Thursday, June 28, 2012

Farewell to Blogger

Since Google recently changed Blogger’s interface, Post to Blog, the program I once used to post to this blog, no longer works with it. I have trouble using Blogger’s new interface to post to this blog. For this reason, I’ve switched to a different blogging platform powered by Wordpress. This is not only better for me but will make things easier for you, my loyal readers. You don’t have to jump through hoops to leave a comment,, and I can more easily post directly from the new site. This blog will still be up, but I won’t add any more posts to it. Please visit me at my new blog,

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dad Speed

My father loves to drive fast on the highway. He also feels the need to pass every driver he encounters, even if it means going over the speed limit. One day, he and I were driving from Sheridan, Wyoming, over the mountains to Thermopolis where I was about to receive an award for my years of volunteer service to nursing homes and other senior facilities. After several unsuccessful attempts to pass another car on a winding mountain road, I said, “Dad, there’s plenty of time. Take it slow.” I often heard him giving this advice to my younger brother when teaching him to drive, but coming to him from his daughter who never drove a vehicle in her life, he ignored it. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it’s a wonder we made it in one piece.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, I thought it fitting to post the following prose poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. This was inspired by an incident that happened while Dad and I were driving home from Colorado. Warning: this poem contains some strong language.


I’m sitting in a car going over ninety miles an hour. “If I stay behind this car, I won’t speed,” Dad says. “It’s going under the speed limit.” But the car in front of us turns off at the next exit. The speedometer climbs.

“God damn it,” he says, as he slows down. “I just want to get home.”

“So do I, but I want to make it in one piece.”

“Fuck you! I’m tired.”

“And you don’t think I am?” I want to tell him. “You don’t think it’s exhausting, speeding down the highway with you, watching you fiddle with the tape deck and consult a road map when both hands should be on the wheel, your eyes glued to the road?” Hallelujah! We’re home at last!

What do you remember doing with your father? Please feel free to share your memories by leaving a comment below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Sighted Person’s Mistake

Summer is the season for street reconstruction. Being visually impaired, I’m always concerned about stepping in wet concrete or ending up in the path of an oncoming bulldozer. When I read in the paper about a woman driving into wet cement, I was refreshed in the knowledge that people with good eyes also make such mistakes. This inspired the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

On an Adventure with Her Grandkids

She drove into a mound
of freshly poured concrete surrounded by orange cones,
was sited by police for not following signage.
Her insurance company will be billed.
The blind aren’t the only ones who blunder.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deliverance from Jericho

Imagine how you would feel as a child of seven if you were sent to a school far, far away from everything you knew and loved. What if that school were a strict, regimented environment where nobody understood you and you couldn’t go home except for Christmas, the occasional Easter holiday, and summer vacation. What would it be like to spend six years in such an institution, governed by uncaring supervisors, teachers, and nurses? Such was the case of Canadian author Bruce Atchison. He talks about his experiences in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School.

I met Bruce several years ago through Behind Our Eyes, a disabled writers’ group. I thought I had it bad at the Arizona State School for the Deaf & Blind in Tucson until I read his book. In Canada as in the United States, disabled children were sent to special schools before 1970. Bruce was no exception. Visually impaired since birth, he managed to get through the first grade in a public school. After that, the government, determining he wasn’t doing well in the public school, sent him to Jericho Hills School where he was educated from 1964 to 1970. He was then mainstreamed into a public school where he stayed until he graduated. He held a variety of jobs including that of a security guard, cashier, and office worker. When his eyesight deteriorated a couple of decades later, he went into freelance writing. He is the author of two memoirs: Deliverance from Jericho and When a Man Loves a Rabbit and is in the process of publishing a third book about his experiences with a cult and how he became a Christian.

In Deliverance from Jericho, Bruce describes what it was like to live in that government-run institution. School officials demonstrated insensitivity towards visually impaired students. They demolished two play areas and replaced them with a garden and tennis courts, neither of which were beneficial to those without sight. The children were taken on outings to such visually oriented programs as the ice capades, circus, and sporting events. The main purpose of these activities was to make the school look good.

Discipline at Jericho Hills School was harsh, and teachers and dormitory supervisors often made students feel inferior when chastising them for even the most minor of infractions. Like any sighted boy, Bruce loved to get into mischief, and in those cases, punishment was justified, but he was often berated, spanked, and sent to bed early for such little things as not being able to tie his shoes or not making his bed properly. One dormitory supervisor, for no apparent reason, made him stand in the hall with his face to the wall for hours one evening before finally allowing him to go to bed. This woman also made Bruce and the other boys wash her car and run personal errands for her. She stole their allowance money and treats they received from home. Bruce and some of the other students eventually complained to the administration, and she was fired.

Bruce and his classmates were subject to bullying by a boy named Charlie. Adults at the school did little to stop this, and on the rare occasions when Charlie was chastised for his behavior, he became even more abusive. When Bruce was older, he contemplated suicide to get away from Charlie and Jericho Hills forever. One year while returning to school after Christmas vacation, his emotions got the better of him, as he sat on the plane, waiting for takeoff. He started kicking and screaming uncontrollably and had to be removed and sent home. When he eventually returned to school without a fight, he was interviewed by a psychologist, and when he talked about how much he hated life at Jericho Hills, he was told to be grateful he was getting such a good education. His parents told him the same thing when he complained to them about conditions at the school. This demonstrates these adults’ inability and/or unwillingness to understand Bruce.

Life at Jericho Hills wasn’t all bad. Bruce and the other boys enjoyed such activities as tobogganing and riding bikes. The school had a swimming pool and bowling alley which the children enjoyed most of the time. Teachers and dormitory supervisors often took the students on outings to museums, movies, the beach, and a carnival, to name a few attractions. Bruce developed a fascination with radio and other electronic equipment, and some teachers encouraged his interests. At times, his radio was his only source of solace during those years.

Bruce also describes his home life when he returned there for vacations. At times, this wasn’t much better than his life at school. When his alcoholic father picked him up at the airport, he often stopped at a bar on the way home, and Bruce was forced to wait in the car while his father went in and had a few drinks. His mother was often verbally abusive, berating Bruce and his siblings for such minor infractions as ripping their pants and getting their shoes dirty. His parents’ marriage was falling apart, and his developmentally disabled brother with behavioral problems broke things and was never punished.

But no matter how bad things got at Jericho Hills School, Bruce was always glad to get home to his family. He had many happy times with his sisters, going swimming and making trips to a local candy store. One year on the rare occasion he returned home for Easter, he and his mother surprised one of his sisters with a rabbit. I wonder if this incident inspired him to own and write about rabbits as an adult.

In 1970, at the age of fourteen, Bruce was mainstreamed into a public school near his home. The curriculum in the public school was a year ahead of that of Jericho Hills. As a result, he had to work harder to catch up with his peers. Because he received no mobility training at Jericho Hills, he had trouble getting to and from the public school and negotiating the premises. He had few social skills and developed such blind mannerisms as rocking back and forth. His sighted classmates thought of him as a freak at best. Also, textbooks and other materials weren’t available in accessible formats, and he often had difficulty reading the print. Despite these obstacles, he managed to get through high school, and although he lived in fear of being returned to Jericho Hills, this never happened.

Not all residential schools for the blind are bad. Some students have such fond memories of their schools that they attend reunions. When such an event was planned by the alumnae of Jericho Hills, Bruce refused to go because of all the unpleasant memories associated with the facility. Since he became a Christian, he is able to put the past behind him and go on with his life.

At the present time, Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School is not in an accessible format. I’ve suggested to Bruce that he contribute it to Bookshare at I hope it will eventually be available for download from that site. In the meantime, you can visit his blog at where you can read excerpts from his books and purchase print copies directly from him.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Friday, May 25, 2012

An Irish Setter's Love

Mother once said that Irish setters only want to please you if it pleases them. Such was the case with Clancy, a male we acquired when I was a freshman in high school. We got him as a puppy, and Dad named him Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Shem is Irish for Jim, and Leroy was Grandpa Johnson’s first name. Clancy was next to impossible to train, and Mother finally gave up. Although we loved him dearly, he could be a real pain. He hated the leash, and if you tried to walk him that way, it became a question of who was walking whom. Fortunately, this was in the good old days when leash laws weren’t a strict. If we took him by the creek, we let him dabble in the water. Afterward, he climbed out, stood next to us, and shook himself, giving us a bath we probably didn’t need.

Clancy soon became Dad’s dog, following him everywhere, begging to be taken along when Dad went to work or anywhere else. At the time, Dad owned a business selling and servicing coin-operated machines, and he often took Clancy with him to the shop and on service calls. The dog became a favorite at bars and other establishments where Dad serviced machines, and bar tenders and other employees often gave him treats. He would come when called, but only if he knew you were going to give him something, a kiss on the nose, a scratch or two behind his floppy ears, a bone or other treat, an occasional serving of ice cream or hamburger.

When Clancy started taking an interest in female dogs who were in heat, Mother suggested having him neutered, but Dad was concerned that the procedure would affect his personality so kept putting it off. When Clancy somehow managed to break through a neighbor’s basement door to get to a prospective mate, Dad finally agreed reluctantly to have it done. It didn’t change the dog’s personality at all. He was still the same adorable, mischievous creature we knew and loved. I pointed out to Mother that we could have arranged to have the procedure done while Clancy was at the vet’s kennel during one of our family vacations, and Dad wouldn’t have known the difference.

Clancy lived to the ripe old age of eleven, passing away one hot summer when I was home from college. Soon after I was settled in an apartment in my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, and working at the nursing home, Dad bought a second Irish setter, this one a female he called Maud Gunne, after William Butler Yeats’ mistress. Maud was about a year old when Dad got her, and her original owner told Dad she was born on the Fourth of July. Ironically, firecrackers and other sudden, loud noises terrified her. Dad had her spayed right away, and she also became popular at establishments where he serviced machines. Although like Clancy, she got into mischief, she seemed more sensitive. She could tell when you were sad or worried, and she would nuzzle you and plant wet kisses on your face or hand or any other body part within reach of her nose. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this.

Remembering an Irish Setter Long Gone

Maud hurries from the house to greet me.

Her tail thumps against my leg in welcome.

I bend, scratch behind her floppy ears,

bury my face in her red fur,

drink in her dog scent.

After an especially hard day at work

when I break down, weep,

she washes away my tears.

Maud lived about as long as Clancy, passing away three months after my mother. Grandma, believing the superstition that bad things happen in threes, feared she was the next to go. As it turned out, the next to die was my dad’s pick-up, in the back of which both dogs loved to ride. Dad hasn’t had another dog since.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not the Man I Married

This may be the title of a new book of poems I’m planning to put together. When I sent the final proof of How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver to the publisher, a fellow writer offered to take a look at it, hoping that a second pair of eyes would give it a fresh perspective. After reading my manuscript, she suggested that the first part containing poems about me and Bill would work as a separate book. This was back in November of 2011. Since then, I’ve been mulling this idea over, and I think it might have some merit.

It’ll be my summer project. Like I did with my other books, I’ll try to find a traditional publisher first. A lot of publishers accept poetry manuscripts with a minimum of forty to fifty pages, and I only have at least thirty-five poems about me and Bill so I may have to write some more. I’ve already written two or three more since the publication of my second book. Eventually, Bill will say, “Honey, why don’t you just go ahead and self-publish it? It’ll be your Christmas present.”

Now, here’s another poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. This one reflects the changes that have come about as a result of Bill’s stroke, which not only affected the left side of his body but also his speech. He can no longer sing, and his speaking voice is different. When he called me on a Saturday night soon after he had the stroke, I almost hung up on him because I thought he was a drunk in a bar calling a wrong number. When he calls someone on the phone he hasn’t talked to in a while, I have to remind him to tell that person who he is because his voice may not be recognized. He is also unable to cook, clean, do laundry, play cards, and engage in other activities as he used to do. Despite the adaptive equipment we have in our home to help me care for him, our lives aren’t the same as they were before the stroke. He’s not the man I married, but I still love him, hence the title of the new book.


I know what to do--

I don’t know what to do.

The wheelchair, vertical bars, gait belt

offer assistance but can’t bring him back.

He’s not the man I married--

he’s still the man I love.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If You Ask Me,

Betty White’s book by that title is pretty good, especially if you get a recording of her reading it. I downloaded such a recording from and had some good laughs. I also couldn’t help laughing when I saw her on television as the scatter-brained Rose on The Golden Girls. She was also in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I was a little young when that was running. My mother watched that as religiously as I watched The Golden Girls.

Betty White was born on January 17th,1922 in Oak Park Illinois. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a traveling salesman and engineer. Her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. She attended Horace Mann and Beverly Hills High School. Hoping to be a writer, she became more interested in acting after writing and playing the lead role in a graduation play at Horace Mann.

Her television career began in 1939 when she and a former high school classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental Los Angeles channel. She also worked in radio and movies. Best known for her roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, she performed in a variety of television shows including Life with Elizabeth, Date with the Angels, The Betty White Show, The Golden Palace, Hot in Cleveland, and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. Since Rue McClanahan’s death in 2010, she is the only living golden girl. She won seven Emmy awards and received twenty Emmy nominations. She was the first woman to receive an Emmy award for game show hosting for Just Men and is the only person to have an Emmy award in all female comedic performing categories. In May 2010, she was the oldest person to guest host Saturday Night Live and won a Primetime Emmy Award for this. As of 2012 at the age of ninety, she is the oldest Emmy nominee.

In If You Ask Me, Betty combines her ideas on such topics as friendship, technology, and aging with anecdotes from her childhood, career, and work with animals. She talks about developing a friendship with a guerilla, meeting two whales, and adopting a dog rejected by Guide Dogs for the Blind. I can relate when she says how frustrating it is not to recognize a face, especially when the face belongs to a celebrity she meets at a party and thinks she should know. Being visually impaired, I have the same problem but don’t run into any celebrities at parties. Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone needing some good laughs.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver