Of Falling Silver and Glass

Late one night while I was emptying my dishwasher, a couple of forks slipped out of my grasp and hit the floor with a loud clang. Normally, I would have been annoyed, since I was anxious to get this done and get to bed. However, I found myself laughing hysterically, struggling not to wet my pants. I thought back to a similar situation years ago in a different kitchen.

In 1988, I was attending the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain. After supper one night, I volunteered, or was chosen, for dish duty. After accumulating a neat pile of dry plastic glasses, I was reaching for a wet one when my arm brushed the pile hard enough to set it off balance. Glasses flew everywhere, hitting the floor with a loud clatter.

The normal human reaction in this situation is to be mortified, but having always enjoyed the sound of disaster, it was all I could do to keep a straight face, especially since others were laughing. The staffer in charge of the kitchen knew I’d just completed a music therapy internship. Not known for a sense of humor, he said, “Is that what you trained for at Villa Maria?”

I should have said, “No, I trained as a music therapist, not a dishwasher.” At the time, I couldn’t say anything, speechless as I was with mirth.

Isn’t it frustrating when you think of something you could have said in a particular situation? Of course that’s better than regretting something you said but still…

So what’s the point of this post? Again, I’m speechless with mirth and have no idea. Maybe years from now, I’ll have a better answer to that question.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Circus in the Bedroom

Abbie-1

In light of the announcement that the Ringling Brothers circus is closing after 100 years of operation, I decided to re-blog a poem from a couple of months ago that appears in My Ideal Partner. At one point during the six years I cared for my late husband Bill, we had to purchase a mechanical lift to make it easier for home health care aides to transfer him from the bed to the commode in order to give him a shower. As you’ll note from the excerpt below, Bill didn’t like the lift, but I came up with a pretty good solution to that problem. Click on the poem’s title to hear me read it.

***

At first, Bill didn’t like the lift, because it suspended him in mid–air while he was transferred from the bed to the commode and vice versa. I almost laughed when I saw the process for the first time, because it reminded me of the song about the man on the flying trapeze. Because Bill had no vision, I could imagine how insecure he felt during the process. We kept reassuring him that he was securely fastened into the sling and wouldn’t fall, but after his first shower, he said, “I’m not using that damn lift again.”

I was flabbergasted. It had taken one month to get the lift, and another for the carpet in the bedroom to be replaced. For two months, Bill traipsed back and forth to Eventide (the nursing home) for his showers. I had to dress him every day, not just on the days when his showers at home weren’t scheduled. My own back was starting to bother me. I was ready for a break. “Please, honey, just try it for another week,” I said. “It takes some getting used to.”

“It’s not a problem,” said Bonnie. (Bill’s case worker) “Jean said you can keep getting your showers at Eventide if you don’t want to use the lift.”

I wasn’t about to settle for that. Because Bill joked about girls seeing him naked, I got an idea. “Okay, honey, just imagine you’re naked on a flying trapeze in a big circus tent, and fifty women are in that tent who paid $50 each to see you naked on that flying trapeze, and you’re going to get all that money.”

It sounded outrageous, but it worked. After another week, he seemed happy as a clam, being propelled across the room, hanging in mid air.

***

UNDER THE BIG TOP

 

Like the daring young man on the flying trapeze,

he glides through the air, smiles down on me.

I wink, say, “Bravo!”

 

We’re not in a circus but in our bedroom.

His left arm and leg useless,

a mechanical lift raises him off the bed,

propels him across the room,

lowers him to the commode, ready for the shower.

***

It’s too bad men on flying trapezes don’t bring in as much money for circuses as elephants do.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Anthology Depicts Disability Culture

Abbie-1

Dozen: The Best of Breath and Shadow

Edited by Chris Kuell

Copyright 2016

 

Breath and Shadow is an online magazine featuring poems, stories, and essays by authors with disabilities. Pieces here focus mainly on what it’s like to have a disability and how others treat a person with a disability. This anthology showcases the best work that appeared in the publication over the past twelve years.

It contains dark pieces such as Susan M. Silver’s short story, “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon,” in which the protagonist is dealing with a serious illness. In contrast, there’s Amy Krout-Horn’s essay, “Who Dresses You?” in which she talks about a humorous way she answered this narrow-minded question from a waitress.

Many pieces portray the relationship between a person with a disability and health care professionals such as Lizz Schumer’s essay, “Peace Protest,” in which she talks about convalescing after a fall and wondering if she inherited her grandfather’s brain cancer. Then there’s Chris Kuell’s short story, “The Interview,” in which a blind woman retaliates against a prospective employer who is unwilling to even consider the possibility of hiring her.

I would like to have seen fewer dark pieces. Nevertheless, I think this is a must-read for everyone, especially those in a profession that requires dealing directly with others: waitresses, doctors, nurses, cab drivers, etc. You don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover. You could read perhaps one or two pieces a day. If you’re one of those narrow-minded persons who take a dim view of what people with disabilities can do, this anthology will force you to think outside the box. If you’re a person with a disability, you’ll read this and realize you’re not the only one. The people in this book, whether real or made-up, will speak to you of their experiences.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Honor the White Cane

Abbie-1

I was inspired to write this post by an article in Consumer Vision, an online publication designed by and for blind and visually impaired people. On July 6th, 1963, the National Federation of the Blind called on all state governors to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day. On October 6th, 1964, a Congress joint resolution was signed, authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day. Within hours after this legislation was passed, Linden B. Johnson was the first United States President to recognize the white cane as a symbol of independence for blind and visually impaired people. Click here to learn more about White Cane Safety Day.

Now, all states have laws requiring drivers to stop so pedestrians with white canes can cross streets safely. However, these laws are hard to enforce. Years ago when a police officer visited a support group for the visually impaired I once facilitated, he said that if we got offending drivers’ license plates, they could be ticketed. My nose needs to be against the car’s bumper in order to read the license plate. If the car’s moving, forget it.

A year or so later while walking home, I was approached by a policeman on a bicycle who asked me if drivers were stopping to let me cross streets with my white cane. When I told him what the other officer said, he responded that he would bring it up at roll call. This inspired my romance novel, We Shall Overcome, but I digress.

The next time you’re driving down the street, and you see someone with a white cane attempting to cross, please stop, even if you’re already late for work. Remember that some of us with white canes don’t see oncoming traffic. Also, please share this with other drivers, using one or more of the options below. Let’s make our streets safe for people who are blind or visually impaired.

October 15th is also National Poetry Day so here’s a poem I wrote several years ago about my white cane. It appears in my collection, That’s Life. Click on the title to hear me read it.

***

CONCEALED CANE

 

When not in use,

it’s folded, tucked under my arm

or stuffed in a back pack.

When I step outside,

I pull free the nylon holding it together.

It unfolds, clicks into place.

I walk away, ready to face adversity.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Little Apartment in the Big City

Thanks to Ella for inspiring this. In her post, she talks about moving to a different location and starting a job in a place where she knows no one and has to prove herself. This is daunting for anyone but can be complicated by a disability. In what I’m about to relate, some names have been changed to protect privacy.

In 1987, Fargo, North Dakota, was large compared to my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming. A music therapy student, I was accepted for an internship in a nursing home there. Although I was anxious to be on my own in a new place, I felt some trepidation, as my parents and I drove into the town late one Sunday night in August after being on the road for twelve hours. I was comforted by the fact that my parents would stay with me until I found a place to live and got settled and that my internship wouldn’t start until the middle of September.

We found a motel near the freeway where we spent the night. The next morning, Dad bought a local paper and a city map. He scoured the classified ad section for apartments. After making phone calls and arranging to see a few that he found, we checked out of the motel and ate breakfast before beginning our home hunting adventure.

Because of my visual impairment, it was important to find a place within easy walking distance to the nursing home where I would work for the next six months. We had no luck. The apartments were either not affordable, too small, or didn’t meet my needs for other reasons.

A few hours later, discouraged, we were driving aimlessly, looking for a place to eat lunch when Mother said, “Oh look, there’s a senior citizen high rise like the ones in Sheridan.”

“It’s a little too far for her to walk to the nursing home,” said Dad.

“They probably have a minibus like the one in Sheridan that could take her,” said Mother. “They could also take her to the grocery store.”

“She doesn’t want to live with old folks,” said Dad, as he pulled into the parking lot.

I was thinking the same thing but said nothing. As we walked into the lobby, Mother said, “There’s a bulletin board, and it says which apartments are empty. It looks like there are several.”

In the office, we spoke to the manager. “You really don’t want to live with old folks, do you?” he asked.

Were my thoughts being broadcast to the world? “She’ll be working at Red River Care Center,” said Mother. “It’s a little far for her to walk so maybe your minibus could take her.”

“Our van only takes people shopping and to medical appointments,” said the manager. “Besides, this facility only serves senior citizens.” I was relieved, but where would I live?

After lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, we found several other apartment buildings that weren’t designated for senior citizens, but none of them had vacancies. “What about downtown?” asked Dad. “You could take the bus to the Red River Care Center.”

“Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” I said, feeling hopeful. “When I went to that stupid rehab center in Topeka several years ago, I learned how to take buses.”

“I don’t know,” said Mother. “You might have to change buses and…”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “If you get an apartment downtown close to the transfer point, then you’d just have to take one bus. Let’s go take a look.”

We found the city bus transfer station which was right next to the greyhound terminal. “Now you know where to go to catch the bus home for Christmas,” said Mother, as we parked in the lot between the two bus stations.

The holiday season was farthest from my mind, as we entered the city bus center. To my surprise, the gentleman behind the counter was very helpful. When we told him I was looking for a place to live downtown in the hope of having easy access to work, he said, “Oh yeah, if you live close to here, you’ll just take one bus to the Red River Care Center. In fact, there’s a building a few blocks away that might have an opening. It’s an old hotel that was converted into apartments. It’s called Grant Street Place.”

We found a pay phone, and after locating the apartment building’s address and phone number, Dad called and made an appointment for the next day. We then found another motel room.

The next morning at 9 a.m., we arrived at Grant Street Apartments, a six-story structure located on a busy downtown thoroughfare. In the lobby, a woman greeted us and introduced herself as Becky, one of two managers. “We have a lot of young people here,” she said. “There are also quite a few older people. We all look out for each other.”

The two vacant apartments were an efficiency and a one-bedroom. I liked them both, but the efficiency only had a couch that folded into a bed, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Since the rent on both apartments was about the same, I chose the one-bedroom.

The rooms were small but usable. There was a combination living and dining room with a kitchenette, a full bathroom on one side, and a bedroom on the other. The kitchenette had a sink, microwave, two-burner stove, and small refrigerator with freezer under the counter. The main room and bedroom had light gray carpeting, and the bathroom had a white-tiled floor. The apartment overlooked an alley so although there wasn’t much of a view, there wasn’t much street noise, either. It was simply furnished with an armchair, end table, and dining table with lamp in the main room and in the bedroom a double bed, small table, and wardrobe.

My apartment was on the fourth floor, and the basement contained a huge laundry room. All the machines were coin-operated, and I could use them easily despite my limited vision. The basement also had a beauty shop which I frequented several times during my stay.

The building had two elevators: one in the back that tenants could use independently and one in the front that was the old-fashioned kind operated by Andy, a fellow who also picked up our garbage three days a week if we remembered to leave it outside our doors. Mailboxes were located inside the rear entrance near the self-service elevator.

The next few days were a blur of activity, as we got settled in my new home. The first order of business was to get a phone. Once that was working, Mother arranged for a cleaning service to come every other week while I was at work. Dad set up an account with a local taxi company. My parents paid for both these amenities. Since utilities and cable television were included in the rent, the only expenses I had to worry about were the phone and groceries.

We found Leeby’s, a small grocery store a few blocks away, and a supermarket called Hornbacker’s, easily accessible by bus. Buses ran every hour during the week and every two hours on weekends.

My parents stayed in the apartment with me, Mother and me sleeping in the bedroom, and Dad sleeping on the floor in the main room. On Friday night, they left on their long drive back to Sheridan. Once they were gone, I was truly on my own, but I was excited.

Before I left Wyoming, I was given the phone number for the North Dakota commission for the blind in Grand Forks. I called them, and a mobility instructor came and helped me with some routes my parents and I worked out. She also gave me phone numbers for a couple of people involved in blind bowling groups in the area. I phoned them and enjoyed bowling twice a month, and I met some nice people. This was one of few good things about that city.

At first, I rarely used the taxi. It was easy to take the bus to and from the nursing home where I worked 40-hour weeks. On Saturdays, I took the bus to Hornbacker’s and did my weekly shopping. Since I didn’t have to be at work until eleven on Wednesday, I often walked to Leeby’s early that morning if I needed a few things.

Life in my little apartment wasn’t always a bed of roses. Although the building was well maintained, and most of the neighbors I met were nice, the people above me often played loud music and had parties. I called the security officer late at night when it happened and complained to the manager, and the noise subsided for a while but started back up again.

The management had a contract with an exterminator who came every six months. Because of his process of ridding the building of rodents, all cupboards, closets, and drawers had to be emptied. The night before he was scheduled to come, I took clothes, dishes, and other items out of my drawers, cupboards, and wardrobe and laid them on every available surface except the bed. When I came home from work the next day, I put everything back. This was time consuming, and because I never saw one rat, mouse, or termite, I didn’t think it necessary. For the first time, I considered not staying in Fargo after my internship ended.

Late one night, the fire alarm rang, and as we gathered in the lobby, there appeared to be no security personnel or managers in sight. The fire department arrived and found nothing so we returned to our apartments.

Winter came and with it, extreme cold, twenty-foot snowdrifts and freezing rain. One morning during a particularly bad storm, my supervisor called and told me I didn’t need to go to work. I was relieved since the local radio announcer advised against unnecessary travel, and I wasn’t sure if I could get a cab. It was nice having a snow day. After that, I used the taxi more frequently, but since Dad often talked of walking to and from school in such conditions as a kid, I wasn’t sure how he would take the higher cab bills. I needn’t have worried.

In December, I was given two weeks off for Christmas and went home. In January, my parents drove me back to Fargo. On the morning I was to return to work and they to Sheridan, it was 40 below zero. Dad went out to start the car, returning a few minutes later to say, “Dead as a doornail.”

My parents planned to drop me off at the nursing home on their way out of town. Instead, we walked to the nearby terminal and caught the bus just in time. “God damn, it’s cold,” said Dad, as we slogged through the snow from the bus stop to the nursing home. “How the hell do you do this?”

“You’ll see when you get the next taxi bill,” I said.

Several hours later after the car was fixed, they stopped by the nursing home to say goodbye before leaving town. “Don’t worry about the cab bill,” said Dad. “It’s too cold for walking.” I was relieved.

One day, my supervisor said, “I don’t think this internship is working out.”

This was a shock since I thought things were going well, though I had difficulty keeping up with the paperwork, and it took me longer to complete other tasks. I was tempted to tell her that I didn’t like her cold city and would be only too glad to go home, but I wasn’t a quitter. When times were tough, Dad always told me not to let bastards get me down. Close to tears, I said, “I’m sorry you’re not happy with my progress so far, but if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll try harder and hope to do better.”

She gave me a second chance, but I could tell she didn’t think it would work out, and it didn’t. For the next three months, I did my best, but it seemed that almost everyone including my supervisor was against me. Others in our department were cold and came down on me for minor infractions, and one or two nurses snapped at me. The only things that kept me from giving up were the residents, who appreciated my music activities, and the love and support of my parents. My little apartment downtown became a place to which I was glad to retreat at the end of the day and a refuge I hated leaving in the morning.

The staff at the nursing home weren’t the only ones with frozen hearts. Because I was only getting so much from Social Security per month and no salary from my internship, it was hard making ends meet at times. One day when I tried to cash a check Mother sent me, the bank teller said, “There isn’t enough in your account to cover this so I can’t do it.”

At the bank in Sheridan, the employees knew me. This would never have happened. I was relieved when the manager at Leeby’s agreed to cash the check.

In March, the six months of my internship were up. My overall grade was a D. I was anxious to get home, but one of the nurses who supported me asked me to sing for her wedding in April. The day after the nuptials, I was on the bus to Sheridan.

In May when the lease on my apartment was up, Dad and I returned. By then, even the apartment manager’s heart appeared frozen, although the weather was warm. “You didn’t vacuum,” she said when she inspected my apartment. “We won’t return part of your deposit for that.” Dad and I loaded all my earthly possessions into his station wagon, drove away, and never looked back.

It was a depressing six months, and perhaps I should have felt defeated, as we left town, but I did not. I took Dad’s advice and didn’t let those North Dakota bastards get me down. Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I became a registered music therapist. Six months after I moved back to Sheridan, I found a job in a nursing home where I worked for fifteen years. In the earlier part of this century, I met my late husband Bill through a magazine. The rest of the story is in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

 

What do you remember about your first time on your own after college? Tell me about it in the comments field.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

My Senior Year in High School

Tis the season for class reunions, and this past weekend was my brother’s 30th. With the help of the following questionnaire posted on Facebook by the spouse of one of his classmates, I got to thinking about my senior year in high school.

***

The year was: 1979-1980

  1. Did you know your spouse? No, he was nineteen years my senior, and at that time, I think he was living in California.
  2. Did you car pool to school? No, I either walked through the park and up the board walk, or one of my parents drove me.
  3. What kind of car did you have? I didn’t have a car which was a good thing, since I was visually impaired.
  4. What kind of car do you have now? My vision hasn’t improved since high school, so I still don’t have a car.
  5. It’s Friday night… Where were you? I was either home watching television or reading a book, or out of town at a speech meet.
  6. What kind of job did you have? I wasn’t employed. It never occurred to me to find a job when I was a teen-ager.
  7. What kind of job do you have now? I’m a writer with three published books and a fourth on the way.
  8. Were you a party animal? NO! NEVER!
  9. Were you a cheerleader? No.
  10. Were you considered a jock? Definitely not!
  11. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir? I sang in the concert choir.
  12. Were you a nerd? I hope not.
  13. Did you get suspended? NEVER!
  14. Can you sing the fight song? No.
  15. Who was your favorite teacher? Natalie Wright was not only the greatest English teacher I ever had but one of my best friends, who fueled my interest in books. She went out of her way to be sure the material I needed for her classes was in an accessible format and even loaned me books on cassette she didn’t assign in class like Anna Karenina and The Time Machine. She’s now at Westview, and I visit her from time to time. She hardly remembers the material she taught, but she always knows who I am and claims I was her best student.
  16. Where did you sit for lunch? I ate in the cafeteria with a few friends. I wasn’t that popular, probably because of my visual impairment.
  17. What was your school’s full name? Sheridan High School.
  18. What was your school mascot? The Bronc.
  19. If you could go back and do it again, would you? Believe it or not, I like being in my mid 50’s, living on my own, and doing what I want. Although I have some fond memories, I wouldn’t go back.
  20. Did you have fun at Prom? Yes, Dad took me when no other boy would. I had more fun than he did.
  21. Do you still talk to your Prom date? No, my father passed away in August of 2013.
  22. Are you planning on going to your next reunion? That depends. If I hear about it and can find a ride, I’ll probably go, but I don’t think we’ve had a reunion since 2000, or at least I haven’t heard about it.
  23. Are you still in contact with people from school? No, not very many.
  24. What are/were your school’s colors? Blue and gold. ***

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me about your senior year of high school. If you have a blog, why don’t you copy and paste the above questionnaire, delete my answers, and provide your own? If not, you can still answer any or all questions in the comments field. In any case, I’d love to hear about your high school senior experiences. The longer ago you were in high school, the more fun your answers will be.

***,

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

 

Review: The Paddy Stories: Book One

The Paddy Stories: Book One

by John Justice

Copyright 2016.

 

In Philadelphia in 1947, eight-year-old Paddy Flynn, who is blind, has lost his father as a result of World War II. He is then orphaned when his mother dies after a long illness. He spends time in a children’s home where he befriends a Japanese boy, who teaches him Judo, so he can stand up for himself when confronted by the home’s bully. He also develops a special bond with Lucy, another resident at the home.

Meanwhile, his uncle and aunt in Oakland, California, go through proceedings to adopt him. Once those arrangements are made, Paddy is sent to them by train. Along the way, he relies on the kindness of strangers, who travel with him most of the time. In California, his uncle and aunt, having no children, welcome him with open arms and treat him as if he were their own son. He eventually looks upon them as if they were his parents.

He adjusts to life with his new family, and by some miraculous twist of fate, he’s reunited with Lucy, but they are separated, temporarily, at the end of the book when Paddy is sent to the California school for the blind in Berkeley. The book also contains sub-plots involving other children and staff at the home in Philadelphia, but their stories end more happily than Paddy’s does.

When I first ran across this book, I thought it was for children, but further perusal told me otherwise. It tells the story of a little boy, and parents could read it to their children, but there are scenes that might not be appropriate for younger readers.

I met this book’s author, John Justice, through the Behind Our Eyes writers’ group, to which I belong. This book was produced by David and Leonore Dvorkin of Denver, Colorado, who are also helping me get My Ideal Partner published online. Leonore is quite the publicist. I probably wouldn’t have known about John’s book if she hadn’t mentioned it in almost every email message she sent me regarding my book.

I was prepared for a horror story about a poor little blind boy, beaten and taken advantage of in a society that held little respect for persons with disabilities, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even in the children’s home, where I expected a “Miss Hannagan” like in the movie, Annie, staff and other children were friendly and helpful. I was amazed when a nun showed up at the home and offered to ride with Paddy on the train to Chicago, where a local church formed a network of volunteers, who rode with Paddy in stages the rest of the way, until he reached his destination.

Of course no story would be a good one without conflict, and there’s plenty of that here: one bully at the children’s home, another on the train, and a third in California, not to mention the California school for the blind’s policy that all students must be residents at the school during the week. Paddy, though, is not one to be considered a poor little blind boy. When his mother became ill, she instilled in him the importance of being independent, knowing she wouldn’t be able to care for him much longer. He takes everything in stride, and although he cries himself to sleep in the California school’s dormitory at the end of the book, there’s a glimmer of hope. I’m looking forward to seeing what Book Two will bring.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems