Friday, 11 February 2011

THE DAY AN ORDINARY WOMAN WAS HONOURED.

Have you ever heard of a public building that wasn't named for a politician, famous personality, rich donor, or highly-placed administrator? Only one building that I know of was named after a kindly dining hall matron. The school I attended honoured this long-serving grandmotherly lady when they opened a new dormitory in 1965. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's how it happened.

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The flight was uneventful, as were the days of settling in at Jericho. That was until one rainy Saturday morning in February. The new dormitory called Tyler House officially opened. Mrs. Sandyford ordered us onto the school bus immediately after breakfast and the driver drove us the short distance up the hill to the building. All the blind students and supervisors were in attendance at the ceremony.

Mr. MacDonald made a long speech as everybody fidgeted. Mrs. Tyler, whom the dorm was named after, felt touched as the adults warmly congratulated her. After what seemed like hours, everybody was dismissed to the Study. The room was furnished with adult-sized blue leather chairs and a matching couch. Along with regular tables and chairs, pine end tables and a coffee table stood next to the couch. Tall pine bookshelves lined one end of the room, filled with an assortment of braille and print volumes.

On some of the tables, we found packs of braille playing cards and black plastic dominos with raised dots. Various specially adapted board games, such as scrabble, cribbage, and chess, were also placed on the tables for our amusement. I became especially interested in the checkerboard. The dark squares were recessed to allow totally blind players to feel the difference. The black and white checkers had different textures as well. My dorm mates and I played many games that morning.

Not everybody acted courteously that day, however. I ran afoul of Virginia, an older girl with black hair and a sassy mouth. As I played checkers and talked with the other children, she kept saying insulting things about me. Virginia never stopped pestering me throughout the time we visited the new dorm. I cannot remember why she took an instant dislike to me but her churlish behaviour ruined my enjoyment of that event.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Click here to read more about this book and to order it. You may also e-mail me directly if the comment form doesn't work.