Theology: Excerpts from Chapter 20

…When I was in second grade, I decided I wanted to join the Catholic Church. I was sitting on my box springs and mattress one sunny morning with my friend Maureen. We couldn’t put our backs against a wall because the side of the bed was pushed up against windows. Maureen had just turned nine and I had just turned seven. Maureen kept saying she needed to lose weight by her tenth birthday. “My mom is going to paint my bedroom spring violet for my birthday,” Maureen said. “I want to look prettier for my pretty room.”

“Your room needs to be painted,” she continued. “The turquoise paint is peeling.”

 “I could pray Momma will paint it,” I said. “I don’t think she paints. Some friends of hers painted the living room ceiling, though.”

“Catholic prayers reach God faster,” Maureen said. “That’s why I’m glad I’m a Catholic.”

“I want to be a Catholic,” I said.

“It’s the best religion,” Maureen said “What do you think your mother would say if you asked to become a Catholic?”

That night Billy and I fought over whose turn it was to do the dishes. I lost and had to wash the dishes and fit them into the draining rack. I asked Momma in the kitchen if I could become a Catholic. To my mother’s great credit, since this came from a seven year old child, she said, “When I have an important question to ask, I ask a minister.”

As an adult, I’m amazed that my mother didn’t say, “We are Presbyterians and you need to stay with your family.”

Anyway, back to age seven, I said to Momma, “Maybe I could ask Mr. Blackburn.”

Mr. Blackburn served as a Methodist minister, and he and his family lived next door to my grandparents. His son Robert and Billy were friends. I was afraid of grown men. My father had been gone a long time. My grandfather, who I had only known for a short time, sounded so sick. That night I got the Blackburn’s number from Billy and gave Mr. Blackburn a call. His wife said he was busy but would call me back in a few minutes.

When the phone rang, I picked it up and Mr. Blackburn said his name.

“I have a question,” I said. “”I’m a Presbyterian but would like to become a Catholic. My best friend is a Catholic. I was wondering if it was a good idea.”

And Mr. Blackburn laughed.

I held on to the edge of the dresser where the phone sat. I didn’t cry. I just didn’t know what to say. I looked toward the windows and it was dark outside.

“I think you should stay at the same church with your folks,” and Mr. Blackburn continued to laugh.

I didn’t have folks. I just had Momma and Billy. I have never gotten over Mr. Blackburn laughing at me that way. I can hardly tell the story even today. Momma has always had an incredibly high opinion of ministers. So I don’t think it ever occurred to her a minister would laugh at the question. She thought he would take it seriously.

Session 9-939

Pretty: Excerpts from Chapter 19

…Soon Momma took me to Delray Beach to have my false eye made. Clara rode with us and sat in the passenger seat, drinking a Coca-Cola. In Momma’s car, Clara always sat in the passenger seat. In Grandmomma’s car, she always sat in the back, regardless of whether Momma or Grandmomma was driving.

We were going to stay with Momma’s long-time friends, Ruth and Wally Bennett, outside Delray. Mrs. Ruth always dressed up as a witch at Halloween, which was the next day. She gave out Halloween gifts instead of candy. Clara went to the Bennett’s with us. She liked the cook at the Bennett house. Her name was Dora. They had always had a good time talking in the kitchen. “Can you tell me a story about Momma?” I asked her.

“The day she was born, your grandfather took your Uncle Herbert, who was six years old, to see the baby in the hospital. I can see him right now. He had on a blue coat with a blue hood all trimmed in red. He stuffed his pockets full of toys to take to his new baby sister. A brand-new baby couldn’t play with toys but he didn’t know that.”

“A policeman is pulling us over,” Momma said.

Momma pulled over to the side of the road. The policeman got out of his car and came to Momma’s window.

“What is she drinking?” he said.

“Drinking a Coca-Cola,” Momma said.

“Let me see the bottle,” the policeman said.

I guess Momma handed him the bottle.

“I will just pour the Coke off and give you back the bottle,” he said. I heard the Coke pour onto the pavement. “Here’s the bottle, lady,” he said, presumably to Momma. “You can have it.”

“Why did he do that?” I asked.

“I guess because white policemen wonder what black people are drinking out of bottles,” Momma said. “It’s really because we live in the South.”

Clara was totally silent.

The next day Momma took me to see the false-eye maker. My hands were shaking. I held onto Momma’s left arm with my right hand as tight as I could. We walked into Mr. Brown’s office. “What was the cause?” he asked.

“Lye,” Momma said, and her voice shook.

I already did not like Mr. Brown. He had not even said hello to me. Grandmomma said you should always say hello to people, and say “nice to meet you” or “nice to see you.”

 “What color were her eyes?” Mr. Brown asked. He had one of those high men’s voices that bothered me.

“Blue,” Momma said and she didn’t sound happy. I was sitting in a leather chair with a hard back. The chair felt way too big for me. “Put your head back,” Mr. Brown said. “I’m going to put a glass conformer in.”

He pushed and pulled upon my right eyelid until he got the glass conformer securely in place. He said he was surprised that the first conformer he tried fitted so well over my remaining eyeball. Mr. Brown said he would paint a glass eye just like the conformer to match my other eye so I could wear it as a prosthesis or false eye.

And then began the long journey in which we tried to find someone who could make a prosthesis that matched my left eye in every way. A never-ending issue was that the right prosthetic eye always opened much wider than the left eye, in spite of tremendous advancements in the making of these prosthetics. For some years they had been carefully molded from acrylic. After fifty years I gave up and bought myself a pair of $100 sunglasses.

Recently, my daughter was looking at some of my pictures from when I was a two-year-old. “You had beautiful eyes before you were blinded,” she said.

“Let’s sing a song,” I said:

In Dublin’s Fair City

Where the girls are so pretty

I first laid my eyes

On sweet Molly Malone.

As she wheeled her wheel barrow

In streets broad and narrow…

On my next morning back at school, I didn’t have the chance to talk to my best friend, Jackie, until we were out on the playground. “How does my new false eye look, Jackie?” I said, just as we got out on the playground.

“Hi, Peggy,” she said. “It just opens so much wider than the other one.”

My heart sank. I knew it felt that way but I had hoped it didn’t look that way.

“Y’all want to play ‘who’s the prettiest’?” said Carol, another girl in our class.

Jackie and I joined hands with Carol in the middle.

“Who’s the prettiest?” we shouted. I joined in as Carol said “Jackie is” without hesitation.

I think if I could have had either the disability or the disfigurement it might have been okay. The combination seemed overwhelming. On the other hand, I learned faster and remembered more than most of my classmates. Other kids said I was smart. Teachers said I was smart. Well, I was going to be smart. I was going to raise my hand faster and make straight A’s on tests. I became an overachiever by the second grade. Billy was smarter but he didn’t feel that he had to make the kind of grades I did.

Session 5-448

Daredevil: Excerpts from Chapter 18

…Momma made sure Billy and I went to Sunday school at St. Johns Presbyterian Church. My first grade Sunday school teacher’s name was Miss Whitner. Momma dropped me off early at my class the first day and left me at the altar by myself. I was never in another Sunday school class where the teacher had an altar. This one was covered in velvet, which Miss Whitner told me later was dark green. I felt a flat round bowl on the altar, and Miss Whitner said later it was an offering plate made of brass, and she had two of them.

A lot of light streamed into the room, so I thought it had many windows on the outside wall. I stepped away from the altar and began to feel a semicircle of small wooden chairs arranged on a thick rug. I heard the door open and Miss Whitner said, “Hello, Peggy. I am surprised to see you here so early.”

“Hello, Miss Whitner. What color are the chairs and the rug in your classroom?”

“The rug is dark green, and the chairs are tan,” she said. “If you step off the rug you will be standing on a white tile floor.

I heard the door open again and the voices of many children streamed into the room. This first Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter, we sat in the wooden chairs and sang a song. Today we sang “Noah Built Himself an Ark.” Then Miss Whitner read us a bible story about Noah and the sighted children mentioned they could see the pictures in the book, which she held up for them. I really didn’t know what a lot of animals looked like. I had recently felt a stuffed giraffe with its long neck and an elephant with its trunk and long tusks.

Next, Miss Whitner asked two children to pass the offering plates, starting at each end of the semicircle. I didn’t have any money with me, but it bothered me that the child on my right passed the offering plate right over me to the child on my left. I would like to have passed the plate. I did hear some coins fall into the plate, but not that many, so I figured a lot of other kids didn’t have money either. Next Miss Whitner told all the kids to go to the little tables to color pictures of animals who boarded the Ark. I could not color, but Miss Whitner gave me a stuffed kangaroo to play with, and I stayed in my seat in the semicircle. The stuffed kangaroo had a baby kangaroo in its pouch. I wondered if the other kids were staring at me sitting by myself. I didn’t understand eyesight.

When the class ended, Miss Whitner and all the other kids left. She said she didn’t want to leave me by myself, but she had to go to choir and my mother would pick me up soon. While I waited, I thought I would like to do something fun. I felt my way to one side of the semicircle of chairs. I started with the first chair and pushed all the chairs together. Now they were in a semicircle with no space between them. I stood up on the first chair and began walking confidently around the semicircle. When my mother opened the door, she didn’t say anything about my walking on the chairs. She just said, “You ready to go, Peacharoo?”

A good friend of our family told me some years later that she walked by the classroom that day and saw me through the window in the door walking around on the chairs. She was amazed. She said she didn’t want to open the door because it might startle me. She said my walking around on the chairs showed my desire for independence and my daring.

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Shoes: Excerpts from Chapter 17

…One time at the age of seven when I was in first grade, I was lying on my box spring mattress in my bedroom. I was always relaxed to be in bed, because I didn’t have to navigate the world.

I heard Momma’s high heel shoes clacking on the kitchen floor. When she got home from teaching every afternoon, she took her heels off to lie in bed and read David Copperfield or The Mayor of Casterbridge. But once in a while in the evening, she put her high heels back on to go out briefly with a girlfriend. They would just run to the drugstore for a Coke and Billy and Beany and I would be in charge for a few minutes.

Anyway, it sounded like Momma was standing now in the kitchen near the stove. I heard the sound of her taking a shoe off and then, with all her might, she slammed it against the back door. I sat bolt upright in bed. What was Momma doing? I didn’t think I should say anything. My room was dark but I looked toward my door and I could see the kitchen light was on. I crawled under my sheet and bedspread. I put my pillow over my head and put my thumb in my mouth. Then I carefully pulled the pillow away from one ear to listen. I heard Momma pick the shoe up. She must have taken the other shoe off because I heard her walk in her bare feet back through the kitchen and into the dining room.

As an adult, I have wondered why my mother would have acted that way. I guess things just came to a breaking point. One of my graduate school professors suggested that we all need a punching bag. I think my mother would have benefitted.

Session 23-3420

Pretty: Excerpts from Chapter 16

…In first grade I often stood in front of the double dresser that was in my bedroom facing the mirror that hung above it. I stared as hard as I could but I could not see myself. I could only see the light reflecting on the mirror and I said to myself, “Would have been such a pretty girl.”

I felt so bad. Why was I blind? What had happened to me? Some kid said my right eye looked white with red in it and the other eye had a little blue. I pulled on my eyelids by the eyelashes just to have some contact with my eyes.

I thought about what my nine-year-old friend Maureen said sometimes. “You would have been a really pretty girl if you could see.” Or what my eight-year-old friend Carol said to me, “Your eyes look bad, but, oh, well…”

Anytime someone wanted to take my picture, I turned my back to the camera. I spent countless hours trying to see myself in that mirror. I have never recovered from my unhappiness over the blindness and the disfigurement. It was seemingly more than I could deal with and yet I have dealt with it.

Sometimes I thought about the witch in Snow White: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

As I grew older I realized the importance of appearance in women’s lives. Women constantly look in mirrors to reassure themselves that they look okay.

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My Eyes: Excerpts from Chapter 15

“I told you about the plumber unstopping our kitchen sink with Red Devil Lye. You were standing by me and I was ironing. You ran over to watch him. At just that moment the plumber plunged the lye and it struck you in both eyes.”

I knew Momma was upset but I didn’t care. I crossed my arms. I heard Beany’s collar jingle. She thumped her tail against the dining room wall and I knew where she was. “Let’s sing a song,” Momma said rather quickly. “How about ‘Romeo’?”

Romeo went roamin’

That’s how he won his name

Romeo went roamin’

That’s how he won his fame

A roamin’ in the gloamin’

He came upon Juliet

With his cute little ladder

He didn’t think he had her

But he said I’ll get you yet—

“But why?” I cried out.

“Suffering is a mystery,” Momma said. “Anyway, being blind is better than having a bad disposition. “Now go outside and play. I want to finish David Copperfield, even though I’ve read it three times.”

I headed toward the front door. Beany followed me. I felt for her ears. German shepherds have the softest fuzz on their ears. Hers felt like velvet. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch. Beany rushed by me and I heard her toenails click down the steps.

I turned left and felt for the big wooden porch swing and for the rightmost of the two chains from which the swing hung. I softly sang a nonsense song that Billy’s class had learned last year. “Simonize your baby with a Hershey’s candy bar, / And see the difference Drano makes in every movie star!”

I swung as high as I could in the porch swing. I had to get my mind on something else. Robert Louis Stevenson occurred to me.

How I do like to go up in a swing,

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,

Till I can see so wide,

Rivers and trees and cattle and all

Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,

Down on the roof so brown—

Up in the air I go flying again,

Up in the air and down!

I heard kids talking and their footsteps walking by in front of my house. I didn’t recognize their voices. I automatically covered my eyes with one hand. I knew I would be much prettier if I hadn’t gotten lye in both my eyes.

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Games: Excerpt from Chapter 14

…Our house had two bedrooms; Momma gave one to Billy and one to me, while she slept on a daybed in the dining room. As an adult, now I realize what a sacrifice Momma made so that Billy and I could each have our privacy. She didn’t have much of her own with her bed in the dining room and the two of us constantly dashing in and out.

Billy and I made up a game we called Get Across. We had a long, wide living room. In the game, my base was a built-in bookcase and Billy’s base was the front door directly across from it. When it was my turn, I was supposed to crawl across the rug (which smelled like Beany) and touch Billy’s base.

“You’re first,” Billy shouted. “On your mark, get set, go!”

I crawled as fast as I could to what I knew was Billy’s base. He tackled me. He sat on my chest and pinned my arms to the floor. His breath smelled like a Hershey bar.

“Momma, tell Billy to get off me.” I yelled.

Momma was smoking a cigarette and reading David Copperfield. “Settle it yourselves,” she said in a calm voice.

I offered Billy a Mickey Mantle baseball card and a piece of flat pink bubble gum. Billy said that suited him fine, and he let me go.

To this day, I find it amazing that my mother did nothing to intervene. Here sat my older, sighted brother on top of his younger, blind sister. Yet I am very grateful to my mother for allowing me to be an equal to my brother.

“Now let’s go play Imaginary Man,” my brother said.

“Okay,” I said.

I walked over to Momma’s bed in the dining room and coughed on cigarette smoke. “Hello, darling,” Momma said, “Look out for the floor lamp I pulled over here. It is usually beside the piano. Don’t trip on the cord.”

I tried to avoid the cord but stepped on Beany’s tail. She growled.

“I’m sorry, Peggy, I’m sorry, Beany,” Momma said.

“Come on,” Billy yelled from the back door.

“Give me a kiss and then run along and play,” Momma said.

I could smell the smoke but Momma always moved the cigarette out of the way of kisses. I heard Beany head toward the back door. “Sooey, piggy, piggy,” Billy called from the back door.

“Good-bye Momma,” I said.

“I love you, peachcake,” Momma said.

Billy slammed the back door, which must mean Beany had gone outside. But where?

I pushed open the back screen door and ran down the four steps. I didn’t take time to pet Wicky, the cat, who was always sitting on the stairwell. At the bottom of the steps I called, “Where’s Beany?”

“She ran down the alley toward the park. She’ll be gone for a while.”

I found the pecan tree we used as home base. Billy put a kickball in my hands. It smelled like rubber. I put it on the ground in front of me to kick. I kicked the ball and headed for the oil drum that was first base. “I have the ball,” Billy yelled. “But I will let you touch first. Leave an imaginary man there and go back home.”

As I headed for home, I said the poem “Jenny” to myself:

Jenny made her mind up at seventy-five,

That she would live to be the oldest woman alive

But Gin and Rum and destiny played their tricks

And Jenny kicked the bucket at seventy-six.

I tripped over the ball. “The ball is right in front of you,” Billy said.

“Duh, now,” I said.

I put out my hand and touched the pecan tree. I found the ball with my foot and kicked it forward. I headed back to first while my imaginary man headed to second. Second was a crape myrtle tree. “I’ll let you make it to first again,” Billy said. “Then you will have an imaginary man on first and an imaginary man on second. And you can kick again.”

So I went back to home base and kicked again. Billy immediately tapped my arm with the ball. “You’re out!” We played for just one out.

I walked to the pecan tree in the middle of the yard that was where the pitcher stood. “Roll the ball here, here, here,” Billy called from home base.

I rolled the ball and I heard his shoe connect with it. I heard the whoosh of the ball in the air and the sound as it landed in the neighbor’s yard.

“Home run!” Billy shouted.

“I’m going inside to talk to Momma.”

Playing Get Across taught me resourcefulness.  But what did Imaginary Man teach me other than that most of the time I would lose?  Still, I had Billy on quite a pedestal, because he was so smart.  He called me “Piglet” and “Idiot Head Retardo,” but he also exclaimed “bad chair!” when I ran into one, and he threatened to beat up kids who made fun of my eyes.

I found Momma still reading in bed. “Don’t take it too seriously,” Momma said.

Sometimes I hated my mother. “Momma,” I burst out, “What happened to me?”

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Coffee Table: Excerpts from Chapter 13

…At Grandmomma’s that night I was in the sitting room with Billy. I got up to pace around and ran into the piano bench. Then the coffee table. “Bad coffee table,” Billy said. “Bad bad piano bench.”

I asked him about shock treatment and he said he really didn’t know what it meant. “I’m going outside,” he said.

I felt the sofa I was sitting on. It had two slipcovers, one for summer and one for winter. Since it was winter, I knew the sofa had on what Grandmomma had described as a “dark green winter” slipcover. The winter slipcover had a smoother feel than the summer one. Grandmomma had told me that the summer slipcover was white.

If I knelt on the sofa facing backward and spread my arms wide, I could feel the books on the huge floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind the sofa. My grandfather kept all his legal books there, along with some novels. Most prized were some slightly worn family Bibles at the end of one shelf. The names William McCann Paul “Billy” and Margaret Mason Paul “Peggy,” along with our birthdates, appeared in the Daniel family Bible.

I felt a large, old-fashioned radio sandwiched between the sofa and the bookcase. It was made of smooth wood. I felt the mesh front and pushed it inward. Grandmomma had told me the mesh covered the speaker. Momma said she used to listen to Little Orphan Annie on the radio. Grandmomma said the family used to listen to FDR’s Fireside Chats on the radio until she and Granddaddy decided the country was going to the dogs and FDR was responsible.

Only at suppertime did the TV trays sit between the coffee table and the sofa. Otherwise, the coffee table stood alone. On it sat four plastic blocks, each with different-colored sides. Grandmomma called the set of blocks a conversation piece. I could only see the red sides. Billy said the other sides were blue, green, orange, yellow, and white. The idea was to put all the greens in a row, all the reds in a row, and so on. Perhaps it was a forerunner to the Rubik’s Cube.

Grandmomma also had a small black-and-white TV on the coffee table. It was the one on which she watched the news and the game show Jeopardy. Sometimes she would turn her black-and-white TV into what she called a poor man’s color TV. This meant she would put a translucent, snap-on cover over the regular TV screen. Billy said the cover made the TV screen look blue at the top and green at the bottom, and that in between the blue and green were sections of yellow and red. If the picture on the TV screen was of a blue sky with a yellow sun and a red house and green grass, then everything looked fine. Otherwise, the picture looked strange. Grandmomma had a stack of Town & Country magazines on the coffee table as well. Sometimes I liked to pick up a print magazine and pretend I was reading it. But usually Billy would come along and say, “You have that magazine upside down, piglet.” His nickname for me wasn’t meant to be mean. It was just a play on my name, Peggy.

Sometimes our dog, Beany, thumped her tail on the sitting-room rug and I could hear it. Other times, if Beany was sleeping quietly, I might trip right over her and she’d growl and I would bump into a piece of furniture. It is incredible how much time blind people spend running into things.

Grandmomma also had an upright piano in her sitting room. I could feel the framed pictures on top of the piano when I stood on the bench. Momma never minded if I stood on piano benches, but Grandmomma greatly minded. Billy said a lot of the pictures were of him, Momma, and me before I was blinded.

Momma came home from the hospital after six months. I had just finished kindergarten and I had not yet entered first grade. She and Billy and I moved into the bungalow Granddaddy had bought for us.

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Depressed: Excerpts from Chapter 12

…The next day Momma went to the hospital. “Why did Momma go to the hospital?” I asked my grandparents. “She’s depressed,” Granddaddy said. Billy and I had pork chops with baked apples and sweet potatoes and baked onions and rice and gravy on our TV trays that night. I asked Billy again what “depressed” was, “Remember, Piglet, it means you are sad a lot and you cry a lot,” Billy said. “You know how Momma didn’t come out of her room lately?  When I saw her eyes the other day it looked like she had been crying.”

I needed to think that over.  “Depressed,” was a big word for a kid in kindergarten.

One day Grandmomma and Granddaddy took Billy and me to see Momma in the hospital. The hospital smelled so clean. We had to sit in a waiting room and someone brought Momma out to meet with us. I heard a heavy door open and close and just before it closed, I heard someone scream. Then, Momma was hugging Billy and me. She was crying. She stopped and said, “I’ll be home soon, little darlings. Granddaddy bought us a house. You will each have a nice bedroom. We will get a dog and have birthday parties and everything will be nice.”

“Can I have a piñata  for my birthday party?” Billy asked. “Yes, you can.  And Peggy you can, too.” “What’s a piñata?” I asked.  And I looked outside and the sun was shining. “It’s an animal made of papier-mâché that you hang on a tree. You take turns hitting it with a stick and when it breaks open candy falls all over the ground,” Billy said importantly.

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Making Friends: Excerpts from Chapter 11

…Becky, one of the girls in my kindergarten class, was chosen to be a sunbeam. She said she felt sorry for me, because I could not be a sunbeam. She invited me to come spend the night at her house so we could play together.

Becky lived in a two story house across the street from my grandmother. When we stepped inside, it felt warm not drafty like my grandmother’s house. It smelled fresh and clean. Before Becky guided me up the steps, she said there were fourteen of them. I counted and she was right. Falling up steps is not too frightening, but falling down steps is a major fear of all blind people.

Becky guided me to her room and put my hand on her bed. I immediately felt a lot of stuffed animals. I picked up a teddy bear and gave him a big hug. “My stuffed animals are mainly bears and rabbits. She continued, “I love animals. I have both stuffed animals and tiny china animals. I’ll let you feel my collection of tiny china animals.”

I immediately recognized the giraffe with his log neck and the elephant with his tusks.  “Here’s a rhino with just one horn,” Becky said. I also felt a lion, a tiger and a hippopotamus. Hippopotamus was a big word for kids in kindergarten. “I keep my china animals on my bedside table,” Becky said. I listened as she replaced the animals one by one on her bedside table.

“What color is your room?” I asked. “It’s painted yellow,” she said. “I have two windows with white curtains with butterflies on them and the curtains are trimmed in lace. My mother hung a picture on the wall of my brother and me playing at the beach.”

Well, I slept in Grandmomma’s little front bedroom where I could feel some of the wallpaper peeling off the walls. Becky’s bedroom had the sound of a big bedroom to me.  As we sat on her bed, I told her the newest rhyme I had learned:

“Milk, milk, lemonade. Around the corner fudge is made.”

I pointed to the appropriate body parts. We giggled and giggled. Then, she said she was going downstairs to ask her mother what we were having for dinner. I heard the door to her bedroom close behind her. I heard her light footsteps run down the stairs. Carefully, I found the china elephant on the bedside table. I had put my little suitcase on the end of the bed. I placed the china elephant in the bottom of the suitcase and zipped it up. Just then Becky ran back into the room and said she had told her brother the rhyme, and her brother told their mother and their mother slapped him. On top of that, Becky didn’t have a chance to ask her mother what we were having for dinner. At that point I wanted to leave but I was determined to spend the night. I knew that when I had to talk to Becky’s mother I would feel uneasy.

The next morning when the doorbell rang and I heard my grandmother’s voice I was so glad. I rushed home with Grandmomma and up to my little bedroom. I opened my suitcase and found the elephant. But his back leg had broken off. I never stole anything again.

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Exclusion: Excerpts from Chapter 10

…That night as Billy and I ate pot roast and potatoes and carrots on our TV trays, I told him about my day.  Billy seemed much older and wiser than I. “Those kids were mean to you,” Billy said. “You can’t help it if you can’t see. I’m going to  beat those kids up.” Well, I thought I might just tell those kids what my big brother had said.

In 1958, no kindergarten in America had accommodations for kids with disabilities. My mother had made a very interesting decision. She told me later that she hadn’t wanted me to live away from the family at a school for the blind. She had also wanted me to adjust to the sighted world starting at an early age. Certainly, I learned to live in the sighted world at a young age. However, I missed out on things by not going to a school for the blind, such as friendships with other blind children. Adults I know who attended schools for the blind have remained close to many of their blind classmates, but I have never had a close blind friend.

Things got worse at kindergarten. Before long it was October and Mrs. Brooks wanted us to cut out Halloween pumpkins and then paste them on a huge piece of paper on a wall.  I told Billy about it and he asked our grandfather if he would buy me a little plastic jack-o-lantern with a handle. My grandfather bought it for me and I loved feeling the eyes, nose, and mouth with teeth. Billy said the jack-o-lantern was orange and the eyes, nose, mouth and teeth were black. I proudly took my new toy to school but Mrs. Brooks said she didn’t know what we could do with it, because we couldn’t paste it on the wall with the other pumpkins. I wanted to cry but I never cried.

So, I just sat and listened to the other kids opening and closing their scissors as they cut away on construction paper. I did like the smell of paste and I tasted it one time. It tasted okay.

At Thanksgiving Mrs. Brooks had the class cut out construction paper turkeys and at Christmas she had the class cut out Christmas trees. I just sat and listened. After Christmas Mrs. Brooks said we would start practicing for a play.  Some of the girls would be sunbeams and wear yellow costumes and dance across the stage at the elementary school where we would perform the play. I asked Mrs. Brooks if I could be a sunbeam, but she said I wouldn’t be able to do the dancing. She said I would need to wear a blue dress and sing a song with John who would wear a blue seersucker jacket.

Grandmomma had told me that John seemed kind of retarded. I guessed that meant he was dumb because some of the kids in the class said he was dumb. When we added sums like two plus two and three plus three, he never seemed to know the answers. I asked Billy what “retarded” meant. He said he thought retarded people were dumb, but they couldn’t help it, so you shouldn’t make fun of them.

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Starting School: Excerpts from Chapter 9

…“Grandmomma said I have to go to kindergarten,” I said. I directed this comment toward my brother, who I assumed was still sitting at the other end of the sofa. “Kindergarten is easy,” Billy said.

Grandmomma and Granddaddy want me to go to the School for the Blind in St. Augustine, but Momma wants me to go to school with sighted kids.” “You have to color pictures in kindergarten,” Billy said.  “That might be hard for you.” “I can see red,” I said. “But there are a lot of other colors,” Billy said. “Like there’s green and yellow and orange and blue and purple and brown and black and white.” “Also, you have to start raising your hand in kindergarten,” Billy said. “I’ll show you later how to hold your hand up.  You have to raise your hand a certain way and you can’t wave it around.”

Momma, Billy and I were all living in Grandmomma’s house. Momma stayed in her room, the middle bedroom, most of the time.  When I went to visit her, I could tell the room was very dark even in the daytime. It smelled like cigarettes.

Grandmomma took me for my first day of kindergarten. I wore a new dress. Grandmomma said it was pink and made of cotton. Clara starched and ironed it for me, and, when I put it on, she buttoned it up the back. She said I looked pretty and I should feel the smocking which felt like a design in the top front of the dress.

When Grandmomma dropped me off, Mrs. Brooks, the kindergarten teacher, took me by the hand and walked me to a table. I bumped into the corner of the table but it didn’t hurt my leg very much. One of the great frustrations of blindness is walking into things.  Not only did we sometimes hurt ourselves but it seems like other people think we are clumsy.

I heard the chair scrape on the floor as Mrs. Brooks pulled it out for me.  Somehow I got myself seated.  The kids sitting on each side of me asked, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” “I got lye in them,” I said. “What’s lye?” they asked. “Something you pour in the sink when it is stopped up,” I managed to say. I wanted to leave. The kid on my right said, “Oh, I am glad I don’t look like you.” The kid on the left said “Oooh,”

I heard someone clapping the way Grandmomma clapped when she wanted Billy and me to pay attention. Mrs. Brooks said, “We will now color a picture.” Someone put a piece of paper in my hands. I heard the rustle of papers being passed out to what I figured was the rest of the class. “Here are your crayons,” Mrs. Brooks said and put a box of crayons into my hands. I opened the box and smelled the crayons. I loved their smell. I held the box close to my eye and looked for a red one.

“Children,” Mrs. Brooks asked, “what outline do you see on your piece of paper?” The piece of paper looked and felt blank to me. “A house,” everyone else shouted. “Go ahead and color,” Mrs. Brooks said. I put my face down on the paper but I couldn’t see an outline at all. I wondered what a house looked like.

I decided to color up and down on the paper with the red crayon.  I had heard of red brick houses. “You’re not staying in the lines,” the kid next to me said.  “You must be blind.”

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