Forward

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 Roselle’s harness and said, “Forward.” This is the universal command guide dog owners issue to order their dogs to move in that direction. Along with co-workers and others, he proceeded down seventy-eight flights of stairs amid the stench of smoke and jet fuel and exited the building. As the towers crumbled and fell, he fled in the wake of dust and debris.

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 Chicago in the 1950’s, a doctor suggested his parents send him to a home for the blind, but they refused, determining that Michael would be raised like any other child. As a kid, he rode his bike in the streets. He taught himself to detect obstacles by listening to his environment. When he was in elementary school, his family moved to a community in California where the school district suggested he be sent to a school for the blind. Again, his parents refused to have him segregated just because he couldn’t see, and eventually, the school district hired a resource teacher to help him learn Braille and other skills. In high school, he acquired the first of many guide dogs and was banned from riding the school bus with his dog. His father argued his case before the school board, and when he lost, he appealed to California’s governor who intervened on Michael’s behalf. As an adult, despite many obstacles he faced in a society not set up for the blind, he managed to eventually acquire a sales job with a six-figure salary for a prestigious firm, the offices of which were located on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center.

A year after the events of 9/11, he became a public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind in California where he’d acquired his own dogs. In 2008, he formed the MichaelHingson Group to continue his career as a public speaker and consultant for organizations needing help with diversity and adaptive technology training. He still travels today, giving speeches in which he shares his own experiences and talks about blindness in general.

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 Roselle the night before September 11th. There’s irony in the fact that a dog terrified of thunderstorms calmly guided her owner out of a burning building.

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.”

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

More Commentary on Food

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 Tucson, Arizona, we often went to a place called Hobo Joe’s. No matter what time of day we went, I always ordered pigs in a blanket. Don’t ask me why, but I loved those little link sausages wrapped in pancakes and smothered in syrup. The combined taste of pancake, sausage, and maple flavoring just couldn’t be beat. Please feel free to share your memories below.

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

Fast Times at Central Junior High

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.

Junior High

School

bells ring.

Students yell.

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.

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

Ode to Dr. Pepper

After reading a post on Writing Life Stories, I was reminded of a poem I wrote several years ago about my favorite soft drink. Don’t ask me how a poem about making real butter reminded me of a poem about Dr. Pepper. My mind works in mysterious ways. This poem is from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. I posted it on this blog last year as part of the post Moxie Versus Dr. Pepper. It won’t hurt to post it again.

Ode to Dr. Pepper

I like to swallow its cold carbonation,

feel it come back into my mouth in the form of a belch.

Oh, that feels so good!

I drink it in mid afternoon.

It helps me get through the day.

I sometimes consume it in the evening

when I’m sleepy, and it’s too early for bed.

In the good old days,

I drank a lot of it,

just what the doctor ordered.

Now, the doctor says it has too much sugar

so I limit my consumption to one or two cans a day.

What would I do without it?

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

Memories

One of the activities I did at the nursing home was called music and memories. We would sing songs about a specific topic such as romance , and I would encourage residents to talk about their first date, first kiss etc. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver briefly profiles my life and emphasizes the fact that if I ever end up in a nursing home, I’ll look back on my life. I’m also including a link to a recording of me singing “Memory” from the Broadway musical Cats. In the song, n old cat reflects on her younger years, and that is one of the things I tried to encourage nursing home residents to do.

I Remember

In my childhood,

I helped Mother in the house,

went to school, was praised by teachers,

threatened with an eighteen-inch ruler,

played with siblings and friends,

was harassed by schoolyard bullies.

As a teen-ager, I went to high school,

to the prom, graduated.

In my adult years, I went to college,

got a job, was married.

When I grow old,

can’t see, hear, or walk,

depend on others,

I’ll remember my life.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/memory_.mp3

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

Lunch

What will you have for lunch today? Since I had a big breakfast, I’ll probably have just a tossed salad and a cheesy breadstick from Schwann. In the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, I emphasize the fact that you need money in order to eat.

Inside A Sandwich

Lunchmeat, cheese, lettuce, onions,

tomatoes, mayonnaise abound.

When that’s all gone, there’s only bread.

In the absence of dough, there’s nothing but hunger.

What do you remember about lunch when you were growing up? When you went to school, did your mother pack a lunch for you, or did you eat a hot meal in the cafeteria? Did you ever trade food you didn’t like with friends for food you liked? Please feel free to share your memories by leaving a comment.

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

Gardening

In 1973 when my family moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, we rented a house that had a walled garden. I found this fascinating since we never had a garden before, to my knowledge. From our back yard, you went through a gate and down a set of wooden steps to a platform. To your left was a huge expanse of dirt, and the walls surrounded you. At the opposite end, there was another set of wooden steps that went up to a gate that opened onto an alley. During the two years we lived there, our table was graced every fall with fresh vegetables from our garden. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver describes how our first attempt at gardening was rudely interrupted.

In the Garden

There are no trees, just an expanse of dirt.

While Mother and Dad work, I sit on the steps,

study seed packets of peas, corn, tomatoes,

read the labels, gaze at the pictures.

I’m only twelve.

In the distance, sirens wail.

“It sounds like fire engines,” says Dad.

In the house, the phone rings.

I hurry to answer it.

A male voice asks for my mother.

I rush outside, call her to the phone,

“Oh my god! We’ll be right there.”

“Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station.

He was playing with matches near that shack

at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”

The garden is abandoned.

What are your memories of gardening when you were growing up? Did you help your father or mother plant a garden? Did you grow flowers, vegetables, or both? Please feel free to share your memories by leaving a comment below.

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