Kenneth Jernigan, Editor
by Kenneth Jernigan
To Touch the Untouchable
by Toni and Ed Eames
Children and Chain
by Marc Maurer
A Maid of the Royal Court
by Julie A. Russell
A Debt to a Kid Named
by Debbie Kent Stein
To Take the Plunge
by Doug Elliott
Is the Baby All Right?
by Bruce A. Gardner
Baking Our Daily Bread
by Barbara Pierce
This is the fifteenth volume in the Kernel Book series. Its title, To Touch the Untouchable Dream, comes from the article by Ed and Toni Eames, who recently went to South Africa. They tell of their visit to a game preserve and the techniques they used to experience the wonder of it.
The first of the Kernel Books was issued almost eight years ago, and since that time, more than three million have been put into circulation. If generalizations were effective, we could have saved a lot of paper, space, and time by writing a single paragraph or two to convey our message. It would probably go something like this:
Being blind is not what almost everybody thinks it is. Contrary to popular belief, the real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight but the misconceptions and misunderstandings which existmisconceptions and misunderstandings by the public at large and also, unfortunately, sometimes by many of the blind themselves. However, we are learning new ways of thought about blindness, and every day our situation is improving. This is true because we have established our own nationwide self-help organization, the National Federation of the Blind, and because more and more sighted friends are doing what they can to help us.
We know that with proper training and opportunity the average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business and do it as well as a sighted person similarly situated. We know that blind children can successfully live and compete with sighted children, that blind seniors can function as well as sighted seniors, and that there is almost no job that some blind person is not competently doing. In short, through the work of the National Federation of the Blind and of our sighted friends and associates we are changing what it means to be blind.
If generalizations were effective, we could, as I have said, have saved a great deal of effort by simply writing and distributing these two paragraphs. But generalizations are not effective. They don't convey a sense of reality, so we give details and write the Kernel Books. The present volume is part of the process.
What happens when a blind man who has been an outdoorsman goes camping and climbs a tall tree while a passing tourist stops to watch? You will learn in this book, and I think you will find the interchange interesting. At least, I did since I was on hand to observe it.
And what happens when a blind father, waiting for his wife, is holding his baby in his arms and is approached by a sighted bystander, who believes that the blind are not competent to do such things? Then there is the blind person who teaches another blind person to operate a chain saw, and the blind woman who talks about baking bread. These and other true-life first person stories appear in this volume.
This is not the stuff of high drama. Rather, it is an account of the ordinary routine of daily life, the detailing of how average human beings live and work and playperhaps as compelling in the long run as the most graphic international news story. I know the people who appear in these pages. They are friends and colleagues of mine.
Besides blindness, we have at least one other thing in common. We give our time and effort to the work of the National Federation of the Blind. We do this because the organization is the focal point for improving the quality of life for the blind of this country. Life has been good to us, and we feel the need to give something backto help the newly blind, blind children, blind job seekers, blind seniors, and each other. We feel strongly that we must contribute as well as take, but we also realize that if we are to go the rest of the way to real equality, we will need help from sighted friends. These are our core beliefs, and we feel great hope and confidence in the future.
I hope you will find this book, the fifteenth in the series, both interesting and entertaining. If you do, we will have achieved our purpose and come one step closer to touching the untouchable dream.
by Kenneth Jernigan
Words play a more important part in our daily lives than we sometimes think. They allow us to communicate with each other with wonderful precision, and they are one of the principal features that distinguish humans from animals. It is not that words make us human but that they enhance our humanity.
For the blind, certain words have a special meaning. As an example, when I was a boy growing up on the farm in Tennessee, I learned early on of the significance of the words "Even I" used by my family and sighted neighbors.
As a case in point, consider the game of checkers. In those days (when none of us in that part of the country had either telephones or radios and when books and magazines were not part of the daily routine), the men and boys often entertained themselves by playing checkers. I wanted to play, too, but one or another of my family would invariably explain to me that I had to understand my limitations as a blind person. Eventually they would get around to saying something like this, "Even I find it difficult to play checkers."
The implication was that because they could see and I couldn't, I was obviously at a disadvantage, not only in checkers but in everything else. This, of course, was just plain foolishness. All I needed was some way to feel the squares on the checkerboard, a problem I solved by stretching a string across the squares and tacking it down at both ends. The job took only a few minutes, and my checker playing was not impaired by my blindness. However, in the face of all of the negatives, it took me a while to put the system into place. The "Even I" was a definite drawback.
And this attitude of believing that sight is always the deciding factor is not just a matter of fifty years ago or some isolated corner of rural America. In the 1950's when I was a teacher at the California Training Center for the Blind, we had a student who had always been an outdoorsman. He was now in his forties, had just become blind, and had come to us for training.
One day a number of us went to a wooded area for an overnight camping trip, and while we were there, the new student (feeling energetic in the fresh air) decided to climb a tree. He went up the tree with ease. A passing tourist stopped and marveled.
"That is amazing," he said. "Even I would have trouble climbing that tree, and I can see."
As best I could determine, the tourist was probably in his late sixties, and he was extremely overweight. I doubt that he could have climbed the tree if his life had depended on it, but he thought only in terms of sight and blindness. Of course, in the circumstances, blindness had nothing to do with the matter. The "Even I" was totally irrelevant.
Later, when I was director of programs for the blind in the state of Iowa, I was traveling to one of our district offices and stopped at a service station to get a Coca-Cola. While I was drinking it, a man who had just come in said:
"I can understand some of your problems, for I am handicapped, too. My handicap is not as bad as yours, but even I have trouble getting along."
After I left the service station and was continuing my trip, I thought about what he had said. So far as I could tell, he had at least three handicaps that would limit him in the competition of daily life. He had a speech impediment, which I think was what he was talking about when he said he had a handicap; he had a very limited education; and his intelligence did not appear to be very high.
I think his speech impediment was the least of his handicaps, but I am sure that he didn't see it that way. I suspect that I was much more employable than he and much better able to participate in the rough and tumble of the competitive world. But to him, because he could see and I could not, the edge was all in his favor. As he said, "Even I have trouble getting along."
In the early 1980's I appeared one night on the "Larry King" program. In those days it was entirely radio, and the studio was about nineteen floors up from street level in a downtown Washington, D.C., building. It was a lively program, and when we finished at midnight, my driver and I went out into the hall to take the elevator to ground level.
The problem was that the elevator wouldn't come. This seemed mightily upsetting both to Larry King and his assistant. I pointed out to them that there was a fire stair immediately next to the elevator and that there would be no problem in simply walking down to the street. It is no exaggeration to say that Larry King's assistant was shocked. Apparently it had never occurred to him that a blind person might take the stairs.
"Even I would not like to walk down those nineteen flights," he said, "and I am sighted."
What sight had to do with it was more than I could understand, but after a few minutes of trying to soothe him down and of waiting for an elevator that persistently refused to come, we took the stairs over his protest and walked without incident to the street.
This sort of thing happens every day, but it is not limited to the sighted. Let me go back to my teaching experience at the training center in California. In those days (1953 to 1958) I had not learned to sign my name. My students told me that I was creating a bad image of blindness because of this shortcoming and that I should get with it and learn to make a readable signature.
I argued that I rarely needed to sign my name, that I didn't need to learn how in order to improve my self-esteem, and that I could and would take an hour or two and learn to sign my name if the time came when I thought it would be useful to do so.
In fact, when I became director of Iowa's programs for the blind in 1958, I did just that. One evening as we were driving across the country from California to Iowa, my sighted wife worked with me for an hour, and I learned to sign my name. It is not the most elegant signature in the world, but it is legible and serves my purposes. Incidentally, as director of the Iowa programs for the blind, I did not sign my name as often as I thought I would, delegating routine paperwork and signatures to a deputy. However, the fact remains that I learned to sign my name in an evening and that I now do it without thought whenever I need to.
Yet, that does not end the matter. As I have thought about it through the years, my students were right, and I was wrong. I, who was teaching them that blindness need not mean inferiority, was not proving up. As later events would show, it would have been a simple matter to learn to sign my name.
So why didn't I do it? Reluctantly I conclude that it probably had to do with "Even I." From childhood I had been told in hundreds of ways everyday that sight meant superiority. In the circumstances it would have been surprising if I had not absorbed and been affected by some of the mistaken notions.
Therefore, when I am tempted to be impatient or annoyed with sighted people who say "Even I," let me remember my own experience in learning to sign my name. What we need is not bad temper or blame but understanding and education.
This brings me to the National Federation of the Blind, the organization which has done more than any other single thing to make life better for blind people during the past century. The National Federation of the Blind has local chapters in every state and almost every community of any size. These state and local chapters come together to make up the national body.
Although we have sighted members, most of us in the Federation are blind. We give our time and devotion because we have seen what the National Federation of the Blind does in helping blind people lead normal, regular lives. Through its work with parents of blind children, with seniors, with blind college students, and with blind persons seeking employment, the National Federation of the Blind touches every aspect of the daily lives of the blind of the nation.
We in the Federation believe that we should stand on our own feet and do for ourselves before asking others for assistance, but we also know that our road to independence cannot successfully be traveled without help from our sighted friends and associates. And we have faith that this help will be forthcoming if it is reasonably requested and wisely used.
In fact, the future looks bright for those of us who are blind. We go into the new century with hope and confidence, and an ever-growing number of the sighted are moving with us as part of our cause. "Even I" is still one of our greatest problemsbut that, too, is diminishing and fading into the past.
by Toni and Ed Eames
Toni and Ed Eames are active members of the National Federation of the Blind and long-time leaders in our special interest division for guide dog users. They are recognized experts in the whole area of assistance dogs for the disabled and write a regular column for Dog World. Recently their lifelong interest in animals took them on a very special expedition to the African bush.
Here is their story:
As we crashed through the bush in an open Land Rover, we could hear ranger John's radio receiver crackling the news that a pride of lions had been sighted fairly close to our position. Slowing the vehicle to a crawl, John warned us to be quiet. Suddenly we heard a shared exclamation from the other members of our partythe lions had been spotted, and we came to a halt.
The dreamlike quality of this encounter with wild animals in the African bush was reinforced as members of our delegation described the scene in barely audible whispers. Everyone seemed to hold his/her breath as an adult female lion sauntered alongside our vehicle and crossed the road in front of us. At one point she was no more than eight feet away.
This encounter with lions was just one of many memorable experiences we had during our two-day visit at Exeter Game Lodge in South Africa. While crashing through the bush, "bundu bashing" as the locals call it, we came almost in touching distance of leopards, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and hundreds of impala (small deer on the bottom of the feeding chain).
What gave these adventures a dreamlike quality was the inability to touch or hear these animals. Except for the time when Ed climbed down from the Land Rover to feel the footprint left by a lion who had recently strolled by, the reality of the situation was filtered through the descriptions of our sighted friends.
Fortunately, we were able to obtain a tactile impression of many of these animals. The rangers working for Exeter, a wild game lodge on the outskirts of Kreuger National Park, the largest reserve in South Africa, had collected the skulls of many of the animals inhabiting the area. Examining the skulls, jaw bones, horns, and antlers of the many varieties of deer who roamed the open unfenced area around Exeter, neighboring game reserves, and Kreuger, helped turn our dreamlike Land Rover trips into a more realistic image of what these animals were like. On display in the lounge area was a taxidermed lion pouncing on an impala, which showed us what raw and savage nature was all about.
Both of us grew up in New York City where animals such as those roaming the South African bush were only found in zoos. Love of animals was a central theme in Toni's childhood. As a young blind child, her mother took her on frequent outings to the Bronx Zoo but could not adequately describe the variety of animals on display. Always anxious to encourage her blind daughter to explore the world around her, Toni's mother encouraged touching objects in the environment. Since lions, tigers and bears were not accessible to touch, she began purchasing realistic ceramic, wood, glass, plastic, and brass miniatures to teach Toni about the structural differences among various animal species.
Over the years this collection has grown and expanded, and Toni has become expert at identifying animal statuary by touch. On the other hand, Ed, who was sighted until his early 40s, visited zoos and received his animal information through visual images.
One of the attractions of Fresno, California, the city to which we moved after our marriage ten years ago, was the presence of a wonderful zoo with an understanding director. Dr. Paul Chaffee was fascinated with the idea of transforming Toni's knowledge of animals through statuary into knowledge from real-life experience. He invited us to visit behind the scenes to get "in touch" with many of the animals in the zoo.
Over the years we have been able to touch elephants, Galapagos tortoises, spider monkeys, a skunk, an oryx, a ferret, and a variety of birds. Some of these animals were part of the zoo mobile, some were being cared for in the nursery, and some were on display. Being able to feed apples to Chauncey and Nosey in the elephant holding area was a thrill, although Ed was a bit apprehensive one day when Chauncey wrapped her trunk around him with the message that it wasn't time for Ed to leave! Paul relished our obvious pleasure and excitement at these encounters with his exhibit animals.
Realizing that our passion for animal interaction went far beyond what was available in Fresno, Paul arranged with directors at zoos located in San Diego, the Bronx, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. for us to come and get "in touch" with animals in their collections. Among our acquaintances from these visits were a sea lion, an emu, a clouded leopard, a chinchilla, a kinkajou, an octopus, an armadillo, snakes, lizards, and some insects.
At our National Federation of the Blind conventions, we have explored the horns and skins of taxidermed animals presented by the Safari Club. This has been supplemented by exploring a stuffed buffalo on display in a South Dakota museum and a lion on display at the Theodore Roosevelt museum in New York. In all these cases, the animals were touchable and full size.
The hunt for touchable animals is enhanced by our careers as writers and lecturers. As columnists for Dog World magazine, lecturers at veterinary schools, and writers about disability and animal-related subjects, we travel extensively. During our travels, we take every opportunity to visit zoos and museums with touchable animal exhibits.
When we received an invitation to be part of the cultural exchange delegation sponsored by People to People International, Citizen Ambassador Program to South Africa, we jumped at the opportunity. Not only would it give us the chance to enhance our careers as writers, educators, and lecturers, but would also take us to Exeter, a charming and luxurious private game preserve.
After months of planning, our South African odyssey became a reality. Our two-day stay at elegant and lavish Exeter, a haven for animal lovers, exceeded all our expectations. Even after returning to the lodge following the Land Rover expeditions, the presence of untamed and free-roaming animals was an ever-present reality. Monkeys inhabited trees near the veranda during the morning hours hoping to swoop down on some unprotected food.
At dawn and dusk a hippopotamus drank at the river skirting the compound. While sitting at the edge of the pool, a member of our group was startled when a snake slithered up his body and onto his back. It was apparent that just outside Exeter Lodge was a world as far removed from our childhood homes in New York City as one could imagine.
When we share photographs of this dreamlike trip with friends back home in Fresno, they ask where Escort and Echo were during our adventure. We explain that although our guide dogs have accompanied us to many American zoos, their presence in the African bush was quite another story. While we were having our untouchable dream, they were quietly awaiting our return at the lodge. Although the wild animals in the preserve are used to Land Rovers filled with people, they are not exposed to dogs, and we agreed with our host at Exeter, Leon, that it would be a good idea to let them relax back in our room.
The sighted members of the delegation have photographs and videos to keep their memories alive. To make our memory of this untouchable dream tactile, we brought home many new wild animal miniatures. The next time we visit the elephants in our Fresno zoo, we can tell them we saw their relatives in South Africa!
by Marc Maurer
As readers of the Kernel Books know, Marc Maurer is President of the National Federation of the Blind. He is also a lawyer and the father of two sighted children. Here is what he says about some of his experiences with his children and about chain saws:
Today many blind persons are employed as teachers in public schools, colleges, and universities. The techniques used by a blind person for teaching a skill or a body of knowledge are not always the same as the ones used by the sighted. However, the fundamentals are identical. I have tried to show my sighted children, David and Dianna, how to do many, many things. But they don't do them the way I do.
Consider, for instance, pounding nails. I believe that the customary method for pounding nails is this: hold the nail between the thumb and index finger of the left hand; place it where you want it; hold the hammer in your right hand; and tap the nail gently with it. When the nail is set, get the left hand out of the way, and pound the nail home.
When I pound nails, I do all of these things, but I add an additional step. I place my finger on the head of the nail. As I am bringing the hammer down, I move my finger out of the way. When I again raise the hammer, I put my finger on the nail once more. This technique reminds me where the nail is located, and it helps to guide my right hand for each hammer stroke. If I were not quick enough in moving my finger, I would smash it with the hammer. But I always move my finger just in time.
Then, there is the chain saw. Some time ago, I was talking with a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, Fred Schroeder. Fred and I are both totally blind. Although he is an accomplished teacher and a highly respected administrator of programs for the disabled, being the Commissioner of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration, I discovered during the course of our conversation that he had never used a chain saw, and I offered to teach him how to do it.
There is a large fireplace in one of the rooms at the National Center for the Blind. Sometimes people give us firewood, but occasionally we are offered the wood only if we are prepared to cut it. We keep a chain saw for that purpose at the Center. Fred and I put on coveralls and went downstairs to look for the chain saw. We checked to see that it had plenty of gasoline, and I began to show it to Fred.
The chain saw has two handles. The one in front is mounted just forward of the engine and behind the blade. The rear handle is behind the engine, and it contains the trigger, which determines the speed of the saw. When the engine is running, the chain saw idles with a popping and clattering sound. When the trigger is pulled, the popping increases to a high-pitched snarl.
The business end of the chain saw is the bar out front, which has the chain wrapped around it. At full throttle, the chain travels around the bar very rapidly and cuts the wood. We were using a saw with a twenty-four inch bara fairly heavy model, but not unmanageable.
I gave Fred a good many safety tips about the operation of the chain saw, and I showed him all of its parts. He examined the chain in detailits links have little sharp pieces of steel that stick out to do the cutting. I told him that when the saw was running, he should not touch the chain. If he did, I said, the saw would barely notice, but his finger would be gone. I showed him how to handle and control the saw, and I urged him to be aware that sometimes a chain saw can buck.
I got out a big chunk of wood and laid it on the sawbuck. Then, I started the engine, and I demonstrated the operation of the chain saw by cutting a piece of wood. How does a blind person observe such demonstrations? I told Fred to put his hands on my hands so that he could feel the motions as I handled the saw. Then it was his turn.
Fred reached for the starting rope and gave it a pull. The engine kicked over and began to idle. He picked up the heavy machine and gave the engine some gas. Sawdust flew, and in a short time a piece of wood hit the ground. The chain saw had done its job, and Fred Schroeder, the totally blind chain saw operator, had handled the machine. When quiet had been restored, he said with enthusiasm, "I bet there are a lot of blind people around here who don't know how to do that. We should show them!"
When I heard those words, I knew that programs for the blind under Fred Schroeder's direction would never be the same. The lesson of the chain saw would not be lost. It would help Fred believe that limitations which he and others had thought might apply to blindness should be re-examined.
The teaching of skills is important, but the teaching of attitudes is more important. There are those who have thought that teaching encompasses only such matters as building a birdhouse, constructing a bridge, or writing a legal brief. But learning goes beyond the acquisition of skills. One who truly learns will come to know that it is important to be honest and that generosity is its own reward.
I try to teach my children the skills they must have to accomplish daily tasks, but of at least equal importance is the need for them to have proper attitudes and values. I want them to be tough-minded, able to recognize and reject nonsense, honest with themselves and with others, possessed of sufficient discipline to meet the challenge of hard work, imaginative, capable of initiative, and willing to recognize and avoid bad behavior. I know that it is my prime responsibility to teach these values, and I keep wondering how I'm doing. I have the disheartening feeling that I may not know how well I've done until it is too late. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for evidence.
Last August, my wife Patricia and I had our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. A few days before the actual date of the event, it became apparent that something mysterious was underway. David and Dianna had secret whispered conversations with each other and with a family friend. When the anniversary came, they were excited. In the late afternoon they told us that we were prohibited from entering the kitchen. Our children insisted that we stay in the living room and keep out of the way.
In a short time they called us for dinnera dinner they had planned and cooked for us. Our children had collected ten dollars between them, had persuaded a family friend to take them to the grocery store for shopping, had planned the menu, had cooked the food. They were proud to serve it to us. The menu was fried chicken, rice, corn, black-eyed peas, biscuits, and a freshly homemade cake.
I was surprised and pleased by the event. Children have a difficult time surprising their parents on birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries. They want to give something to their parents that mom and dad will really like. But they don't know what it is, and sometimes the things they imagine for gifts are too costly.
My children hit upon a scheme that suited the whole family exactly. A quiet dinner at home is precisely what we wanted, and our children collected their pennies to get it. Beyond that, they asked for advice about how to cook the meal (a thing they had never done in the past), and they had the confidence to do it without other assistance. They split the cost--$4.85 was paid by each of them. In making this present, they demonstrated the ability to plan, the willingness to work, sufficient imagination to know what would be wanted, and a measure of generosity. Maybe our efforts at teaching David and Dianna are working after all.
In the National Federation of the Blind we have taught each other many things we did not know we knew. Sometimes, these are simple and straightforward: such as how to sew on a button or cook a meal or run a chain saw. Sometimes they are far more complex. When we do our work well, we teach each other to have faith in ourselves and to believe in a brighter tomorrow.
We are thankful for the help from our sighted friends and neighbors, but we are anxious also to make our own contributions and to live a full life. Sometimes we learn it with a chain saw, and sometimes with a homemade anniversary cake.
by Julie A. Russell
When to curtsy, how to bow. These are things Julie Russell had to learn as a maid in the Royal Court during a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. Julie, a blind teacher of sighted children in the public schools, was selected for this honor while she was a student at the National Federation of the Blind's training center in Louisiana. Here is how she tells the story:
Three blocks from any parade route one can hear the crowd cheering, the bands playing, and the noise of Mardi Gras trinkets falling to the ground. At the parade one can see two groups of people: those in the parade and those scrambling for the trinkets and dancing to the music that beats like the heart of the city.
It was in January that I discovered I would be one of seven members of the National Federation of the Blind to ride in a Mardi Gras parade. I was to be in the Royal Court as a maid.
I had heard hundreds of stories about riding in a parade in the dozen years I have lived in New Orleans, but very few about being a member of a Royal Court. I asked friends, but few knew about the events of the court. I knew it would be an extraordinary day, but I was unsure how. As the next few weeks unfolded, my excitement built as I gained more and more information.
On February 10, 1997, I served as a maid in the Bards of Bohemia's Royal Court. Now I have my own thrilling story as part of one of the most exciting events on earth.
Within the intricate structure of Mardi Gras Krewes lies the Royal Court. King, Queen, Captain, and maid are only a few of the titles that a handful of individuals prize so highly. "I have waited years to be a maid," said one maid. "First I was a page, then a junior maid, but this year is really it."
It was a full day, and a day which will become a treasured memory. "Remember ladies, this is your day," said Captain Larry Smith at the day's inception. And it was.
I met the other six maids at a rehearsal early Monday morning. Our day had been mapped out for us, from the rehearsal of the presentation of the Royal Court through the breakfast served at midnight during a magic show; the day was packed with promising events.
The rehearsal went well, learning where and when to curtsy to the other members of the Royal Court. My biggest worry, and that of the other women, was whether or not we were going to trip on our floor-length, white gowns as we climbed the stairs at the center front of the stage. Together we shared the fear of forgetting our role or forgetting which song each of us was to march to. We were truly acting a part, that of a maid in a Royal Court.
After rehearsal we rode to Commander's Palace, a world famous local restaurant, where the Queen's Luncheon was to be held. We opened our party favors, but more importantly we received our crowns, which were to be worn for the remainder of the day! Throughout lunch, we listened to the jazz band and toasted one another and the Krewe, which had been rolling since 1932.
A television station came to the luncheon and interviewed me for the evening news on what it was like to be blind and in the Bard's court. I do not think it was a different experience from the other women's, but I am not sure if I conveyed that to the ABC reporter. My concerns were not unique to a blind person, but were characteristic of anyone in my position.
The interview with the journalist brought up a previously untouched topic. . .my blindness. Now I felt as though I should say something to my fellow maids. "A bunch of us from the National Federation of the Blind are in the parade," I said. One maid said she had read an article in the Times Picayune that morning about me, referring to a piece that ran that day. I spent about five minutes answering questions before we moved on to other more immediate topics, such as the ball to be held that night.
After the luncheon we raced back to the hotel for a toast to the King and Queen with all the other riders. We then awaited limousines to bring us to our float, some six miles away in uptown New Orleans. Soon we were out in the wind, wondering how we would ever stay warm in the unexpected cold.
As we waited for the parade to roll, we organized our boxes of throws and shared excited comments about the day. It was adrenaline that kept us warm, as the business suits we were instructed to wear on our float offered little protection.
I had beads and cups to throw to the eager masses. Soon their wall of cheers engulfed all those who rode. The crowds desired any trinket, and I had many. The throws of Mardi Gras are both prized and collected. Beads are pushed to the backs of closets, and cups are stacked in high piles at the fronts of many kitchen cabinets.
The cups I threw proudly bore the logo of the National Federation of the Blind, complete with address. I showed one to the maid next to me. "You are not what I think of when I think of blind people," she said.
Before I could ask her why, a mother of a blind 8-year-old came to my float. She had seen the article in the paper that day. I invited her to our next local meeting. She had come in from an area called Violet, far from the beginning of the parade just so she and her son could see me on the float as we began to roll.
Another news reporter came on the float. She had seen the article in the paper. She and her cameraman filmed a small piece and rode with me for a few blocks before dropping behind to the float which held other members of the National Federation of the Blind.
The parade itself is beyond description. We threw Mardi Gras merchandise to the screaming mobs up to ten people deep. "Hey, Miss, throw me something!" was heard again and again. Many of these people now drink from a plastic cup that bears the National Federation of the Blind's logo and address.
Less than an hour after the parade halted at the end of Canal Street, the maids congregated with the rest of the Royal Court behind the stage in the ballroom. Long white gowns hid the tennis shoes of two smart women. We all laughed with one another nervously.
Soon we were lined up with our escorts to walk one by one down the center of the room in a bright spotlight. My escort had to be on my right, the hand in which I usually hold my cane. I transferred it to my left hand. No one suggested I leave it behind.
I represented the "World of the Circus" that night. When my song began, I started my walk, curtsied four times, then took my position on stage.
I stood with the other members of the 65th Royal Court. Our theme was the world of entertainment. Finally we marched down the stage in the Grand March with confetti canons sprinkling the ballroom.
What the last news reporter had trouble understanding was that I enjoyed the day no differently than anyone else. I do not remember what I had thought of the blind and how they enjoy things before I became blind. What I do know now is that my blindness defines neither my activities nor the manner in which I enjoy them.
I was lucky though. I met with the National Federation of the Blind soon after losing my sight. Finding an environment in which I can continue to dream and learn the skills to pursue those dreams has made the difference in my life. The training at the Federation's Louisiana Center for the Blind allows me not only to continue my life but to push onward into unknown areas such as Royal Courts.
Without the news article and the two TV reporters, my day would have been identical to that of the other maids. Won't it be a grand day when a blind person in a carnival parade is not newsworthy?
by Debbie Kent Stein
Debbie Kent Stein is a professional writer. She has found success in a career in which most who attempt it fail. In "A Debt to a Kid Named George," she explores in-depth a question faced by many of us (whether blind or sighted) at some time or other in our lives. Do we cling to what seems safe and certain and pay the price for that security? Or do we take the risk and go for it! Here is what she says:
I began my post-college career as a social worker. Once upon a time, about twenty years ago, I worked in a place called the University Settlement House in New York City, mostly doing counseling with parents and kids, people from the neighborhood which was on New York's lower East Side.
It was really a wonderful place to work in a lot of ways. It was very comfortable. It was like a big family. It was a great community-oriented sort of place, and all the kids who came in knew all of the social workers, and all the social workers knew all the kids. I had been there for a few years, and one of the other social workers was getting ready to leave to go take a bigger and better job. She had been working with a boy named George who was about twelve.
When she was telling him that she was going to be leaving, she asked him, if he could have a choice, who would he like to have as his next social worker when she was gone. He thought about that for a while, and then he finally said, "I want to work with Debbie." Helen asked him why. He said, "Because she's blind, so she's not going to be able to find another job that easily, so she's not going to leave."
This kid really had things pretty well worked out. A lot of people had left in his life, and he'd been doing a lot of thinking about this problem. He had figured out that there are people who are going places, and there are people who settle in for the duration. He had me pretty much pegged as the kind who settles in. Apart from being amazed at George and really admiring his perceptiveness, I found the concept troubling.
I had always seen myself as somebody who liked challenges and went out after new experiences. Here I was, this kid from the suburbs, working on the lower East Side. People thought that was pretty adventurous, and I had allowed myself to think that I had come as far as I could go.
I didn't like the idea of being the sort of person who just finds a nice comfy niche and stays there. But I had to admit I had run into a lot of roadblocks when I was looking for a social work job, the kind of roadblocks that all of us who are blind run into when we're job hunting. Job hunting was not my favorite thing.
Now I had a job that I liked, and I did not care for the thought of ever leaving this nice little nest that I had at the University Settlement House. But at the same time I didn't want to work there forever on the basis that there was nowhere else to go and I was afraid to go any place else.
This kid George really got me thinking. The more I thought, the more I started to realize that I really was ready to make a change. I knew that I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to write. I had been writing stories since I was old enough to hold a slate and stylus. I had kept journals since I was fifteen.
I had been collecting my share of rejection slips since I was in college, sending stories out to the Atlantic and to the New Yorker and getting them back. Now that I was working full time as a social worker, I really wasn't doing much writing anymore. My whole life had gone in a very different direction.
Well, even if you decide that you want to make a very serious commitment to writing, how do you go about doing that? I didn't have a clue until I spent a summer vacation in the town of San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of central Mexico. In San Miguel there was a small, American-run fine arts college, which offered a lot of courses in creative writing, and there was also a thriving colony of foreign writers. During my vacation I took some writing classes, and I wrote the first couple of chapters of a novel.
As my departure time got closer and closer, I realized that I really wanted to stay where I was in San Miguel. I knew that there was a way that I could actually do it. I had saved enough money to live in Mexico for a year or two. (This was back in the mid-seventies when it was actually possible to live in New York and still save some money.)
I figured that, if my writing venture didn't quite come through and I wasn't successful, I still had my social work degree, and I could go back and look for a social work job again based on my education and experience. So I wasn't burning all my bridges. If I wanted to, I could go back and look for another job.
So finally I went back to New York and handed in my resignation. I gave up my apartment. I packed all my worldly goods into my parents' attic and moved to Mexico. I remember one of my colleagues at the Settlement House saying that he was so jealous that he almost hoped that I wouldn't have a good time.
I spent the next few years living in San Miguel, writing and hanging out with other writers, and learning everything that I could about writing: the day-to-day, nitty-gritty aspects of making yourself stick to a schedule and get work done, the world of publishing, how to find an agent, and a whole host of things about which people were very willing and generous in sharing their experience.
I completed my first book, which was a novel for teen-agers about a blind girl who goes into a public high school program for the first time. I called it A Different Drummer after the line from Thoreau's Walden about some people's marching to the beat of a different drummer.
I sent it off to the Houghton Mifflin Company, and I waited for a few months, and back it came with a very nice rejection letter. All of a sudden I thought, you know, I'm at a crossroads here. My money is running out, my confidence is running out, and I haven't sold a book. I have been here for two years. How long can I drop out of the real world? Maybe I need to go back. I might never sell a book, and even if I do, I might not be able to live on what I make. I started making plans to leave San Miguel and go back to New York.
Ever since I had come to Mexico, I had been hearing about a woman named Marguerita, who was supposed to be a bruja, which is a witch. She was supposed to be a white witch. People said that Marguerita cured illnesses and told fortunes. She did all sorts of neat things that people were very impressed by. I thought, I have to meet this lady because this would be a terrific article that I could write for some publication.
One afternoon a friend who knew her took me to meet Marguerita. We trekked out into the hills and found her in this little two-room hut out in the countryside with no electricity and no telephone or any kind of modern conveniences.
There was this great big long line of people standing outside her door, waiting to get in and talk to her one at a time. They were all very serious and very intent.
As I stood there in line I thought, "This really isn't a joke; she may not like the idea of this American coming in and trying to interview her for a Sunday supplement somewhere up in the States. I really better have a good reason to talk to her." So I started thinking, "I've got to have a question to ask this lady."
When I got in, she asked me why I had come. I said, "Well, I'm trying to make a decision in my life. I'm trying to decide whether I should stick with writing as a career or whether I should go back to New York and do social work again."
She listened and said, "Well, what is this social work? What are you talking about?" I said that I worked in an office. Then it occurred to me that she hadn't a clue about what an office was, so I said, "It's sort of a room, and people come and talk to me about their problems, and they ask me questions, and I try to help. I try to give them some answers." The more I talked about this, the more it started to sound a lot like what Marguerita was doing.
The trouble was I had never had a line of people standing outside the door, waiting to talk to me the way she did. Then she asked me a couple of leading questions. She said, "When you are doing this social work, do you ever feel a great heat inside your head?" I said, "No, I don't remember that ever happening to me." She said, "Have you ever felt a great flash of lightning in front of your eyes?" I said, "No, I don't think so. I don't think that ever happened to me." Then she reached out and patted my hand very kindly, and she said, "I think you should continue with your writing."
I definitely got the feeling that she didn't think I was cut out for social work. Actually, my feelings were not at all hurt at that point because in her unique way she had confirmed something for me which I knew was right. She had pointed me onward in the direction that I already had chosen. I didn't want to go back to social work. I wanted to continue with my writing, and, sure enough, as the next couple of weeks went by, a job opened up for me in Mexico so that I was able to stay.
I got my first book published, and I also got together with a fellow writer, Dick Stein, who is now my husband.
Things sort of fell into place. In this age of layoffs and cutbacks, nobody's job is secure. Any kind of career change involves a substantial risk, and taking risks is not always a desirable thing to do in a world that seems more and more precarious every day. But risk-taking is part of growth, and growth is part of the life process that doesn't stop with physical maturity.
As humans we have a great need to meet new challenges, to learn, and that's something that lasts all our lives. As we go on, we need to face the possibility that we might indeed fail, and the consequences of failure can range from minor embarrassment to a loss of our livelihood. As blind people I think we receive a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle warnings about taking risks.
We are told all our lives, "Be careful; this might be dangerous. You might get hurt." It is not limited to crossing streets and handling sharp knives in the kitchen. It applies to taking emotional risks too. It's the blind teen-ager who is in the throes of her first crush, and people around her are saying, "You know I hate to see her go through this. I hate to see her get hurt."
Crossing a street, dicing vegetables, falling in lovealmost any human activity could carry a warning label. I sense that people think somehow that as blind people we're in greater peril than others, that somehow we are less able to survive the hurts and disappointments that are part of life for everybody. We're all very aware that there is an appalling rate of unemployment among blind people. Seventy percent is the figure that we hear all the time, and it's appalling and shocking.
Those of us who do have jobs are among the lucky ones, the people who have had quality training and who have had opportunities that have allowed us to get to where we are.
So it's no wonder a blind person who is fortunate enough to land a job is likely to cringe at the thought of letting go of that job to try to strive for a promotion, to try to tackle a career change. But not to do so, not to allow ourselves that possibility can actually be a betrayal of our inborn capacity for growth.
If we cling to what we know and to what seems safe and certain, we give up on our need for challenge. There is a terrible price for that security, and that price is the possibility that we can become stagnant.
We lose that spark that keeps the mind and the spirit alive and enables us to continue growing and learning throughout our lives. I'm not saying that everybody should just go hand in their resignations on Monday morning and cut out for Mexico.
There are foolish risks, and there are calculated risks. It pays to calculate with a lot of thought and care. But I think we owe it to ourselves to develop to our fullest potential. We owe it to the world to try to make the greatest contribution that we can.
As a writer I've written fiction and non-fiction for children. I've written romances for teen-agers. I've written books about kids who have more serious problems. I've written biographies. I've written books about states and books about countries and the history of the Vietnam War. Everything that I've written requires research and requires learning about new topics and presents me with a whole set of brand new challenges, so that whatever I'm working on remains interesting and exciting.
I didn't get to be successful writing in a vacuum. I owe an enormous debt to loving and supportive family, to the many friends who have believed in me, to the National Federation of the Blind for helping to create a climate in which blind people can hope to live full and rewarding lives.
And I owe something to a kid named George who lived on the lower East Side, who helped me balance the need for security against the need to move on toward new horizons.
by Doug Elliott
When Doug Elliott came home from Vietnam he was blind. And suddenly he had new things to worry aboutsimple things, like having lunch at work. Here is what he has to say:
It was a hot, sunny day. I stood on the logs that had been wedged into a tower in a summer-dry bend of a river by the spring flooding, now long past. I looked down into the blue, mountain-cold water. The log I stood on was about eight feet above the water. I wanted to take that plunge to cool off. But I knew the water was cold, and it looked like a very long way down. Maybe I should turn back. But then I would have to climb all the way back down the log jam.
I looked down one more time, looked back up, held my breath, and jumped. I plunged down into the cold water and felt exhilarated. Refreshed from the plunge, I returned to the high log and plunged several more times, enjoying each jump more than the previous one.
I was twelve years old when I took that plunge and still remember it well. I could have turned back and not jumped. If I had, I would not remember the incident at all. Or I might have a nagging memory of a time when I did nothing to meet a challenge, chickened out, failed to learn something about myself and the world around me, failed to earn the reward which is the sense of accomplishment when a challenge is successfully met.
I have backed away from other challenges through the years, and the experience in hindsight always leaves me feeling empty and wondering why I didn't make the attempt. Part of the reason I failed to meet some of these challenges is that I became a blind person as a young adult and found some new fears.
Past events haunt us all. One experience that still haunts me occurred when my church choir was invited to provide a local spiritual sound as background to a popular performer and singer at Harrah's Club in Reno, Nevada, where I then lived. This performer had some popular songs out when I was a young man, such as something about a "Moon River." The choir could make some money for the church and have some fun by performing for a night- club audience.
We rehearsed at the church until we were ready and then went to rehearse with the singer and his club band. The choir members came up onto the stage from a narrow, twisting stairway at the rear, and I entered in my place in order, using my white cane. We sang our parts, then relaxed in place while the band and singer talked about the next set. At some point the singer drifted over to the pastor of our church and struck up a private conversation with him, asking if I was blind. This was kind of obvious since I was standing there with my white cane.
The pastor confirmed that one of the choir members was blind. The singer said that he would prefer that I not be included in the performance. The pastor said I would perform. The singer called the floor manager to get some backing for excluding me from the performance. The floor manager gave the old tired excuse that it would be a safety issue to have me, a blind person, climbing up and down those stairs, which were tricky and difficult even for a person with normal sight.
At this point the pastor included the rest of us in the discussion. Everyone agreed. They would not perform if I was excluded. The singer and floor manager said they would talk about it and let us know whether they wanted to use a choir with a blind person in it.
I went home feeling terrible. I had looked forward to the performances, and I knew that the other choir members (including my daughter) had, too. I finally called the pastor and told him to let the singer know that I would drop out so that the other members could perform. He asked me if I was sure. Yes, I said. Big mistake.
Later I found out that the singer said that he would have allowed me to perform. By then I had chosen not to do so. I didn't then know how to handle a situation where my blindness was raised out of the blue as a barrier to something I wanted to do. I didn't think the singer should be "allowing" me the special privilege of singing when he had requested an entire choir of which I was an anchor in the baritone section. It hurt. But I didn't take the plunge then. I walked away, trying to assure opportunity for others while not facing up to the challenge myself.
A few years later I joined the National Federation of the Blind and started to learn about blindness from a new perspective. I came to understand that I should have taken the plunge and sang. I also came to understand that I should have insisted on being more directly involved in the discussion with the singer. After all, who would know more about my capabilities than I? I just didn't have the courage to take the plunge and stand up for myself. In fact, in that case, my pastor and fellow choir members believed more strongly in my capabilities than I did. I also lost the chance to teach the singer that blind people could do the job safely and efficiently. In retrospect, that may be the most important lesson I learned from this experience.
At the same time I was involved in that church choir, I was employed as a licensed clinical social worker in a large city hospital. My job required me to see patients and families all around the hospital. I walked throughout the hospital by myself, serving the patients to whom I was assigned, using my white cane, doing my job.
But when lunch time came, things were different. I would not go to the cafeteria by myself. I would either sort of hang around, looking for co-workers with whom I could go or simply go hungry. I would sometimes go by the cafeteria and stick my head in. But I just couldn't bring myself to take the plunge. I knew I could get to the cafeteria itself, but I had fears about what I thought were unanswerable questionsfears about how to deal with finding the line of waiting people, moving with the line, finding the food I wanted without holding up the whole line, and finding free tables. Later I learned simple techniques for accomplishing these easy tasks.
Some years after I had joined the Federation, I worked for a different hospital as a licensed clinical social worker. I did the same kind of work I had done at the other hospital, working this time as the social worker for the neurology and rehabilitation units. I am proud of the fact that, in the five years I worked there, not one Medicare claim was ever turned down for a patient I served, and not one patient ever suffered a medical reverse while pursuing the discharge plan I created and implemented.
For me personally, there was a big difference. I met with patients and families throughout the hospital as before, but when lunch time came, I went to the cafeteria myself if I felt like it. I remember that, my first day on the job, my supervisor asked if she could get me anything from the cafeteria. Thinking she was going anyway to get her own lunch, I accepted.
When she came back, she had my lunch, but when I asked her what she was having, she told me that she never went to the cafeteria for lunch. She had just picked up my lunch for me to be helpful. I knew this would not work. My new supervisor meant no harm, but she would always see me as someone who needed lots of help to find his way around and to find things like food if I did not quickly and politely set a different tone.
The next day when lunch time came, I went to find the cafeteria myself. I heard the noise from the lunchroom and entered. No demons grabbed me or got in my way. I found the line, ordered food, paid, then found a table, sat down, and ate my lunch. This wasn't the first time I had taken this kind of plunge, but it was an important one since this action would demonstrate to my supervisor and other employees that I could go to lunch or not as I chose.
It's the same choice everyone has, but sometimes we who are blind don't believe we have those choices. It took me some time to learn to take the plunge toward independence, but when I did, I found it as refreshing as the plunge into the cold refreshing water.
When I first heard the message of the National Federation of the Blind, I wasn't sure I wanted to believe it. I wasn't sure I could believe it. Could blind people really do things by themselves without constant help? Of course we could! But we have to learn to take that first plunge. It's often scary, but it has to be donewe have to learn. And for me and thousands of others, the place to do the learning has been the National Federation of the Blind.
by Bruce A. Gardner
Bruce Gardner is the father of six children. He is a successful practicing attorney. He is also blind. What is he to do when a perfect stranger confronts him in a parking lot, questioning his capacity to hold his sleeping baby? Here is how he tells the story:
I know that although the National Federation of the Blind has for over fifty years been making great progress in changing what it means to be blind, incorrect ideas and negative notions about blindness still abound. However, to my surprise one old misconception that I thought had surely been eradicated by now raised its ugly head and stared me in the face.
When our daughter Becca was just a baby, my wife and I went to San Diego, California, to attend the wedding of a friend. While there, we went to a reception brunch, and we took the baby along.
As we left the hotel restaurant and walked out to the parking lot to get into our car, I happened to be carrying little Becca asleep in my arms. A well-dressed and well-mannered woman came out quickly from the hotel and asked if everything was okay. We replied that it was. She apologized for bothering us and explained that she was just concerned about the baby. She said, "I saw the white cane and, and . . ." She then excused herself and left.
Moments later she came rushing back, fumbling in her purse for a pen and paper and asked for our names. When I inquired of her why she wanted our names, she said, "I just want to make sure that the baby is all right because, well, I saw the cane and thought you were blind. Sorry to bother you." And she left again.
My wife went back into the hotel to change into slacks because we were going to play tourist for a few hours. I decided that while she was gone I would just walk around the parking lot enjoying the cool breeze with the baby asleep in my arms.
A moment later the same lady was back again, trying to get our license plate number. And again she raised her concern about a baby being held by a man with a white cane. She asked if I was just using the stick as a pointer for a seminar I was conducting in the hotel. I told her it was indeed a blind man's cane and that I was using it because I was a blind man. She again apologized and left in a tizzy.
Believe it or not, a few moments later she approached me a fourth time expressing concern for the safety of the child. By then I had had enough. And believing that sometimes the most appropriate reaction to outrageous behavior is outrage, I took a couple of steps toward her and calmly but firmly said, "Look, lady, I am blind. This is my baby, and I often hold, carry, and care for her. She is just fine!"
I then said, "I am also an attorney, and I know the law. If you bother me again, I will call the police." She did not return.
Although she was well dressed and well-mannered, I could not help thinking she was not quite right in the head. But then I was well dressed and well-mannered, too (at least until my last comment), and apparently she thought I was crazy for thinking a blind person could safely and successfully raise children.
Because Becca is our sixth child and our oldest three are the most polite and well-adjusted teen-agers you could hope to find (parental bias notwithstanding), and because I personally know dozens of blind parents who have successfully raised their children, I think I know which of the two of us was right.
Experiences like these cause me to strengthen my resolve to do all I can to help the National Federation of the Blind share with others the truth about blindness. I know we are making great progress, but I am amazed at how long some of the most ridiculous negative notions linger.
by Barbara Pierce
As regular Kernel Book readers know Barbara Pierce is the wife of a college professor and has raised three children. She serves as editor of the Braille Monitor (the National Federation of the Blind's monthly magazine), works from a fully equipped home office--complete with computer, e-mail, and Internet accessa work arrangement which meshes perfectly with her love of homemaking. Here is what Barbara, who is totally blind, has to say about baking our daily bread:
One day my college roommate, whose usual cooking projects were limited to what she could achieve in our popcorn popper, returned from a trip to the supermarket with two loaves of frozen bread dough. She announced with glee that she was going to bake them and provide us with warm, homemade bread to go with the cheese spread, oranges, and brownies my mother had sent in her latest care package.
Having been party to dinner-roll making at home, I was skeptical about how well the loaves would rise in our frigid dorm room, but I went off to class hoping for the best. When I returned several hours later, I was gratified to find that the loaves had thawed but unsurprised to observe that they were still the same thin logs they had been when they arrived, even if they were now pliable.
Water left in a cup did not quite freeze in that dorm during the winter, but I had been glad to master the art of dressing while still wearing my flannel nightgown. I decided I would have to intervene if we were to have bread for supper.
By combining the available resources, I managed to construct a sort of incubator using my stool and desk lamp and my roommate's sheepskin throw. It worked beautifully, and gradually through the afternoon the bread began to rise. Those loaves were only the first hatched in our cobbled-together incubator that year and baked in the kitchen down the hall.
At home the following summer I began experimenting with making bread from scratch. My mother was trained as a home economist, and what she does not know about cooking is not worth learning. She taught me the rules for handling yeast correctly and for kneading dough effectively. In the end I learned not to be afraid of bread-making. It was a gift that has held me in good stead through the years.
The spring before I got married, the minister's wife at the church I attended while a student gave me a recipe for making four loaves of wonderful potato bread. I made the recipe several times before we had children, but I found it infinitely valuable once the children came along and began enjoying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh bread and jam. But the best part of that potato bread was my accidental discovery that it lent itself beautifully to bread sculpture.
This is an art form ideally suited to blind bakers and small children, because as long as the sculptor's hands are clean, the dough can be handled and reshaped as often as necessary. (Mother can even surreptitiously reconstruct a masterpiece that has suffered from the competition of too many small hands.)
I eventually learned to divide the dough into three equal pieces and give each child a section of counter, a greased cookie sheet, and his or her part of the dough. This did not end the warfare exactlybargaining sessions for a little dough from a neighbor's unused hoard had some tendency to turn into raids. But for a number of years in our family, Christmas preparations included making loaves of bread in the shapes of Santas, angels, Christmas trees, bells, and shepherds to give to neighbors and friends.
Octopi, Easter bunnies, Jack o'lanterns, and Valentines warm from the oven have also been eagerly consumed through the years with melting butter and raspberry jam in our kitchen.
When a cook is unafraid of yeast, the word spreads like magic. For years now I have made communion bread for our church. And hot cross buns, filled with currants and spices and decorated with crosses in lemon icing, are my contribution to the annual breakfast at church between the Easter services. I have even begun supplying the three-kings cake, which is really a sweet bread filled with candied cherries and raisins, for our Epiphany celebration.
People who don't bake are often surprised that I do so much of it. My husband is a college professor, so through the years I have turned out an endless array of cookies, bars, cakes, and quick breads for his classes. Doing that kind of baking is fun, and it's important to me to feed students who aren't getting homemade treats. But bread-baking satisfies something deep inside me. Kneading bread dough is a wonderful way to release frustration or anger and turn them into something nourishing and comforting. Even the fragrance of baking bread is a blessing to everyone who steps through the door.
Bread is a living presence in the kitchen. It is very forgiving of mistreatment or neglect. A loaf that has been left to rise for too long can be kneaded and reshaped for another try. If the room is too cold, moving the loaf to a warm place is enough to persuade it to begin rising. Even if the cook manages to kill the yeast, a little more can be dissolved and worked into the dough to rescue the project. It is easy to tell when bread is done even when one can't judge by looking at the color. A tap with fingertips on the crust readily tells the listener when the loaf is ready to be tipped out of the pan onto a cooling rack.
Several years ago I received a bread machine for my birthday. Since I had gone back to work and the children had left for college, I had fallen out of the habit of bread baking. The machine and the books of recipes for single loaves of mouth-watering breads I subsequently received inspired me to begin baking bread again.
But this time it was altogether different. The machine instructions said that I was to place the various ingredients in the bowl in a prescribed order, close the lid, press the correct button, and wait for the finished loaf to materialize. It seemed implausible, but it worked. The only problem was that the loaf was shaped like a flowerpot.
All went well, however, until the day I discovered that my bread machine had suicidal tendencies. During the kneading cycle, the machine sometimes began walking itself toward the edge of the counter. As long as I was in the room when this dangerous behavior began, I could keep pushing it back to safety. It was only a matter of time, however, until I was out of earshot and it actually leaped off the counter with a resounding crash and unfortunate consequences to the machine.
The first time this happened, the glass dome shattered. So much for baking oddly shaped loaves. I quickly discovered to my joy that I could remove the dough from the bowl at the end of the kneading process and shape the loaf myself, allow it to rise in the conventional way, and bake it in the oven.
My new arrangement worked well for quite a long time. Of course, the machine continued its self-destructive behavior, and every time it fell another dent appeared or something else rattled its way loose and eventually off. The cord was too short for me to place the bread machine on the floor while I was using it, and nothing that I could devise kept it from wandering.
My poor machine leaped from the counter for the last time months after I had made the transition to doing the baking myself. So I happily abandoned the machine that had taken up so much space on my counter and retained all the wonderful new recipes I had collected. My mixer has a bread hook, so I began tossing together the ingredients and beating them with the mixer to make loaves as easily and efficiently as the machine ever did the job.
It pleases me to bake, slice, and serve my own bread. But I couldn't bake all our bread the way I do if I did not work at home most of the time. In fact, I count providing all our bread as one of the many advantages of having a job that keeps me at home.
What does any of this have to do with blindness? Nothing and everything. Like thousands of other Americans I love to bake. My family regularly sits down to fresh Stollen on Christmas morning, homemade pizza with Italian bread crust, and crusty French bread loaves on picnics. The only difference is that my family laughs together to think how many of the people who know us only casually believe that my husband must necessarily prepare all the meals in our home, do the laundry, and keep the house clean. He grumbles that it is hard to wear the crown of sainthood undeservedly.
Gradually we in the National Federation of the Blind are teaching the public that blind people can and do carry out our responsibilities, living full and productive lives. Through the years I have taken much satisfaction from feeding my family and teaching my children, God's children, and the children of my friends to bake their daily bread.
Help Change What It Means To Be
Blind By Taking These Actions
* Take time to learn what blind people are really like. Get to know one of us on a personal basis.
* Promote Braille literacy. Insist that blind children be taught Braille in the public schools. Blind children who can't read can't compete.
* Tell an employer that blind people can be good employees. Blind people face a 70% unemployment rate. You can help.
* Seek out parents of blind children. Help form a support group in your community. Informed parents give children opportunities.
* Distribute Kernel Books (stories about the capabilities of blind persons) to local public libraries and schools.
Why Large Type?
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 want 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.
A KERNEL BOOK published by NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Copyright © 1998 by the
National Federation of the Blind
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America