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!