My Ideal Partner

“Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage,” the letter stated. 

“Oh no,” I said, as the index finger of my right hand scanned the Braille words on the page.

It was a Saturday evening in January, 2005. This was all a bad dream, I thought, as I sat in the living room of my apartment. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I would wake up, and everything would be as it was before. Instead, the talking clock in the bedroom announced it was eight thirty.

 

I read the rest of the letter detailing how we could live together. In shock, I tossed it into the wastebasket. I finished reading my mail and perused the evening paper with the help of my closed-circuit television magnification system, all the while thinking about the letter. 

How could I marry Bill? I only met him twice after corresponding with him for two years by e-mail and phone. We met through Newsreel, a cassette magazine that encouraged its blind and visually impaired subscribers to share ideas and contact information. I was forty-four, and he was nineteen years older. 

Born and raised in Fowler, Colorado, Bill lost some of his vision at an early age due to rheumatoid arthritis which also affected his legs. Through surgery as a child, he was able to walk, but he lost the rest of his vision twenty years later. After graduating from the ColoradoStateSchool for the Deaf & Blind, he was educated at Adams State College and ColoradoStateUniversity where he received a degree in business administration. He lived in California for twenty years where he worked for Swimquip and JBL before returning to his hometown. I was inspired by the fact that despite being totally blind, he could own his own house as well as several others he rented out and that he could maintain these properties and make repairs. 

I knew he was an expert at computers since he owned a computer store in Fowler for another twenty years after returning from California. He and I shared some of the same music preferences. He downloaded more than two thousand songs on his computer from various sources on the Internet and sent me tapes of these songs. His mother lived in a nursing home, and he was drawn to me because I was working as an activities assistant at a nursing home in Sheridan, Wyoming, which I’d been doing for fifteen years.

I received degrees in music from SheridanCollege and RockyMountainCollege in Billings, Montana, before going into music therapy. After two more years of study at MontanaStateUniversity which included nine hours of practicum, I completed a six month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to my home town of Sheridan.

I wrote my first novel, We Shall Overcome, with Bill’s support, and it was published in July of 2007 by iUniverse. I e-mailed him each chapter, and he sent me feedback and suggestions. He also encouraged my other writing endeavors and listened when I told him about problems I had at work. 

He was a good friend, but how could I leave my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, and live with him in Fowler, Colorado, more than 500 miles away? According to Bill, the little farming community had none of the amenities I enjoyed here in Sheridan. There was no Para transit service or public transportation and no YMCA or Walmart. There was no theater where I could attend a play or concert. In Sheridan, I sang in a women’s barber-shop group and attended monthly writers’ group meetings, but there was none of that in Fowler. Pueblo, a town situated thirty-six miles from Fowler, had all this, but how was I to get there? The thought of leaving my home and starting a new life in a strange town with a man I barely knew was frightening.

I thought back to the time we first met in person. Dad and I were driving to visit my brother Andy and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, we arranged to visit Bill at his home. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April of 2004. I didn’t know what to expect as Dad and I climbed the two narrow steps that led to the front porch of Bill’s white house. I wasn’t sure we had the right address since there appeared to be no signs of life, but when the door opened and a tall figure sporting a cane and sunglasses appeared and extended his hand, I was put at ease. 

After a tour of his house, we sat at the dining room table. Dad left to get gas and look around the town. Bill asked, “Do you like Dr. Pepper?”

“I love Dr. Pepper!” I said, not believing my luck in discovering he had my favorite beverage in the house.

 

“So do I,” he said. I also discovered we both liked country music and oldies. He’d never heard of National Public Radio and  didn’t care for classical music, jazz,  or opera. He liked to read western novels and mysteries which I could have done without, but that didn’t matter. I thought we could still continue to have a great long distance friendship. During the drive to New Mexico, Dad pointed out that he thought Bill wanted to marry me, but I brushed that idea aside.

The following December, Dad and I again visited Bill on our way to New Mexico. His home was decorated for the holidays, and while Dad was in the bathroom, he said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking so I laughed. Little did I know until now.

I decided to try not to think anymore about Bill or the marriage proposal and go to bed. Needless to say, although I was tired after a long day of work, I didn’t sleep well that night. As I lay awake at four o’clock in the morning while my apartment building’s maintenance man cleared newly fallen snow from the sidewalk outside, I composed a Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, Although I like you and have valued our friendship over the past couple of years, I don’t see myself marrying you at this time. I hope we can still be friends.”

I was tempted to get up, write the letter, and mail it, but I decided to try and sleep some more since I had another long day of work ahead of me. I would write the letter in the evening and mail it the next day.

 

After work, Dad picked me up and drove me to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. It wasn’t much of a family dinner, just me, Dad, and Grandma, but it was something we tried to do every Sunday. Dad and I picked up sandwiches and chips at a Subway shop and took them to Grandma’s house. 

As we sat down to the meal, I could hold back no longer. I was frazzled after working all day, thinking about Bill’s proposal, and hoping I was doing the right thing by putting him off. Surely Dad would agree that I shouldn’t marry a man I didn’t know well. “Dad, Grandma, Bill Taylor wants to marry me.”

To my astonishment, Dad said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You should think about this, honey. He’s a fine fellow.”

“I’ve only met him twice,” I said.

“Grandma and I aren’t going to be around much longer,” said Dad. “Who’s going to take care of you?”

“I can take care of myself,” I answered. “I’ve been living on my own and holding down a job for years.”

“Ed, she shouldn’t marry him if she’s not sure,” said Grandma.

“Yeah, he wants me to move to Fowler, Colorado. It’s just a little town. There’s nothing there.”

“You don’t know that,” said Dad. “We’ve only been there twice and for a couple of hours at the most. Why don’t you at least go down there and spend some time with him before you make a decision?”

Maybe he was right; I shouldn’t be too hasty, I thought. I didn’t have to give an answer right away, did I? I composed another Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, I’d like to visit Fowler this summer to see if I would be happy living there with you.”

 

After I returned home, before I had a chance to write the letter, Bill called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh, just working on the computer and thinking about a marriage proposal I received in the mail yesterday.”

He laughed. I laughed. He said, “What do you think?”

“I was planning to write you a letter. I’d like to come down to Fowler this summer to see if I’d like living with you there.”

                        After a long pause, he said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to Sheridan. I’m tired of living in a little town where there isn’t much to do.”

Had I misunderstood his letter? I thought he stated clearly that he wanted us to live in Fowler since his family and business were there. Living with him wouldn’t be so bad if I could stay in my home town. Of course we’d have to find a house or a bigger apartment.

“Maybe I could come to Sheridan for a week or so in a couple of months,” he said.

I panicked. I’d put off my trip to Fowler until the summer to give me more time to get used to the idea. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until June? You wouldn’t have to worry about bad roads.”

“I think the roads should be okay by the middle of March.”

It was obvious he didn’t want to wait. Maybe in two months, I could get myself in a better frame of mind about this.

My thoughts were in a whirlwind. One minute, I liked the idea of being married to Bill. The next, I wondered if I was getting in over my head. As a result of the shock and stress of Bill’s proposal, I came down with a bad cold which lasted for three weeks. When I told Bill, he said he wished he were there to take care of me, but this didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted my mother to take care of me and advise me on what I should do, But she died several years earlier. I never felt so alone or confused.

In the meantime, Bill researched realtors on line and found houses we could look at while he was there, much to my consternation. He e-mailed me at least once a day and called me every night. He even called Dad once or twice. “He’s got it bad for you, doesn’t he?” said Grandma.

On a warm spring morning in March, Dad and I drove to the bus station to meet Bill. He’d been traveling all night from Fowler but appeared well rested as he emerged from the bus, kissed my cheek, and said, “Hello sweetie.” He’d never kissed me or spoken to me like that before. 

We drove to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. I sat in the back seat of Grandma’s two-door Cadillac while Bill sat in front with Dad. This is a bad dream, I thought. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I’d wake up, and everything would be as it was before I received Bill’s Braille letter. Instead, my talking watch announced it was ten o’clock.

At the restaurant, Bill sat next to me in a booth while Dad sad across from us. During the meal, he held my hand from time to time which I found reassuring. No man, other than Dad, held my hand before. My stomach was so tied up in knots that I didn’t think I could get anything down, but when we were ready to leave, my plate was empty except for one sausage which I offered to Bill and he accepted.

Bill spent the next week with me in my apartment. At first, he slept on the couch, but after a couple of days, I found myself asking him to sleep in my double bed with me, thinking it would be more comfortable for him. I didn’t know if I loved him. I alternated between wanting to spend the rest of my life with him and wondering what in the world I was thinking. When I expressed my doubts, he reassured me with kisses and caresses, and for the first time, I knew what it was like to be loved by a man. “You don’t have to marry me. We could just live together,” he told me. This seemed preposterous, but I didn’t say anything. I knew he meant well.

I’m not sure when I made up my mind. All I know is that on the day he officially proposed to me during dinner with family and friends at a local restaurant, I said yes. Since the ring was too small, he used a necklace. As he placed it around my neck, he said, “If you say no, I’ll choke you with this.” 

I caught another cold as a result of the stress of his visit and the big decision I’d made. This turned into a mild stomach flu which confined me to bed for a day. Bill held my head when I threw up, applied a cool washcloth, massaged my forehead, back, and shoulders, and fed me. I was relieved I’d said yes to his proposal. It was nice having someone to take care of me.

I was over my cold by the time Bill left town. At the bus station, we kissed in the rain, as the bus thrummed nearby, waiting to take him away. I wouldn’t see him for another three months, and that time seemed endless. I willed the bus to leave without him, but all too soon, he was gone. I sat with Dad in his pick-up and watched the bus drive slowly away from the station. 

After Dad dropped me off at my apartment, I walked into the living room and collapsed on the couch. The apartment was quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator in the little kitchen. For years, I’d been content to be alone here, but now, it felt empty. The next morning when I prepared to wash the bedding, I held the sheets and pillowcases to my nose and drank in his scent. It was the last reminder of him I would have for three months.

During those three months, I imagined what life would be like living with him. We hoped to buy a three-bedroom house so we each could have our own rooms in which to set up our computers and other equipment. I pictured myself writing in a spacious office while in an adjacent room, Bill read and responded to e-mail, browsed the Internet, and downloaded and listened to music on his computer.

Bill offered to do the cooking so I didn’t have to worry about that. I didn’t have much in the way of cookware since I ate canned and frozen foods I prepared in the microwave. Bing single, it seemed silly to do anything else. Because of the lack of pots and pans, Bill didn’t offer to cook anything so I didn’t know if his cooking was any good, but I figured it had to be better than Swanson’s dinners or Campbell soup.

One of his favorite meals was steak, a baked potato, and peas so I pictured myself eating that with him at the end of a long day, talking about what we accomplished and planning what we would do that evening. Later, we would snuggle on the couch and watch a movie or sit in our easy chairs with headphones and listen to our talking books.

Those three months flew by, and it was soon time to visit Bill. He was in the process of packing his belongings for the move to Sheridan. I was welcomed by his sister who also lived in Fowler. Bill told me his mother was depressed at the idea of him leaving, and although she seemed civil when I talked to her and his sister on the phone a few times, I was apprehensive about meeting her. I needn’t have worried because when we visited her at the nursing home, she took my hand and said, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Abbie. You can call me Mom.”

The town wouldn’t have been such a bad place to live. Although Bill’s house was on the main street, there wasn’t much traffic, and it felt like the quiet residential neighborhood where I lived in Sheridan. The small grocery store down the street would have been sufficient, but since Bill hired a lady to clean his house and buy his groceries and received regular deliveries from Schwann, I wouldn’t have had to worry about shopping for food. Bill had a treadmill which I could have used instead of going to a water exercise class at a YMCA. He also had a lot of helpful friends and neighbors, and I could have found transportation to Pueblo to attend  writers’ group meetings or for any other reason. Since I hadn’t yet found a house in Sheridan, I almost wished Bill would change his mind about moving, but he had already agreed to rent his house. There was no turning back.

Bill hosted a barbecue to celebrate our engagement. Many of his friends in Fowler and a few from out of town were there. Dad, Grandma, and my relatives in Colorado were also invited. Grandma was unable to travel by then, but Dad came, and so did Andy and his family from New Mexico. There must have been at least sixty people. The event was catered, and the food was delicious. At Bill’s insistence, I entertained everyone by playing a guitar and singing. 

This was in the beginning of June. At the end of the month, Bill planned to make the move to Sheridan. Since he couldn’t sell his house in Fowler, we couldn’t afford to buy a house of our own. After I returned home, I found one for us to rent. I only had two weeks in which to pack. Since one of my co-workers quit during my absence, I had to work extra hours which didn’t make things any easier. This happened many times before, and it always irked me, but this time, it didn’t matter. I’d given my notice. My dream of writing full time was about to become a reality. The two weeks flew by, and before I knew it, Bill stood in the hall outside my apartment with his sister and a friend who’d come to help us move. We embraced with the knowledge that we were together for good.

The house we rented had only two bedrooms so Bill set up his computer and stereo in the large dining room while my home office was located in one of the bedrooms. During the first month, one of the few things I wrote was a long list of recipients for our wedding invitations. This consisted mostly of Bill’s friends and former employees and co-workers whom he wanted to invite. I was amazed that a man could know so many people. There were at least fifty and another fifty whom Dad wanted to invite. This was turning out to be a big affair.

Bill’s cooking was pretty good, and despite the fact that he prepared mostly fatty foods and less green, leafy vegetables, I was relieved to be able to concentrate my efforts on writing and not worry about what we would eat. He called a local market that delivered, and I used the local paratransit service to make occasional trips to Wal-Mart when we needed items the market didn’t carry. 

At the end of July, we took an early honeymoon trip to California. A friend of Bill’s in Solvang invited us to his wedding. After that, we visited Bill’s friends in Huntington Beach and La Crescentia, his sister in South Pasadena, and my uncle, aunt, and cousins  in ValleyVillage. I wondered how Bill’s friends and family would accept me and if my uncle’s family would like Bill, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone seemed happy about our upcoming wedding, and some planned to come. Although we weren’t married, it was assumed that we would sleep in the same bed in the homes of our family and friends while we were there.

Among other things, we enjoyed a performance at a comedy club, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and a visit to my uncle’s studio where he demonstrated the art of making sound effects for movies. We were there for two weeks, and although I had a wonderful time, I was glad to get home.

                        On the afternoon of Saturday, September 10th, 2005, Bill and I were married in Grandma’s back yard. There must have been a hundred people in attendance. Many of my relatives from across the country were there, as well as some of Bill’s friends from out of town. Bill’s mother, despite failing health, drove up to Sheridan with his sister for the event.

                        A violin and cello duo played the processional and recessional music. Dad escorted me down the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel’s Canon. My cousins decorated the yard with many colorful balloons that hung from tree branches. Earlier that day, Bill planned to go to a bar with friends, and I couldn’t help wondering if he would even be at the altar, but when I saw him in his green suit and sunglasses, it was such a relief. He took my hand and said, “Hello sweetie. Are you nervous?”

“Not anymore,” I answered. “now that you’re here.” It was true.

We stood under an arch framed with flowers. A judge who was a family friend performed the ceremony. My brother Andy’s wife Kathleen served as matron of honor, and Bill’s friend from Solvang was best man. Andy’s sons Dylan and Tristan, eight and six, served as ushers. His daughter Isabella, who was only two, was the flower girl. Everyone laughed, as she preceded me down the aisle, dropping rose petals and picking them up again.

The service was short, sweet, and to the point. Bill and I recited our own vows that we had written. At the end, we had a good laugh when the judge said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Johnson, uh, I mean Taylor.” As we walked back up the aisle to “Ode to  Joy,” I wondered if this would jinx our marriage but didn’t give it much thought.

The ceremony was followed by a reception at a nearby hotel where Bill and I spent our wedding night. During and after a buffet dinner, we were entertained by a pianist who played old songs, and some people danced. A poet and singer/songwriter played his guitar and sang a song I’d asked him to write for us months earlier, using a couple of poems Bill and I wrote. My singing group performed “Every Day of My Life.” As we snuggled between the cool, clean sheets afterward, we had no idea of what was to come.

A Story After Noon

Story is a small town nestled at the base of the BighornMountains about twenty miles south of my home town of Sheridan. My mother lived there for several years before she died of cancer in 1999. I don’t go there often anymore, but my family used to visit the town quite a bit when I was growing up. Tourist attractions include a fish hatchery, picnic area, various hiking trails, motels, bed and breakfast facilities, and restaurants.

I belong to a poetry group that meets the third Thursday of each month for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We write together, share what we’ve written, and critique each other’s work. When we started several years ago, we had an instructor, but she has left us, and we take turns facilitating our meetings each month.

We met in Story a couple of times. One of our participants arranged for us to use the back yard of a craft shop belonging to a friend. After eating sack lunches, we had our meeting as usual. We did an exercise in which we listened to sounds around us and wrote about what we heard. This was supposed to be a nature poem, but as you’ll note from the finished product below, there were other sounds that weren’t necessarily natural.

This poem was published in Distant Horizons, an anthology of poems by Wyoming poets. You can also read it on my Website. To learn more about Story, Wyoming, visit http://www.wyomingtourism.org/overview/Story/31460 To find out more about WyoPoets, the organization that produced the book in which my poem appears, go to http://www.wyopoets.org/

A STORY AFTER NOON

Flies buzz the table.

A cicada skitters back and forth.

Its incessant click click click draws near, fades away.

Cars rush by

while in the distance, hammers pound,

saws whine, dogs bark.

Hummingbirds flit about

with wings like weed eaters.

A mother admonishes her child to stay close

while the chatter of others permeates the air.

A lawn mower drones far away.

Birds chirp–a phone rings.

I hear other noises,

as I try and fail to write a nature poem.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

The Swearing Webmaster

My grandmother never liked nasty words. When I was growing up, my father cursed a blue streak from time to time and never cared if his colorful language offended anyone. I developed a policy on the utterance of profanity that is in the middle. I only use expletives when I’m around people who I know won’t be offended. Years ago, I discovered that some people speak a language I’ll call Swearese. The only way to effectively communicate with them is to speak their language.

For several months, I submitted poetry to a Web site that gave poets an opportunity to share their work with the world for free. Much to my annoyance, I discovered that this free service came with strings attached, or in this case, ad windows. These windows popped open when the curser hit particular links. Being visually impaired and using a screen reader, I found this to be a nuisance, and I was sure sighted poets didn’t like it, either.

One night in exasperation, I sent a polite e-mail to the Webmaster suggesting that he eliminate the pop-up windows while leaving the links on the page. That way, those interested in buying a new computer or obtaining lower priced long distance service could click on the links and those not interested would not have to deal with the pop-up windows. I wasn’t prepared for the response I received.

It was an extremely rude message garnished with colorful words and phrases. The Webmaster stated that he didn’t appreciate such comments from Internet users such as myself. He said that the ad windows could easily be hidden from view, a fact of which I wasn’t aware. He called me selfish for even suggesting that he remove advertisements from his Web site. He also said that he was once visually impaired but that his sight improved as a result of expensive surgery. He concluded by saying that if I didn’t like his site, I should post my poetry elsewhere for a price.

My first message to him may have come across as a bit harsh, but that didn’t give him an excuse to be so rude. I sent him a second polite e-mail saying that I didn’t appreciate his attitude. I said that the fact that he once had a disability and was able to correct it didn’t give him the right to be so arrogant. I also said that if he closed his mind to the improvement of his site for the enjoyment of others, he was the selfish one. Since he came across to me as someone who didn’t like his job, I concluded by saying that if this was the case, maybe he should quit.

The next day, I received another even more impolite message that contained even more colorful words and phrases. He said that except for dealing with arrogant Internet users like myself, he liked his job. He restated the fact that the adwindows could easily be hidden because to him, it was apparent I didn’t read that part of the message. He also threatened to remove my poetry and any reference to it from his site unless I apologized profusely.

I pondered this. It wouldn’t have been any big deal if I lost my page on this site. I wasn’t getting paid for posting my poetry there, and I wasn’t paying to do so, but I would have nothing to lose by going one more round with this arrogant fool. He liked fowl language, and I could swear with the best of them since my daddy taught me how.

I wrote him back one more time, and this message was full of nasty words. I apologized and thanked him for the information about hiding the ad windows. I explained that I didn’t thank him earlier because his negative attitude distracted me. I said that if I knew there was a way to hide those windows, I wouldn’t have bothered to e-mail him. I suggested that if he didn’t want Internet users contacting him with suggestions, he shouldn’t post his e-mail address. I concluded by saying that if he couldn’t accept this apology, “Then blank you, you blank blank son of a blank.”

After I sent this message, I wondered if I went too far. Maybe I should have left well enough alone. With trepidation, I checked my e-mail several hours later. Sure enough, there was another message from him. My first impulse was to delete it without opening it, but I told myself this was cowardly and double clicked on it instead. Am I glad I did? What I found was a complete surprise.

The note contained many colorful words and phrases, but the message wasn’t hostile. In fact, he said in a roundabout way that he accepted my apology and would restore my page. Although he didn’t apologize for his attitude, I think he was trying to express his admiration of me for standing up to him instead of falling to my knees. Sometimes, you have to speak a person’s language.

In those days, I was young and foolish. I didn’t realize that anything that appears on a Website or blog accessible to the public is considered previously published. A lot of magazines don’t accept previously published work. Nowadays, I think twice before posting a story or poem on this blog or my Website, and that swearing Webmaster has nothing to do with it.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

They Call Me Baba Booey

Actually, that’s not what anyone calls me. It’s the title of a book I just finished reading by Gary Dell’Abate, the executive producer of the Howard Stern Show, now airing on Sirius XM Radio.

In the book, he talks about his life. He grew up in Connecticut with a mother who was suffering from mental illness. In college, he majored in communications and took an interest in radio. He worked a myriad of internships in the field during his college years as well as paying jobs at a record shop, a restaurant, and a radio station.

After graduating from college, he started out as a traffic boy at WNBC in New York where Howard Stern was doing his show. He was eventually hired as Howard’s producer, and that’s where he earned the nickname Baba Booey. In the book, he also describes how he lost one brother to AIDS and his father to lung cancer and how he and his other brother made the difficult decision to place his mother in a nursing home after a traffic accident that caused serious brain damage.

I purchased this book in a recorded format from audible.com. Narrated by the author, this audio book has a few bonuses that I don’t think are available in the print edition. After certain chapters, there are conversations between Gary and others he mentions in the book including his brother, wife, friends, and co-workers. There are sections where he talks about his favorite music and other interests. If that isn’t enough, there’s the audio portion to a videotape he made for Nancy, an ex-girlfriend, in which he begs her to take him back. This was broadcast on the Howard Stern Show and on youtube, much to the embarrassment of Gary and Nancy.

Although I never heard of the Howard Stern Show until I ran across this book, I enjoyed hearing Gary read and tell about himself and his adventures in life and radio. Even if you prefer a book you can hold in your hands and read, I think you’ll like this particular audio book better than the print edition. Frankly, he’s quite a comedian, and he should do his own show.

To learn more about Gary Dell’Abate, visit his Web site at http://bababooey.com/ To order this and other books in a digital audio format, go to http://www.audible.com/

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Teaching and Learning

“I signed up for your Braille class, but I don’t think I can learn Braille,” said Vera, who appeared to my limited vision to be in her mid seventies.

We stood on the porch of the recreation building of the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain where children and adults learned such skills as using computers, daily living, and orientation and mobility. New arrivals bustled into the nearby women’s dormitory with suitcases and bedding. Others were milling around and chatting. Tires crunched on gravel, as cars entered and left the nearby parking lot. An occasional breeze brought the fresh mountain scent of pine trees to my nostrils.

The next day would be the start of the two-week adult program, and although I’d attended the camp for years as a student, I was as apprehensive as students attending the camp for the first time. This was my first year as a teacher, and I was tempted to tell Vera I didn’t think I could teach Braille, either.

I’d originally planned to teach social problems, a class where students discuss challenges they faced because of their visual impairments. I’d taken the class many times, and because of my experience in facilitating a support group for the visually impaired in my home town of Sheridan, I figured I could handle the subject. But when Jerry, the camp director, told me over the phone the night before I was due to arrive at the camp that the Braille instructor was forced to leave due to illness and asked if I would teach Braille instead of social problems, what could I say? “You can do this, Abbie. You’re proficient at Braille,” he said.

I wanted to tell him that there was a difference between being proficient at something and sharing that knowledge with others, but he sounded desperate. He’d known me for years, and I figured he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. “I’ll give it a try,” I said.

When I arrived at camp the next day, Charlie, my former mobility instructor who used to teach Braille, showed me everything in the classroom. There were books and tactile and large print alphabet charts as well as Braille writers and plenty of paper. For a couple of hours, I went through everything and came up with a basic plan.

I still felt unsure of myself, as I stood on the porch of the recreation hall with Vera. As I tried to maintain eye contact with her, I found myself saying, “Why don’t you give it a try? You can always change your schedule in a couple of days if you don’t think it’s going to work.”

“Thank you,” she said, as she took my hand. “It was nice meeting you.”

In the classroom the next day, my heart sank, as my index finger scanned the Braille schedule. Vera was my first student. Why couldn’t she have been scheduled later in the day after I’d had a chance to practice my teaching skills on other students who didn’t exhibit a lack of self confidence? I realized it wouldn’t do me any good to dwell on that now, as the bell rang to signal the beginning of the first class period, and I put the schedule aside and got out a Braille writer, a stack of paper, and the first book in the Braille learning series.

Vera sauntered into the room and said with a sigh, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I said, trying to paste a smile on my face. “Why don’t you sit here?” I patted a nearby chair.

When she was seated, I asked, “What would you like to learn?”

“Well, I guess I just want to be able to make grocery lists and write down phone numbers and stuff like that.”

“Okay, let’s get started.”

I showed her how to insert the paper into the machine and explained to her that Braille numbers and letters contain one or more dots. I taught her how to write the letters A B and C, and instructed her to feel them with her index finger. When the bell rang to signal the end of the class period, I asked, “What do you think?”

“Well, I know how to write the letters, but I can’t feel them. My fingers aren’t as sensitive as they used to be.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” I said. “Wait a minute. There’s a jumbo Braille writer that makes bigger dots. Let’s try that tomorrow.”

“All right. I’ll see you then.”

A quick consultation of my schedule told me that my next pupil was someone I knew. Emery was an elderly man from Sheridan who participated in my support groups. His wife Betty was also visually impaired. I realized that because of Emery’s diabetes, his fingers would be less sensitive. I put away the regular Braille writer and got out the jumbo machine.

Over the next few days, I discovered that different students required different learning methods. Betty found the large print alphabet chart most helpful. She could read the printed dots and write the letters in Braille. This meant she could work independently which was just as well because I had my hands full with another student in that class.

Michael was in his mid twenties, and although he was an advanced student, he didn’t always focus on the task at hand. When he failed to insert a piece of paper into the Braille writer properly, it became so tangled in the machine that I had to find someone with better eyes to remove it. Charlie had worked with him in the past, and she admonished me not to let him put paper in the machine again. He also had a habit of reading the Braille with his eyes. I kept reminding him to feel the letters, but when my back was turned, I suspected he was using his vision instead of his finger.

While eating lunch in the dining hall with Jerry and his wife Susan who taught public speaking at the camp, I told them about this. Susan laughed, and Jerry said, “Why don’t you try turning out the light?”

I thought this was a great idea. Since the room contained no windows, without the light, we’d be in total darkness, and Michael would be forced to use his finger instead of his eyes. But since Betty needed the light to read the large print alphabet chart, and Michael wore glasses, I did the next best thing.

“Okay, Michael, off with your glasses,” I said to the young man, as he sauntered into the room that afternoon.

“What?”

“You heard me. Take off your glasses and give them to me. I’ll put them in my pocket for safe keeping until the end of class.”

“Why?”

“Without your glasses, you won’t be able to see that Braille, right?”

“No, I won’t,” he answered.

With a sigh, he removed his glasses and handed them to me. He sat at the table where I’d already inserted a piece of paper in to the Braille writer and placed his finger on the page in the Braille book next to the machine. When I turned around after helping Betty, his finger was moving slowly back and forth across the page. “Wow, this is easier,” he said.

By the end of the week, I felt more confident. Vera was improving with the help of the jumbo Braille writer. By the end of class on Friday, she had mastered the letters A through J and was writing words and phrases containing these letters. I was impressed by the progress of this student who didn’t think she could learn Braille.

At the dance on Saturday night, Emery, who’d learned as many letters as Vera, asked if he could write something else besides “A bad babe hid a big bag.”

Laughing, I said, “I’ll see what I can come up with.”

As the next week flew by, all my students continued to improve. On Wednesday, Vera said, “Why don’t you write in Braille the rest of the letters and numbers I haven’t learned, and I’ll mark them with my black pen so I can see them. Then, I can continue to teach myself after camp.”

“That’s a great idea.” I wrote letters, numbers, punctuation, and contractions in Braille. Vera labeled each item next to where I’d written it.

On the last night of camp, everyone was invited to participate in a talent show. Students in the music and public speaking classes sang and/or played instruments or gave speeches. Emery gave a clogging demonstration, much to the delight of those who could see him.

The next day, all staff members were required to attend an exit meeting. When it was over, Dad was waiting to take me home. I hurried to the women’s dormitory to collect my belongings and found Susan doing the same thing. “Abbie, you did a great job teaching Braille.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I hope to come back next year.”

“I’m sure you’ll be asked back.”

This made me feel good. I’d learned that I could teach anything I knew as long as I developed effective strategies. As Dad and I drove down the mountain, I was already formulating ideas for my classes the following year.
That was over ten years ago. Since then, although the camp still offers a week-long session for children, the adult program has been canceled due to a lack of funding. The camp has been funded by the Wyoming Department of Education, the Lions Clubs, and the Montgomery Trust Fund for the Blind, but as of late, these entities show no interest in funding an adult program.

This is too bad since many visually impaired adults are senior citizens who once had sight but lost it due to age related eye diseases. They must learn to care for themselves, cook, clean, do laundry, and do the things they enjoyed in life with little or no vision. As far as I know, there’s nowhere else in Wyoming where people can learn these skills.

I still facilitate a support group for the visually impaired, and the majority of participants are senior citizens. A year or so ago, I invited representatives from local Lions Clubs to talk to our group. One representative showed up, and we were informed that the Lions are renting the camp facilities to other organizations when not in use for the children’s program. When we asked about the possibility of funding for an adult program in the future, the representative said he would bring it up at the next state convention. That’s the last we heard. Go figure.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Second Opinion

Several years ago during my monthly poetry group meeting, we read a poem about what a person would do if he only had the rest of the day to live and wrote our own poems about what we would do in such a situation. After I wrote mine, I decided it would work better as a short story so here it is. You can also read it on my Web site.

SECOND OPINION

“When you go to sleep tonight, you’ll die,” the doctor says.

“But I feel fine,” you say.

“Your test results indicate a rare form of cancer that acts like a time bomb. When you go to bed and close your eyes, the bomb will explode.”

“Oh my God! Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“I’m afraid not. I suggest you get your affairs in order. I know this doesn’t give you much time. I’m sorry.”

You walk out of the office in a daze. You blink in the bright sunlight and stumble towards your car, shaking your head in disbelief. When you manage to drive home, he’s in the living room, stretched out in his recliner, reading a newspaper. “Surprise!” he says, as he leaps to his feet and flings the newspaper aside.

“What are you doing home so early?” you ask.

“I was ahead of schedule for once so I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off.”

You fling yourself into his outstretched arms and you’re locked in a long, ardent embrace. When you come up for air, neither of you says a word. Arm in arm, you make a beeline for the bedroom.

After a couple of hours of the most passionate love making you’ve experienced in years, you snuggle against him and feel the reassuring closeness of his body. You doze, but remembering the doctor’s words, you jerk yourself awake. “What’s wrong, honey?” he asks.

“Oh, nothing,” you say. “I was just thinking how much fun it would be to go out to Dino’s tonight. Their shrimp fettuccini is just to die for.”

“Actually, I was hoping you would cook something here. I love your meat loaf and for once, I won’t be late for dinner.”

You sigh. The last thing you want to do on your last night on earth is cook meat loaf.

“But if you really want to go out, I guess that would be okay.”

Although the restaurant is crowded, you manage to get a cozy table for two in a corner. You order fettuccini, and he orders lasagna. You order salad, and he orders clam chowder and a bottle of red wine for the two of you. You don’t say much, as you savor your favorite meal for the last time. He keeps up a running commentary on work and other topics.

For dessert, you both decide on spumoni ice cream. As you enjoy this and a cup of strong coffee, you look around the room at couples, threesomes, foursomes, and larger groups of people, all laughing, chatting, and eating. Will Heaven be like this? Is there even a Heaven?

“How about renting a movie?” he asks, as you leave the restaurant.

“That’s a great idea. How about ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo?’I’ve always loved that show.”

“Actually, I was thinking of ‘Top Gun.”

You sigh. The last thing you want to do on your last night on Earth is watch a war movie.

“But if you really want to watch ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo,’ I guess that would be okay.”

At home, you snuggle on the couch. While Mia Farrell is becoming infatuated with Woody Allen, the two of you are becoming re-infatuated with each other. Afterward,, you head back to the bedroom for another round of passionate love making.

When that’s over, you snuggle against him. “Hold me,” you say, gripped by a sudden fear of the unknown. He does, and you’re at peace.

You open your eyes and see bright sunlight. You sit up and look around. To the right and behind you are the windows. Your night stands, chests of drawers, and closet are where they’ve always been. Your clothes are scattered on the floor where you dropped them the night before. He is lying next to you, still asleep. You are filled with a sense of relief.

He wakes up and looks at his watch. “Honey, why are you getting up so early on a Saturday morning?” he asks.

“Who says I’m getting up?” you say, as you cuddle next to him and nibble his ear. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Ducks on the Sidewalk

I love to walk this time of year, especially in the mornings when it’s cool. One day, I was strolling down a sidewalk that runs parallel to Big Goose Creek in my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, swinging my long white cane from side to side in front of me as I usually do. Ahead of me, I spotted a cluster of ducks on the sidewalk. I knew they were ducks because they were quacking. As I approached, they flapped their wings and flew away, voicing their disapproval with many loud quacks as if I were trespassing on their sidewalk. I was so taken with this scene that the minute I got home, I sat down at the new computer my husband Bill had just bought me and wrote the following poem.

This was the first poem I wrote on that computer. It was published in Distant Horizons, an anthology of poems produced by WyoPoets. To learn more about this organization, of which I’m President, visit http://www.wyopoets.org/page4.html. You can also read this poem on my Web site.

DUCKS ON THE SIDEWALK

Little black quacking shapes

congregate on the cement path next to the creek.

Rolling my long white cane in front of me, I approach.

One by one, angered by my intrusion,

they vanish in a flurry of wings.

Abbie Johnson Taylor,, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com