Future Reflections Fall 1994, Vol. 13 No. 3
by Mark Noble
Editor's Note: Mark Noble gave the following presentation to a parents' seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of Washington this past spring. Mark is an attorney and a long-time member and leader in the National Federation of the Blind.
One of the most oft-used expressions when I was a kid was to call someone a lucky dog. To be accorded the title lucky dog meant that something neat had happened to you-like being assigned a favorite homeroom teacher, or winning a bet, or getting picked to be on the best sports team. I was called a lucky dog when I was the first person in my school to get Super Skates.
How is a l960's clich germane to us here this morning? Or, in other words, are the people on this panel lucky dogs? Am I a lucky dog? Using Las Vegas standards, we are. The odds against a blind person's being competitively employed are approximately twenty-five to one. Yet, here we are defying the odds. Is it good luck or good parenting that spawned our success? Certainly luck is partly responsible. One can reasonably argue that it was good fortune, or a good God, or destiny that linked us with the parents we have.
If the odds were twenty-five to one for everyone, bookies would have had a field day with me! We were what sociologists now euphemistically refer to as "the working poor." My parents had extremely low-paying jobs and five children to care for. My older brother, Jim, had polio and was in speech therapy for several years. (By the way, he became a track star in high school and still runs nine miles a day.) We had medical bills that would make l990's parents sick with worry. Meat was a Sabbath day luxury. We always had a back yard garden. It is amazing what one can do with potatoes, beans, and rice. Welfare was never considered. My mom, because of the depression, never finished high school. The G.E.D. was the route my dad took. We overcame the odds because of my parents' faith in God, in me, and in our family's love. My parents were, by necessity, creative problem-solvers. As the fifties turned into the sixties, things improved some; but the hard-won lessons of tough times took.
Because my mom didn't feel comfortable reading aloud, my four brothers and sisters (all older) could avoid certain chores if they were reading to me. Consequently, by the time I was in the eighth grade I had read A Tale Of Two Cities, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, the Autobiography Of Malcolm X, and so forth-all books I later read in college. As my parents saw it, the choice was clear: either I would be educated or I would disgrace the family by begging in the streets.
My dad, a man of few words, was mechanically inclined. He taught me to tell time by taking the cover off an old clock he had found and placing pegs to show the differing time configurations. It seemed like whenever it was the most inconvenient, he would interrupt my activity, order me to go look and see what time it was, and tell him when it was time for the baseball game to be on.
He would plan vacations so that he could stop places where he could teach me things. On our way through the Midwest we stopped in Kansas so I could understand how wheat grew. On our way to Tennessee we stopped in Arkansas so I could feel what cotton was like before it had been picked.
I mentioned chores earlier. Don't think for one minute that my blindness precluded me from doing my share of the chores. Although, like any kid, I probably tried to use it-or anything else-to escape my responsibilities. My job was washing, draining, drying, and putting away the dishes. I'm surprised I still don't have dishpan hands. As older siblings moved out, I was also compelled to scrub the bathroom floor, the bathroom sink, the tub, and of course the toilet. When the younger of my two sisters moved out I inherited mopping and scrubbing the floors. You can bet I had more than one reason to cry at her wedding. Like most kids, I played hard, ran, fought, climbed trees, got into trouble, exchanged grief with my sisters, and lived.
When I was six years old, my parents sent me to the Texas School for the Blind. I remember that day better than yesterday. I couldn't understand why my mother cried so easily during that weekend before we left on what was, for me, an exciting trip that my dad had told me I would love. It is surprising that I wasn't suspicious when my older brothers insisted I go and have ice cream with them. That Sunday, we all piled in the car and left for Austin. Many years later, my mom told me that everyone cried the whole way home. It was not until that night that I realized that I would have to stay here and not go back home with my family. The school insisted that my parents stay away for at least one weekend. I will never forget the Friday my dad appeared, as if by magic, with one of his comedy bits. I had thought I would never see him again. I jumped up, and he tossed me in the air as always.
As a teen, I wanted so badly to be just one of the guys. Being cool surpassed everything in importance. It was only by luck and intervention of some good adults that I was not sent to "juvi." I went to public school my junior year.
Our family in no way resembled the Waltons. Like all real families, we were far from perfect. Like all parents, mine made mistakes. Like all families, we inevitably hurt each other sometimes.
It is hard for me, even at thirty-nine, to dispassionately tell you about my childhood. When I was nineteen my mom was killed in a car crash. She never got to see me graduate and get my master's degree. Cancer took my dad not long after that. There is not a day that goes by that I don't ache to see them again. Nor is there a day that I don't thank God for the love and ego strength they willed to me.
Upon reflection, I am a lucky dog, and I join with my colleagues to share with you the good fortune that springs from parents who believe in us. Like all of us in the National Federation of the Blind, I stand ready to help you-the parents of today's generation of blind children-in whatever way I can.