7/15/09

What's Your Favorite Book?

A few years ago I was asked a question, a simple, normal, everyday kind of question, “What is your favorite book?” I sat there in silence, feeling embarrassed, sad, confused, because at age 23 I had never read a book. For me, reading meant heavy books, nose pressed to the page, headaches and neck aches and about five pages an hour. I hated to read!

I grew up as a blind child, with “very useful vision,” as my parents were told. The blindness professionals my parents met early in my life told them the best thing for me was large print, that Braille wasn’t necessary for a child with, “so much useable vision.” They were told Braille was difficult to learn and very time consuming, that I could be learning more important things instead of spending my time trying to read a code I didn’t really need.

My parents, of course, listened to these so called experts because they were just that experts on blindness, my parents did not know any better.

In the seventh grade a lady came to my school, pulled me out of class and asked if I would like to try and learn Braille. I was reluctant at first but said I would like to try; I had little expectations for myself because I had heard often how difficult Braille was to learn.

About once a month, the tennis balls and muffin tin came out and I began to be taught the Braille alphabet. In my itinerate teacher’s words I was making “remarkable” progress, in three months I learned letters A through J, pathetic at best.

I didn’t see Braille again until 10 years later when I made a decision to attend a full-emersion training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I walked into Mr. Jerry Whittle’s Braille class and I instantly fell in love…with Braille.

I learned the alphabet in about two days, within two weeks I was through the entire Braille manual. That third week, at 23 years old, I began reading my very first book, “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.” I couldn’t put that book down, I read slowly at first but my speed quickly picked up because I spent hours after school reading and reading and reading.

I was beginning to see the importance of Braille in my life, and so was my family. During my time at LCB my dad began his final battle with brain cancer. I left my training to spend the last weeks of my dad’s life with him. Curled up next to him in his bed one day, he said to me, “Promise me you’ll go back to your training center as soon as possible. Also promise me you’ll try to use a cane and lastly will you please be one to speak at my funeral and read it in Braille, for me.” Before I could begin to argue my case that I had only been in Ruston two months, I told him I would do these things. My dad was still alive when I began to Braille my final words to him on a borrowed Perkins Brailler. Many of my signs were wrong, many words that should have been contracted were not and I was very slow but this was the most important thing I would ever write and to know I was finally literate enough to do it was the most cherished gift of my life.

I read my jumbled, inaccurate, messy Braille on that October morning we honored my dad and it was possibly the proudest day I have ever had. I am thankful everyday my dad and mom pushed me to excel beyond meager expectations for the blind.

I will never be able to explain the joy I had when I read that last page of my first book, or writing the first words of a last letter to my dad.

My favorite book is, “Bridges of Madison County,” by-the-way and I love to read!

*This is from a presentation I gave at the National Federation of the Blind's 2009 National Convention in Detroit, Michigan.

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