by Marc Maurer

Marc Maurer is now in the full flower of his Presidency of the National Federation of the Blind. Both he and his wife Patricia are totally blind, but this does not interfere with the raising of their two children, David and Dianna. If the realization of the American dream means a full life of satisfying work and busy activity, the Maurers qualify, and it is not a passive life. Here is how Marc describes one of his joint projects with the children:

Raising children is challenging, and for me at least, it cannot occupy all (or even most) of my time because—like so many other parents--I spend a major part of every week on the job. This, of course, creates tension; but both the raising of the children and the requirements of other work must be done, and each of these activities is entirely worthwhile. There are two children in the Maurer household—David, who is twelve, and Dianna, who is nine. My wife Patricia and I are both blind, but our children are not. We the blind parents of these sighted children have many of the same problems and frustrations that all parents come to know.

How can we provide our children a decent education? How can we teach them to be independent? How can we teach them to be honest and open and upright? How can we teach them to recognize that there is danger and skulduggery in a sometimes wicked world and that they must approach unfamiliar situations with sufficient caution to avoid trouble? How can we teach them responsibility? How can we teach them to be joyous and free of fear? How can we teach them to embrace the exploration of new things and to be aware of wonder and the splendor of living in a world that, with all of its problems, can be glorious and generous and exciting? How can we get them to take out the garbage and do the dishes and pick up their rooms?

We have owned a house in Baltimore for many years. Last summer the back porch roof began to leak. I asked a contractor to give me an estimate for repairing it, and he said that he would.

But after a month, the estimate had not come, and I began to wonder whether I would ever get it. Perhaps it would be better, I thought, if I did the work myself, and I also thought that this was an opportunity to give my children David and Dianna a little education of a practical kind. Sometimes my children appear to be more interested in television and less interested in physical exercise than is good for them. In fact, they are sometimes downright lackadaisical. This is especially true of David.

The work that I do is frequently administrative. This means that my children do not often see me doing physical things. Although they don't say it (and they are probably unaware of the tendency), they occasionally avoid physical effort unless it is in the form of a game such as skating or basketball. I must find a way to help my children understand that physical exertion is enjoyable and productive. Maybe we could fix the back porch roof together, I thought. They might learn something about the value of work, and they might learn how to put on a roof.

The first step was to climb onto the porch to assess the extent of the needed repairs. We found a hole straight through the shingles, and there were rotten places in the planking underneath, which would have to be replaced. Precisely how much of the roof could be saved would depend on what we found when we began tearing into it.

We started demolition early on a Saturday morning with the dew still on the grass and the sun beginning to warm the earth. The first point of attack for our hammers and crowbars was the hole in the shingles. Underneath these was rotten planking. Our crowbars lifted a large portion of the roof, and away it went, exposing even more rotten wood. Another piece of roof was pried loose and dropped to the back yard. But there was still more deterioration. After awhile, we decided that it would be harder to fix the roof than replace it, so off it came.

Perhaps we should have anticipated the problem. The shingles and planking were not the only damaged portions of the structure. Several of the two-by-fours which had supported the roof had rotted almost all the way through. I began to feel most uneasy. I had been walking on a roof with a hole in it. When we took the shingles away, the boards underneath were rotten. When we took the rotten boards away, the rafters had also rotted.

There I was—standing on rafters, wondering whether they would hold my weight. What about the support for the rafters? Not only did I feel anxiety for myself, but my children were with me. Of course, they weigh less than half as much as I do—so maybe the rotten two-by-fours would support them, but I didn't really want to find out. We tore out the boards and headed for the lumberyard to get more.

How does a blind person cut two-by-fours so that the angles required for a pitched roof come out right? Measuring the length of a board is no problem. A tool called a click rule is used for measuring. This is a piece of threaded rod inside a metal sleeve. The threaded rod has one thread for each sixteenth of an inch. When you push the threaded rod out of the sleeve, a little spring clicks against the threads to hold the rod in place.

The threads on one side of the rod are milled off except for one thread each half inch. By feeling the half-inch threads it is easy to count the number of half-inch lengths. With this tool measurements can be made to within one-sixteenth-inch accuracy.

But how do you ensure that the angles are right? I don't know what other people do, but this is what I did. A sliding bevel square has a handle with a piece of slotted steel in it. The piece of steel can be set at any angle to the handle. The two pieces can be held rigidly at that angle by tightening a thumb screw on the square. I got out the sliding bevel square and put it on the roof to measure the angle at which the rafters met the exterior wall of the house.

With the sliding bevel square set to the proper angle, I put a straightedge on my two-by-four to guide the saw to make the cut. We were using a portable circular saw—the kind that you see on a construction site. The frame around the blade on such a saw is about ten inches long and eight inches wide. The blade is perhaps two inches from one side and six inches from the other.

I measured the distance between the saw blade and the edge of the frame and clamped my straightedge on the two-by-four with enough space between the straightedge and the end of the board so that the blade would cut the length I needed. David and Dianna observed what I was doing and asked dozens of questions. David wanted to operate the saw, and I reminded him about the safety rules. He took the machine in hand, and the saw blade bit through the two-by-four following the desired angle. When we put the board in place, it fitted snugly, and we hammered the nails home.

With the two-by-fours installed, it was time to begin the sheathing process. We used four-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood to form the underlayment for the roof. Four-by-eight sheets of plywood are fairly heavy, and my helpers David and Dianna each weigh less than eighty pounds. We wrestled the plywood sheets up the ladder and onto the rafters.

As soon as the first one was fastened to the two-by-fours with epoxy-coated nails, I felt a little better. There would be no more walking on open rafters. We would all still need to pay attention—so that we wouldn't fall off the edge. But at least there was footing.

Along about noon, we knocked off for lunch and a little rest. The day had turned into a real scorcher. The temperature on the ground was approaching the mid-nineties, and the sun on the roof seemed hotter yet. We were all hungry and thirsty and covered with grime. There was dust in our hair and down our necks and all over our clothes.

We scrubbed as best we could and sat down for the sandwiches. The job was far from finished, but we had completed the demolition phase and were well into reconstruction, and we felt good about it. At the beginning of a job there is the excitement of discovery and the newness involved to keep a guy interested. As the project goes forward, the "new" wears off, and determination is needed to persevere to the finish. I was proud of David's work during the morning, and I appreciated Dianna's helpfulness.

David had been with me on the roof using a hammer, a crowbar, a saw, or some other tool all morning. But I wondered at lunch if his energy, his willingness to take direction, his interest, and his enthusiasm would flag during the afternoon. The effort during the morning had been steady and demanding. David had stuck with it, followed directions, remembered safety precautions, and been anxious to do his part. But I knew his muscles would be tired when we resumed in the afternoon.

We took a break for a few hours to rest a little and let the sun get farther west so that there might be a little shade in the yard. About three thirty we went back to the job. We finished the sheathing and started sealing the roof with tar paper. A good seal requires overlapping the tar paper a lot. So, there were many, many sheets of tar paper to cut off the roll and tack into place.

As we worked, I was reminded that tar paper gets hot when the sun shines on it. I told David how the pioneers on the prairies of the midwest had used these same materials (pine boards and tar paper) to build shelters against the sun, the rain, the cold, and the snow.

After the tar papering was finished, we put on the shingles. A row of shingles is nailed to the edge of the roof with a little overhang to give the roof an edge. The second row of shingles overlaps the first. This continues until the entire roof is covered. Each shingle must be lined up, nailed down, properly overlapped with its neighbors, and not damaged in the process.

Hot weather is good for roofing; it helps the shingles create a good firm seal. When they get hot, they get soft, and they mold to the roof and close any openings. But a good hot shingle can become so soft that it is easily ruined. We picked a good day for it, but the handle of my hammer was wet with perspiration during the afternoon and evening hours. As the sun struck the roof, the shingles reflected the heat, which seemed to boil up around us.

The final step was to cover the edges of the shingles where they met the wall of the house with roofing tar to ensure that there would be no leaks. It was late when we came to this part of the job. David asked what was to be done and requested the chance to do it. With the tar brush in his hand David put the finishing touches on the roof. We cleaned our tools, picked up the trash, and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Two days later, it rained hard. We stood on the back porch under the new roof—no leaks. The roof was tight, and we were dry. Each of us took satisfaction in watching the rain. Blind people often find it difficult to get jobs.

Sometimes we haven't been able to obtain proper training. Even when we know the techniques to be used, the opportunity is not always available because employers occasionally feel that they would not be able to do the work if they were to become blind. Because of this experience, I value work more than I might have if it had always been easy to get. But this is not the only reason I like it. Good work is its own reward—worthwhile to do and productive for the worker and the community. In the National Federation of the Blind, I learned that I should not sell myself short—that I have talents which can be used to help make the world a better place. This understanding has served me well, and I am doing my best to pass it on to my children.

We must be prepared to be independent and stand on our own. But we must also recognize that we need the help and support of our friends. The only way to get it is to be willing to give that same help and support to those who need it.

This is exactly what we are doing in the National Federation of the Blind. This is what we are teaching blind Americans to do in every corner of our land. This is the education that I hope I can pass on to my children—along with a tight roof and no leaks.