Beyond the Funny Tree

Marc Maurer, Editor


Editor's Introduction

Windows, Mathematics, and the Kentucky Derby
by Marc Maurer

Beyond the Funny Tree
by Denise Franklin

The Root and I
by Peter Mikochik

A Boa in my Brailler
by Barbara Loos

Why Not Math?
by Ramona Walhof

Sharp Knives and Chickens
by Elsie Hiebert Lamp

The Play Date
by Mary Ellen Gabias

Ice cream, Peanuts, Popcorn, and Worms
by Kevan Worley


NFB President, Marc MaurerWhen I began to edit this twenty-ninth volume in our Kernel Book series I was immediately intrigued by a story bearing the title Beyond the Funny Tree. Denise Franklin who had submitted this delightful story had used these words springing from a childhood experience to symbolize all of the wonder and goodness life might hold if one might just be allowed to go Beyond the Funny Tree--the funny tree being the limit beyond which she as a small blind child had been forbidden to venture. A limit no doubt which was quite appropriate for a six-year-old.

For all of us, going Beyond the Funny Tree--those limits that we ourselves or others place upon us--is a life-long endeavor. Call it a glorious adventure, a painful struggle, or more likely a combination of the two, it exists for us all.

In one sense this Kernel Book series is all about those limits as they play themselves out in the lives of those of us who are blind. You who have become our readers shift the balance along the beam from painful struggle to glorious adventure with each new understanding that works its way into your minds and hearts through these pages.

And so I invite you to look with us Beyond the Funny Tree: at a blind mother and her interactions with the parents of her children’s playmates, at the humorous adventures of a blind college student and her roommate’s pet boa constrictor, at the blind manager of a joint venture company with forty-eight employees, at the blind homemaker in the cooking class, and at the small blind child who dreamed of all that might lie Beyond the Funny Tree.

The persons who appear in the pages of this book are people that I know--friends and colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind. They are ordinary people who happen to be blind. They share their stories in the hope that you might come to understand blindness at something more than merely the surface level.

And, the process is working. With the release of this volume there are more than six and a quarter million Kernel Books in circulation. We are taking the mystery out of blindness. We are sharing with you our lives as we live them--our hopes and dreams, our failures and successes, our frustrations and our triumphs.

You are also coming to know about the National Federation of the Blind. Established in 1940, the Federation has been the single most important factor in helping blind people live normal lives and move toward full integration into society.

As you come to know us, the impact you have on our lives is enormous. Some of the limits we as blind people face are externally imposed, but some of them we put there ourselves. This means that when your hearts and minds are changed, so are our own. When we meet people who believe that we have the capacity to participate fully in all of the goodness life can hold, we are enabled to respond with belief.

Together we strike out on a glorious adventure and find that life is filled with wonder. We are glad that you are coming with us Beyond the Funny Tree and that you will be there to share all that we find.

Marc Maurer
Baltimore, Maryland

Windows, Mathematics, and the Kentucky Derby

by Marc Maurer

I have been blind all my life, and most of the time I have thought that blindness held no mysteries for me. However, sometimes I have gained perspective about the subject that has truly been astonishing.

When I was in high school, I walked from my home to the school grounds most days. One time when I was proceeding to class carrying a briefcase in one hand and a Braille writing machine in the other, I stepped into an open manhole and fell several feet. A policeman came to help me out of the hole. As he was assisting me in brushing off the mud, he asked me where my cane was. I responded to him by saying that I didn’t need a cane--that I could get along just fine without one. I held this opinion despite the reality that I had just stepped into an open manhole. Today I marvel at the idiocy of my own thought processes, and I wonder how many other times I have made foolish decisions without being aware that they were foolish.

In my work as President of the National Federation of the Blind, I use two different offices. One of them has windows, but the other does not. My office with windows was constructed as part of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, our new building erected to give us space to conduct innovative research and training programs. The windows are incorporated into the structure because sighted people like to look out of them, and they are impressed by the view. Sometimes the sunshine coming through these windows is intensely bright. Consequently, we have installed window coverings to diminish the intensity of the illumination. In constructing this office, we have undertaken considerable expense and much trouble to make it possible for others to enjoy the visual impression of a spectacular panorama--one that I cannot see at all.

My office without windows was built deliberately without them because most of the wall surface was planned to contain bookshelves. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, my predecessor as President of the National Federation of the Blind, supervised the construction of the office without windows. He pointed out that windows in modern buildings are sealed--they cannot be opened to let air in or out. They exist for the one purpose of permitting sighted people to look out of them. Furthermore, the presence of windows creates disadvantages. Windows weaken the structure, permit ultraviolet rays to enter the building and affect the paint and the colorings of furniture, and make it more difficult to heat the building in the winter and to cool it in the summer. Nevertheless, sighted people like to look out the windows. Some people argue that those who have windows also have greater peace of mind than those who don’t.

I like windows that can be opened because I appreciate the outdoors. With the windows open, I can feel the breeze and hear the sounds of my surroundings. However, I care little for windows that cannot be opened. The windows in my office cannot be opened, but I have them because other people find them exceedingly pleasant.

My office without windows is really a small library housing one of the best privately owned collections of Braille material that exists anywhere in the world. There are no windows because the walls are lined with books. When I want solitude and seclusion, this is the ideal setting. When I need to work without interruption, the book-lined office is the place to be.

Sometimes people think that the blind should not be included in events or activities because part of the experience is visual. Do blind people enjoy spectator sports, fashion shows, visits to museums, attendance at theatres, or picnics in the park? In the days when I was at college at the University of Notre Dame, the coaches tried to imagine what they would do in gym class if they were blind. Notre Dame did not teach bowling, an activity many believe the blind can perform effectively, and the coaches discovered that I was an accomplished swimmer, so they had nothing to teach me in that class. When they were testing all of us for our prowess in track and field, they decided that I should not run the quarter mile. They didn’t know how I would do it. Basketball, hockey, baseball, golf, football, and tennis were all out, according to the coaches. Eventually we settled on ice skating and weightlifting for my activities in gym, and there was a great deal of doubt about the ice skating. The coaches weren’t sure that blind people should be in gym class under any circumstances, and they would have been just as happy if I asked them to waive the requirement. They asked me repeatedly if I didn’t want to skip the class, but I had come planning to participate fully in all college activities. Before the year had ended, I had learned to skate so well that newspaper reporters came to take pictures of me doing it.

Professors in the academic classes lectured, sometimes employed diagrams, and occasionally handed out written material. Most people believed that I could participate fully in the academic world. I could ask about the written diagrams after class, and learn what I needed to know.

The one exception was math class. I was studying engineering calculus, and the professor operated almost entirely visually. He would stand before the blackboard and say, “First you . . . ” and he would write some symbols on the board. He would proceed by saying, “Then you . . .” and write some more symbols on the board. I went to visit him in his office to ask for assistance in understanding what was happening in class. To my consternation I discovered that he had a blackboard in his office. When I asked about the subject of engineering calculus, he stood before the blackboard with a piece of chalk in his hand and began to write. Eventually I got myself a graduate student to tutor me in engineering calculus because my professor had no concept of explaining mathematical symbols or ideas out loud.

My experience shows me that blind people do enjoy spectator sports, fashion shows, visits to museums, attendance at theatres, and picnics in the park. Sometimes it is essential to do a little advanced planning. Museums sometimes put their exhibits in glass cases, and I have come to think that if I ever encounter another glass case, it will be one too many. When I explored with members of my family the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., I started counting the glass cases. When I got to 153, I started wondering how many square feet of glass each one had in it, and I estimated the weight of the glass in all of the cases I had touched that day. My mind refuses to be idle, and I needed some problem for it to tackle while I was standing by the 153rd glass case.

Nevertheless, I have visited many museums in which I have been stimulated by the artifacts I have been able to examine. The wing of a fighter plane, the helmet from a space suit that has been to the moon and back, the furniture used at Mount Vernon, the statuesque figure of a woman performing a full arabesque dance movement--these I have examined in museums; and I have learned. Now, when I visit a museum, I call in advance to learn what there is that can come under my hands. I also try to learn how each artifact was acquired, who brought it to the museum, what story is associated with it before it was added to the collection, and how it was made. One of my favorite places to visit is the town of Williamsburg, Virginia. The manner of living of the mid-1700s is displayed in Williamsburg. A carriage wheel is held together by the iron tire that wraps around it. The tire is forged by a blacksmith to be smaller than the wheel. It is heated so that the iron expands and is fitted over the wheel. When the iron contracts, the snug pressure fit holds the pieces of the wheel together and keeps the tire in place. Before I visited Williamsburg, I thought a tire was made of rubber. I now know that a tire, the outer covering of a wheel, can also be made of iron.

Recently I was invited to attend the Kentucky Derby. This horse race occurs on the first Saturday of May each year. The first Kentucky Derby took place in 1875. The race lasts approximately two minutes--the fastest Kentucky Derby on record occurred in 1973 and lasted just slightly under two minutes. Secretariat was the horse that won that Derby.

My wife Patricia and I are both blind, so we speculated about what we would encounter in attending the race. Part of the commentary that comes with each Derby day is lyrical writing about the beauty of the horses. We who cannot observe these magnificent creatures must gain our impressions of the race from other characteristics.

We entered the track at Churchhill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on a warm sunny afternoon. Our box was a little above and about twenty to thirty feet back from the track itself. Warmed by the afternoon sun and cooled by the gentle breeze, we might have drowsed except that the excitement in the air was almost palpable. More than 150,000 people had gathered with us to observe what has been called the most exciting two minutes in sports. A mélange of aromas--cigar smoke, perfumes of many descriptions, the scent of foodstuffs and beverages, and the smell of the track came to our nostrils and told their story. It was a day of excitement, of celebration, of hope, of anticipation.

Each time the horses emerged from the starting gate for one of the events on the racing card, the crowd would begin to cheer, and the cheering reached its crescendo as the horses crossed the finish line. Between races the sporting members of the assembly proceeded to the betting windows--some joyously to collect their winnings but most grimly determined to do better next time.

Shortly after 6:00 p.m. the horses for the Derby were brought onto the track. When the race began, the excitement that had filled the arena during the afternoon seemed as nothing compared with the clamor that rose from the multitude. The crowd was on its feet, and the favorite (reported to be the biggest horse in the race) was being urged to maximum effort. However, other horses seemed to be outperforming the biggest horse on the field. When the leader reached the finish line, there was confusion and a gasp of excitement. Could it be true? Was it possible? Apparently a long shot--a 50:1 horse--had won the Derby in slightly more than two minutes. Almost nobody could believe it; the reporters had not even mentioned the winner’s name until the very last seconds of the race. Those in our box had put two dollars on the horse just because the odds were so long. Our two dollars brought us a hundred. The Kentucky Derby had been won by a horse whose jockey never expected to win. We marveled at the uncertainty of horse racing; we congratulated each other on our good fortune in betting the winner; we observed the disappointment of others and felt gratitude at having avoided it.

Do blind people enjoy a picnic or a sporting event? Indeed, we do. We cannot observe the color of the grass or the sky or the bird that has flown overhead, but we can appreciate and share the scents, the sounds, the atmosphere, and sometimes the flavor of a tart lemonade. Then, too, is the ambiance--the feeling of a shared experience; the knowledge that others have been where we now are; the reality that for each event there is a context, a framework, a history. We want to be part of the ambiance--a piece of the history. With your help, with your support of the programs of the National Federation of the Blind, increasingly this is precisely what we are doing.

Beyond the Funny Tree

by Denise Franklin

Denise FranklinDenise Franklin and her husband Dennis are stalwart leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky and have given generously of their time and talent to help other blind individuals come to live full and productive lives. The story Denise presents here is an uplifting and exuberant celebration of the goodness of life. This is what she has to say:

The tree wasn’t really funny. It didn’t make strange faces or crack jokes. In fact, I don’t recall one person ever laughing at it. In truth, the funny tree was simply the result of several seedlings sprouting from the same spot of fertile ground, creating a cluster of four or five small trunks. But to me and the rest of my five-year-old pals, it was a landmark; a destination; a meeting place; and, since the space in the center was big enough to shelter a small child, a favorite hiding spot.

Our street was in one of the poorer parts of town. The houses were old, and parents worked hard for small salaries. Our household was not typical; it consisted of my mom, grandmother, uncle, brother, and me. My grandmother--always known as Nanny--stayed home to look after my brother and me, while Mom and my uncle worked. Money was scarce, and if we were lucky enough to get a new set of blocks or baby doll, we treasured it. Somehow those cherished toys seemed to last longer than today’s playthings.

But most of the time we just played together. We didn’t really need lots of fancy equipment to play “Red Rover,” “Hide-and-seek,” or “Rotten Egg.” Of course I knew I couldn’t see as well as my brother and the rest of the kids, but it just didn’t seem to matter to me or to them. When we gathered at someone’s house to watch cartoons, I was always allowed to sit right in front. If we played Peggy--a game very much like softball--I went up to bat just like everyone else, with one exception--someone would tell me when to swing. A few times I actually hit the ball.

One Christmas, Santa Claus (with lots of help from my uncle) brought bicycles to my brother and me. Now, a blind child and a bicycle is a combination that would probably unnerve the most unflappable of parents. I don’t really remember any of the discussions, but I feel certain there must have been dozens.

The outcome was that I was allowed to ride my bike, but only if Mom or Nanny was there to keep an eye out--and only as far as the funny tree. I loved riding that bike. Breezing along the sidewalk with the wind in my face was the closest thing to flying I had experienced. But that funny tree was only about six houses down the block, which made for a pretty short trip.

Over and over I made my journey. Soon my natural curiosity began inventing things that might lie just beyond that landmark. I didn’t know any children who lived down there, so I made up stories about that part of our street. I decided that a mean, old witch who lived in a big, spooky house had put a spell on that tree and made it grow in that peculiar way.

In the summer of 1957, I was six years old, as were several of my friends. When we played, it seemed that everyone was talking about going to school. We had played “school” many times, but this was the real thing.

At my house there was school talk also. Unlike the other families, we were not discussing lunchboxes and Crayons. Some of the talk was pretty loud--more like arguments. My mother had made some inquiries and thought that it would be best if I attended the Kentucky School for the Blind. My grandmother, on the other hand, had grown up believing that blindness was something to be feared and refused to admit that I needed special education. She referred to the school for the blind as the “blind asylum” and firmly believed I should take sight-saving classes in the public school system.

Small children are very impressionable, and my grandmother’s misgivings found fertile ground in my young mind. As the summer went on, it became increasingly apparent to everyone that my eyesight was not even good enough for sight-saving classes. It seemed I always had a powdery white nose from trying to see the letters on my chalkboard. Cutting pictures out of magazines, one of my favorite pastimes, was a hazardous undertaking, since I had to position the pictures and scissors just an inch or two from my eyes.

So the decision was made, and in September 1957 I enrolled at the Kentucky School for the Blind. And what a wonderful decision it was! At school, I learned to play new games, participated in extracurricular activities and, most importantly, I learned to read Braille. As the years went by, I studied the usual academics, but I also learned to sew, cook, dance, and travel with a cane.

In the early seventies, I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind, where I discovered that being blind is not really as terrifying as my grandmother believed. I have held several board positions in our local chapter and am currently its president. There is nothing so rewarding as teaching another blind person that his/her lack of sight doesn’t have to stand in the way of a full and rewarding life. By working together, we really are changing what it means to be blind.

Today I believe I have finally gone beyond the funny tree, and it’s more miraculous than my six-year-old imagination could have conceived. Life beyond that tree is filled with blind students using speech-equipped computers, blind folks owning and managing their own successful businesses, and blind athletes climbing the tallest mountain in the world.

That funny tree and the house where I lived are gone now. As Louisville’s population grew, the need for new transportation routes expanded, and an expressway now runs where we once played. I like to think that the boundaries set for me as a child made me eager to expand my horizons. I believe it’s just human nature to dream beyond the funny tree.

The Root and I

by Peter Mikochik

Peter Mikochik is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. Ingenuity, humor, confidence, and stubbornness are characteristics that abound in Peter. One day he set out to do battle with a root. Here is how he tells his story:

Anyone who knows me knows that I am truly a do-it-yourself kind of guy. This means that I work alone. Being totally blind, this sometimes presents problems, but overcoming these is a large part of the satisfaction I get when I finish a project.

Sure, I have a sighted wife who is excellent at many things and would crawl under the house with a rope in her teeth if I asked her to, but she is not of a mechanical nature, and I do not wish to endanger her health or good looks by assisting me in my
hare-brained schemes.

I live in a beach resort community, so the local handymen are too busy working on the millionaire estates to bother with small fish like me, and I really do not need the aggravation. So I work alone, which means that I engineer many fantastic ways of doing things, not just because of being blind, but also because I only have two hands, and many times I need at least three or four.

Anyway, I digress. Yesterday my wife said, “Get rid of those bushes.” “No problem,” I said (my usual reply). I have cut down many a mighty tree, so I thought this would be a simple task; I would be finished by lunchtime. By 1:30 I was soaked with sweat. The limbs cut off easily--but the roots! I dug and hacked and sawed, but nothing. I was working by the roadside and a passing woman said, “You’ve got to chain it to a car and pull it out.”

“Hmmm,” I thought. My methods so far were so ineffective that I considered this. There is an old minivan in my backyard, recently taken off the road, which I use as a giant toolbox and fort. The radio and cigarette lighter still work, so I haven’t had the heart to call the wreckers.

Anyway, I digress again. My problem was to get the van from the backyard to the site of the tug-of-war. I went around the side of the garage and found an 18-foot 2 by 6. I carried it over and laid it parallel to the van, on the driver’s side. I got in, fired it up, and rolled down the window. With my cane I could feel the 2 by 6 on the ground just fine, so I dropped her into reverse and backed up.

Feeling with my cane, I could tell that I was veering way off course. I put it in park, got out, and looked at the front tires. They were pointing the wrong way. I turned the steering wheel and felt the tire again until it was straight. I then looked at the orientation of the steering wheel so I could get a better idea of how much it turns.

I got in, stuck my cane back out, and successfully backed up for the length of the board. When I got to the end, I got out and slid the board back along my way and repeated this until I got close to the bush. Being a beach town, it is pretty quiet around here this time of year, so not many cars passed. I’ll never know who saw me doing this, but no one stopped to criticize or assist.

With the car in position, I wrapped a thick strong rope around the root and to the trailer hitch. I repositioned my 2 by 6, checked the tire orientation, snapped my seat belt to keep my front teeth in my mouth instead of decorating the steering wheel when the bush gave way, and threw her into low. Pulling and straining, the car went nowhere. I switched to a foot on each pedal as I revved the old engine and slowly released the brake. Not an inch did I budge, let alone the 2 by 6. More power raised my concern that when the bush let loose I would careen into the side of my house, and my wife would notice the car in the living room when she got home.

I took the van out of gear, and it rolled back a foot--the stubborn bush not at all loosened. Again I tried adding more power until the rope broke, and I shot forward. Luckily the seat belt held as my foot slammed the brake causing the contents of junk in the back to rush towards me.

I undid the broken rope and maneuvered the van back to the back. Tomorrow I’ll go to the hardware store and get a 16-foot length of chain, and, when no one is looking, try again.


A Boa in My Brailler

by Barbara Loos

Barbara LoosMost people make the automatic assumption that blind people live unusual lives, and, if questioned about the matter, would come up with a number of examples of things they would regard as “unusual.” But none, I would venture to say, could imagine the following tale told by Barbara Loos, a long-time leader in the National Federation of the Blind and a frequent contributor to the Kernel Book series. Here is what she has to say:

A few days before my sophomore year of college officially began, my mother, sister, and I went to see which room I would occupy in Selleck Quadrangle and which one my sister, a year ahead of me, would have in another dorm on the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus. I had that butterfly feeling familiar since childhood when wondering who my roommate would be at the school for the blind in Nebraska City. One thing was different now though. Then, although I didn’t know specifically with whom I would share a room, I knew all the girls in question. Now I would be meeting someone new. The roommate I had had as a freshman had been a senior who had graduated at the end of the year. I was happy for her but sad for me. She and I had become friends. We still usually catch up by letter at Christmas time.

As we entered the room I would soon call mine, my butterflies were soon replaced by intrigue. Just inside the door my mother stopped dead in her tracks.

“Well, I guess we know which desk will be yours,” she announced in a tone of both disbelief and disgust.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because this,” she said, placing my hand on something, “is on the other one.”

“How strange,” I said, mystified. “I wonder why someone would have a skull.”

Then there was the peculiar wooden box with a light bulb in it. What on earth was that? The right-hand end of the closet bar was sparsely hung with work shirts. There were no other outward signs of occupation. Whoever this person was, I was now looking forward to meeting her.

When we came back later to move my things in, she was there. Her name was Diane. The skull was a gift from a friend. The box with the light was for Otis, her pet boa constrictor. He had his own light bulb because temperatures below eighty degrees or so would make him lethargic. Although she had assured us that Otis had no way of escaping, my mother emphatically decreed, after Diane left, that she refused to read to me in that room.

For my part I enjoyed getting to know Otis. He liked to wrap around my arm and lean toward lights or slither from one of my legs to the other when I was seated. It was fun sometimes to carry him around and let him reach for things.

Only one time was my relationship with Otis anything other than amicable. Diane was cleaning his home while I sat on my bed, enjoying Otis as he lounged companionably in my lap. Suddenly I noticed that he was moving purposefully to my left. As I slid my fingers gently along his body, I discovered his mission in progress.

His head and upper body were already inside my Brailler--a machine more or less like a typewriter, except that it has only six keys for creating the dots that form letters, numbers, and other symbols; a spacebar; a carriage-return lever; and both backspace and line-advance keys. Otis had entered by climbing over the keys and through the space along which the carriage moves. He had begun to intertwine himself in the inner mechanisms in such a way that pulling him out didn’t seem possible. I tried that anyway, having no other ideas. His response was a firmer grip on something in there and a resistance in his muscles that was both fascinating and unnerving.

Diane, a pretty unflappable soul, suggested that we let him come out when he decided to. When I asked how long that might take, she said that when he had gone into her skull, he had stayed only two weeks. Two weeks! I had homework to do that very night for which I needed to use the machine. I was horrified.

After telling her that this would never do, I started weighing options. Turning the Brailler this way and that, I hoped to inspire Otis to come out and look for more suitable quarters. Instead he pulled more of himself inside. So by the time Diane reached her friend, Tim, who had graduated from boa constrictors as pets to pythons, his suggestion of pulling him out backward was absolutely out of the question. Not only was I concerned about tearing his skin, but I was also having a hard time coming up with an explanation to a repairperson of just how some of the internal workings of the Brailler had become bent, should that occur. I didn’t think anyone would buy “My roommate’s snake did it.”

Only one genuinely rational option occurred to me. We needed to take the Brailler apart. Removing the bottom was easy. It is made of something akin to Masonite and is held in place by eleven small screws. Since from time to time other objects had found their way into the cavity now occupied by Otis, I had a Phillips head screwdriver in my desk drawer just right for the job. Removing the base had an effect on Otis similar to moving the machine around, so it was still impossible simply to pull Otis out. Since the rest of the machine is held together by screws of various sizes, my single screwdriver was insufficient.

Fortunately, just down the hall lived my friend Judy. She generally had or could find both the tools and the ingenuity to deal with almost anything. Today she makes her living as a geneticist. That night I sought her out mostly for her tools, although I was hoping for a dose of ingenuity as well. She was initially a bit dubious about the project. Ultimately, though, the thing was just too funny for her to pass up. We soon had both Otis and my Brailler restored to their proper stations, injury-free.

Although thirty-five years have passed since this event, I have never tired of telling the tale. I think that’s because, during the course of that school year, Otis managed to snake his way into my heart as well as my Brailler.


Why Not Math?

by Ramona Walhof

Ramona WalhofOne of the problems blind people often face is that it is hard for sighted people to imagine just how the blind person will accomplish a given task. This seems to be especially true when it comes to mathematics. Blind children are frequently discouraged from pursuing careers involving mathematics and good performance in classes is neither expected nor encouraged. Ramona Walhof, a long-time leader in the National Federation of the Blind, explores this issue as she reminisces about her own experiences as a blind student. Here is what she has to say:

When I was a student at the school for the blind, my poorest grades were always in math. I never flunked, (I received B’s and C’s), and I really didn’t know what to do to improve. I knew how to do the work, and I turned in my homework on time. I generally did well on tests.

Sometimes I made mistakes when I had to work fifty or 100 similar problems. Long division and triple multiplication problems were fun to work once, but after twenty-five or fifty, I just wanted to get done and got sloppy. In algebra, I sometimes forgot to write down one step which seemed obvious to me, but it cost me points.

I thought math was boring. No one ever seemed to care that math was my worst subject, and no one ever said I should do better. Mostly, blind people were not expected to do well in math, and if people ever thought about it, I suppose they really didn’t believe any of us would be working in a career where it would matter.

I didn’t understand why blind people shouldn’t be able to do math. Working the problems in Braille seemed easy enough, although often someone would talk about how difficult it was. Occasionally, I asked if I should do something to bring my math grades up. The answer was always that I was doing fine. I didn’t agree, but it seemed futile.

When I was a junior in high school, plain geometry was offered. This happened once every two or three years because classes were small, and math was only considered important to meet college entrance requirements.

There were six students in our geometry class: three large print readers and three Braille students. One of the Braille students watched a TV class on math each morning, and the math teacher would spend part of most classes helping him fill in whatever he might have missed during the program. The rest of us talked and waited patiently.

I liked geometry and was sure I understood ways to use what we were learning. First quarter I got a B. The large print readers and I got B’s. The other two Braille readers got C’s. This was not unusual for math classes.

Second quarter we had a student teacher in math. When the classroom teacher was talking to the student about the TV show, the student teacher would start class. Furthermore, he encouraged me to try for an A. He did not seem to know that blind people weren’t expected to do well in math. This was a challenge, and one I was happy to have.

After the first big test, this student teacher was very complimentary. He gave us our papers and scores and said they were good. Nobody in math ever did that before. I thought the scores were poor and said so. He said the test was college level and that he had been experimenting and was pleased with our results.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him. Was he just trying to make us feel better about our bad scores? Whatever he was doing, it was different.

On the next test, I got a score that I liked--above 95. My score was the highest in the class on both tests. This was also not unusual but never resulted in an A on my report card. But I did get an A that quarter. The next quarter we had another student teacher, and I got another A on that report card, too. Why, I wondered, could I do geometry better than other math?

When I took the ACT, I scored in the 70’s on the verbal section and was disappointed. I scored ninety-seventh percentile in math and was astonished. I thought it must have been a fluke and somehow there had been a mistake.

When I suggested this to the admissions people at Iowa State University, they rejected the idea emphatically. They said sometimes students scored less well than their ability would indicate, but never better. What did it mean?

How could I have received average grades most of the way through high school and ranked in the ninety-seventh percentile on the ACT? I felt unprepared for college math courses.

I enrolled at Georgetown University as a foreign language student with real encouragement from Dr. Jernigan. I knew he wanted his students to pioneer in new areas for blind people. I knew he thought this would be helpful for all blind people. So he helped me get the funds to go to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I did not want to let him down, but I had no real understanding of my abilities.

I had taken a test in languages in national competition and scored reasonably well, and I had done well in Latin in high school. I thought I had a chance to live up to expectations in foreign languages. Math was not required, and I did not take any.

However, two years of philosophy was required of non-Catholic students. The first semester was logic. I happened to enroll in a section that was taught by a gentleman from North Africa who spoke much better French than English. He taught primarily by working out problems on the blackboard. The problems were fun to work.

I asked for and received permission to talk with one of the other girls in the class so that she could describe what the professor was doing on the blackboard. Many of his problems were more interesting than those in the textbook.

Then came the first test. I took it orally, hoping that I could understand the professor’s accent. I was asked to work some of the problems we had been doing during the class and explain the reasoning. Later, I learned that this was exactly what the other students were asked to do. There were only about three complex problems. I felt quite happy with the test, but was still not confident in my ability.

When we were finished, the professor said: “Good. You are a good math student.” I simply thanked him.

I did not dare to tell him that I had taken no other college math whatsoever! That was the first time it had occurred to me that this course was full of math. Reasoning was necessary, but all the problems were math. I received an A in that course and so did my reader, the girl who described the problems written on the blackboard and read the papers handed out in class.

I had the textbook on tape, but many of the charts had been omitted on the recording, so I needed to have someone describe them. My reader was a sophomore. When she told me about her grade, she was very excited. It turned out that this was her first A so far in college, and she thought working so many problems with me had helped her understand the material.

By the end of that course, I wondered if it had been a mistake not to have taken some other math courses, but I was sure my high school background was too weak. I did not stop to think that my high school background in some other areas was weak, as well.

Much later in my career, I found myself in a job requiring me to manage a budget of two million dollars. It was one of my favorite parts of the job. Finding creative ways to get more done than was expected with the funds we had was a challenge, and I found I could often stretch the dollars.

Now I run a business and manage a staff of more than sixty people. It is essential to plan and pay close attention to bank balances, expenditures, income received and income anticipated. This is all part of running a business, and not boring at all.

I meet many excellent math students in the National Federation of the Blind. And I meet others who have been discouraged from taking math. I share my own experiences in math, and I refer blind students to one another. I wonder what career I might have chosen if I had not believed I could not succeed very well in math. I might have majored in business or in foreign service which required several courses in economics.

I am not unhappy with my career or my life. Still, it is important to me that blind children and young adults have the same kinds of choices for school, work, and life that sighted children have. That is why I joined the National Federation of the Blind, and it is why I keep working in this organization.

Sharp Knives and Chickens

by Elsie Hiebert Lamp

Elsie Hiebert LampElsie Lamp is a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother and is active in her community in politics and public affairs. Her vast experience growing up on a self-sufficient farm served her in good stead in a recent cooking class. Here is how she tells her story:

“Watch out, that’s a sharp knife!” The instructor almost screamed at me. Her shrill warning scared me, and I jumped. Luckily I already had a good grip on my knife.

I’m sure that I made the instructor very nervous because I am blind. She probably assumed that I would also not be able to complete the task that she was going to teach. I know that misunderstandings about blindness are very prevalent. She did not know me, but I knew that some of my classmates had confidence in my ability from their previous experiences with me. I assured her that I would be careful, but that I would appreciate it if she would not scare me anymore.

The instructor was attempting to teach, for our culinary enjoyment, a group of more than twenty women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Relief Society) to de-bone a whole fowl, i.e. turkey, goose, pheasant, duck, dove, quail, or chicken, etc. for roasting with stuffing/dressing.

The great thing about this technique is that after the bird is put on the table, it looks beautiful. We can slice servings straight through the meat and stuffing. I make a nice looking circular serving with the golden brown outer skin, the meat color, and the varied texture of the stuffing in the middle. When dinner is over there is no unsightly carcass of a dead bird on the table. She told us that we would retain the drumstick bones and the middle wing bones while completely removing the wing tip. It really is easier than it sounds (at least for me).

We had each been asked to bring a whole chicken from the meat department of the supermarket and a good knife. I went to the class with my required items and an excitement of what I was about to learn.

While growing up in a large conservative Mennonite family in Northeastern Washington State and Southeastern Idaho, we, for the most part, produced all that we consumed. Exceptions were a few spices, sugar and flour for our homemade bread, egg noodles, and other baked treats. As you can imagine we all were taught great work ethics. Running our place was a team effort, and everyone had to do his or her part. We drank milk from our cows and made our own whipped cream, cottage cheese, etc. Our chickens produced our eggs. We grew a huge garden with beets, beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, turnips, horseradish, radishes, corn, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, onions, mint, parsley, strawberries, apples, squash, rhubarb, asparagus, herbs, and raspberries. Occasionally we would grow other things too. We raised rabbits, pigs, cows, guinea hens, sheep, horses, dogs, cats, and chickens--lots of chickens.

We had laying hens, Banti hens, required roosters, and brooder chickens or fryers for eating. We raised thousands of them every year. We butchered some of our livestock, including rendering our own lard. We ate beef, pork chops, smoked sausage, lard, cracklings, tongue, liver, rabbit, and chicken that we raised. We also ate fish that we caught when we went fishing and any game that family members shot while hunting.

Favorites were venison (deer meat), goose, and pheasant. We made our own juices, jarred fruits, noodles, pickles, relish, jam, baked goods, and German sausage that we stuffed in casing and smoked with apple wood. We sold fryers and smoked German sausage to supplement the family income.

I am very familiar with chickens. I know the cleanest, most humane way to kill a chicken. I can cut a chicken in small serving pieces without ever cutting through a bone. I can butcher one faster and better than almost any American. My mother and I used to clean three hundred chickens in a six-hour period, including the cleanup. I do know chickens.

So, let’s go back to our de-boning class. Our instructor intended to teach the class by demonstrating the technique. She had not anticipated such a large group, nor had she been prepared to teach a blind woman. In order for her to make her necessary cuts, she had to have her bird on the counter in front of her, which made it impossible for all to see what she was doing. She stumbled with words, trying verbally to describe what she was doing, so that we could duplicate it. Students were asking her to show them again. How can you re-cut what you have already done? Many students were giving up and/or expressing skepticism. I began to feel sorry for her as she became more nervous and flustered. Finally, I interrupted her. “May I ask you a question?” She seemed even more nervous but affirmed her permission. “Would you like me to demonstrate what you are doing to half of the class while you show the other half what you are doing?”

There was an audible sigh, and it was not just from the instructor. “Do you think that you can do it? How will you know what I am doing?”

We began an enjoyable class that ran into instruction of some other techniques that I demonstrated, upon request of the instructor. I was able to show the students how to remove the bones successfully. The instructor told us to throw the bones in the garbage. “If you need some great broth from which to make your gravy, don’t throw them away,” I protested. “Parboil them with a couple of whole cloves and some parsley for the best tasting broth you have ever had.”

I do not know how many of the students have used the technique that we learned that evening. I know that several use it, because we have discussed it on occasion. I have used it. It is time-consuming, so I only do it for very special dinners, if I have a lot of time for preparation. But I know that a very grateful instructor thanked me so profusely that I was embarrassed.

She said that if I had not been there the class would have been a disaster, and she would have run from the crowded kitchen in tears. She was probably right. She let me know how much she had learned from me. I, too, expressed gratitude for learning “a new chicken trick.” I changed in her mind about what it means to be blind. She no longer viewed me a helpless person.

Yes, my knife was a sharp as anyone’s in the room. I probably had more experience using it on a chicken than anyone else there. My blindness did not interfere with my skill. In fact, I was much better at describing what and how to manipulate the knife and the hands to de-bone the chickens than our instructor was. My biggest disability is often others’ misunderstandings about blindness.

The National Federation of the Blind has helped to change the misconceptions about blindness--both in my own life and in the communities we live in.

The Play Date

by Mary Ellen Gabias

Mary Ellen GabiasBefore moving to Canada with her husband, Mary Ellen Gabias was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind and a member of the staff at the National Center for the Blind. She now works in the family business and raises four children. The following story captures both the pain and the possibilities that come as part of the adventure of being a parent. Here is her story:

I choked back the tears as I hung up the phone. It had started as a routine call to arrange a play date for my son Jeffrey. He was four at the time and attended preschool. His older sister Joanne had been at the school for three years and had moved on to first grade. I’d arranged dozens of play dates for the two of them by then, so I was completely unprepared for the embarrassed silence on the other end of the line. Sue (not her real name) hesitated for a long moment and then said, “Well, I don’t know how to say this, but--”

I let the silence hang for what seemed like hours (though it was probably only seconds) while I collected my thoughts. Then, as gently and calmly as I could, I asked, “Are you uneasy about letting your boys come here to play because both my husband and I are blind?”

“Well,” Sue replied, “I’m sure you manage very well, but I don’t know how, and I refuse to take any chances with my children’s safety.”

“First of all, Sue, I want you to know how glad I am that you’re a mother who takes the responsibility of keeping children safe seriously. Knowing that makes me more comfortable in letting Jeffrey visit your home. I’m the same way. I won’t let being politically correct interfere with that responsibility. So we’re starting from the same values. But we’re not starting from the same level of information. Is this the first time you’ve known a blind mother?”

“Yes. I don’t understand how you can look after a child when you can’t see. I’m constantly looking to see what mine is doing.”

“As they say in those bad old movies, ‘We have our ways.’ Seriously, though, I’d be glad to answer any specific questions. But it might be easier for you to talk to one of the other mothers in the class. Do you know Wendy? Her son has been here several times. He’s never gone home with an injury. Perhaps you could call her and then call me back with any questions. I’ll check back with you in a few days.”

Now I had to decide what to say to Jeffrey. He really liked Sue’s boys and wanted to play with them. Sue had made it clear that Jeffrey was welcome at her home, but that wouldn’t do if she wasn’t willing to let her children visit us. We certainly couldn’t allow Jeffrey to get the idea that his home was not an acceptable place for his friends to come. Better to put an end to this friendship and cultivate relationships with families who respected us and the way we parented. Still, losing contact with those boys would be deeply disappointing for Jeffrey, and it would be hard for him to understand.

But I had a more immediate problem. I’d just put my friend Wendy on the spot. I had to let her know what I had done.

“I’ll be glad to talk to Sue,” Wendy said. “I’ve never told you this, Mary Ellen, but I had some of the same worries when I first met you. I really liked Jeffrey immediately, and so did Ryan. I watched you interact with him and Joanne and went home and told my husband Rick what a neat family I thought you were. We have a lot of the same ideas about how to treat children. But when you invited Ryan over, I wondered out loud to Rick whether it was a good idea to let him go.

“Rick said ‘Wait a minute! You just spent the last three minutes telling me how much you liked this family. They have two children who seem to be safe and well cared for. You like their approach; you just don’t know anything about blindness. Do you really have to know the details? If what they’re doing works, and you just told me that it does, then why do you care exactly how they do things? If you keep Ryan from going there just because of what you don’t understand, you are being prejudiced.’”

“He was right. I’ll be glad to tell Sue that.”

That night over dinner I told my husband Paul about what had happened. He wasn’t sad; he was furious! “What’s wrong with that woman? We have three children. They’re all obviously doing fine. How dare she question your competence as a mother? You don’t have to justify yourself to her or anyone else. Tell her you don’t want Jeffrey associating with children who have such a stupid, ignorant mother.”

But it was Joanne who put the whole thing in perspective. “What’s the matter, Daddy? Why are you so mad, and why is Mommy so sad?”

“Sue doesn’t think your Mommy can take care of children safely.” Joanne looked from her father to me, threw back her head, and laughed.

A few days later I called Sue, who said, “I’d be glad to have my boys come to your house, Mary Ellen. What day works for you?”

She had talked to Wendy and to the preschool teacher. Whatever they told her, it was enough to calm her fears. I let her know that I couldn’t guarantee that her children wouldn’t fall off the swing and break a leg, but I could guarantee that nothing would happen to them that could be prevented by good adult supervision. She replied that the same was true at her home.

I don’t remember many details of the visit. I think her boys preferred wheat bread to my multigrain variety. I suspect I probably hovered over them a little more than necessary. I am sure the boys took turns being Batman, Superman, and the villain.

The next year the boys went to different schools. As so often happens with preschool friendships, they lost touch with one another as they grew older. But I will never forget Sue and Wendy and the lessons they taught me.

I’ll always be grateful to Wendy and her husband Rick for having the wisdom and courage to trust the results they observed without needing to know the details of the process that created those results. If we hadn’t had the conversation about Sue, I might never have known that Wendy had stretched her thinking to let herself trust me with her child. And I will always remember Sue with respect for having the courage to ask the questions she did and for being willing to be socially uncomfortable to ensure her children’s safety.

My husband’s instant and vigorous affirmation of my mothering skill has stuck with me, especially during those times when I, like all mothers, have doubted myself. And Joanne’s unrestrained laughter sticks in my memory and reminds me not to take myself or my problems too seriously.

In the National Federation of the Blind we know that the public has good will, but not always good information, about blindness. It was through my participation in the Federation that I learned to respect the sincerity of the questions Sue asked, deal with them candidly, and not be discouraged or diminished by her lack of knowledge.
One other mother raised the same issues Sue did, and she was far less willing to be educated. I decided not to allow my youngest son to continue playing with her children because of her lack of respect for me as a blind mother. Though this is sad, I have learned through the Federation that her attitude says more about her than it does about me. I wish her well.

Perhaps over time she will come to a different understanding. In the meantime the world is full of people with the willingness to entertain new ways of thinking about blindness. The National Federation of the Blind is creating a climate that is turning this willingness into positive change, not only for blind people, but for the sighted people whose horizons are being expanded in the process.


Ice cream, Peanuts, Popcorn, and Worms

by Kevan Worley

Kevan WorleyToday Kevan Worley is a successful businessman with four dozen employees. Yet, there was a time when--despite a wonderfully nurturing childhood filled with rich and colorful experiences--he felt that the world held no bright future. Here is how he tells his story:

Looking back on my life it seems I was destined to be in business. As early as I can remember I was selling something. Born almost totally blind due to a brain injury, my parents raised me pretty much as they brought up their other children. There was time for play, time for chores, time for church, time for homework, and plenty of time to just be a kid. My parents tried their best to find special schooling to give me the education they felt sure a blind person would need. But many times they just did not know what to do or where to send me for the best education.

For one thing Dad was in the army, so we moved around a lot. For another, information was pretty scarce, and Mom tells me what there was of it tended to be pretty doom and gloom or contradictory. She and Dad had trouble reconciling in their minds how the professional educators would say to them: “A blind child needs lots of extra help in order to succeed in life. But even with all of our extra special help and attention, don’t expect much.” Adding to their confusion, Mom and Dad saw a pretty normal, active, inquisitive, and rambunctious child.

When I was four my parents sent me to the Easter Seal Preschool Program only a few blocks from our home. Clang, clang, clang, I would bang on the iron railing leading to the front door of the school, bouncing up and down the walk with a child’s boundless energy. “Ice cream, get your ice cream here. Chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. I’m the ice cream man,” I would say. Usually one of the teachers or other children would play along and hand me a pretend nickel for the best pretend ice cream cone in our little town.

I have always been active, energetic, imaginative, and playful like that: part dreamer, part schemer. It must have been natural for the preschool teachers to tap me, their little ice cream vendor, to serve as poster child for Peanut Days. In those days they would sell bags of peanuts to raise money for the preschool. There I was--Mr. Peanuts.

It’s funny what I remember and what I don’t, but I probably didn’t mind going to the luncheon and press conference festivities to kick off Peanut Days. The newspaper article my mother saved says that I told everybody, “Buy peanuts.” But all I really remember about being Mr. Peanuts was that I got to ride in Mrs. Jameson’s big Buick with the bubbly plastic seats. I remember I cried about something at the luncheon, and Mrs. Jameson bought me a real chocolate ice cream cone on the way home.

My next foray in “business,” after selling pretend ice cream cones and serving as Mr. Peanuts, was when I went away to the residential school for the blind in Jacksonville, Illinois. At recess, those of us in first and second grade were allowed to go back to the dorm and play. There was a Pepsi machine in the kitchenette off the basement, and you could buy a soda pop for a dime.

There was a little gate with a hook latch as you entered the kitchen. I figured out that I could lock the gate from the inside and play soda clerk. Well, I kinda also figured out that some of the kids would hand their nickels and dimes over the gate, and I could sell soda from that machine for fifteen cents. Okay, I’m not proud of it, but I could actually pocket an extra nickel from some of my classmates. I guess I was a real soda jerk.

One winter afternoon in the third grade our cottage mother taught us how to make peanut butter cookies. It was a simple recipe, and I made dozens and dozens of cookies. I reasoned that if I thought they were tasty, so would others. I bagged them up and went all over campus from the powerhouse to the high school girls’ dorm selling peanut butter cookies.

At that time, at that school for the blind, the expectations for us were pretty high. We were expected to be normal kids and to learn Braille if you had little or no vision. We were encouraged to play on the playground, to run the track, and to jump on the trampoline. Basketball, pogo sticks, stilts, scooters, tandem bicycles, red rover red rover, red light green light, and hide-n-go-seek played late into the evening are all part of my childhood memories.

We were expected to participate in the normal family-like cottage activities, like making peanut butter cookies. We were also expected to empty our wastebaskets, police the yard, clean up our rooms, and make our beds. Well now, there was my next opportunity.

I realized that some of the younger children, and those at our school with additional disabilities, were having trouble making their beds. So I got the cottage parents to pay me to help them. As I got older, I was making about fifteen beds a day. By the time I reached the fifth grade I had taught even some of the severely mentally challenged children how to make their beds quite well. But since I was being paid per bed, it worked out well for me. Of course, I liked the money, but I also liked the challenge, the work, and the good feeling of teaching and the role modeling for others.

That next summer my brother Paul and I wanted to go to scout camp. Mom and Dad said, “The only way you boys are going to scout camp is if you find a way to pay for it.” What to do? There wouldn’t be any beds to make until I returned to school back in Illinois in the fall.

We were living on an army base in Germany, and I couldn’t think of any way to earn enough money to go to scout camp--until one day Mom asked me to pop some popcorn. I always liked cooking peanut butter cookies, grilled cheeses, or Chef Boyardee pizza from a box. I loved to cook, and Mom always encouraged me. We didn’t have a popcorn popper, so I put a little oil in a hot skillet, dumped in some kernels, put on the lid, and shook the pan back and forth on the burner.

Hey, I thought, this popcorn smells good as I emptied the first batch into the bowl. I wondered if the GI’s in the barracks would buy this popcorn for a quarter a bag. I looked under the sink and sure enough, Mom had some small paper bags. So I popped up about a dozen bags, twisted them closed, put them in a big plastic trash bag, and convinced my younger brother Paul to go off with me and peddle popcorn. I bet we were hard for the young troops to resist--a couple of little kids hustling still warm popcorn for only a quarter, “And after all, we need the money for Boy Scout Camp, Sir.”

It was a pretty good deal too, because Mom never charged us for materials. Believe it or not, over the next three weeks, we made the $250 we needed to go to camp. I earned several merit badges and my mile swim badge; and hey, guess what, there was a little snack counter at camp, and I convinced the scoutmaster to let me work the counter a time or two. Surprise, surprise.

The next spring we lived in Connecticut where my brother, little cousin, and I sold worms. Yep, worms. My aunt’s house was on the way to a popular lake, so we put up a sign by the road that said, “The best fishing worms three boys can dig.” Sales were slow our first weekend, so I called up the newspaper and said: ‘Do you know that there are three boys in the worm business?”

The paper came out and did a story on our little venture, and the next Saturday we sold out. I don’t know what was more fun for a twelve-year-old boy: digging up the yard; finding and extracting the big, long, mud encrusted worms; chasing my cousins around the house with one; setting up the stand and packaging up the worms for sale; doing the newspaper interview and then having it actually appear in the weekly paper along with our pictures; or earning the twenty-one dollars.

Throughout high school I was always the chairman of the bake sale, hotdog sale, or candy bar sale to raise money for the class project, class trip, track, wrestling, or drama club. When it was my class’s turn to manage the snack counter for sporting events, I was always the guy who did the ordering and set up the counter, even though sometimes I was also a participant in the track or wrestling events. I must have developed some ethics since the second grade, because I never once pocketed an extra nickel. The profit always went to the projects for which they were intended.

Even though growing up my dream was always to be a radio broadcaster, I guess it’s not surprising that I ended up building a career in retail food service.

I currently have about forty-eight employees and operate a military dining facility under contract to the United States Air Force. I also own a little convenience store, as well as a small deli and a cafeteria in a state building in downtown Denver. But I couldn’t have done any of this without loving parents and family who always allowed me to be me. Growing up I was blessed with siblings, grandparents, and aunts and uncles who allowed me to be a kid.

Sometimes my parents and family were confronted by people who tried to limit my participation in normal activities because I was blind. But mostly my family ignored them or found ways around them, like the time some neighborhood parents got together and came to my father to tell him that he shouldn’t be letting me ride a bike.

There was another time my army sergeant father was rebuked by a colonel because my dad made me take out the trash. Once my aunt and uncle were told by a Sunday School teacher that I shouldn’t be promoted to the next class. And there was also a time a Boy Scoutmaster wanted to give me a merit badge for a project I hadn’t fully completed.

Of course my dad wouldn’t hear of it. I was fortunate to have house parents and teachers at the school for the blind that tried to help me gain the independence I would need to succeed. They taught me Braille, English, math, literature, and science. They also taught me, for the most part, to feel good about myself, to explore my world, and to treat people with respect.

Later as I began to make my own way in the world I found the National Federation of the Blind. Lucky for me that I did, because it was the loving people of the NFB and the organization’s “You can do it” philosophy that rekindled the attitude and ambition with which I was raised. You see, by my late teens and early twenties I had begun to question myself at every turn.

My abilities, my ambitions, and my dreams seemed to be constantly bombarded by the powerfully defeating message, sent by much of society, that blindness is not quite respectable--that if you are blind you are not really normal. And by virtue of that blindness, you can’t really compete. In spite of my parents, caregivers, and teachers’ attempts to shield me from those who tried to limit my involvement in normal activities, I heard them. I think I could not help being hurt and affected by them. The message was sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, but it was almost crushing in its consistent presence.

Saying to me over and over, in situation after situation, “You are excluded, different; not as competent; in need of extra attention, special help; not as worthy; singled out and praised for the simplest accomplishment; you are of less value than those who have sight; socially, scholastically, vocationally, in romance or in business, you are less.” And just about the time my naturally ebullient scheming, dreaming zest for life had almost been stifled and completely snuffed out, I happened upon the National Federation of the Blind, exhorting me through its wonderful literature not to quit and validating the way in which I was raised.

The NFB became the vehicle through which I could reclaim and reaffirm my normality. Through the Federation’s people, philosophy, and efforts on behalf of the blind I realized that there were options for me--just as my family, teachers, and caregivers thought there would be.

The opportunities didn’t come as easily as being the pretend ice cream man, or selling popcorn to the GI’s, or worms to the Bloomfield, Connecticut, fishermen. They never do come that easily, not when you are an adult in the real world. When you are blind opportunities can be even harder to come by, mostly due to the limitations many in society place on those of us who are blind.

Through the work of the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind people, more opportunities are being created. The NFB is educating the public and providing those of us who are blind with knowledge, inspiration, and instruction. And through my involvement in the NFB I realized there could be meaningful social and vocational opportunities for me after all. There could be, that is, if I would only dream them and work hard for them. There would be if I took the initiative to claim them, and thanks to the National Federation of the Blind I have.

I am the project manager of my own joint venture company with forty-eight employees providing food service in five locations. So come to think of it (even after all these years) I still sell ice cream, peanuts, peanut butter cookies, and popcorn. Of course there’s also veal Parmesan, fried chicken, the best burgers in Denver, salads, baked goods, and more. I love it all: the scheduling, staffing, financing, menu planning, costing, contract negotiating, purchasing, marketing and promotion, and providing staff training in sales and customer service. I love the challenges, and I love feeling good about working hard, providing leadership, and making a good living managing my own business. I guess it was my destiny.

I haven’t had a call for worms lately, but hey--make me an offer.



What Color Is the Sun?
The Freedom Bell
As The Twig is Bent

Making Hay
The Journey
Standing on One Foot
When the Blizzard Blows
Toothpaste and Railroad Tracks
Tapping the Charcoal
Old Dogs and New Tricks
Beginnings and Blueprints
Like Cats and Dogs
Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving
Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses
To Touch the Untouchable Dream
Remember to Feed the Kittens
Reflecting the Flame
Oh, Wow!
I Can Feel Blue on Monday
Reaching for the Top in the Land Down Under
Not Much of a Muchness
The Car, the Sled, and the Butch Wax
To Reach for the Stars
Lessons of the Earth

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National Federation of the Blind
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Copyright © 2005 by the
National Federation of the Blind

ISBN 1-885218-32-X

All Rights Reserved

Printed in the United States of America

Posted: Febuary 2006