Meet a very special lady; my mum
She never saw the dawn light appearing in the sky but few knew why! Unable to sleep, Laura slumped down in her small chilly bedroom. Stooping down she reached for her imperial typewriter stored in its dusty home beneath her iron-framed bed and sagging mattress, kicking crumpled Christmas wrapping paper and scented cards aside. She faintly hears the sobbing of her mum from the scullery. She feels for a clean sheet of white paper. With her tiny left hand, guides the smooth sheet around the roller then begins to type.
My Dearest friend
You have no idea how welcome your letter and invitation to come and stay with you for a week-end is. We can catch up on old times, and that foul smarmy-nosy school matron with the shrill voice and garlicky breath. Do you remember how she caught us both sneaking up the fire escape when we were late getting back from our longed for college leaving dance in Birmingham? And you dropped your Braille note-book on the stairs?
No way could I tell her where we had been, despite being punished with two weeks curfew and the matron writing a letter home. Anyone would think we were living in the dark ages instead of the late forties. A kiss on the cheeks from another blind boy at school and I’m threatened with expulsion! No matter. On a more positive note, how fortunate I was to get a job so soon after leaving college and even luckier to discover one of the solicitor’s secretary’s lives at the other end of our village. She has kindly agreed to walk with me to Wellingborough Station. With a little luck, I should get a steam train to Birmingham for about six, hopefully in the first Saturday of 1949, if that is alright with you and your folks? I will try not to be too miserable, and hope to have fun with you all, but I can't get James out of my head. He is kind, funny, determined, and gentle, as well as a practical joker. No wonder I have fallen for his charms. You can’t imagine the fury I felt towards dad when he slammed the door on James white stick.
It might not have been so bad had he just lived round the corner. However he had already faced a day’s journey from his home in Coventry in order to visit me only to get a reception like that. Thankfully I had warned James about how father might react. I am sure dad was jarred to discover James had managed to thwart his plans by pre- booking the nearby Hind Hotel. I joined him there instead. Do you remember how we both dreamed of falling in love? Strange really, but to be honest, I don't think either of us thought we would have much of a life back then, did we?
Can you imagine how it feels knowing that Miss Blunt, the home visitor for the blind, and most of the town, see me as simply a child needing care and guidance and without a brain in sight.
Of course I know my parents love me and try to do their best for me. But that isn’t the love which can ever make me feel complete. If they can see this they are not saying or maybe just pretending! As I write I can hear them swearing at each other downstairs in our scullery.
It’s tempting to say something but I know that will not help at all. Please God, I pray that this isn’t the life I have ahead of me, before finally being shoved in a residential home somewhere nearby. There to feel my lonely spinster, trapped way to some fusty moth-balled parlor or other, with grey thinning hair, and the way I love sweet food now…no teeth! Food slopped in dishes by dinner ladies through our twilight years.
I had better finish typing this letter if I am to get any sleep. At least when dad goes to feed his pigs up at the farm in a few hours from now we shall have some peace, but it’s just a shame he doesn't stay there sometimes! Merry Christmas and I will see you in the New Year. Laura
Turning the Braille pages back
Laura drew her collar up against the cold, sensing the wind shifting slightly to the East.
“Stand clear, the train approaching platform 2 is a through train. Please stand clear.” The tannoy had a slight echo.
She lifted her head, listening to the slight remaining resonance, which was soon submerged by the murmur of other waiting passengers. To her left was the scrape of a boot on the platform, and a barked laugh. Behind her, in the distance a car horn sounded. How far was the road she wondered? She half turned, to hear more clearly, but then swung to the front again as she felt a slight touch on her shoulder, and recognized the voice of the kind young guard.
“You’ll be OK now, love. Here comes your friend, and what a lovely looking guide dog she has!” Then he tentatively reached out and gingerly placed Laura’s hand on her friend’s shoulder as she drew closer, feeling the steam on her shins, and the chill sharp and icy cold on her clear face.
“Thank you for your help, guard, but we will be fine now, won’t we Celia? After all, you are more used to this station than me I guess!”
There was a momentary silence whilst Celia took up the dog’s harness again, tussling with her sale bag bargains, and her pet became, once again, her guide.
“You’re not kidding!”
There followed a walk of winding stops and starts in New Street as they encountered irregular pavements as well as various potholes. Laura heard and imagined pushchairs and prams, with vigilant or sleeping faces beneath well pulled up cellular blankets. Cycles with lights dimmed, heads erect, whilst Laura’s collapsible cane swept wide to the left and the right. Briefly, later, Laura touching Celia and gripping the back of her duffle coat hood, as they entered the pub where Celia announced.
“This is the place where I really first got myself sloshed!”
“Trust you, but I’m not a bit surprised to hear that. I guess your parents weren’t too pleased with you, and good job your guide dog wasn’t in the same condition!”
Giggling quietly, shoulder to shoulder, they sat at an oval, highly polished, table where stained table mats of the world they never saw stuck in juices. Moments later returning to their seats, jostling with elbows, heads bent low to do up shoe-laces. Some of the crowd they moved through, as they carried their slopping drinks, insensitively stopping to whisper and stare.
Oddly, they sensed this unthinking intrusion was happening. They hated people looking at them, or worse, feeling sorry, just wanting to be the same as everyone else. Maybe, because they were separated from their contemporaries at such a young age, there would be mistrust and doubt.
"Tricia really has opened up my world, and she is fantastic and so obedient when working, but slightly tempted by cats. Come to think of it, one ran out in front of me when I was on the way to the cane workshop a couple of days ago,
But I can sort you out can’t I sweetheart!” Celia bent slightly in the draughty pub to stroke her dog’s soft, warm coat. Laura smiled as the biggest sneeze broke the silence.
"If you blow your nose anymore, you'll make it bleed Celia!”
"I know. I couldn't eat that much at Christmas, and you must still remember how I always loved my food. What the heck are you laughing at now Laura?”
“How do you know I am laughing?”
"I can feel it,” said Celia, giggling.
“If you don’t watch out, you’ll be in trouble yourself, and I will have the same problem too. It's good to laugh though, and you don’t know how much I need some happiness just now. It’s great to chat to someone I can trust, like you!”
Neither viewed their blindness as a personal tragedy, yet they wished society’s view of disability wasn’t quite so entrenched. Laura, for instance, was grateful for her white cane, but still wished people would just appreciate she was just like them wanted love, as they did.
“We must have been eleven….do you remember Laura?”
Laura laughed, gently kicking Celia’s ankles with her sensible heeled shoes, as they sat there in the now quieting pub. Stupefied customers began to drift home into the cold thick smog of the city outside.
“Remember what Celia? You’re always going on off into your own little world, and I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about!”
“Sorry Laura, I am a chatterbox sometimes! I was just thinking back to when we went to
Secondary School aged eleven. We both panicked when we forgot our way to the science classroom. All the flipping narrow hallways felt the same, and our sticks provided precious little as to where the hell in the school we were. Two frightened blind kids, miles away from home, wandering aimlessly with our efforts at re-orientation, becoming less systematic by the minute. Near to tears, some smug soul came up from out of nowhere. What made those struggles so much more difficult was that she had been watching all along. I hope that made her feel really good!”
“There’s precious little we can do about that now,” said Laura, “but just hope things get better over time. Let’s not forget, that’s where we gained our independence, as well as our everyday living skills, and where might we be without them; certainly not sitting here now!”
“I know mate, but I just don’t think that the staff acknowledged just how bloody scared we all really were back then!”
Somehow though, it seemed as they sat there in that pub that some of the pain they felt was still rooted in their frustrations with how their
world viewed blind people like them. Perhaps neither at such early stages in their lives could really appreciate how important eye-to-eye contact in relationships was to the sighted world! How very insecure folk might feel not having much of a chance to mix with disabled people. At least as they sat together, they were not alone.
There then followed a long and uncomfortable silence, shattered when the raucous barmaid with a runny nose (they had overheard somehow state) dropped a pint glass on the sawdust floor.
It was at his point that Laura broke news which she had been dying so long to share; a decision which would surely change her world!
“You know I'm eloping? But please god, don’t say to anyone just yet, not even your mum and dad. What time are they expecting us to be back did you say?”
What could Celia do to stop her from making what she firmly believed to be the biggest mistake of her life? However could blind people marry? And she felt as shocked as her parents would be when she told them her secret later that weekend!