Chapter 6 Blind School

This entry is part of 16 in the series article 92

Chapter 6 Blind School



We stood in the breezeway connecting the dormitory and school building; our sobbing clearly heard down the long halls. I sobbed recklessly. “I’ll never see you again,” I muttered as I held my Mom closely.

“Yes you will Honey. I’ll be back Friday afternoon to pick you up for the weekend.”

“I don’t want you to go. I’m afraid,” I said choking on my own tears. My sisters stood around me crying and blowing noses.

My Mom’s own tears burned her cheeks as she tried to encourage me but no words could cut through my sorrow. She looked up and saw the school’s wrestling coach standing nearby. “”I’m sorry sir but this is really hard for us. His father just…”

“It’s all right mam,” he said gently. “I went through this once myself many years ago so take as much time as you need,” and he stepped back another pace to show he did not wish to intrude.

“It’ll be ok Philip,” I could hear my sister Kay say. “You’ll only have four and a half days now till Friday afternoon and then you’ll have the whole weekend at home.”

“It’s not like home though,” I argued feebly. “I’m all alone here. I don’t know anybody. I’ll never make any friends.”

“You’ll make friends right away,” Mom tried to say cheerfully but her words were smothered by her tears. “No I won’t,” I argued, “I’ll never see you again.” A few days after getting home from the hospital, Mom told me we were going to take a short trip. “Where to, Mom” I enquired, my voice reflecting indifference. “Oh, to a little town not far from hear on the Missouri River.” “Oh, yea! What’s it called?” “Nebraska City.” “I’ve never heard of it. What we goin’ down there fer and how far is it? Will it take all day?” “It isn’t very far,” Mom assured me. “It’s about forty-five miles is all. “You didn’t say what we were goin’ down there fer Mom?” “Oh,” she said haltingly, “we’re goin’ down to take a look at a school.” “Oh,” I said without comment. In my heart I knew what she

was talking about but refused to consider it. “I’d never be going down to no school for blind kids,” I thought to myself, “’cause I aint really blind. My sight will be comin’ back in like it always did,” I thought. “Sure, just like it always did. I won’t be needin’ any special school.”

One of the professors from the Bible college pulled up in front of the house who had offered to take us. “Hi Noreen<” he said, “ready to go?” We climbed down the long steps to the street below and piled in. The trip was uneventful.

There were few kids in the school during the weekends; most riding the Greyhound bus home Friday night and returning Sunday evening. “Here’s are dinning room,” our guide was saying.

“Feel these window panes, Philip,” Mom was saying. “Can you see any of the colors? They’re each a real bright shiny color.”

“Yea,” I said straining to see through the watery blur. “I can see sorta’ the bright colors.”

We continued down the hall, through the breeze way, and into the school building. Our guide was friendly and talkative; showing us each room and it’s purpose. “If you’ll follow me down these stairs,” he was saying,” I’ll show you the lower floors where our bowling alley, swimming pool, and gymnasium are.” I smelled the pungent chlorine of the swimming pool, the vinyl scent of the wrestling mat in the gym and the polish of the bowling lanes. “And here is our wood shop.” The doors creaked and we entered. The clean smell of wood was in the air. Somehow I felt like I was floating through a maze. I was only mildly interested in the things I heard the adults discussing. “Why were we hear,” I wondered. “I mean, this is all ok for people that need this kind of a school but why were we spending a Saturday afternoon walking through this place?”

I heard the breeze way doors swish shut as my family left; the cold winter air swirling about my feet. I stood with my head bowed, my hands hanging loosely at my side, and tears dripping off my chin.

“I’m sorry son,” i could hear the coach speaking softly; his hand resting lightly on my shoulder. “I know it isn’t easy. I’m almost blind myself. I have real low vision; just enough to get around and to read print with thick glasses. I grew up in the state of Kentucky,” he continued, “and I had to go to the Kentucky school for the blind. It’s always hard to leave your family and I know it seems like you’ll never see them again but we’ll keep you so busy this week, you’ll be amazed how fast it goes. Friday will be hear before you know it.” I stood listening but not believing. I could see my family in my mind’s eye walking down the three rows of steps in front of this building, crossing the parking lot, starting the car, and driving away. I wondered if they’d miss me. “Why don’t we start learning the building Phil,” I heard the coach say. “It’ll take your mind off everything.

Turning toward the dorm, we began walking slowly, the coach describing the area as we walked. “To your left is our dinning room, which has doors at either end, but I’ll show you that later. To your right is an area with chairs, small low tables, and couches. It’s kinda a visitors room. It’s open on two sides…here, let me show you.” We walked through the waiting area and he showed me the various articles of furniture. “This wall here,” he said placing my hand against it’s cold surface, “separates this room from the hallway but it doesn’t continue clear to each end so you can walk into this area from either side.

Back in the hall he said, “Starting from here we’ll walk down the hall and I’ll show you where the doorway is which leads to the dorm and your room.” Placing my right hand against the wall he said, “Now the rule in this place is you always stay to the right. After awhile, you’ll be used to where you are and where you’re going and you won’t often need to trail, as we call it, the wall with your hand. However, you always must remember to keep to the right hand side of the hall. That way you won’t run into anybody and they won’t run into you. Use your index finger like this:” he turned the palm of my hand outward so the edge of my index finger scraped the wall lightly. “Now there’s nothing in the way so go ahead and start walking; trailing the wall as you go.” I obeyed and almost immediately my finger came in contact with a door frame. “That’s a men’s rest room. Keep going and you’ll run into the ladies rest room with a drinking fountain in between.” He was right, I did. “Now,” he said,” you’ll go for a little ways before coming to the next door.” I walked and eventually came in contact with a third door. “This is the nurses office. We won’t go in right now but there are four rooms with hospital beds and a teachers lounge area in behind this door. Later I’ll show you the layout. Let’s keep going till we reach the next door.”

After trailing the wall for several yards, my fingers touched the door frame and the coach instructed me to walk through; showing me the stairwell. Reaching the top we turned right and walked down the hall until reaching double doors. “Take it easy when you know you’re coming up on a doorway Phil,” he warned. “You never know if doors are going to be opened or closed. Generally these doors are left open during the day time so there’s not much of a problem running into them.” We passed through and turned right again. We were in the boys dorm. “Your room is the third door on the left,” he said, “so go ahead and trail the wall till you reach the third doorway.” “I can’t trail the left side of the hall you said.” “You’re right,” he laughed, “but we’re all alone for now so go ahead.” “But,” I stammered, “how do I find the third door when there are people around?” “Good question,” the coach acknowledged. “As you walk down

a narrow hall like this, you’ll be able to hear the different acoustical changes in air pressure. By that I mean, when doors are open, you’ll hear and feel a change in the way the sounds are bouncing off the walls. This works both indoors and outdoors but let’s not worry about that right now. Go ahead and trail the left wall and find your room.”

I obeyed and stopped at the third opening. The coach encouraged me into the room and went over where everything was situated. I had done this earlier with my family when getting settled but didn’t remember. Each pair of rooms was inner connected by a bathroom and shower. The rooms likewise each had two closets and two small desks. “Here’s your bed,” he said guiding me to the far end of the room. It’s right up at the end next to the windows. Have you met your roommate yet?” “No,” I confessed, “I haven’t met anybody.” “Ok, well, your roommate is a fellow by the name of John

Klingman. John’s a nice fellow from Western Nebraska. He lives so far away that he isn’t able to get home much except for holidays. JOhn’s here most weekends. Ok, let’s go back the way we came. We’ll spend a couple of hours just learning how to get you from your room, down to the dinning room, and to the main office in the school. That way when you go to supper tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning, you’ll be able to find it yourself. Then after breakfast, I’ll meet you at the office and I’ll teach you how to get around the school.”

We spent the next two hours trailing the walls, examining doorways, and learning the floor plan of the dorm area. The coach showed me how to locate the door of the dinning room, where my table was, and to which chair I was assigned. “How am I going to find this table,” I said with a twinge of fear in my voice, “there’s no reference to guide me to this spot.”

He took me back to the doorway and let me feel the table nearest the door. “If you put your left hand out, you’ll feel the chairs as you pass by. When you reach the end of the table, there’ll be about three more steps till you reach your table.” I tried several times but missed the second table repeatedly.

Finally the coach stopped and said, “Here, Phil, come over to this wall. You are directly across from your place at the table. Now trail the wall back to the doorway which leads into the dinning hall. I did so and then upon his instructions, retraced my steps; trailing the way to where he stood. “Did you feel the mortar cracks in the wall as you walked,” he asked.” “Yes, I did,” I confessed. “How many where there?” “I didn’t count,” I admitted sheepishly. “Ok. Go back to the door and count the cracks as you walk toward me.” I did so and stopped. “Well, how many?” “Three,” I announced proudly. “NOw,” he said, “after coming to the third crack, turn left,

walk about three steps and you’ll be right at your chair. I did so and found it promptly. We practiced it a few more times to insure I would target the chair and then retreated down the hallway to the main office.

“Do you think you can find this office from your room tomorrow morning Phil?” the coach inquired. “I think so,” I said with some hesitation. “Well, before I take you to your first class of the day, why

don’t you walk from here, down the hall, up to the dorm and to your room and then come back again by yourself. Do you think you can do it alone?” “I think so,” I said again with a little more hesitancy. “I’ll watch from here in case you get stuck. If you don’t

come back shortly, and if you get lost, just stop and wait for awhile and I’ll come looking for you.

After going over the number of door openings between where we stood and the door to the dorm, I moved off slowly. I managed to made it each time successfully without getting lost and by the third time, the coach said, “Ok, that’s it for this morning. I’ll take you to your next class and tomorrow we’ll learn more of the building.”

“How will I get to where I need to go in the school today? I don’t know my way around.” I could feel hot tears beginning to seep from the corners of my eyes.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. We always assign somebody to you to help you get from class to class and to lunch or the bathroom and just about any other place you need to go. If you get stranded or lost, just let somebody know and they’ll be glad to help you. The teachers all know you’re knew and they keep an eye out for the new kids so don’t worry Buddy.”

After introducing me to Mrs. Girdis, the coach left and I began my first Braille lesson. “You are my only Braille student during this hour Phil,” she said. “I have a couple of other students who are also new to the school and you’ll probably be moved to their class eventually but for now it’s just you and me. Here, take a seat right here and let’s visit.”

After talking for a bit, Mrs. Girdis placed a single sheet of heavy paper in front of me. “Here’s a sheet of Braille paper. See how it’s much thicker than normal typing paper?” I felt the paper and agreed. “How’s come it’s so thick like this?” “Well,” she said lifting a Braille writer on to my disk,

“this Braille writer uses thicker paper so that the Braille dots will stay on the page longer after being read many times.” She rolled a piece of paper into the machine and told me to go ahead and explore the device. “You’ll be using one of these every day,” she continued as I felt the cool metal, “but we won’t get too worried about that just yet.”

Sliding the machine to the side, she placed another sheet of paper in front of me and said, “Here, Phil, feel this.” The dots under my fingers felt tiny.

“I’ll never be able to feel these little things,” I protested.

“She laughed jovially; her voice sounding like tiny bells in a wind chime. “Oh, that’s what everybody says but you’ll get on to it. We’re not in any hurry right now so don’t worry too much about all this at first.”

My tears filled my eyes many times that first day. I cried during class when my mind drifted back to my family. I cried between classes when listening to all the students talking and laughing. “How could they be so happy when I was so sad?” I wondered. I cried at lunch and went into the visitors area and sat on one of the couches and cried during the entire thirty minutes of free time following lunch. That was something I would practice daily for the next two weeks. I longed for night to come when this terrible day would be over. Then I could lay in my bed, I thought, and cry all night without being interrupted.

“Hello, Phil. My name is Mr. Bower. I’m the shop teacher.” His voice was deep and somehow kind. “This is the last class of the day and believe it or not, you’re the only student in the class.” Mr. Bower began taking me on a tour of the shop; showing me different work tables, tool cabinets, and power tolls. We spent most of the time just getting used to walking about the shop area. It was so confusing.

“I’m not sure I can find my way out of hear,” I said with some concern.

“Here,” Mr. Bower said, “listen to this.” I heard him walk away and then from the other side of the shop he said, “Listen to this Phil.” He tapped on the school bell with his wedding ring. “This is where the bell is and when it rings, you can listen for it’s direction and head for it when the bell sounds.” “Hey,” I said confidently, “that’s a pretty good idea!” “Yea,” Mr. Bower said, “you’ll learn a lot of little things

like that which help you get around. It won’t take long so don’t worry. Everybody’s here to help ya'”

When the bell rang, I turned and listened for it’s location and began moving toward it. “Be careful Phil. Go slow whenever you’re in the shop because you’ll never know what might be just sittin’ out in the way.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll go slow.” He didn’t have to really warn me, I wasn’t going to move quickly in an area which I was unfamiliar. “Can ya’ find your way back to your dorm?” “Well,” I hesitated at the door, “I haven’t learned my way

around in the school yet but I know I can find my way from the office.”

“Here,” he said walking over to the door, “I’ll guide you up to the office then.”

Approaching the double doors of the boys side of the dorm, I slowed down. I could hear voices coming from the various rooms. “The doors must be opened,” I thought and touched their cold surface. Turning right I edged over to the left side of the hall. I wasn’t supposed to do that but until I figured out what the coach was talking about with acoustics and air pressures, I didn’t have any choice. I listened carefully as I walked to make sure no one would come out of their room and collide with me.

Touching the door frame of the third room, I walked in and gingerly crossed the room; feeling for my bed. Finding it, I dropped on it and immediately burst into tears. I felt terribly alone and sobbed from my acute home sickness.

“Hello Philip,” a woman said close by; I hadn’t heard her enter. “I’m Miss Kopche, the dorm mother.” I was crying so hard I couldn’t responde to her greeting. “I know it’s hard being away from home like this but there are plenty of kids here to get to know and it won’t take too long. Here, let me show you around the dorm a little bit. Things always seem better when you’re familiar with your surroundings.” I wasn’t at all interested in going with her. I just wanted to be left alone to cry but I got to my feet and let her guide me to the main area of the dorm.

After showing me the location of the tables, chairs, television set, book shelves, and the back door exit, she visited with me for awhile; trying to lift my spirits. “Oh, did I tell you my name was Miss Kopche?” “Yes,” I said sheepishly. “That’s kind of a different name.” “Yes,” she laughed, “the new kids all remember it when they

first come because it sounds kind of like an indian name…apache, you know”

Some of the kids began entering the dorm carrying books and Braille writers. They were talking and laughing and acting like they were having a good time. “How,” I thought, “could anyone have a good time in a place like this. I don’t even know any of these kids and I probably never will. I bet I get my sight back any day now and I won’t have to stay here any longer.”

“Supper is at 5:30,” I heard her saying, “and the kids have about an hour before they have to come in to get washed up. I ring a bell out one of the back windows here to signal everybody to come in about 5 o’clock but I doubt any of the children will want to go out today since it’s so cold and snowy.” I wasn’t listening; I just wanted to be left alone. “Can I go back to my room now?” I asked, sounding detached. “Oh, sure,” she said. Do you think you can find your way?”

She led me to the edge of the hallway leading down to the various rooms. “Can you make it from here?” I said I could and slowly edged my way down to the third door. Finding my bed once again, I sat on the edge and squeezing my eyes shut, began to cry silently.

I heard him shuffling down the hallway. He called out a greeting to the dorm mother and again to someone in one of the bedrooms before mine. His voice was loud but friendly and he laughed to himself as he walked. His books and Braille writer banged against the wall and again on the door frame as he felt for the opening and stepping into my room, he dropped his books and Braille writer on his desk. “Whose that?” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, I didn’t know anybody was in here. You must be the new kid. I’m John, John Klingman. I’m your roommate. Where are you from?” “I live in Omaha,” I said matter of factly. “Oh, yea,” well I’m a farm kid from way out in western Nebraska in a place called Chapel. Ever heard of it?” “Nope,” I confessed, “I guess I haven’t. A farm, huh?” I questioned. “Yea. You a farm kid, too?” “No,” I said wishfully, “but I spent lots of time on farms in Iowa where I came from.” “Oh, yea. Well, them Iowans sure raise lots of corn and pigs and stuff,” he said with admiration. Maybe this kid wouldn’t be half bad as a roommate. “What’d you say your name was again?” I asked. “I’m John. What’s yours?” “I’m Phil.” “What’s your last name Phil.” I told him. “Hummm,” John said pulling at his chin, “don’t reckon I’ve ever heard that one before.” John and I spent the rest of the hour visiting and talking

about the school. He told me about each of the teachers and where most of them were from and what they taught. He talked about the wrestling team and the bowling alley and swimming pool. “yea, every Tuesday night we have a recreation night for a couple of hours. We get to swim or bowl or play around in the gym.

That’s nice,” but I really wasn’t interested since I’d be getting my sight back and leaving this awful place.

John snapped his Braille watch closed and announced, “Well, it’s time for supper. I’m hungry, too.” “How’d you do that?” I questioned. “Do what?” “How’d you know the time?” “Oh,” he said, “I have a Braille watch. You ever see one?” “No,” I said, curiosity getting the best of me. “Here,” he said shuffling over to my chair, “let me show you how they work.” After examining the watch, I said, “How do you feel the crazy thing?” “Feel along side the right side of the watch,” John

instructed. “Feel the long skinny button-like thing above the stem?” “Yeah,” I said slowly, I feel it.” “Push it in.” “Wow!” I exclaimed, “it opened.” “Sure,” John said, “that’s how they work. “Be kind of

careful now and put your finger inside. You’ll feel the hands and dots where the numbers are for each hour.”

I followed his instructions but though I could feel the hands and dots, they all seemed to run together and I told him so.

“I know what you mean. That’s only cuz you aren’t used to it. Once you get on to using one for awhile, you’ll be able to read the time just fine like any sighted person.”

Snapping his watch closed, I returned it to him and silently disagreed. “I’ll never get used to reading one of those things. Besides,” I thought, “I’ll be gettin’ my sight back any day now and won’t need one of those dumb Braille watches.”

John moved to the bathroom. I heard the water run. He whistled as he washed. “Boy,” he sighed upon returning to the room, “I’m really hungry tonight. It’s nearly supper time, too.”

I didn’t want to go to supper; I didn’t want to eat; I just wanted to stay in my room and cry. The warm tears touched my cheeks once again. “Do you know where your seat is in the dinning room?” he questioned. “I think so,” I said a little dubiously. “Oh, well, don’t worry about that. We’ll see ya’ find your place.” “Everybody up to the front,” came Miss Kopche’s voice down

the hall. I got to my feet and wiped the tears from my face. The kids were all talking and laughing again. I felt them all about me as we stood at the double doors waiting. “John,” I called, “what we waitin’ for?” “The girls dorm is straight down this here hallway,” John

said, tapping one of the closed double doors with a finger nail, “and we always let them go first.”

“Ok,” Miss Kopche announced, “go ahead.” The doors were pushed open and the kids pressed forward. I stood still; waiting till I knew no one was in my way and stepped forward hesitantly; feeling for the left wall. I knew that was against the rules but they were all ahead of me so I wasn’t afraid of crashing into anyone.

“You’re doing just fine,” I heard Miss Kopche say, “just trail the wall down to the second doorway and that’ll be the stairs.” She followed me to the dinning room and I found my chair by using the method the mobility instructor had taught me. “That’s great,” the house mother encouraged.” I began to pull my chair out to sit down. “Wait,” she said close to my ear and her hand over mine, “we all stand behind our chair and someone rings a bell allowing each of us to pray to ourself before we are seated.” I listened as the bell rang, sounding just like an electric door bell, which I found out later was, and silence fell for a few seconds. Then the doorbell rang once again and everyone sat to eat.

Eating at the school for the blind was different at first. We had to pass food to those seated beside us. We were taught how to cut meat and scoop peas on to our fork. Time was taken to teach how meat could be cut without assistance, how to butter bread, how to pour syrup on pancakes, and how to cut up a tough old baked potato skin. None of these things were too difficult for me since I had seen before but I still found myself uneasy and self conscious eating around others even if they were blind.

Finally the evening meal was over and I followed the murmuring voices back up the stairs to the dorm and my room. Now I would be left alone.

At 8:00 o’clock we had study hour. I let my fingers slide slowly over the bumps on the page I had been given in Braille class that day. Some of the bumps felt familiar but most felt like just bumps. Why were they making me learn this stuff? I knew I wouldn’t be needing it cuz I was gonna’ be getting all my sight back before too long.

“Ok everybody,” came the house mother’s voice floating down the hall, “time to get ready for bed.” “What’s that all about John?” I inquired. “Time to hit the old showers,” he said pushing his chair back and closing our door. “We gotta do this every night like this?” “Yep,” he said with a yawn, “every night we study at 8:00

o’clock and then at nine we take showers and have to be in bed by ten. “Ten!” I said with genuine astonishment. I explored the little bathroom cautiously but found taking a

shower before bed pleasant. I looked forward to bed, too. In fact, I had been desirous of getting to bed all day so I could continue the cry that kept getting delayed because of all that had been happening throughout the busy day.

John and I talked softly after getting into bed about the school, what time we had to rise in the morning, who the teachers were, and how long he had been coming to the Nebraska school for the blind. The door opened and the light switched on, “Good night boys,” the house mother said and snapping the light off again, the door closed.

Finally I could cry. I pulled the little bear skin animal Mom had gotten for me to spread over my pillow close to me and hugged him tightly and thought of my family. I waited for the tears to come but strangely they refused me comfort. The Lord must have answered my family’s prayers that night and every night thereafter. The tears of the day were simply not available to me at night and I felt a strange sense of peace.

Though I had prepared myself to spend the night emersed in tears, I was jolted to reality at the 6:00 A.M. bell. When the deafening sounds died away, I heard John on the other end of the room yawning voluminously. “Hi John,” I said almost cheerfully. “Mornin’ Phil. How’d you sleep?”
“Just great. I didn’t think I was gonna” though.” “Well,” John said through another large yawn, “this place takes some getting used to but it isn’t really too bad.” “What we gotta do now?” I wondered aloud. “Well, breakfast is at 7:00 O’clock so we have an hour to get dressed.”
“Can we leave our rooms?”
“Nope,” he muttered climbing from his bed; the springs creaking loudly. “They don’t want us leaving our rooms because it might slow down some of the other younger kids in getting ready so we stay put.”
“What is there to do during this whole hour then?” I said somewhat puzzled.
“Well, get dressed, brush your teeth, and make your bed for starters. I don’t have a radio but if you do, we can listen to it.” We were done in less than an hour and got in more visiting until breakfast.

The dorm was empty; I was the last to leave. Skimming the walls, I made my way down to the lower floor and slowly traversed the long hallway from the dorm to the school office. Touching the open door frame, I hesitated. The receptionist spoke and asked me if I had need of anything. I told her the mobility instructor, Mr. Davis, said I was to meet him here.

“Oh, well, just call him coach. We all do, even me, and I’m his wife. Have a seat right there by the door. He’ll be here shortly.” I felt the couch next to the door with my leg and sat.

“Mornin’ Phil,” the coach said confidently. “I see you made it downstairs by yourself without mishap…at least I don’t see any bumps on your head.”
“Yes,” I said, laughing and matching his confident tone. “”Well, you ready to go some more then?” “Sure,” I said getting to my feet.

Leaving the office the coach said, “The school is real easy to learn. We’ll learn the top floor first. The basement floor is exactly as the top, so once you get this one down, you’ll already know the lower level.”

Two hours later we were done and he had been right. Each hall was a single corridor running north and south. The only difference in the two floors were the classrooms themselves. The lower level was even easier to learn with the gymnasium being at one end, the shop at the other, and mostly school lockers between.

“It’s pretty cold outside, Phil,” the coach said, “you better get your heavy coat and some gloves.” “What we gonna do today, Coach?” “Well, since it’s Friday, and since you’ve already learned

the entire building, I thought I’d take you outside and show you a little of the campus. You won’t need to know much of this right now because most of the kids don’t spend much time outside during the winter. I’ll meet you at the front doors after you’ve gotten your coat.”

Five minutes later we stood at the front doors. I buttoned my coat and slid my gloves on.

“Do you remember coming up three sets of steps Monday when you and your family came?” He watched my face carefully for any signs that perhaps the mention of my family would bring on a case of home sickness. “Yeah,” I said, “I sure do.” “Good,” he said, remembering it was Friday and I’d be going

home soon for the weekend. “The sidewalk goes down to the parking lot directly in front of the building. There’s a walkway going either direction from there and I think we’ll just walk together around the area for now. When the weather is better, I’ll take you around again but by then other kids will probably have shown you the whole place.”

Leaving the breezeway, we pushed into the cold December air. “Watch your step, Phil,” he warned, “there’s lots of little patches of ice on the walks.”

Thirty minutes later we had returned to the warmth of the building. “Phil, go hang up your coat and come back down to the waiting room. We’ll visit for awhile since you have a few minutes before your Braille class with Mrs. Girdis.

Upon returning to the waiting room, I found the Coach seated on one of the long vinyl couches. “Have a seat, Philip,” he said, patting the couch so I could hear where he was. Locating it with my foot, I sat and made myself comfortable.

“Phil, how has school been going this week for you?” “Well,” I said, “pretty good I guess.” “You made any friends yet?” “Well, yeah,” I hesitated, “John Klingman, of course, since

he’s my roommate and I made friends with Mike Jamison. He came to my room Tuesday night and he talked with me and John for about two hours before we had to break up for our study hall at 8 o’clock.”

“That’s good. Mike’s a good guy. He’s a farm kid, too. Did you know that?” “Yeah, that’s what he said.” “Mike’s one of our best wrestlers, too. Would you like to be on the wrestling team?” “Well, I guess so. I guess I could learn.” “Oh, sure you could,” the Coach said confidently. “We’ll

wait a little while for that though because you have lots of other things to get used to first.”

Silence fell between us and I rubbed warmth back into my cold ears.

“Phil,” the Coach began, “I want you to know that in all the years I’ve been here teaching mobility, I’ve never seen a kid learn this building as fast as you did.” “That so?” I said, uncertain how to responde. “Yes,” he continued. “You learned this entire building, both

the school and dorm, in just two days and only two hours each session. I’ve never seen anyone learn that quickly.” “How long do others take?” I wondered out loud. “Well, I’ve never seen any kid hear learn the building in

less than two weeks. You are to be commended for being such a quick learner. I’m sure you’ll do well here, Phil. I know being away from your family for the first time like this is pretty hard, it was for me, but you seem to be adjusting to it quite well.”

I had no answer for him because I still hated it; I was still lonely, I was still home sick, and I never wanted to return. “Besides, I was going home today, I thought, “and in a week or two, I’ll be gettin’ my sight back and won’t need this place.” “It’s time to wake up Philip,” her voice pierced the gloom as lights through the fog.

“Oh, Mom,” I don’t wanna get up and I don’t wanna go back to school.”

“I know it Honey,” she said quietly, trying not to wake anyone else in the house. “You’ve got to go though.”

I began to cry softly. “Please Mom, don’t make me go,” I pleated, “I hate it.”

“Come on, now, I’ve got some breakfast down on the table. We’ve got to eat so I can get you to school on time. I’ve got to drive all the way back in order to get to the doctor’s office on time.”

We ate in silence. I chewed my toast mechanically; never tasting its flavor. The weekend had been too short. I dreaded every hour because it brought me closer to the time I’d have to return. At the same time I cherished each hour because I was home. My tears seeped from beneath my eye lids and slid down my face.

“I’m sorry Philip,” my Mom tried to say but her words trailed off and I could hear the tears in her voice, too.

Suddenly she brightened. “Hey, you only have one more week, five days, before Christmas vacation. Then you’ll be home for two full weeks.”

“I don’t care,” I said gloomily, “I don’t want to go back. I don’t need that school. I’m gonna get my…” my voice cracked and I was unable to finish.

Mom stood and began clearing the table. “I’ve got your little suitcase all packed. Go get your coat…it’s time to go or I won’t be able to get back to work in time.”

We stood in my room, unpacking the suitcase, and arranging my close on the shelves and hangers.

“I’ve got to leave now Honey,” Mom said almost apologetically. “I’ll be back Friday right after school to pick you up. We’ll have lots of fun over the Christmas holidays. Maybe you’ll be able to do some of the ice skating down on the pond in the park. It’s been cold enough,” but her voice lack conviction.

I cried hard and held her close once again; my mind flashing back to just a week earlier when we had stood in the breezeway. All those emotions rushed back and crashed over me like a tidal wave. I sobbed.

Untangling herself from my grasp, she walked to the door, “Good bye Philip. I’ll be back Friday,” and she quickly left the room so I couldn’t hear her crying.

Following lunch I made my way to the visitor’s room, as I had every day since coming to the school, and finding my favorite couch, I sat and began to cry. “Hello,” came a friendly voice. “Hello,” I croaked, trying to clear my voice. “My name is Lynn Blesh. Aren’t you the new kid in school?” “Oh, yeah,” I stuttered. “This is only my second week.” “Well,” he said, “I’ve noticed you sitting in here every day after lunch by yourself. Mind if I join you?” “No,” I said sighing, “suit yourself,” wishing he’d go away so I could continue crying. “I live right here in Nebraska City. Where you from?” “Omaha,” I sniffled. “Oh, well, I got lots of friends there.” Drying my face with my hands, I said, “You say your name is Lynn?” “Yep, Lynn.” “And you say you live here in Nebraska City?” “Yeah, I live here in town.” “That mean you go home every night I guess?” “That’s right. I used to live out of town and stayed here

every night just like most of the kids do now. My folks moved here and my mom got a job so we live here.”

“Guess it’s kinda nice being able to go home each night,” I said; it wasn’t a question.

“Oh, yeah, that’s pretty nice I guess. I walk home by myself during the warmer months.”

“Really,” I said, my voice elevating with interest, “How far you gotta go?”

“‘Bout ten blocks but it’s straight up tenth avenue and pretty easy to do.”

“Hey,” Lynn said, changing the subject abruptly, “you got any hobbies?” “Hobbies?” I said, “what you mean by that?” “Well, you have anything you like doing for fun.” “I used to put model cars together.” “Yeah? That sounds good. I’m into ham radio.” “What’s that?” “Ham radio is where you get a license by learning a little electronics and the Morse code.” “Oh, really,” I said, becoming interested. “That sounds pretty fun.” “Oh, yeah, it is. I don’t have my license yet but I’m

studying for it now and should get it before too long. You wanna see our radio room?” “Sure,” I said, my voice brightening, “I’d really like that.” I heard his Braille watch snap shut. “I tell you what, it’s

just a couple minutes before the next class starts. Can you meet me back here right after school?”

“Sure,” I said. “I got shop class with Mr. Bower last thing and I’ll check in up at the dorm with Miss Kopche and then come right down.” “That’d be great,” Lynn said with a little laugh. Immediately after school, I dumped my books on my desk, and

asked Mrs. Kopche for permission to go downstairs to meet Lynn. A minute later I was in the visitor’s room. “Phil, you here yet?” Lynn called, entering. “Yep, I’m here. Let’s go.” My new friend showed me the radio equipment and explained how

each piece of gear worked. “The antennas are on the roof of the building so we get out pretty well,” he said, tuning the receiver to a sideband signal. “Boy,” I said, “I’d sure like to get my license, too.” “Well, listen,” Lynn said, “I’ll bring some of the tapes Bob Lockwood made for us and you can start.” “Whose Bob Lockwood?” I asked. “Bob is a guy who is nearly blind himself. He lives in Omaha

but he has helped several of us working toward getting our license. Hey,” Lynn said, his voice elevating, “Since Bob lives in Omaha. I’ll give you Bob’s phone number and you can call him next time you’re home.”

“That’d be great,” I confirmed. “So tell me more about ham radio. I was getting into electronics just before I had my eye’s worked on.” “You were,” Lynn said, “how so?” “Well, I was over at a friends house and his brother was a TV

repair man. I got interested in all the electronic stuff and he said I should get my ham license. Since I didn’t know what that was, he took me into his radio room and showed me his station. He said he had a novice license and let me play around with the receiver. I had forgotten about it until you brought me here today. I think he said he had an HQ129X, or something like that, for a receiver.” “Hey,” Lynn said, surprised, “that’s what I’ve got at home.” “Hey, that’s neat,” I replied. “Well, anyhow, that’s when I

got interested in this stuff but then I started having trouble with my eyes and forgot about all of it till now. Thanks Lynn for telling me about ham radio.”

Lynn and I became close friends at the school for the blind and we spent every spare minute in the radio room playing with the equipment, listening to the receiver, practicing the Morse code, and studying the electronics needed to past the written exam. It helped take the edge off my home sickness.

“Hello Philip,” Mom said coming into my room, “are you ready to go home for Christmas? I brought somebody with me.” “Who’d you bring Mom?” I wanted to know. “Hello Philip.” “Janice? Is that you?” “Yes, it’s me.” “What are you doing here?” “I’m here, too,” her sister JoAnn said. “Jo? Man, this is really something.” “That’s not all,” Mom said, cutting in before we could continue. “Your Uncle Fred is here, too.” “Hi, Phil,” he said in his quiet manner. “How you doin'” “Uncle Fred, boy it’s good to hear your voice. Did you drive up here all the way from Wichita?” “Yep,” he said confidently, “drove up last night.” I quickly forgot about my home sickness, the school for the blind, and my blindness. This was going to be a great Christmas. “How long do you and your sister get to stay Janice,” I said on the way home. “Well, we are staying just this week and then my Mom is going to drive over from Des Moines to pick us up for Christmas.” “Boy,” I said, “a whole week…that’s great.” After arriving home, we had something to eat and then sat in

the living room. “Your Uncle Fred has something to give you Philip, I heard Mom say.

I heard Uncle Fred get up from his seat and cross the room. “Here ya’ go Philip,” he said, his voice soft and gentle as always. “I bought you this here watch back in Des Moines at the blind place downtown.”

I turned the watch over in my hands and felt its smoothness. After a moment I said, “Where’s the button to push so I can feel inside. I saw one watch like this at school but the button was on the right side.”

“Here,” Janice said, “there’s a little button down at the bottom.” Guiding my fingers, she showed me the button. “Push that,” she instructed, “I bet that’ll do it.

It did. “Man!” I exclaimed, “it’s smaller than the one I saw at school.” “Can you feel it?” everybody wanted to know at once. “Well, I don’t know. It is kind of difficult since I’m not used to it.” “Well,” Mom said assuredly, “you’ll get on to it.” Over the next few days, everyone asked me what time it was a

couple of times an hour. By Christmas I was getting used to feeling the tiny hands and the sharp Braille dots. I finally discovered, with help, that 3, 6, and 9 had two dots side-by-side and all the odd hours had a single dot. The 12 o’clock position had three vertical dots. It gave me a sense of pride to be able to tell the time for myself.

“Thanks a lot Uncle Fred,” I said. “I hope you didn’t spend too much on it.” “Oh, that’s all right. It wasn’t much. Do you like it?” “You bet. It’s really nice.” It felt good being home and with friends, too. Janice had

been my girlfriend at church just before I lost my sight. I hadn’t thought of her much in the past two weeks because home sickness and school itself had captured most of my emotions. Now I got to spend a whole week with her and her sister, plus Uncle Fred, too.

“Philip?” Kay began, “I wanted to buy you something really nice for Christmas but I’m not sure now if you’ll want it.”

“Why wouldn’t I want it Kay,” I said puzzled as to why she was worried about getting me something for Christmas.

I was in my room playing with bingo on my bed when she had entered. We sat quiet now, listening to every word, unable to figure out what was wrong.

“Well,” I was going to get you that big toe truck that runs on batteries we’ve seen advertized on television so much this year. You know,” she said, “that one that has a siren, lights, and a hook that goes up-and-down in back just like a real toe truck?”

“Sure,” I said, my eyes lighting up. “That’d be really neat to have.”

“You mean,” she stammered, “you would still like to have something like that?” “Sure,” I agreed, “why not?” “Well,” she started, “I just thought since you couldn’t see it…” and her voice trailed away. “Oh, no,” I said firmly, “that would be super to have

something like that. Why I could take it outside and…” The next night, my sister took me downtown, purchased the truck, and we carried it home on the crowded city bus.

“Wake up Philip,” Mom said pulling on my covers. “It’s time to get up.”

“What time is it?” I said, attempting to feel my Braille watch and determine the time myself. “It’s 6 o’clock. We’ve got to get moving.” Suddenly it dawned on me. Christmas vacation was over;

school had come again. I felt sick inside again as I remembered the emotions of being separated from my family and living in the school for the blind.

As I sat in the car huddled close to the heater, tears in my eyes, I told my Mom how much I hated the school and how much I wanted to stay at home.

“You’ve got to go to school there Philip. They’re teaching you Braille and you’re learning how to type. They know how to teach you other things, too, which will help you live alone some day. I don’t know how to do that for you; I’ve never been blind.” “But I don’t have any friends,” I protested.” “How about your roommate? What’s his name…John?” “He’s not really a friend, Mom. He’s just a roommate.” “Well,” she said slowing for the first curve into Nebraska

City, “What about your radio friend? He’s a friend you said and he’s going to help you get your radio license you said.”

I sat silently; the tears stinging my useless eyes. I felt cold, though the heater was hot, and pulled my coat up about me. “But I never laugh; I never have any fun any more,” my mouth was dry now and I had to struggle to get the words to form. “Oh, Honey,” that can’t be true,” Mom countered. “It’s true, Mom, I never laugh any more.” Once again I heard my mother leave the building. Kids were

returning from breakfast and gathering their things from their rooms. I dried my tears, picked up my Braille writer, and left the room.

That evening a strange thing happened. I was setting in my room all alone. The house father, Mr. McCoy, a young seminary student, came bursting into my room and grabbed my arm. “Come on Phil,” he said excitedly, “I want you to see something.” “What,” I said, startled. “You’ll see,” he said breathlessly. After being seated in one of the couches in the big room of

the dorm, the house father introduced me to Steve Mahanes. Steve was ahead of me by a couple of grades but he had come to the school just before I did and was learning Braille. Later that week I would be placed in the same Braille class with Steve and Bob Newman. Steve now is a teacher at the school we both attended.

“Here, you guys,” Mr. McCoy said, placing something rubbery and wiggly in our hands, “tell me what this is.”

For the next two hours Steve and I laughed till our sides ached. Mr. McCoy had opened a box of rubber animals, some were hand puppets, and had us guessing as to what kinds of animals they were. He made the game fun and had us both laughing the entire time.

As I drifted off to sleep that evening, I knew my broken emotions had somehow been mended. School didn’t seem so awful now, I did have new friends, I didn’t seemed to be afraid any more, and I didn’t feel alone any longer. Later I discovered my Mother had prayed that just such an experience would occur as she left the school that morning.
My years at the school for the blind became routine. I made many friends, joined the wrestling team, and competed with other kids in every aspect of school competition. Our wrestling team mostly competed with sighted kids, our track teams with other blind schools, and our school choir traveled; performing in schools in the area. I learned to bowl in our two lane bowling alley with a hand guide rail along the side of the lane. I used the swimming pool as often as I was permitted. Our shop teacher, Mr. Bower, built a special pool table for us. The table was on a slant. Pockets were cut into the right and left sides and three at the high end of the pool table. A small padded island was placed at the far end to block the center hole which was worth the most points. Players would roll the ball up hill toward the opposite end. If the ball dropped into a pocket, it would slowly roll back down to the player at the other end which then was retrieved from the opening where the players stood. How did we know which hole [pocket] we had hit? The shop teacher had placed small pieces of wood in the running tracks under the table. If the ball clicked once as it bumped passed these sticks of wood, we knew we had hit the side pockets half way up the slanting table. If it clicked twice, we had hit a corner pocket. Finally, if there were three clicks sounded from the returning ball under the table, we knew we had scored the difficult center pocket hidden by the middle island.

What other things do blind students do? Besides the normal school classes we all attended – math, English, biology, typing class, home economics, – we spent lots of time playing as any normal child might. We even played baseball; howbeit a little differently.

During off season of wrestling and track, we spent our one hour gym class at the end of the day playing blind baseball. Now they have manufactured a beeping baseball and softball which the blind use to attempt to simulate a normal baseball game. The internal beepers, however, often cease to beep once the ball has been belted a couple of times. Our blind baseball games were slightly different. The coach pitched a soccer ball on the ground to totally blind batters. We, unlike the partial sighted batter, were given four strikes. We simply listened to the approaching ball rolling through the grass and swung when it bounced over the plate at our feet. Usually, if unable to connect after three strikes, we would request the coach prompt us when to swing. Opposite team members were placed on each base as callers. This was a job I normally hated because many times the approaching blind runner would run you down before stopping. I learned to leap out of the way when I heard the pounding feet of an on-coming runner. If a hit struck any blind player standing in the infield – most of the partially sighted guys stood in the outfield to retrieve the ball – it was an automatic out. You may think this doesn’t sound like much but we enjoyed it and the competition made it even better.

Our track teams consisted of shot put, basketball throws, standing high jump, other jumping distance competition, and even running competitions. In short runs, such as fifty and sixty yard dashes, school mates stood on the other end of the field as callers to insure we ran the correct direction. On long distance runs such as 220 and 440 yard runs, we generally teamed up with partially sighted school mates who could keep us on the track around the field. Most of this competition we conducted between other blind schools across the country.

The wrestling, however, was generally with other sighted wrestlers. Once or twice a week we competed with sighted schools all around our school area. We went to the district meets and to the state competitions as well. The wrestling team was perhaps our most competitive sport and nearly all the boys were on the team.

Many unusual, generally funny, questions are asked about blind people. I once had someone ask me if the halls at the school for the blind were constructed in a certain way to make it easy to get around. I was stumped by that one. I never could figure out exactly what a builder could do to make a hallway any easier to navigate for someone blind. A man even asked me in church one day if I knew sign language. As I stood, dumb founded and trying to figure out what in the world he was talking about, my Mother rescued me by informing the man that her son didn’t need to know sign language. “He’s blind; not deaf,” she said matter of factly.

The blind are normal people. We own television sets and even confess to watching TV. We read books either on tape, in Braille, and now can use adaptive synthetic speech and special scanning devices which scan the printed page and then read the material to us. I used a talking computer to write this book. We swim, ski, fish, play ball, ice skate, and can even target shoot with special adapted laser riffles which beep when the target is synchronized with the weapon. I rode my bicycle often after going blind but eventually even my small amount of light perception made it difficult to stay on the sidewalk. To compensate, I began riding with my little sister. Banana seats came out just at the time I lost my sight. Ruth rode on the front and steered; I rode on the back and peddled. We eventually made life easier buy purchasing a tandem bicycle. We roller skated often at school in the gym and I likewise skated the sidewalks and driveways around my house during the summers. I loved winter ice skating the most. I’ve even flown a single engine airplane – not alone – and controlled the plane during take off. Funny though; the pilot refused to allow me to land by myself.

This chapter has been included in my story to simply show what it was like going blind, leaving home, and attempting to learn Braille and other needed skills to function in a sighted society. I only remained at the school for the blind for three and a half years because of my interest in joining in an innovative idea whereby the blind student attends his or her own public school in their area. This is becoming the norm in many blind student state programs today because it helps prepare the blind student for college where he may be the only blind student.

This transition was extremely difficult for me. It made me realize I was indeed blind and that I was viewed differently by those in society who could see. Although many now know that the blind community have talented people who can hold jobs, pay taxes, and raise families just as any normal person, there is still a large amount of people unwilling to accept the abilities of a blind man or woman. You will see just how true this statement is in another chapter.


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