Thursday, June 28, 2012
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
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
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
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 http://www.bookshare.org I hope it will eventually be available for download from that site. In the meantime, you can visit his blog at http://www.bruceatchison.blogspot.com/ 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
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
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.
Monday, May 21, 2012
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.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
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 audible.com 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
Her television career began in 1939 when she and a former high school classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental
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.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
We usually get rid of leaves in the fall, but with Mother’s Day around the corner, I would like to share a poem about something my mother and I did together. In the fall of 1988, I was living with my mother in Sheridan, Wyoming, while looking for work after completing a six-month internship at a nursing home in
We gathered them into bags, placed them curbside. Mother said, “We used to burn the leaves. It was the smell of fall. Let’s burn a few now.”
It had been a dry year.
“Stop being such a chicken. Help me gather leaves into a pile.” With a sick feeling in my stomach, I did as I was told.
She struck a match--nothing happened. The wind came up. Leaves drifted away, as if they knew of their fate. She tried again with no results. After several more tries, she gave up, to my relief. We got rid of the leaves in the usual way.
My mother passed away from cancer on December 15th, 1999, but the memories still remain. What about you? Please feel free to tell me about something you did with your mother by leaving a comment below.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
During the last few years of my mother’s life, she lived in Story, a small town about twenty miles south of
To get to Mother’s house, we drove to Story on a main highway. We then turned onto a dirt road that wound through the woods for about a mile. At the dirt road, Dad stopped and let Maud out so she could run alongside the car for the rest of the trip. This is described in more detail in the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.
The car turns onto the dirt road and stops.
The rear left passenger door opens.
Out jumps an Irish setter.
The door slams shut.
The car moves down the road at a moderate pace.
The dog runs alongside the car,
her red, floppy ears and mane blowing in the breeze,
the multi-colored kerchief around her neck visible in the sunlight.
She hesitates, sniffs something along the side of the road.
The car stops--Dad calls, “Come on, Maud.”
Maud turns toward the car--we’re off.
About a mile down the road,
the car turns into the driveway of a log cabin--
Mother hurries out to meet us.
Maud rushes up to her, tail wagging in frantic anticipation.
She strokes the dog’s shaggy neck--
Maud gives her a sloppy kiss.
She runs in joyous circles around the car,
as we alight and items are removed from the trunk.
It’s so good to be home!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
I just finished reading Izzie and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me by Jon Katz, an author of novels, memoirs, and children’s books who lives on a farm in
The author also provides anecdotes about other animals on the farm and talks about how they got along with Izzie and Lenore. He describes how he trained first Izzie and then Lenore for hospice work and how the dogs effected terminally ill patients’ behavior. Some suffered from dementia, but after a visit from Izzie, they became more manageable so family caregivers and nursing home staff could more easily bathe and change them and administer medications.
When Izzie was around, patients who were agitated became calm, and those who rarely spoke uttered a few words. As a result of Izzie’s visits, one patient recovered to the point where his doctors determined he no longer needed hospice care. I wonder how this man did once Izzie’s visits were discontinued.
Jon Katz also describes his bout with depression and reflects on the healing power of animals. I feel I can relate to his work with hospice patients. Although I never worked with hospice directly, I spent fifteen years as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and often encountered residents who were terminally ill. I used music for the same purposes that Jon Katz used Izzie and Lenore.
Reading this book, especially the author’s experiences with hospice patients, gave me a whole new perspective on my life as a family caregiver. I’m lucky because my husband Bill isn’t suffering from a terminal illness. He’s partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of two strokes. I must do almost everything for him, but he’s not bedridden, and I don’t have to bathe him or administer pain medication intravenously or handle oxygen tubes. I don’t have to see him in pain or discomfort or deal with agitated behavior. I hope that when the time comes, he’ll go peacefully, and I won’t be forced to endure the agony of watching him die.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Gouda cheese (pronounced gow duh) is orange in color, made from cow’s milk, and is named after the town of
Several years ago, a local restaurant advertised omelets, sandwiches, and other items made with
The scene opens at The Country Kitchen in
Dolly Parton sits in a booth.
She barely touches her
She’s wearing blue jeans
and a colorful western shirt that accents her bosom.
The sunlight from a nearby window sparkles in her blonde, frizzy hair.
Jolene sits across from her,
a non-descript woman with short dark hair,
wearing navy blue sweat pants and a white t-shirt.
She wolfs down her barbecued chicken sandwich,
“I don’t know what my husband sees in you, honey,” says Dolly.
“You’re so plain.”
“Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always there for him,” says Jolene.
“I don’t travel around the country,
giving concerts, signing autographs, smiling at other men.”
“But that’s my work,” says Dolly.
“He knew that when he married me.
And why on Earth would he want to live in
None of these towns are like
“He likes my ranch,” answers Jolene.
“In the evening, we sit on the front porch,
drink coffee, play chess,
watch the sun go down.
It’s more romantic than some pent house in
Did he tell you
we met at your concert in
When he complained of a headache,
told you he was going back to the Brown palace,
he was going there to be with me.”
“You slut!” says Dolly.
She rises, picks up her omelet,
flings it at Jolene, hurries out the door.
The camera zooms in on Jolene,
her face swathed in egg,
smoked bacon, tomato slices, and
This was recently published in Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring stories, poems, and essays from such disabled writers as myself. Two other poems from my book were also published in this issue. As the radio ads said, have a
Thursday, April 12, 2012
When I was growing up, we had a white cat with black spots. She came from a litter born to a stray. My mother called her Wanda. I don’t know where she came up with that name, but it fit. This was a cat with an attitude.
As I got dressed in the mornings, Wanda rubbed against my bare ankles and without warning bit one of them, not hard enough to draw blood but hard enough to hurt. Mother said it was because I wasn’t giving her enough attention, but when I reached down in an attempt to pet her, she tried to bite my finger.
As Wanda grew older, she developed a nasty habit of urinating in places other than the cat box. Once, Dad sat on the love seat in the music room not realizing it was wet from Wanda’s business. Needless to say, there was a suspicious dark stain on the back of his pants. After doing music therapy practicum sessions and an internship with nursing home residents, I told Mother that maybe old cats, like old people, have problems with incontinence, but she scoffed at this.
Another one of Wanda’s favorite pastimes was removing dirty socks from the washing machine and dropping them on the floor in the laundry room. She usually did this in the middle of the night. The laundry room was on the second floor down the hall from our bedrooms. We often woke to hear her meow a few times. We went back to sleep and didn’t think anything of it. The next morning, someone found the dirty socks on the laundry room floor. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this phenomenon.
Balancing on the edge of the washing machine,
Wanda reaches into its depth,
retrieves a dirty sock,
jumps down, places it on the floor.
“Meow, meow,” she says,
as she circles it once or twice.
She walks away,
leaves it for someone else to find.
Did your pets have any strange behaviors when you were growing up? Please share your memories below.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I just finished reading a book with this title by Carol Burnett. In the 1970’s, I watched her show with my mother on Saturday nights. Although a lot of her antics with Vicky Lawrence, Harvey Corman, and Tim Conway had to be described to me, I still thought they were funny. When I was in college studying music therapy, I did a required semester of practicum with a group of adults with psychiatric disorders at an outpatient facility. After singing songs and having a few laughs of our own, we ended our sessions by singing “I’m So Glad We Have This Time Together” and pulling our ears just like Carol. I also saw her as the less than kindly orphanage matron in the movie adaptation of the Broadway musicalAnnie and in the comical role of Jamie’s mother in the television comedy Mad about You.
Carol Burnett was born on April 26th, 1933 in
She married Don Seroyan in 1955. They were divorced in 1962. In 1963, she married television producer Joe Hamilton, a divorced father of eight, and they had three daughters. They were divorced in 1984. In 2001, she married drummer and music contractor Brian Miller.
After becoming well-known on Broadway, she appeared on television in The Garry Moore Show. She then moved to
This Time Together is a collection of anecdotes about Carol Burnett’s life growing up and her career as an actress, comedian, and singer. She talks about how as a teenager, she was fired from her job as an usher at a
I was lucky to find a recording of Carol reading her book on audible.com. When I listened, it was as if she were telling me her stories, not just reading them. She did great impersonations of other actors with whom she came in contact such as Julie Andrews and Joan Crawford. I even got to hear her do her famous Tarzan yell. I wasn’t too impressed the few times she sang on this recording, but that may have been because she didn’t have any accompaniment. She did a better job on stage with an orchestra behind her. I recommend this book to anyone who likes funny, heartwarming stories about celebrities, and if you want a real treat, get a recording of Carol reading it.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Several years ago, the people who bought the house next door decided to remodel the entire house and yard. In the process, they cut down a couple of trees. With the yard being virtually outside our bedroom window, the noise was deafening at times. Needless to say, we couldn’t sleep late while this was going on. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes a typical morning in which I get Bill dressed while the tree cutting is going on.
We hear the workmen next door,
as we get ready for our day.
Lying down, we put on his pants,
one leg, then the other,
roll, pull, roll, pull
till they’re up as far as they’ll go.
Sitting on the side of the bed,
we remove his sweaty t-shirt.
His arm encircles my waist.
We tug, laugh,
swear till it’s over his head.
One arm, then the other,
On goes the sweatshirt,
one sleeve, then the other,
over his head it goes.
All the while,
chain saws whine.
Branches and limbs fall,
bring change, welcome or not.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
When I was growing up, one of my favorite movies was Mary Poppins. I loved Julie Andrews’ portrayal of the nanny with the umbrella and carpet bag who held a tea party on the ceiling, jumped in and out of a picture with her charges, and never gave them castor oil or gruel. I almost wished my parents would hire me a nanny.
My mother said she first took me to see the movie when I was four. I don’t remember this, but I do recall seeing it in a theater later when I was older, and I saw it on television a few times. We had a sound track of the movie which I played often. I even had a Mary Poppins umbrella.
I also liked The Sound of Music, but I never saw the movie until I was an adult so it didn’t make as much of an impression. A friend from school had the sound track, and we listened to it often when I went to herhouse. At the
I just finished reading Home: A Memoir of My Younger Years by Julie Andrews. This book portrays her life from birth until 1963 when she went to
Mary Poppins was her first film in 1964, and she won an Academy Award for best actress. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Sound of Music in 1965. From 1964 to 1967, she appeared in The Americanization of Emily,
She returned to fame in this century with her performances in The Princess Diaries in 2001 and it sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, in 2004. She directed a production of The Boy Friend at the Bay Street Theater in
In Home: A Memoir of My Younger Years, Julie Andrews talks about her life growing up in
When World War II broke out, her parents separated and eventually divorced. Her mother moved to
Her stepfather tried giving her voice lessons but decided she should study with a professional. She performed often with her mother and stepfather before branching out on her own. In the late 1950’s, she married Tony Walton who approached her years earlier after one of her performances and became a good friend. In the 1960’s, she divorced him and married Blake Edwards, and she mentions this briefly in her book.
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years left me wanting to know more about Julie Andrews. I found some information on Wikipedia but not what I wanted to know. At the end of the book, she and Tony seem to be getting along pretty well so I wonder why they split up and why she married her second husband and stayed with him until his death in 2010. I’m also interested in her experience with her throat surgery and what it was like to discover that her voice was damaged as a result of it. According to Wikipedia, this is the first of a two-part memoir series so I guess I’ll have to wait for the second part.
Did you have any favorite movies or stars when you were growing up? Did you hang posters or other memorabilia in your room or gawk at pictures in magazines? Did you play those movie sound tracks over and over until the records wore out? Did you ever want to be in pictures? Please feel free to share your memories below.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Taking care of Bill is a twenty-four-hour-a-day seven-day-a-week job. I try to get as much sleep as possible so I have enough energy to tackle the day to day tasks of his care, housework, and my writing obligations. I often take short afternoon naps. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes how I lie awake on a Sunday morning, wishing I could go back to sleep and not being successful.
“Just give me one more hour of sleep,”
I silently pray
to my husband, unable to care for himself,
my body, the world in general.
It’s eight in the morning.
I lie with my eyes closed,
enjoy the Sunday morning peace.
It doesn’t last.
When you were growing up, could you sleep in when you didn’t have to get up and go to school, or did you rise early every morning because you lived on a farm or had a paper route or other obligations? When my younger brother had an early morning paper route, he often overslept. Needless to say, when my dad, an early riser, didn’t find his morning paper neatly rolled up outside the front door, he awakened the entire household by yelling, “Ah hell! Andy!”
By the way, you can order an autographed copy of How to Build a Better Mousetrap directlyfrom me through Pay Pal for which you don’t need an account. When you visit my Website, click on the Pay Pal link in the ordering information section at the bottom of my book’s page. If you have trouble, you can contact me by using the e-mail link on any one of my site’s pages.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Today is the first day of spring. The sun is shining in a cloudless sky. Birds are singing, and our thermometer says it’s forty-eight degrees. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes a walk I often took when I was single. The route took me through a city park, across a bridge, and along the creek. If you click on the link below the poem, you’ll hear me play and sing a song I’m sure you’ll recognize. The link will be available for at least a few days. Happy spring!
A Spring Constitutional
In the early morning, a cold wind blows.
The weak sunlight from a hazy sky offers little warmth.
Despite the chill in the air, I’m glad to be out walking.
I smell fresh new-mown grass and hear bird songs.
In the park, a workman mows the lawn.
There’s no one else in sight.
I walk by the creek, hear its gentle babble,
the neighing of horses from a nearby veterinary clinic,
smell the manure.
My white cane rolls from side to side in front of me.
In the late afternoon, I traverse the same path,
relieved to be out in the fresh air.
I hear the cries of children from the nearby playground.
My stomach tells me I’m hungry.
I quicken my pace, eager to reach home.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I just received word from my publisher, iUniverse, that We Shall Overcome is now available in Kindle and other eBook formats from various sources.. While doing a search for these sites, I discovered that How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver is now available from Amazon for the Kindle. I’m going to try to plug both books at once. Since I’ve never posted an excerpt from We Shall Overcome on this blog, I’m going to paste below the beginning of Chapter 1. This will be followed by links to various sites where both books can be purchased in eBook formats. These Links will also be available on my Website.
The demonstrators sang as they stood blocking the entrance to the courthouse in the gathering dusk of a chilly March evening. Lisa clutched her long white cane in her right hand and a small sign in her left hand and sang with them. For the past few months, she and her friend Joan Ferrin were involved with a group of peace activists trying to prevent the war with
“All right, folks, listen up,” said a voice amplified by a bull horn. “You have five minutes to clear out or you’ll all be arrested for civil disobedience.”
Running footsteps sounded behind her. “Hey, can you stop a minute?” a male voice asked.“I’m with the Sheridan Press, and I want to know why you’re running away.”
Her panic rising, Lisa turned to the man and said, “Just let me get far enough away so they don’t arrest me, okay?”
She turned toward the street, and noticing that it was safe to cross, she dashed to the other side, the tip of her cane sweeping from side to side in front of her. When she reached the opposite curb, she paused and turned to the reporter who was hurrying after her. She hoped she was far enough away that she would not be perceived as one of the demonstrators.
“Boy, for someone who can’t see, you sure move fast,” said the reporter, panting and taking a notebook and pen from his pocket.
“That’s interesting,” said the reporter, scribbling in his notebook. “Do you use a computer, too?”
“Yes,” Lisa answered. “I use one at home and at work. Both have screen readers that read the text aloud to me in synthetic speech and help me navigate without using a mouse.”
“And where do you work?” the reporter asked.
“I work with my father, Brad Taylor,” Lisa answered. “He owns Taylor Novelty, a company that sells and services coin-operated machines to restaurants and other businesses in
“Oh, yeah,” the reporter said. “I believe you guys do our candy machine at the office. That reminds me. Did anyone from there call you today about that machine? It took my fifty cents but didn’t give me a candy bar.”
“No, but I’ll make sure someone gets there tomorrow,” Lisa said.
“So what kind of work do you do with this company?” the reporter asked.
“I do the books and keep track of all the cigarettes, junk food, coffee, cocoa, and jukebox records that go into those machines,”
“You use the computer to do all that?” the reporter asked.
“Most of it,” Lisa answered. “I also have a closed-circuit television reading system there that I use to read the labels on all the merchandise. I then label everything in Braille so I can find it easily.”
“By the way, I don’t think I caught your name,” the reporter said.
Before she could answer, she heard the amplified voice that earlier announced the demonstrators’ impending arrest and was surprised that it was still audible from across the street, despite the noise of the traffic.“All right, folks, you’re all under arrest.” She heard the sound of approaching sirens.
“It looks like the police are coming,” said the reporter. The gathering dusk, the sound of the sirens growing closer and closer, and the amplified voice across the street reminded her why she was there, and she turned to leave. “Wait,” said the reporter. “You haven’t told me why you’re running away, why you don’t want to be arrested.”
“I also haven’t told you my name,” she said, turning back to the reporter and trying to keep her voice calm. “My name is
“You’re scared,” the reporter said as she turned to leave.
“What do you mean?” Lisa asked, turning back.
“You’re afraid of going to jail,” the reporter answered.
“Of course I’m afraid of going to jail,” Lisa said. “But I’m more afraid of losing my job, which could happen if I’m arrested.”
“Look, I’ve met your dad. He seems to be a real nice guy, not the sort of father who would fire his own daughter. But a lot of those people across the street are not lucky enough to have employers who understand something like this, and I don’t see any of them running away. Could your visual impairment have something to do with it?”
Exasperated, Lisa turned and fled along the sidewalk. In the distance, the wail of police sirens was replaced by the screech of brakes as the squad cars arrived at their destination. Lisa didn’t look back, not until she reached the safety of her apartment building only a few blocks away.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
After my younger brother got his first drum set, and we started playing together with me on piano and vocals, my parents decided we needed a room in our house primarily for playing and listening to music. We’d been using the dining room for this, but it was a bit crowded and not as comfortable. In the summer of 1979, with the help of my uncle, an architect, and a reliable crew of carpenters, this room was built. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes how this room evolved and effected our lives.
The Music Room
After one crew removed the old room,
another poured cement, created a floor, walls, windows, roof.
Carpeting was laid.
The piano, drum set, and stereo were installed.
A love seat and Franklin stove were purchased.
For years, we played together in that room,
me on piano, my brother on drums.
We eventually went our separate ways--
the house was sold--
we still remember.
Did you make music when you were growing up? What instruments did you play? Did you take lessons? Did you and your siblings ever form a band? Please feel free to share your memories below.
Friday, March 9, 2012
One of my many tasks as a family caregiver is to help Bill when he relieves himself. When he came home six years ago, he was able to use a urinal while sitting on the side of the bed. In the middle of the night, still groggy, I pulled him into a sitting position, handed him the urinal, and waited for him to do his business. Sometimes, it took forever, and I dozed in a comfortable armchair until he was done. This happened at least once a night, sometimes twice. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates how this usually worked.
At three in the morning,
I’m mildly aroused
by the gentle touch of his hand.
He only has one good arm and leg
but still knows how to please me.
As he strokes me,
and I breathe the scent of his sweat,
I purr with anticipation.
The mood is shattered
when he whispers, “I need to pee.”
Now, Bill can no longer balance on the side of the bed while he urinates. He has figured out how to use the urinal while lying down without making too much of a mess so all I have to do is get up and empty it when he’s done. This makes the nighttime a lot easier.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
We’ve all heard accounts of people killed or seriously injured during the events of 9/11. Here’s a remarkable story about a man and his dog who survived at Ground Zero. Michael Hingson, blind since birth, was working in his office on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the first plane hit. The plane crashed into the opposite end from where he was, and as a result, the tower tipped, then righted itself. If I were in that situation, the first thing I would have done was panic, but not Michael. After shutting down his computer, he took up his guide dog
In his book, Thunder Dog, The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, Michael Hingson talks about his 9/11 experience and his life growing up in a society with low expectations of the blind. When he was born in
A year after the events of 9/11, he became a public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind in
The book’s introduction was written by Larry King, a CNN talk show host and one of many journalists who interviewed Michael about his experience. Not only does he talk about his life in Thunder Dog, Michael also provides a wealth of information and resources about blindness. His Website contains even more information about blindness and adaptive technology as well as recordings of his speeches plus news articles about him. You can order an autographed copy of Thunder Dog from there. The book is also available through Amazon and other online retailers. For those needing it in a more accessible format, it can be downloaded from BARD and Bookshare.
After reading the book, I had an opportunity to talk to Michael Hingson a couple ofnights ago when I attended a conference call meeting of a writers’ group to which I belong called Behind Our Eyes. He said that he originally wanted to call this book Forward. Instead, the publisher suggested the title Thunder Dog because of a thunderstorm that woke and frightened Michael’s dog
You may wonder why I’m blogging about this now. Why don’t I wait until September 11th? Thunder Dog isn’t just a 9/11 story. Although Michael’s 9/11 experience is a big part of the book, it’s about someone with a disability who faces curve balls society throws at him head on and says, “Forward.”
Friday, March 2, 2012
I love to eat in Italian restaurants. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver explains what I like to eat and notes that unlike the Italians, I don’t drink wine with my meal.
An Italian Meal Without Wine
I love to eat seafood fettuccini Alfredo,
taste the shrimp, crab, scallops
in a rich, creamy sauce
on a bed of fettuccini noodles,
slurp the noodles into my mouth,
savor the flavor,
garnish it with garlic bread,
chase it down with water.
What kind of restaurants do you like: Italian, Mexican, Chinese? When you were growing up, did your family eat out often or just once in a blue moon when you could afford it? Do you remember any favorite dishes you liked to order?
When I was a kid in
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
In the seventh or eighth grade, my English class was visited by poet Peggy Simpson Curry. I don’t remember what form of poetry Mrs. Curry taught us, but I do recall writing a poem and sharing it with the class, much to the amusement of other students, Mrs. Curry, and the principal.
I thought nothing more about this until last year when I heard that Mrs. Curry had passed away. I then thought of the poem I wrote over thirty years ago when she visited our class. Back then, I didn’t save anything I wrote, but I could remember key elements of the poem so I recreated it. This is what I call a Christmas tree poem because I don’t remember the name of the poetry form. It has nine lines, each line containing more syllables than the last. When centered on the page, it looks like a Christmas tree. This poem appears in How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.
Locker doors slam.
Buses thrum nearby,
bring children from afar
to classrooms, waiting teachers
in a school atmosphere controlled
by a fat and sassy principal.
At the time, the principal was Dr. Virginia Wright who has long since passed away. When she introduced herself to me, she said, “I’m sixty-two years old. I have gray hair, and I’m fat and sassy.” Because she said that to me, I thought it would be okay to write that in the poem, and it was. She somehow got wind of it because she called me into her office, but contrary to what my classmates believed would happen, I wasn’t punished. She asked me what I learned from Mrs. Curry, and I told her. When I read her the poem, she, like everyone else who heard it, thought it was funny.
She was a big help during the two years I was in junior high. She made sure I had Braille textbooks and other materials I needed, and was available whenever I needed to talk to someone. She even gave me a ride home from school one day when I missed the bus. She was like an extra grandmother.
Do you remember a teacher or principal who helped or inspired you during what they call those impressionable years? Tell me about it.