Oldies Sooth the Soul

As I climbed into the cab that would eventually take me home from a doctors appointment, I immediately recognized the distinctive sound of music from my high school days, half a century ago. I like that radio station, I said to the driver. Which one Is it? Thats my kind of music. He told me that it was a CD of hits that were recorded when he was in high school. At his 50th class reunion, one of his classmates put it together and gave each member of the class a CD as a gift. What a great idea. We then launched into a Those were the good old days reminiscence. You can understand the words; there is an actual melody; nobody is screaming; nobody sounds angry; and the main microphone is on the lead singer. Those songs were about yearning to kiss someone, not to get into bed with them. Of course we all knew that that was on a lot of kids minds, but they had the decency to not shout about it in their music. We didnt sing about getting high, much less getting stoned. That came a few years later in college. Then our conversation turned to relationships then and now.

High school for both of us was fraught with anxiety about being accepted into this clique or that, being known as a hood or stuck up, being too smart to be attractive to boys, not being cool enough to be attractive to girls, being the teachers pet, or not being the teachers pet. 50 years later, none of that exists. Weve grown up, all of us, into responsible adults who respect each others individuality without prejudice. I dont mean to say that were all perfect citizens, but the petty discriminations are virtually gone. Some but not all, of the fat kids turned into very attractive people. Some of the kids who were barely passing are now business owners and quite successful. Some of the egg heads who didnt have the time of day for us mere mortals are rather congenial. They even have grandchildren.

Recently, some classmates of mine traveled over 100 miles to come and take me out to lunch. One of them was my best friend from high school, Lynda, and another one, Bob, was someone I hardly knew in high school. As a result of this blog and a website for our class created just a few years ago, Bob and Lynda, who were very close back then, cooked up this luncheon get-together with me and with their spouses. It was a wonderful afternoon. Not only did we have our high school days to talk about, but we also discussed our own everyday concerns about our children, our grandchildren, our aches and pains, and how glad we all were to be retired. Funny that it took 50 years for us to discover each other as people. Now we can be friends without all the other baggage that goes along with being in high school. And oh yes, we dont have to worry about pimples anymore.

I had had a frustrating time at the doctors that afternoon when I got into that cab. There was some kind of mix-up with the health insurance, and it couldnt be resolved before my schedule driver showed up, so I didnt get to see the doctor at all. Then when I found out that I wouldnt be getting home for an hour and 15 minutes, because of other pickups that needed to be made on my way, I was pretty grumpy. Then I began to smile as I heard Elvis crooning to me, just like he did back then, saying how the world is a stage, and all those corny sweet nothings. I just settled back and let that fabulous music take me back to when music was pure and soothing to the soul.

Stigmas Sting

I was sitting in the front seat of the car, as I waited for my friend Joan, to come back from a quick errand. I opted to wait in the car with Pippen, even though it was cold, mostly because my back was killing me, from the sciatica, but also because I really didn’t want to go into a hot crowded store. I was wondering what on earth I was going to write about for this post, when I heard Joan say to a store employee, I have a blind lady in the car, so you can just put it in the back seat. I was stunned. Why did she feel she needed to tell him I was a blind lady? Why didn’t she just say, “My friend is sitting in the front seat, so please put that stuff in the back seat.” To say that the reality of Joan’s perception of me was a slap in the face is close, but not exactly what I felt. It was more like someone yanking on my hair, causing me to stop dead in my tracks. Oh no you don’t, those thoughtless words said. Don’t go off and think you are a person first in Joan’s mind. You are a blind lady, and that’s all. For my entire life, I have strived to be perceived as a person first. It’s not that I am ashamed of being blind. It’s just not my preferred label. I’d much rather be known as friend, lover, co-worker, neighbor, who happens also to be blind.

One day last summer, I was taking a walk with Pippen in the neighborhood, when we passed by some kids playing kickball in the street. One of them announced to the others in a loud voice, “She’s blind.” It was a rude and thoughtless thing to say. Didn’t he know that I could hear him say that? And what did he expect his playmates to do, stop and stare? I had an impulse to stop, turn, and say to him, Yes, she is, but she can hear, or maybe just stop and stare at him, but I continued my walk and turned the corner, both literally and figuratively. I will never be a woman walking her dog. I will always be that blind lady. They were kids, and it’s too bad that their parents hadn’t taught them better manners. But what about Joan, a grown woman, my contemporary, someone I had known for years? Had I been fooling myself in regarding her as my equal, my neighbor, my friend, when all these years she has been regarding herself as the caretaker of the blind lady? It’s always a compliment when someone says they keep forgetting you’re blind, even when they are fibbing a little. It always stings when they never let you forget it. Just when you think you’ve finally reached the point where it isn’t upper most in their minds, someone yanks on your hair to remind you, you haven’t.

Press 1 to Continue

Sometimes you just want to scream at the phone, I dont want to press anything. I want to talk to a real person! Because I usually dont want any of the choices, I often just press zero in hopes of reaching someone who can actually answer my question. But this practice has caused me to miss out on a valuable service I just discovered the other day.

Even though you can request your utility bills, your bank statements, and your credit card bills in Braille, they are often difficult to manage, because they are pages and pages long and include repetitious information I dont want or need. I use the automated phone service all the time to check on my bank accounts, but it hadnt occurred to me that you can do the same thing with your Visa bill. I might be the last blind person in the world to discover this, but just in case you didnt know it, heres how it works.

Call your cards customer service number. Enter the last 4 digits of your card number, and then follow the prompts. By doing this the other day, I learned that they had charged me $18 for interest and service charges for a late payment. I immediately called the number back and spoke to a real person who agreed that the late charge needed to be taken off, because I had not been late with my last payment. When I called just now, I discovered that the nail salon I went to yesterday did not charge me the right amount. When I sign a receipt, with no one to look over my shoulder to make sure its right, I have to trust the person at the desk. Thats a risk I take, but if its not right, and I call the automated service quickly, I can make it right. This automation has proved to be not a nuisance but an empowering tool to my advantage.

For people who dont use Braille and cant read print, or dont have someone trustworthy to read their statement to them, its the next best way to have control over your finances.

I spent an outrageous amount of money on a scanner, so I could read my own bills, but Im finding that I use it more for other documents. For keeping track of the money I spend, Im using the good old telephone. Its not a smart phone. Its not an iPad. Its not the internet. Its just a phone. Sometimes less is more.

Beat Michigan!

As I write this post, I think of all the people in Buckeye Country who are planning their Beat Michigan festivities. Once upon a time, I was doing the same thing, not that I was the least bit interested in the football game. It was the Beat Michigan party, an annual event, held at our friends home, which featured lots of snacks, drinks, and a lovely spread of food and desserts immediately following the game. Oh yes, and I guess there were those who actually watched the game on TV.

During the years we had the most fun at these parties, I belonged to an amateur singing group called The Singing Moms. Within that group was a smaller group of gals who choreographed dance routines to some of the songs we did. Since most of us dancers had no interest in football, and didnt want to bother the people who were watching the game, wed slip off to another room in the house and practice our routines. The TV watchers would come up for air, and more drinks and snacks, during halftime, which was almost as good as the ending of the game.

While the food was being set out, one of our guys, who was the most ardent fan Ive ever met, would run out to the back yard and jump into the pond, no matter how cold it was, and no matter whether we won or lost. His name was orlis King, and he was well known at the OSU stadium for his dancing in the stands. He even got to dot the I in Script Ohio one year. He did the pond-diving thing for years, until he got old enough to realize that it wasnt making his heart very happy.

After dinner was served, and we still had energy, wed all troop to the basement to play pool, drink, and dance! That was the best part of the day, the dancing. Orlis was a very good dancer, and he and I spent many happy hours showing off for our friends. I dont know if theyre still having those parties, but after Orlis died, they werent nearly as much fun. Nobody in our age group could eat or drink the way we did, but we might be able to have just as much fun. All we need is food, friends, and a time-honored football game.

Singles Thanksgiving

No smoking and no football. Those were the ground rules I had laid down for my thanksgiving dinner in 1992. Everybody has a favorite thanksgiving memory, and a worst thanksgiving memory, but heres my most interesting one, and well, maybe the most fun.

Newly divorced, I decided to host a thanksgiving dinner for my single friends who had no other plans for the day. There were 11 of us that first year. No 2 people knew each other, because I invited friends from different parts of my life. One was a co-worker. One was a bicycling friend. One was my massage therapist. You get the idea. After each invitation, I asked, What is it that you have to have to make it a Thanksgiving dinner? Pumpkin pie? Good. You bring the pumpkin pie. Sweet potatoes? Okay. You bring the sweet potatoes. Collard greens? Seriously? Okay, then you bring the collard greens. I cooked the turkey. I am one of the very few Americans who doesnt like thanksgiving food. I can eat a little bit of turkey white meat on the day, but then thats it for a year. I have never learned to like sweet potatoes or pumpkin pie, so its not about the food for me. What I do like is gathering around a table with family and friends and spending the rest of the afternoon playing games, going for a walk, and playing music together. Notice I did not mention watching a football game on TV. I had had enough of scheduling dinner for half time, ever since I was a little girl, so the last thing I wanted was the background noise of men bashing into each other and beer commercials. Two of the people I invited were smokers, but they observed my no smoking rule by going outside to smoke. They only went out for a cigarette twice that day, because it happened to be extremely cold. I like to think I helped their lungs a little with my no smoking rule. After dinner, 4 or 5 of us went for a walk around the neighborhood while the rest of them cleaned up the kitchen. What a deal! We spent the rest of the day with 2 of my favorite games, Encore, a singing game, and Scrabble. A few days later, I received a thank-you note from one of the smokers. I wasnt sure about coming, since you said no smoking and no football, he wrote, because I didnt think I could get through the day without either one, but it was the nicest thanksgiving Ive ever had.

Response to a Comment

It was brought to my attention recently that there was an interesting comment on my post, Mainstreaming, Fitting In, posted in October. I tried to leave a response to that comment but was unsuccessful, so here it is in an extra post.

Bill pointed out that it is difficult to read contracted text that does not include the apostrophe, such as in dont or doesnt. While I appreciate his taking the time to comment, I must correct his perception that I do not take the time to use it or do not know how to use it. The fact is that I always use an apostrophe when writing contracted words, but when the story is posted, somehow all the apostrophes are stripped out. I have no control over that. The first time I read what I had posted, I was horrified. I wondered if I had made that embarrassing typo, but no. It was pervasive, and thats when I discovered that in this day of modern typing, where you use just a W for the word with and words BTW for by the way, and SLAP for sounds like a plan, I guess that the apostrophe is obsolete too. Sorry Bill. But I feel your frustration.

Old Age is Made of Memories

Oh, this takes me back, my mother said, as we settled in for the weekly rehearsal of a local amateur swing band. Each Sunday night, the band rehearses at the assisted living home where my mother lives. Its a sweet deal. They get a place to practice, and the residents get a treat every Sunday night. It doesnt matter that its not a performance. In fact, my mother enjoys a rehearsal just as much. Its fun for her to hear them struggle with a new piece, and then nail it after theyve played it a couple of times. Once upon a time, about 80 years ago, she played in a small jazz band herself, so each Sunday night, she is carried back to that carefree time in her life, on a magic carpet of grace notes, improvisation, and syncopation.

This afternoon, during a discussion group with Volunteer Sandy, some of the residents were wrapped in the mellow warmth of holiday memories, prompted by a little deck of dollar-store Christmas trivia cards. Sandy joked about bringing in a silly cheapo game, but it proved to be a priceless source of happy recollections. The women recalled family traditions that their great grandchildren will only read about in antique journals. They reminisced about making peanut brittle and divinity, floating marshmallows on top of steaming mugs of cocoa, wrapping fruitcakes in rum-soaked cheesecloth, caroling in the snowy night, wating up for santa Cclaus, and leaving him home made Christmas cookies. They laughed as they tried to remember all the words to the 12 Days of Christmas. They reached back into their pasts to answer the question, who was the teddy bear named after? They talked about the days when there were real candles on real trees. Do you know who wrote that famous poem, The Night Before Christmas? One of the ladies did, and she also remembered who wrote The Grench Who Stole Christmas. Do their grandchildren and great grandchildren even know that these were written masterpieces before they were TV shows? If theyre smart enough to pay attention to the stories of their great grandparents, theyll be far richer than if they got all the latest electronic gadgets in the world. Those stories might get a little mixed up in the telling, maybe not totally accurate, but with a little coaxing the memories flow, like the notes of a song, caressing the ear of one who smiles and remembers.

Red Hat Society

Ten years ago, I read about an organization of women over 50 called the Red Hat Society. It was a loosely organized club, whose purpose was to provide an excuse for women to gather and just have fun. There were no dues, no minutes, no projects, and no fund-raising. The name came from a famous poem that starts out something like, When I am old, I shall wear purple, and a red hat that doesn’t go. The whole notion of getting together with women my age for the sole purpose of having a good time was intriguing to me. But there wasn’t a chapter near my home. What to do.

Of course the answer was to start one. I had started La Leche League in my town, a 4-H group, and a Toastmasters Club. Why not a Red Hat Society group? I bought a red hat, called some of my women friends, attended an event sponsored by an existing group, got some ideas from their website, and we were a chapter. Besides having a reason to dress up in purple and red, my personal goal was to make some friends, girlfriends, to go do things with. We went to the Columbus Arts Festival, the Westerville Arts Festival, the Slate Run Winery, Picnic with the Pops, and to tea and to lunch. We had a game night, at the Shamrock Club, and we walked in the Race for the Cure. We even went together to the funeral of one of our original members. We didn’t wear our red hats, but we sat together in sisterhood. Indeed, it’s a kind of sorority for women who have reached an age of maturity that you wouldn’t necessarily pair with the idea of a sorority. We often attracted new members when we were out at a restaurant, as other women looked on longingly at the extravagant fun we were having.

After a few years, I turned over the leadership to Beth, another of our original members. The leader of each chapter is called the Queen Mother. Beth was much more suited for Queen Mothership, as she knew how to make each activity a party, with favors, costume contests, door prizes, and outrageous fun.

Because my life got a little too busy, I dropped out, but fortunately, I was not forgotten as the founding QM. Last Saturday, the Gadabout Gals, as our chapter is known, held its 10th anniversary at the Worthington Inn. It was a much more emotional experience than I had expected. Several of the women, who knew me back in the day, greeted me with hugs and smiles. Many times throughout the afternoon, they mentioned that if it weren’t for me, this group wouldn’t exist. Every time I thought about how this idea had flourished and continued to grow, my eyes would sting with tears. But what affected me most was the tastefully decorated memory table. 4 of our members had died, one of whom was Nancy. I didn’t know Nancy had died until that afternoon as the table was described to me. I hadn’t been particularly close to Nancy, but I liked her a lot, and she had died just a few months after her retirement. I wasn’t prepared for such a shock. But the memory table was a sweet tribute to those 4 wonderful ladies, and the laughter and smiles were a wonderful tribute to the whole idea of the Red Hat Society.

One Mothers Day, a few years ago, my mother came to visit, and I took her to a Red Hat tea. She fell in love with the idea and started a chapter in her town, and naturally, she was the Queen Mother. Now that she lives in assisted living, the red hats are languishing on the top shelf of her closet. I mentioned to a few of the ladies last Saturday that I’m considering organizing a Red hat group where Mother lives. In true sisterhood fashion, 2 of them offered to help, in honor of their mothers, and a third has committed to donating some red hats. My daughter has offered to help with ideas for simple activities. We’ll begin after the first of the year. I guess it’s just time for me to start something again.

Gaga and the Bully Pit

An article in yesterdays Dispatch brought forth a painful childhood memory, involving a gym class game called dodgeball. I hated it. I was constantly being hit in the face with the ball, because I couldnt see it coming. The new version of this pointless game is called Gaga, the name of a dodgeball-like game played in a low-walled enclosure called a pit where The object of the game is to swat a ball out of the air and hit another player with it below the waist, eliminating that player. Ten children play at a time at Edison,

but the game can accommodate dozens. It’s fast, but action stays low to the ground, says the article.

Oh yeah? Thats not the way I remember it. I can still feel the sting of the ball as it slammed into my face, and I can still hear the laughter of the kid who had hurled it at me, knowing I wouldnt be able to dodge it.

The article continues, However, a national group of physical-education experts denounces the game as dangerous. Schools have reported to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education that children have suffered head injuries and been bullied while playing. We call it the ‘bully pit,'” said Sheila Jones, physical-education supervisor

in LoudounCounty schools in Virginia, a district of more than 66,000 students. At

one school, she said, the game has led to eight head injuries in a year. It’s very

physical. Kids get hit, fall backwards; they get hit in the face.

No kidding! I could have told them that! Its not only physical. Its stupid. How such a mean and dangerous game survived all these years and developed into an even uglier game, Ill never know. If Gaga continues to be popular, it will be one more way that a child with less than perfect vision is going to be excluded.

Cane Versus Dog

Whenever there are 3 or more blind people gathered, it is very rare that they all have guide dogs, which is contrary to popular belief. The truth is that a very small percentage of people who are blind use a dog guide. Why is that? Those of us who use dog guides would never go back to using only a white cane. Yet most people who are cane users will argue that using the cane is the only way to go.

Its a friendly debate, like the one that involved 2 of my visually impaired friends over dinner one evening last week. One has been a dog guide user for many years, while the other would never consider it, mostly because she has never cared much for dogs in the first place. She does quite well with a white cane. She enjoys being able to fold it up and put it away when shes reached her destination, something you cant do with a dog. However, those of us who are seasoned dog guide users are pretty good at tucking our guides neatly under the table or desk, so that its often a surprise to others in the room when we get up, and the dog suddenly appears. My cane-using friend never has to worry about dog hairs on her clothes, arranging her schedule around feeding time and emptying time for the dog, getting the dog groomed, or taking it to the vet. Canes are very low maintenance tools, but to my knowledge, no one has ever said, What a beautiful cane you have. My beautiful dog, and I am on my third one now, has been the catalyst for many conversations with people who ordinarily would pretend I wasnt there. Of course, the initial conversation is with the dog, not me, as in Whats your name, you pretty thing. With this opening, I always know theyre not directing their words to me; at least I hope not. Then follows a teachable moment. Im sorry, but shes on duty. Shes a working dog, and shes not allowed to be sociable when shes in harness. But you can talk to me. My name is Mary. Over the course of 3 dogs who each have enjoyed a long working life, I must have said these words a thousand times. Am I always to be the first person with a guide dog these people have ever met? Annoying as this is, Im one who would never go back to using only a white cane. Whenever Im ready to leave a meeting or a restaurant, all I have to do is say to my dog, Find the door, and she heads right for it. When were crossing a street, she stays inside the white lines of the crosswalk. She leads me around obstacles, including construction in a graceful and efficient way.

Lately, as Pippen nears total retirement, Ive been leaving her at home, while I go out for dinner or to a doctors office with my white cane. Sometimes, like when I go to the doctor, Im given more help if I dont have the dog. Sometimes, with a dog, I look confident and like I know where Im going, when in fact, I dont. On the other hand, there are many cane users who are so competent in their mobility skills that they look much more confident and dignified than many guide dog users. In other words, its not the dog that makes the difference. Its the person.

Today, an instructor from the Seeing Eye, ® (the first dog guide school to be established in the U.S. ) came to interview me about my next Seeing Eye dog. We talked about my life style and how I employ a dog guide. She saw my neighborhood and some of the places we regularly walk to. Ill be enrolled in one of the spring classes at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. This is the first step in making that commitment. In the meantime, for the most part, its me and my cane, but Ill gladly put it away, come spring.