and women of almost every age and social background. There is, of course, one exception. I did not know the blind beak of Bow Street. He lived before my time, but his story is so interesting that I wanted you to have it.

Since I am blind myself, I think I know something about blindness; and since I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I think I know what blind people as a group are trying to do and how they feel.

We feel about the same way and want about the same things that you do, and when we fail (which all of us do now and again), it usually isn't because of our blindness. Rather, it has to do with lack of opportunity and the fact that too many of the general public believe we are unable to make our way and do for ourselves. Since we are part of the broader society, we sometimes tend to accept the public view of our limitations, and thus do much to make those limitations a reality.

But overwhelmingly the future is bright for the blind. Because of our own efforts and because of help and understanding from an increasing number of sighted friends, we are changing what it means to be blind. And the Kernel books are helping make it happen—just as you who read them are helping make it happen. The National Federation of the Blind is a nationwide organization primarily composed of blind people. It is the blind speaking for themselves with their own voice, and the Kernel books are an important part of that voice.

I hope you will enjoy this book and that through its pages you will make new friends. I also hope that you will also gain new insights concerning both toothpaste and railroad tracks.

Kenneth Jernigan
Baltimore, Maryland


The type size used in this book is 14 point for two important reasons: One, because typesetting of 14 point or larger complies with federal standards for the printing of materials for visually impaired readers, and we wanted to show you what type size is helpful for people with limited sight.

The second reason is that many of our friends and supporters have asked us to print our paperback books in 14-point type so they too can easily read them. Many people with limited sight do not use Braille. We hope that by printing this book in a larger type than customary, many more people will be able to benefit from it.