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(Originally published in Spring 2006 SEE/HEAR Newsletter)

Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Mary Sue Welch, TSBVI Board Member, Dallas, TX

Abstract: A TSBVI Board Member shares her memories of TSBVI and reflects on how they had an influence on who she is today.

Key words: family, blind, visually impaired, personal experience, TSBVI History

Mine has not always been the fairy tale life I now enjoy. Now I live on the 23rd floor of a high-rise in downtown Dallas with a marvelous view of the city. My husband (who is also blind) actually has a job and provides us with a new Mercury Monterey van—black in color—with a wonderful young man to drive it. This young man takes me shopping and makes our lives easier in a number of ways. No, it hasn't always been this way for me.

I was born the blind child of a middle-class, sighted, white family in Huntsville. Yes, my mother, my father, my brother Walter Charles, my half brother Tommy and my half sister Marie were all sighted. They had other problems, but being blind was not among them. Mother said my birth was tumultuous with great physical pain for her. Much to my dismay, she never described me as a beautiful newborn. Rather, I was told that my hue was bluish and my eyes were never opened when I was brought to her in the hospital.

Mother just thought I was sleepy all the time, but my father was worried. On the day of my arrival home, Daddy took me into the bedroom and shined a flashlight in my eyes. My right eye responded, but the left did nothing at all. Upon sharing his concerns with my mother, she fell apart. When I was six weeks old, we began the round of eye doctors lasting until I was age three when a doctor in Austin told my parents that nothing could be done about my vision. He advised them to plan to send me to The Texas School for the Blind when I was six and to prepare for my life as a blind person. I actually think that things became easier for my parents then because they knew what to expect.

I left home to attend the Texas School for the Blind on September 26th, 1954, the day after I turned six. Early on that Sunday morning, my grandmother on my mother's side had a stroke. My mother was devastated, feeling that she was losing both her mother and her baby. In spite of that, my parents loaded me and my stuff into the car and took me to Austin. It was a very unselfish act and I am grateful to them even today.

They were told that they could not come to see me or call me for three weeks. It was explained that I needed this time to become acclimated to my new surroundings. They left me at the swings playing with my first friend at school. I was okay until nighttime, but then the homesickness swept over me. The houseparent on duty was not the loving type, so I cried myself to sleep without comfort from anyone. The kids were not allowed out of bed, but they would have comforted me if they could. The houseparent felt I would do better to tough it out. That's what I did.

The next morning, my training in independence truly took off as I learned to make my bed. I bet it was a sight, but I can whip one together pretty well now.

My first grade teacher had the most beautiful voice. She was quiet and kind and I loved her dearly. She started working with me on Braille right away. I loved it and learned fast. I still love Braille and am taking a course to be a certified Braille transcriber now at my old age.

I remember my first trip to the school library as a real turning point in my life. I was fascinated with all those books in one place. As the years went by, I spent much of my time studying and reading in the library. Books have remained a true source of pleasure for me all my life. I credit our wonderful librarian with encouraging my love of reading and my desire to know more about others. She would probably be a bit disappointed to learn that I love mystery and legal thrillers best. I think she would have wanted me to like the classics.

Though I was never a good musician, I took piano lessons for 7 years. My piano teacher was always encouraging. She told me that even if I never played very well, I would learn much about self-confidence and poise from my musical training. I think it was from those days of performing that I developed a love of public speaking. My music also gained acceptance for me as a teenager in my Rainbow Girls assembly. I was a musician and that was a big deal to most of those girls who couldn't play at all. By the way, I got into Rainbows through the help of my cooking teacher at school. I mentioned that I was interested, and she introduced me to friends of hers who sponsored me.

I graduated from the Texas School for the Blind in 1966. I attended the school during some very interesting years. More than the big sidewalk split the campus in half separating the girl's side from the boy's side. Even inside the main building, there were separate water fountains and stairs for the girls and boys. And of course we sat on separate sides in the auditorium. Until I was about 16, I was afraid to drink from the boy's water fountain for fear of becoming pregnant. We had to be very careful about holding hands in the hallway because if the principal saw us doing that, the couple was in for a long talking to. We got grades in deportment, and once I got a C simply because I drank from the wrong water fountain. Or was it that I was caught kissing at the fountain? It was one or the other. Anyway, I was in trouble at home and at school.

When I think about my days at The Texas School for the Blind, I remember all kinds of sounds and smells. Some of them are still there when I return to visit. The main building still smells like books—not just any books—Braille books. The bell is not exactly the same as it was when I was a student, but I love hearing it ring. Although I know I am welcome to use any stairway I want, I still use the "girl's stairs". It's only right!

I remember winter mornings especially well. Our dorms were heated by steam radiators. In the very early morning I would awaken to the sound of those radiators heating up. They would bang and clang and hiss and I loved hearing all that noise. I felt safe. I would grab one of my Braille library books and read until the wake-up bell rang.

Spring was just as good. We had assemblies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the school auditorium. Wednesdays were our favorites. We would almost always have student recitals that day. The windows in the auditorium would be open. Birds would be singing and our friends would be performing. It was a wonderful time for all of us.

As a small child at school, I loved rainy days. Sometimes our houseparents would make fudge or popcorn for us. We would listen to stories on the radio or just play inside. We had little chairs in the dorms just our size. I could still see a little bit then and I remember that they were painted red, blue, green and yellow. We would gather all the chairs in the back of the dorm and build a boat—at least our view of a boat.

On sunny Saturdays, we often roller skated outside or played games like Red Rover, Red Rover. This could only happen after we finished our chores. We were always required to make our beds, dust our furniture, dust mop our floors, and clean the radiators. We didn't dislike these chores. It gave us a feeling of being in charge of our rooms. At least that's how I felt. We were learning responsibility, and how to care for ourselves and for our homes.

My senior year, we had a new superintendent. Bill Allen had been the superintendent for 40 years and he retired the year our school was integrated. The new superintendent had kids of his own, and things changed dramatically on campus. The integration went off without a hitch that I ever knew about until recently when I read the story posted here by Gene Brooks. We were simply pleased to have some new kids to get to know. We had a Student Council for the first time and I was voted president. We also had a yearbook for the first time and I was co-editor of The Wildcat. I also won the prestigious Crisco award for my cooking and sewing abilities.

Graduation was exciting and sad, as it is for young people all over the world. I planned to go to college, but I was terribly afraid that I would never learn my way around the campus. Although I had been a member of the National Honor Society, I didn't have much confidence in my ability to learn without all the support from school. I was in love as well, so when the chance came, I opted for love and married shortly after my 18th birthday.

I am fortunate enough to serve on the School Board for TSBVI. It gives me great pleasure to give something back to the school that taught me independence and self-confidence. Those old buildings sheltered me, and I believe that many of our teachers actually loved us. This place, those times helped me become who I am today.

That's the question! Who am I? I'm a career person, a wife, a mother, and a blind person. I'm me! And very glad about that.