“My Father and the Blind Man,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 63–64
I first remember him at fifty years old, tall and strong. He dressed in bib overalls and heavy work shoes and wore dark glasses all the time. A friend of my father’s, he lived alone but worked for us at times. I remember that he carried his head cocked to one side and let it nod up and down—dad said it helped him to hear better. His name was John, and he was over forty years blind.
John lived in an unfinished, rustic one-room house with a very crooked chimney. The house was untidy and smelled of musty bedding and clothes, fried food, smoked bacon, coffee grounds, and coal and wood smoke. John had built the house—that accounted for the crooked walls and chimney. He ate mostly bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, bread and milk—that accounted for the smell.
Although John’s house was about a mile and a half from our house, and about the same distance from the service station (the only place for John to buy food), he could walk those gravel roads with a stride that my young legs envied.
He did minor carpentry work for people in town if they weren’t too particular about the finished product. One summer he worked with my dad to build the structure that became a service station. John would walk to our house, work with my dad during the day, eat sandwiches my mother prepared while he sat on a pile of boards or a wagon tongue, and then walk back to his home that night. There may have been times when dad took him home with a team and wagon or later in the car, when we had one, but I can’t remember it. I only remember John walking home and dad watching until he was out of sight.
Dad drove a school bus during the school season and would pass John’s house four times a day. He would honk the bus horn, the school kids would wave, and John would wave back as if he could see the students’ faces. When John would oversleep and not be at the little dark window, or if there wasn’t smoke coming out of the crooked chimney, dad would stop and holer from the bus doorway, “John how are you going to get things done if you sleep until noon?” John would come to the window and make some excuse about his alarm clock, and dad would leave.
In retrospect, the way my father managed his communications with John has built a lasting appreciation in my mind for my father. Dad didn’t read the works of great psychologists, attend lectures, or listen to tapes. He just used common sense and sensitivity. He checked on John almost daily, but I never remember him asking: “John, are you all right? Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need anything? Can I take you somewhere? Can I shovel your snow?”
Instead, dad would ask such questions as: “John, I’ve been preparing a ‘reading.’ Would you listen and see what you think?”
“John, I’m going to be putting up this building, or building this fence. What do you think of the idea? Could you help me with it?”
“What have you heard new on your Reader’s Digest records? Those are good ideas; I’ll write them down. Can I use your typewriter?”
Dad always asked for help from Blind John, and he always got help; but in truth dad was not getting—he was giving. In all he did with John, his message was: you are a person, you are important, your opinion means something, you have a right to be here; poverty is temporary and unimportant; dignity is eternal and essential.
In those days, when you could no longer take care of yourself, you went into an “old folks’ home.” At age seventy-one and ill, John decided to make the move, but it was not a defeat. There he regained his health and met a happy woman whom he called Sunshine. He shared his strong arms and legs with a lady who had never walked; she shared her eyes with a man who couldn’t see. John changed his life-style, became reconverted to the Church, was married in the Logan Temple, and lived a new and different life for thirteen years before he and his companion passed away. No one was happier for John during those last years than my dad.
Love and concern and independence. My dad, and Blind John.