Touching Faces

When I heard a story on todays Selected shorts radio program on NPR, about a man who was the reluctant host to a blind man, I was reminded of many misconceptions and myths about blindness, but Ill just talk about one in this post.

In too many movies and stories with blind characters, the blind person wants to touch the face of another character.

Never, in my 60 plus years as a visually impaired person have I wanted to touch somebodys face to get a picture of who they were. Sure Id like to see the faces of people I love, but touching their lips, noses, cheeks, chins, ears, and brows, wont tell me nearly as much as listening to their words, paying attention to their body language, and tuning into the words they dont say.

Furthermore, I dont know a single blind person who wants to touch the faces of the people they meet. How then, did that perception become so common? Are we viewed as people who can only interpret our surroundings by what we touch? But thats another misconception for another day.

When I am introduced to another blind person, never do we extend our hands to feel the faces of the other. How creepy would that be. We will probably shake hands, and you can tell a lot about a person by a handshake, but thats true of anyone, blind or not.

Forget about what you see in the movies. Thats Hollywood, not reality.

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No Match for Broken Glass

Glass was everywhere. Tiny shards, slivers, chunks, and glass-dust covered the stove top and adjacent counters. Broken glass crunched under my shoes as I approached the stove to investigate. Cisco was curious too, but I shooed him out of the kitchen. Did he do this? Had he tried to steal the chicken in the baking dish on top of the stove? No. The chicken was still wrapped in foil, but now it lay on the top of the stove, without the glass baking dish. If this had been Ciscos doing, he would have grabbed the chicken and left the dish. It didnt make sense. Then I realized I had inadvertently made this mess myself. I had taken the chicken out of the oven and had turned on the burner under a pan of eggs, or so I thought. I went into the living room to read for a while until the timer went off to indicate that the eggs were cooked. But suddenly, there was a crash, as if a dish had been dropped on the floor. What on earth? The dish had exploded. As I discovered the extent of the disaster, I finally realized my mistake. Slowly and cautiously, I took moistened paper towels and began to gather up the bits of glass. Each time I thought I had made some progress, I discovered even more piles of broken glass on another part of the stove. It was time to assess the value of cleaning up my own mess and weigh it against the value of asking for help. Already having cut my fingers, and realizing that it would not only take me hours to clean up, I probably wouldnt get every piece of glass. Having someone who can see would certainly be smarter than insisting that I could do it myself.

I called the church administrator, Mary Beth, and she told me she and her son Nathan would be over in a few minutes. Soon they arrived with a broom and a powerful vacuume cleaner. Best of all, they had 4 good eyes to catch the glint of an errant piece of glass, just when they thought they had found it all. Mary Beth checked ciscos paws for possible cuts and thankfully found none. He was delighted to have company and 2 more people to admire him and play with him. I was relieved to let someone else do battle with the glass. It took them the better part of an hour, but they found glass in odd places, even across the room. Still, after they left, as I walked on the kitchen floor with bare feet, I found more shards. Ouch! Even good eyes cant find it all. So I dragged out the sweeper and vacuumed again. Then I used disinfecting wipes for the countertops and wipes for the floor on my hands and knees and still found more. I guess Ill be finding glass for weeks to come. But if I hadnt asked for help, Id still be picking up glass instead of writing about it.

It’s a dog!

Its getting to the point where I dont even want to go into a store with my dog guide. People are getting on my last nerve. Youd think that in 2013, the average American would know how to behave around a service animal. Ive mentioned before here that I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me if they could pet my dog. Now, Id like to add to my riches by wishing for a dollar every time some kid would holler A dog! as we pass by them in a store. Remember when your mother told you not to point at people who looked different? Maybe they used a wheel chair, or maybe they were on crutches, or maybe they had a big birth mark on their face. But you didnt point and scream Look! You just didnt. What ever happened to that common sense advice from mothers? Indeed, where are the mothers? They are pointing too. Theyre saying to a child who is showing no interest, Dont touch that dog. That dog is that ladys eyes. And here I cringe as well. My dog is not my eyes. Hes my guide. How can a 4-year-old child understand such a metaphor? What do you mean that dog is that ladys eyes? The other reaction from many uneducated parents is a request to pet the dog. Where have they been when television shows talk about the importance of not distracting a guide dog when its trying to do its job? Come to think of it, where have the kids been? I can understand a toddlers fascination with a dog in a store. After all, they havent been to school yet, and they probably cant even understand the concept of blindness. But when a 10-year-old child acts like were a public spectacle to be amazed at, its obvious that somebody isnt doing the job of educating our youth about people with disabilities and the tools they use to live their lives.

Heres what my daughter Kara said on Face Book.

I can have patience all the live, long day with small children. But, really, if a

child is ten years old and honestly does not know why a dog might be in a store guiding

someone around – that is a problem. Ugh. I told my mom she needs to start going into

all the schools and educating kids about working dogs.

Enter sensitivity sessions, led by real people with real disabilities, who have real feelings, and real understanding of what its like to live with a disability. Shameless Plug. Contact me at

Mary.hiland

to schedule a learning experience for your group.

The Peddler

The ice cream man! The ice cream man! My kids would be absolutely frantic when theyd hear the music playing from the next street over. Quick! Drop everything, run into the house and scrounge for quarters. Hes at the end of our street! Hurry!

My children could have popcicles and ice cream sundaes from our freezer anytime they wanted, but there was something magical about purchasing a treat from a man in a truck

with a sound system that played turkey in the Straw over and over, until all the kids had streaked out of their houses, clutching their money with excitement and anticipation.

I recall feeling the same excitement when the ice cream man of my youth pushed a cart down the street, on foot, with a little bicycle bell. He had one product to sell, the Eskimo Pie. No bomb pops, pushups, or drum sticks. Just Eskimo Pies.

In the summertime at Grandmas, out in the country, there was no ice cream man, but we had something better, the peddler. We never knew when hed show up, so it was always an event. Hed stop in the road out front with his truck, full of grocery-type items. We could climb up the steps and enter this treasure trove of goodies that were not on my Grandmothers regular shopping list. There were shelves of packaged cookies, potato chips, and soft drinks. I can still feel the joy in having a whole 6-pack carton of tall glass bottles of Knee High Grape Soda. There were probably other grocery items, like oranges and cans of soup, but it was the grape soda that was cause for celebration. Another favorite that the peddler brought was Teddy Snow Crop ice cream mix. We didnt have a freezer, so we didnt have ice cream on hand. You mixed this stuff with milk in an ice cube tray and set it on top of the block of ice in the ice box. After a few hours, it might become the consistency of pudding, but for us, it would have to do, until the next time we got to go into town and get real ice cream at the drug store. Im talking about the days when drug stores had soda fountains, and you would actually walk to the drug store and have a Coke at the counter.

Now, as I casually reach into my fridge for a Diet Pepsi or into my freezer for a carton of frozen yogurt, I think back about the times when these things were truly treats, something you got only on a special day, the day the peddler came.

Carnival

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, Everybody sing out now, Meet me at the fair. Oh you dont know that song? Then youre too young. Its a very old song that always comes back to me whenever I think about going to The Fair. When I was a kid, we never went to the state fair. I went to my first fair when I was married with young children. What we did was go to small town carnivals.

Because the childhood summertimes that I remember were at Grandmas in southern Indiana, it was the carnival that came to town in early August that I love to recall. For about a week before the carnival, you could see search lights crossing the night skies, lighting up the clouds as they went slowly by. Carolyn and I would lie on the feather bed, watching the beams in their silent announcement that the carnival was coming soon. Then on that long awaited magical night, wed get a ride into town with our quarters jingling in our pockets, wide-eyed and eager to taste the excitement of the games and the rides. Carolyn loved the Tiltawhirl, but I was always afraid Id fall out. The Octopus was even worse, and the Ferris Wheel was terrifying. Still, I happily climbed on, trying to be as brave as my older cousin Carolyn. What I loved the most at the carnival was the game where you pitched nickels toward a table laden with cheap gaudy dishes. Whatever your coin landed in, that was your prize. To this day, whenever I go to a festival or the State Fair, I look for that booth, usually in vane. I liked throwing darts at balloons and dipping for gold fish, but what I treasured most was some kind of glass or bowl that I could use for years to come or until my mother would decide it needed to be pitched. Each time Id fill that glass with milk or juice or whatever, Id think of the fun Id had at the carnie. My first taste of cotton candy was at that carnival, thanks to Carolyns worldliness. It was up to her to introduce me to the finer things of life. We had the good sense to pass by the side shows though, as those barkers were very creepy. Today, no grandmother I know would send her 2 granddaughters, ages 9 and 12, into town to the carnival on their own, but back in those days, there apparently was nothing to fear. After the long days of reading, coloring, helping Grandma in the garden, playing on the swing, and generally entertaining ourselves with our own imaginations, it was a fabulous treat to immerse ourselves in the carnival atmosphere, the merry-go-round music, the smell of popcorn, and the squeals of teenagers on the roller coasters. We always got to stay up late on carnival nights, getting back to Grandmas way past our bedtime. Our heads would be full of carnival fun, but after chattering about which rides we liked the best, wed settle down under the sheet on the feather bed and let the crickets outside our window sing us to sleep.

Class Reunion

Im not an old codger.

Im not an old crone.

I have all my teeth

And my hair is my own.

My posture is straight,

My dress size still small.

My mind is still working,

And thats best of all!

Then what in the world was I doing at a 50th class reunion? And what were all these other people I knew in high school doing here, looking just as fit, being just as sharp, but being so much more friendly than ever before? Could we really all be that old?

I used to have this notion that people who go to their 50th high school reunion must be ancient. How wrong I was. How wrong I was about a lot of things. How wrong they were about a lot of things. Now that we are all grown up, we can see each other in a much clearer light. Suddenly, all those people who were wrapped up in their own teen-aged concerns are now people Id like to get to know better. Suddenly, I wanted to hug each one and tell them Im sorry I didnt get to know them back then. I too had my own teen-aged concerns to deal with. Sitting together for the program of the evening, I felt the warmth of comradry I never felt in high school. Who were all these people seated around me who had names I remembered, but little else. On this night, suddenly, I felt at ease when talking to the men Id never dreamed of approaching when they were boys. Suddenly, the girls who never had the time of day for me were slipping their arms around my waist and telling me how great it was to see me. Many times, I didnt remember who they were, but I said the same to them. And I meant it. Im so glad high school is ancient history, and we can now build relationships on shared memories of our high school days and commit to being better friends from now on. For me, It was not just a celebration of having survived these 50 years, but the beginning of a better understanding of who we are and why we are still here.

Sadly, some of us are not still here, but after all, it was our 50th.

The most amazing part of the evening for me was not renewing friendships, not catching up on the news of other classmates, but discovering a gem who was hidden from me and my college-prep classmates. Her name was not Lisa, but Ill call her that for now. She was the one who offered to drive me to and from the party. She didnt remember me, but she didnt care. She knew I needed a ride. When I told her frankly that I didnt know her either and wondered why, since it was a fairly small graduating class, she told me that she had been in the slow learners class. Imagine being called a slow learner and being isolated from the rest of the student body. Today, she is friendly, warm, and energetic, a woman Id like to know as a friend. I couldnt have been friends with her back then. Today, at age 68 or so, Lisa has a loving husband, grandchildren, and a passion for cake decorating. Shes even starting her own business of teaching the art. All I can think is You go girl. Talk about being an inspiration.

This reunion was a dot on the map of my life. I dont know at which milestone it was, but Im so glad I made the stop.

Dear Diary

Remember when youd get a diary for Christmas, and youd be ever so diligent about writing in it every night until, say, January 4th? Then when you signed up for a creative writing class, you were told that keeping a journal would keep your creative juices flowing. So you tried it for a while, but all you accomplished was pining about some lost love or how your feelings were hurt that day or how you wished you could think of something brilliant to say.

Last winter, when my friend Lynda and I wound up one of our marathon phone conversations, we vowed to keep in touch more frequently via email. But thats too vague, just like someone saying, Ill be back later, or You should come and visit sometime. We needed a commitment. We came up with keeping a daily journal, to each other. Our Dear diary became Dear Mary and Dear Lynda. Each night, I settle down with my computer and tell Lynda about my day. What happens is that its not just a report of activities, but an observation of my life that day. It makes me think about what I did with the day as well as what I think about my life. I share a lot with you, Dear Reader, but Lynda gets the inside scoop, just like when we were in high school. She keeps all my entries in a file folder, and I do the same for her. Someday, when were old, we can look back at what we wrote and sigh, with one sort of emotion or another. Oh wait. We are old already! And thats what makes our journal entries interesting reading. Its much more fun to read about Lyndas adventures with her grandchildren than it would be to hear about a kiss from a certain boy. Shes enjoying my adventures with cisco and follows my relationships with new friends. Instead of telling myself Im too tired to write tonight, I look forward to the telling, but more importantly, I look forward to the reading of her life story as it unfolds. Just like having a running buddy, or a dieting partner, we each know that the other is waiting to hear our news. And by the way, it does spark an inspiration now and then for a blog post.