Light at Last
DURING my first few years in school, my interest in my studies did not lag. Everyone was kind and very considerate of me then as all through my school days, and the interest the directors and the other officers of the Institution took in my progress was a constant incentive.
I was responsive to praise and easily influenced by others, and for this latter reason my teacher did not want me to mingle too freely with the other pupils and allowed me to play with them only at certain times under the watchful care of some responsible person. In spite of this precaution, however, the girls gave me some queer ideas that worried my teacher. It was my habit to tell her everything, and I liked to find something that was not in keeping with her views, because I loved debate. When I said something of which she did not approve, her way of spelling was more impressive than usual and there was more life in every word and gesture. How I did love a jolt! Though I was perfectly willing to do patiently all that was required of me, I craved excitement and welcomed anything that would make me think faster.
Every morning my teacher brought something to eat, and at half-past ten we would sit on the doorsteps, or somewhere in the shade, and eat fruit, bread and butter or crackers, and drink lemonade, while my teacher told me about the objects she could see near us. As soon as we had divided the luncheon and had started to eat, she would begin to spell out something like this: ‘I see a bird. It is hopping.’ I would spell, ‘Where is a bird?’ After she had corrected the article ‘a’ to ‘the,’ she would say, ‘Near us’ — or she would name whatever it happened to be near, under, or on. A short statement like that was sure to open the floodgate of questions I had always on tap, such as ‘What color bird?’ ‘Where bird go?’ or ‘Bird wants bread? Bird eat?’
Sometimes my teacher would begin to eat without saying anything. Then I would start with such questions as ‘Who?’ ‘Who you saw?’ or ‘You saw who?’ After she had straightened out the question forms, she would answer, and nearly always would add something interesting to the direct reply. She says now that she did not restrict herself to any one tense when talking to me, but used any tense or language form demanded by the occasion, and that I used mostly the past tense, except with the verbs ‘like,’ ‘want,’ ‘love,’ ‘have,’ and ‘be.’
I remember one time she spelled: ‘I see two birds. They are hopping.’ When she asked me to tell her what she had said I spelled: ‘You saw two birds. They ared hoppingped.’ I spelled this very fast, because I was proud of the fact that I could change verbs from the present to the past tense without help from her.
My teacher now tells me that this mistake of mine is unusual and that in all her experience she had never met it before, because teachers nearly always give their pupils the past form of a verb before requiring them to use it, or tell the pupils to leave a blank for the word they need but do not know. And to my question, ‘ Would it not have been better if you had given me the past form of “are hopping” before you led me into using it?’ she replies: ‘No, not in your case. If I had undertaken to do that, it would have required signs, and the superintendent had requested me to avoid using them as much as possible and to see how much could be done without them. To be sure, at times I did resort to signs, but only when it was absolutely necessary. With a class, I should have pursued different tactics, but I was on the firing line with you all the time and wanted you to receive all the bumps that one would naturally encounter when first learning to use any language. I wanted you to meet and overcome the same obstacles that the average hearing child meets and overcomes before he enters school, thus increasing your power to think and overcome difficulties as you went along. Then again, the two mistakes you made threw more light on the progress you were making than if you had spelled a perfect sentence. The sentence “They ared hoppingped” showed that you had in some way discovered that words a little different from the ones I had used were wanted and that you were perfectly capable of quickly calling upon what you had already learned to help you out; also that you had self-reliance enough not to depend upon your teacher for everything.’
The first time I went home for a short vacation, my teacher came on a Saturday to stay the following week and then take me back to school. On the Monday after her arrival, when Mother was clearing off the breakfast table. I made some sandwiches and put them in the refrigerator. I put a pitcher and a lemon on a plate near two glasses and two spoons. Mother did not understand what I was doing, but she was too busy to ask for an explanation. My teacher went around the house spelling to me, and though I was interested in learning the names of all the objects in my home I kept a sharp outlook to see when the sun would reach the steps in our back yard. I felt that the sun was lazy that morning, for I had not yet learned that it does not shine in all back yards at the same hour. Taking my teacher’s hands, I led her to the clock in the kitchen and spelled, ‘Eat bun. Yes? No? She spelled ‘Yes.’ Then I showed her where to get ice water and sugar and, giving her a knife, told her to make some lemonade, while I got some fruit and the sandwiches.
We sat on the steps of the back piazza and I at once began to question her about our surroundings. Poor Mother did not know what it was all about until my teacher explained that at school we had an early breakfast and, as dinner was not served until one o’clock, it was necessary for us to have a bite between meals. I purposely did not tell Mother why I made the sandwiches in the morning because I wanted her to be shocked at finding my teacher and me sitting on the back steps eating like tramps, with a plate of sandwiches and a pitcher on the piazza floor. I thought Mother would be horrified, and I enjoyed the sensation this thought produced more than I did the sandwiches.
As the time drew near for my return to school, I racked my brain for some device to prolong my stay at home. I could see no reason why my teacher could not teach me as well at home as in the Institution. The day before we were to return, we attended a picnic near a stream, which we crossed on stepping-stones, and I became aware that my teacher was fearful of having her skirt splashed. Then it flashed across my mind that if she got her dress good and wet she would not be able to take me back to school the next day, for I knew that the only other dress she had with her was unsuitable for travel. Having crossed the stream without a mishap, I coaxed her to lead me to the water and let me feel it running. This she did, and then, without any warning, I gave her several pushes, but somehow she managed to save herself until Mother took me in hand.
Then I thought of another plan. When I first entered school I had a sore finger which was very slow in healing, and to make matters worse I got a splinter under the nail while picking up something from the floor. The splinter was removed in the Institution infirmary and my finger was receiving medical care when I started on my vacation. On the day of my return to school, while Mother was getting me ready for the train, a great desire to stay at home a few more days overwhelmed me, so I told Mother I did not want to go with my teacher because she had put my sore finger on the table and beat it with a big stick. I showed her how it was done. My grandmother, who was waiting to see me off, was called, and I repeated my story. Then I was marched to my teacher, who was waiting for me in the living room. Mother showed her my finger and asked what had happened to it. My teacher told her about the splinter. Then Mother asked me why my finger was sore, and, feeling sure that she believed in me, I did not hesitate to accuse my teacher before her and Grandma.
Nothing more was said about the matter at the time, and I had to go back to school. The next morning, however, my teacher took me to the Institution infirmary and showed the head nurse my finger, going through the motions I had used in accusing her of having smashed it. The nurse shook her head and showed me how she had removed the splinter. My teacher explained to me that there was a written record of the accident to my finger, and when we returned to our schoolroom she requested me to write to my parents and tell them the truth. When I refused, she said she would take me to the superintendent’s office and have him write to my parents. She made it clear that the superintendent would question the nurse, matron, and my supervisor in order to get at the truth. Then I saw the uselessness of adhering to my story, and I wrote home telling of the mistake I had made.
What a fuss about such a little thing, I thought. Why did n’t she let the whole matter drop? I had learned a lesson — wasn’t that enough? I had learned that it was useless to fib to her or about her, for she had ways of reaching the truth of which I knew nothing, and she would do her utmost to right anything she knew was wrong. Long afterward I ventured to ask my teacher why she bothered about my accusation when she knew herself guiltless, and she answered: —
‘If you had succeeded in making everyone believe that fib, there would have been no hesitation, on your part, about telling many others. What is generally considered harmless fibbing in a child, if ignored by those who should correct the fault, usually leads to something worse. I positively beslieved that, by this lesson, I should relieve you and your future teachers of much arduous work in training you to be truthful and trustworthy.’
I was led to ask if I was an unusually dishonest and untruthful child, to which she replied: —
‘On the contrary, you were the most honest and truthful deaf or hearing child I have ever met. This fib was the only one I ever knew you to tell. You did write imaginary stories about your dolls and other toys and sometimes pretended that you did not believe what had been told to you, but you did so in order to gain more information about the subject or to satisfy your desire to debate. All this could be classed with untruthfulness, but few would so classify it.’
It seems rather egotistic for me to quote my teacher as I have in this respect, but I feel justified, for she maintains that there are no born liars, but that circumstances, fear, shame, vanity, desire, or all together, make the liar.
By the second week in September we were started again on our regular school work, and everything rushed along merrily. My teacher had a carefully mapped out programme for every day, but we seldom, if ever, followed it to the letter, as she was sure to dwell a little longer on something when I seemed eager to continue and cut short anything in which I did not at the moment seem interested. There was one exception to this — counting. She was anxious to have me learn to count to ten, as she wanted to classify words according to what is known as the column or five-slate system of teaching the rules of syntax. For I had now arrived at sentence building, and syntax, as every teacher of the deaf knows, is a most difficult matter.
The first time that I put a verb in the wrong place — as, ‘I a cake ate’ — my teacher took a large blank yellow card that was divided into six vertical columns by pricked lines and told me that ‘I’ should always be put in the first column, ‘ate’ in the second, and ‘cake’ in the third. So far I understood. Then one day I wrote, ‘A table is a cake on.’ When my teacher saw my mistake, she led me to one side of the room, where six blank cardboard charts were hanging in a row on the wall. A week or two before this, when she had hung them there, I had asked her, ‘Why?’ and she had spelled, ‘Keep awake and you will see in good time.’
Of course at that stage of my acquaintance with English such spelling was Greek to me, so I held her spelling hand up with both of mine, which told her that I did not catch the idea and wished her to explain. Then she spelled slowly, ‘Wait and you will see why I hung the cards on the wall. After a while we shall use them.’ ‘Use?’ I asked; and she spelled, ‘Want them.’ And then, ‘We shall want to work on them.’
This is an example of the way I acquired language. When we went into the yard at recess, my teacher was electrified when she saw me spell to a girl, ‘See.’ The girl asked, ‘What?’ I spelled, ‘Keep awake, and you will see.’
After recess, my teacher asked me why I had used the language she had spelled first and not the simpler form, and I answered in signs, ‘I wanted to show the girl that I could spell like grown-ups and not in baby language.’ Then she asked, ‘Who told you that I spelled baby language to you the second time?’ All I was able to say then, however, was, ‘I know.’
Each of the six charts on the wall had several narrow strips sewed across it horizontally to hold small cards — another of my teacher’s inventions; and, taking the large yellow card marked off in six columns, she showed me that the six charts corresponded to the columns on the yellow card. On the table near the charts were four boxes containing small cards of different sizes and shapes, on each of which was written a word in Braille. I had been introduced to Braille the first week in September, and we had been making these cards off and on for some time. Whenever I needed a new word of any kind, it was pricked on a card and placed in one of the boxes, though I did not then understand why.
Nouns of all numbers and genders were written on white oblong-shaped cards and put into the box marked ‘1, 3, 5’; the verbs were written in the present tense on yellow cards two inches square and placed in the box marked ‘2’; the prepositions, which were few, were written on oblong cards smaller than the ones for the nouns and put in the box marked ‘4.’ In the box marked ‘6’ were square cards much larger than the ones on which the verbs were written. These large square cards were for words that expressed time — such as ‘to-day,’ ‘to-morrow,’ ‘now,’ and so on. It did not matter what grammarians called them so long as they told me, when used in a sentence, which tense of the verb was required.
Taking all the noun cards, my teacher showed me that they could be placed in the holders on chart 1, 3, or 5, but never on chart 2, 4, or 6, and, in turn, that the verb cards were always placed on chart 2, the prepositions on chart 4, and the time-expression cards on chart 6.
Then my teacher put my hand on a cake that was on the table and asked, ‘What is on the table?’ I answered,
‘A cake.’ She told me to take the card with ‘cake’ written on it and asked me on which chart it should go. I hesitated, and she spelled again, ‘What is on the table?’ holding her hand on chart 1. I spelled ‘cake,’ holding my hand right under hers; then I understood that the ‘cake’ card should be put in the holder on chart 1. Next she put on chart 2 a card which had ‘is’ written on it and told me never to put a card on chart 3 when ‘is’ was on chart 2. She gave me the ‘on’ card, which I put on chart 4, and then I put ‘table’ in the holder on chart 5.
This was my first lesson in correcting my language mistakes. I had been using the verb ‘to be,’ having picked it up from my teacher, and I had wandered why she kept the cards with ‘to be’ and its variations in the same box with the verbs, but held together with a strong rubber band. I asked her why she did not want ‘to be’ to mix with the other cards, and she said, ‘“To be” is a very troublesome little follow and we have to watch him closely.’
I laughed at the way she used the pronoun ‘him,’ because she had taught me that the neuter pronouns were ‘it,’ ‘they,’ and ‘them.’
I asked her ‘Why? What “be” for?’ and she explained that ‘to be’ and all his friends say ‘yes’ — that is, affirm the statement. I asked where the ‘no’ cards were and she showed me cards on which ‘no’ and ‘not’ were written. Then I placed cards on the charts so as to read: ‘ I am in my schoolroom now. I am not in the yard.’
1: 2 :3: 4 : 5 : 6
I : am : : in : my schoolroom: now
I : am not: : in : the yard :
When my teacher took me to the charts she had no intention of dwelling so long on the verb ‘ to be,’ but I was so curious about the little word which did not seem to mean anything that she took advantage of my interest. When I was told in my second school year that I used this verb surprisingly well for the short time I had been under instruction, I felt that it was because I had obtained a clear idea of its use on the day my teacher first gave me the charts to straighten out my mistakes.
By the time I went home for the Christmas holidays I had been under instruction nearly seven months, and it could be said that I was fairly started, I could count objects to ten, write from ‘one’ to ‘ten’ in words and in Braille figures, and read and write many words and short sentences in both Braille and Roman letters. I knew that only the sightless use the dotted print, that the Roman letters are used by people who can see, and that every person and thing has a written as well as spoken name. I could spell with my fingers and read what others spelled to me, and when I was puzzled my teacher would always find a way to make me understand the meaning of every word and sentence. She encouraged the pupils to spell to me after school hours, giving them to understand that they need not confine themselves to the words and language that I knew, but that they might express themselves in the language they used when talking to their teachers. In this way she was laying the foundation for me to cultivate a ‘ language memory. ’
Shortly after the Christmas holidays Mr. William Wade, that benevolent citizen of Oakmont, Pennsylvania, who was such a generous friend to all the blind and deaf in the United States, sent me a Braille writer. I was not long learning how to write with it and I wanted to discard the slow, laborious method of writing on the Braille slate, but my teacher insisted that I use the slate occasionally. She attached some mental discipline to my making letters backward, as one must when writing on the Braille slate.
It was great fun to sit by my teacher and read as she wrote stories and news for hours at a time. I found it far more interesting to read as she wrote than to have the finished page of writing handed me. I was not allowed to interrupt her until she had finished a page, when I could ask all the questions or say anything I wished, as long as what I said had some reference to what she had written. After she had finished one subject I could talk about whatever her writing had suggested to me. When it came my turn to write she observed the same rule, and after she had corrected my writing by spelling and questions I usually copied what I had written.
At first my teacher answered my questions in a direct way, and in writing the story I confined myself to the bare facts that I had gleaned from her answers. By constantly listening to her opinions concerning what she had seen or had been told, however, I almost unconsciously, through imitation, learned to express my own ideas.
Sometimes this was rather embarrassing for my teacher. For instance, when I was in my third year at school a very dignified lady came to our schoolroom to see me while I was lying on the lounge taking my regular afternoon rest. My teacher asked the visitor if she would like to see me write something unaided, and, upon receiving an answer in the affirmative, she introduced me to the lady. Then she led me to the typewriter and said: ‘I saw you spelling to yourself while you were on the lounge. What were you thinking about?’ I immediately began to tap out on the keys: ‘You are a dear little busybody to want to know what I was thinking about, but I do not mind telling you. I was thinking about home and Mama and Papa and a new dress that Mama is making for me. I do not like store dresses. My Mama can make pretty clothes.’
I gave the paper to my teacher and she handed it to the lady without glancing at it. I put my hand on my teacher’s face to see how what I had written was being received, and to my surprise she held her lips firmly together as was her wont when nonplused. Our visitor’s stay was short, for as soon as she had read my paper she asked my teacher if I knew about God and if my parents were Christians, then bade me good-bye stiffly and departed.
I asked my teacher what was wrong, and she answered, ‘Nothing.’ This did not satisfy me, however, so she explained that the lady was a dear kind soul, but that she evidently belonged to the old school of pedagogy, which would consider it almost a crime for a pupil to speak openly of his teacher as a busybody.
‘But I was in fun,’ I pleaded.
‘To be sure,’ said my teacher. ‘Any modern person would understand that, but the old school did not permit such familiarity between teacher and pupil, and for a pupil to joke or laugh and sometimes even smile brought the schoolmaster’s switch into play.’ For a moment I was worried, until she said that times had changed and that the moderns believe in making the schoolroom a pleasant as well as a profitable place.
Fearing that the lady had carried away a wrong impression of me, I asked, ‘Did the lady think I was stupid and naughty?’
‘No,’ said my teacher, ‘but her whole manner and expression said plainly: “What will become of that poor child if she is left to such teaching? To be allowed and encouraged to talk about such vanities as pretty clothes in school, when she should be on her knees for what she has now!”’
I wanted to know if the lady had on shabby old clothes, and was told that, on the contrary, her clothes were of the very best and that she was evidently a woman of education, culture, and breeding. If the dear good lady happens to read this I hope she will not be offended, but will rejoice in knowing that she helped me to enlarge my vocabulary, gave me a broader view of what to expect of people, and, above all, afforded me a couple of days of delightful learning, since her visit gave rise to much questioning and explaining.
It was the right psychological moment to acquaint me with new expressions. My teacher had been training me all along to repeat whole sentences after they had been spelled once to me and to get the meaning of words at the same time. I knew that nearly all words have several meanings, as I had learned that several signs may be made for one word — as many signs as the word happens to have meanings. I learned this from the other pupils, not from my teacher. I also knew that when my teacher used, for example, such a phrase as ‘praying continually’ she did not mean that one should keep praying every minute of the twentyfour hours of the day and every day of one’s life. Some instinct told me that she was using the words in a sort of Pickwickian sense. She often spoke to me in that way because she knew that when I took up reading I should come across many things that could not be taken literally.
As I have already stated, from the first my teacher endeavored to help me by every means to recall the language and speech I had before I was stricken, and whenever we met anyone who could hear she would tap me under the chin, which meant that I was to speak. When I did make an attempt to say something that I had spelled she would repeat it to me as soon as she met anyone who could hear, and a tap on my chin told me to do my best. I was anxious to talk like other people, and a second tap was not necessary.
Whether these exercises were reviving my lost memory or whether I was learning the words anew is still a question with me, but I do know that a word suddenly came back to me one day when I was rejoicing over a surprise gift that Miss Weston, a reporter, brought to me. It was a dear little stuffed rabbit all covered with fur, and the reporter hoped that I would say ‘cat’ or ‘kitty,’ words she was pretty sure I had known before losing my speech. As soon as I had taken the rabbit, my teacher spelled ‘cat,’ and touched my chin. I was indignant and shouted at the top of my voice, ‘ Bunny! ’ My teacher said, ‘No, no. Cat.’ I repeated ‘bunny’ so plainly that even the reporter, who had seen me only once before and was not accustomed to the voice of the deaf, understood me at once. I showed my teacher the stubby tail in proof of my assertion.
This little incident helped to increase my self-confidence, and I continued of my own free will to give some sort of sound or combination of sounds for all the words I had learned to spell, although these sounds usually meant very little to others. Now and again I would recall the spoken name of something, but was very seldom able to say it plainly enough to be understood.
My teacher was very anxious to have my speech developed at once, and at her request, in my second school year, Dr. Crouter and the directors arranged for another teacher, Miss Stewart, to undertake the task of instructing me in the elements of speech. The methods used were practically the same as those used in teaching the seeing deaf to speak, only I was required to depend upon my fingers instead of my eyes when I wanted to know the position assumed by the teacher’s lips or tongue. This could not have been very pleasant work for Miss Stewart. She gave me about twenty or thirty half-hour lessons.
Meanwhile, my own teacher, Miss Foley, in addition to my other school work, was training my sense of touch so that I should learn to distinguish variations in sound vibrations. One drill that I found more interesting than the others was tapping on a toy drum. Removing one side of the drum, my teacher strung wax threads across it and had me, by simply holding my hands on the drum, tell her which thread she had strummed.
It was through the drum exercise that she taught me how to keep time when dancing. I got the waltz step by my teacher’s striking the drum with her forefinger, then following this quickly with a stroke of her middle finger and then with her ring finger, the last stroke being somewhat prolonged into a sort of glide. This meant ‘one, two, three, balance.’ Having obtained an idea of rhythm through my fingers, I placed my hands on my teacher’s toes while she went slowly through the waltz steps, and it was not long before I could follow her. Soon I could waltz with anyone, and how I did love to dance! There seemed to be something within me that I longed to express, and dancing gave me an outlet. After mastering the waltz step I took up rhythmic skipping, the one-step, scarf drills, and other æsthetic drills. During my first four years in school ten minutes every day were set aside for these exercises.
Among the many other things, I was taught to understand both script and Roman letters when written on my hands and arms, in order to keep me in touch with people who could not spell with their fingers. In short, training of my sense of touch in different ways never ceased while I was under the instruction of my first teacher. As a result, this sense became so acute that I could recognize and even enjoy various kinds of statuary.
All the directors were exceedingly interested in trying to make my school life pleasant and profitable. Mr. Emlen Hutchinson, Mr. Archibald R. Montgomery, Mr. Joseph H. Burroughs, and Mr. Robert Glendinning were among the many who did a great deal to make it so. Among Mr. Glendinning’s many gifts to me was a precious and very useful wrist watch which enabled me to be on time for school, shop, and meals without depending on being hunted up by the supervisors. Indeed, the watch made me feel very independent and almost normal.
Before receiving the watch, I could tell time by the clock. Seeing how I was striving to guess time by the sun and shadows, my teacher acquainted me, during my second school year, with the use of the clock. She made a hole above the figure XII on a pasteboard clock dial, explaining that the hole was the top. Then she sewed an oblong wooden bead over each figure on the dial. Touching the bead over figure I with the hour hand, while the minute hand was on XII, she spelled: ‘It is one o’clock now. It is dinner time. School is out.’ Moving the hour hand to II, she spelled, ‘It is two o’clock.’ She continued thus until the hour hand reached XII. Then, moving it to I, she waited for some response from me. I promptly spelled, ‘It is thirteen o’clock.’ ‘No, no,’ she laughed; ‘we never say that. It is 1 A.M. now. You are in bed. When it is dinner time it is 1 P.M.’
In a week or two, after I had mastered the hours, five wooden cubes were sewed between the figures XII and I. Then five wooden balls were sewed between I and II, and so on, five cubes alternating with five balls between the various figures on the dial. Now the minute hand, which so far had remained at XII, was brought into play. My teacher moved the minute hand from XII to I, while the hour hand was moved just a tiny bit past I. She spelled, ‘It is five minutes past one.’ Then, moving the minute hand to II, she spelled, ‘It is ten minutes past one.’ This continued until the minute hand was again at XII and the hour hand at II. This drill was carried on day after day until by actual count I knew that the minute hand had to pass sixty beads while the hour hand crept slowly from one oblong bead to another.
The number of short sentences that I mastered while learning to tell time is almost beyond belief. My teacher has a notebook filled with expressions I learned in this way.
Among my good friends not directly connected with the Institution were Governor Edwin S. Stuart, several members of the Legislature, and Mr. Ellis Lit, Jr., of Philadelphia. Governor Stuart always remembered me handsomely on my birthdays, and he remembered me on my graduation, too. Mr. Lit often took me for long rides in his auto, with my teacher or supervisor always accompanying me to tell me about the interesting places and sights we passed. I was in my third school year when he gave me my first auto ride in Philadelphia, and it was then that I did something that my teacher saw fit to record in her school journal.
Yesterday, Mr. Lit took Kathryne for a ride in his car, and I went along. After we had ridden a mile or two a little weakness of Kathryne’s came to the surface — something I thought she did not possess. Kathryne had asked, ‘Why did Mr. Lit invite me for a ride?’ and on my answering, ‘Because he is your friend,’ she asked, ‘Is he rich?’ On receiving the reply, ‘He has everything he needs and is very comfortably situated,’ she drew herself up haughtily, threw back her head, and, turning it slowly, cast her eyes down as if looking in disdain at the people in the street. To-day I questioned her about her attitude in the car and she said, ‘I did that, because I felt that way.’ To my question, ‘How do you know that some people look and act that way?’ she answered, ‘I do not know. I just thought and wanted to play I was a fine lady; then my head moved itself.’
So much for human nature.
The journal also tells how, when we had passed an intoxicated man on the street, I said, ‘I smell beer.’ When my teacher informed me whence the odor came, she added, ‘It is wrong to drink beer.’ I resented her statement, saying, ‘Many nice ladies and gentlemen drink beer,’ for I had lived among the Pennsylvania Germans, to whom beer is nothing more than tea or coffee. Many of them were my friends, and I was ready to pledge myself then and there that they would never do anything wrong. We dropped the matter for the moment, but when we returned to our schoolroom my teacher took it up again, in spite of the fact that she usually avoided any reference to the subject of liquor or intoxication.
She told me that she knew an intelligent man who had been in good circumstances and was well liked, but who took to drinking and in a few years lost his health, fortune, and friends. The last time she heard of him he was ill, very poor, and without a friend. ‘No friends! No friends!’ I repeated, for I could not imagine a worse fate befalling anyone than to be friendless. Then my teacher spelled with more energy than the occasion seemed to warrant, ‘Who wants a drunkard for a friend?’ I replied, ‘Why, another drunkard,’ for my first few years of silence had impressed me with the thought that any sort of company was better than none. My teacher paused for a few seconds and then said, ‘I do believe I have neglected the words “no one” and “nobody.”’
Then she began with still more emphasis, ‘Who wants to associate with a wicked man?’ I answered as truthfully as I could, ‘Another bad man.’ Still my teacher kept up her querying, her next question being, ‘Who would like to have the President of the United Slates for a friend?’ She hoped by this question to lead me to say ‘everybody’ or ‘everyone,’ and thus lead me to use the opposite, ‘nobody’ or ‘no one’; but my answer was, ‘The King of England.’ She continued, ‘Who would like to have Governor Stuart for a friend?’ My answer came quickly, ‘The President of the United States,’ for I had placed Governor Stuart above all others, and why should not the President yearn for his friendship?
My teacher’s notes on this subject end with, ‘It is true that to-day I failed for a while in cornering Kathryne into using voluntarily “no one, nobody, everyone, and everybody,” but I did spend a very interesting and amusing half hour with her in which my brain received more stimulus than any beverage could possibly have given it.
In Wissinoming Hall there was a teacher, Miss Mabel P. Whitman, who had, previous to coming to the Institution, taught a boy who had become deaf after he had learned to speak and who had lost his sight at fourteen years of age. He had been in a school for the deaf several years before becoming blind. Although his educational problem could not have been anything like mine, Miss Whitman very bravely and generously took up the task of instructing me in speech without any recompense save observation of Miss Foley’s methods and my heartfelt thanks, which still go out to her. Miss Whitman could spell with her fingers and knew New York point, but was wholly unacquainted with the American Braille that I used. However, she soon picked up American Braille, and it was not long before she had me gliding along the path Miss Foley had marked out for me — that is, learning how to pronounce words as soon as I was able to use them.
Since it was necessary for me to place my fingers frequently on Miss Whitman’s lips and tongue, cleanliness had to be a watchword, as well as cheerfulness and willingness to learn. Miss Foley inspected me to see that my teeth, hands, and nails were scoured and cleaned thoroughly, though my supervisor kept me spotless in every respect. A half hour was spent in school before I had my oral lesson, however, and, since my fingers were doing duty for both eyes and ears, my hands were sure to accumulate some foreign matter. Every morning, therefore, we placed a small table in the centre of the room with everything on it that might possibly be needed in a speech lesson, and a basin of water and towels were put within easy reach, so that not one minute of the precious oral hour would be lost.
The following letter from Miss Whitman in response to my questions will indicate the methods she used.
DEAR KATHRYNE: —
In teaching you to speak, the method was not much different from that used in teaching the deaf, except that you found the positions of the vocal organs by the sense of touch while they get them by sight. The first sounds taught were ar and ah. You felt and found that my tongue lay soft and flat. You placed your hand on my chest and felt the voice vibrations. Then you imitated me and reproduced the sound yourself. Then you got the sound of p, b, and m, feeling the vibration of the nasal sound of m on the nose. The various vowels were learned by feeling the position of the lips and tongue and giving voice. Sometimes you had to try several times before getting the right sound, but when you got it I told you, and you repeated it till you knew it. You were getting a certain amount of lip reading by taking syllables, words, and sentences from my lips. This was never hard for you to do. I remember that sometimes, when I got tired of spelling, I would give a lesson by lip reading. You always liked to do it for a change. I could not let you keep your fingers on my nose for the nasal sounds, because it tickled me, but you got along just as well. . . .
In my fifth school year Miss Whitman became my teacher. I also had two hours daily of industrial work directly under Miss Jennie Diehl, the head of the sewing department, who, during all the rest of my school years, took great pains in giving me special instruction. I had already had instruction with Miss Foley in knitting, crocheting, tying, knotting, weaving on a kindergarten frame, making silk patchwork, simple basketry, cutting and making dolls’ clothes. Miss Diehl carried on the manual work started by my first teacher, to which she gradually added other work, such as caning, weaving on a large loom, and fancywork. It was in the industrial department that my early years of sense training reaped a harvest. My dancing, gymnastic, and festhetic-dancing lessons were dropped at the end of my fourth year, I am sorry to say, as well as writing with a pencil and on my arm. I did continue to dance occasionally with the girls after school hours, but they hopped and jazzed and seemed to know nothing about the slow, gliding waltz and the rhythmic skipping that gave me so much pleasure.
As my tenth year in school drew to a close, Miss Whitman was lured by a larger salary to another institution, and from then until my graduation, in 1925, I had in succession three other teachers, each one being, like my first two, the best obtainable. They were well educated, energetic, and up-todate in educational ideas and practices. Each had interesting ways of teaching, but I cannot give details, as no notes on the subject are obtainable.
On leaving school, I made no attempt to enter college, as many of my friends thought I should. Instead, I followed the advice of my teachers by returning home to my parents and adjusting myself to the quietness of home life. So here I am, as busy and as happy and content as most persons in the circumstances of my parents are. I help Mother with her household duties and do little things for Father when he returns home tired from work; I dress dolls and sell them to get pin money. Then, in addition, I am taking a course in English composition and rhetoric from the Hadley Correspondence School, which, with my reading, helps to keep me mentally alert.
When I began to learn speech, lip reading was very valuable, but it is not agreeable to most persons to have another’s fingers constantly on their lips, and if a deaf person does not want to be left entirely alone he must make every effort to avoid being disagreeable to his friends. While I can read Mother’s lips without much strain, she, like Father, finds it more convenient to spell to me, except when her hands are too busy to stop to spell. It is then that I gladly resort to lip reading.
My parents continue to be as devoted and anxious about my welfare and happiness as they were when I was a helpless child. And the future? Well, my first teacher taught me to enjoy the present and to leave bridgecrossing until I should come to the bridge.
- Earlier chapters of this authentic record of triumph over blindness, deafness, and loss of speech appeared in April and May. — EDITOR↩