Friday, 30 October 2009

A tribute to a caring supervisor.

Life in a boarding school can be painfully lonely. Because of this, little gestures of thoughtfulness by the staff matter greatly to those children forced to live there. Whenever kind-hearted employees buck the trend of being disinterested minders, they make life bearable for the institution's students. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an excerpt that relates one man's generosity toward us inmates.
Our supervisor pleased us all with an outing on the evening before Halloween. "We're going to have a bonfire. Everyone come and follow me," he announced at the door to each bedroom. We eagerly grabbed our coats, put our shoes on, and followed him to the brow of the hill overlooking the school.

Mr. Cooper collected branches and bits of scrap lumber to fuel the bonfire. Then he lit it. The flames roared up, warming our faces. Mr. Cooper placed more wood on the fire when it began to burn low. A shower of sparks rose into the twilight sky.

"Wow!" I exclaimed. "I never saw that before."

"Haven't you ever seen that?" our supervisor asked. "Fires do that, you know. Watch this," he said and poked the bonfire with a stick. Another cloud of red hot ashes soared upwards. All the boys who had sight gasped at the spectacle.

"I want to show you boys something real exciting," our supervisor announced. "These are horse chestnuts. When I throw them into the fire, they'll pop." A minute after he tossed a handful into the flames, we gasped in unison at the small explosions. Even those who were totally blind relished that, as well as the loud pops the wood made as it burned.

After a while, Mr. Cooper led us in a few songs. I did not care for that activity but I enjoyed the ghost stories he told afterwards. They suited the darkening gloom and the mood of the evening well. We had not had that much fun around Halloween in years. Mr. Cooper made the night memorable because of his bonfire and his genuine love for us.
Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant examples of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A birthday away from home.

Most children celebrate each birthday at home until they become adults. I was not so fortunate. My eighth birthday was spent five hundred miles away from all I knew and loved. Even so, I made the best of the situation. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an excerpt that relates what happened on that day.
I spent my eighth birthday away from home, another new experience. Somehow, I had the notion that presents would be waiting for me the moment I woke up.

"It's my birthday - where's my presents?" I excitedly asked Mrs. Sandyford.

"Why do you think you would get gifts so early in the morning?" she asked.

"I thought that maybe things might be like that here," I admitted sheepishly. When no presents arrived that day, I felt terribly let down.

As it was Sunday, my supervisor let me play records all afternoon. I had a splendid time. "I want to do this for all my birthdays," I enthused to Mrs. Sandyford. "You'll not be allowed to if it's a week day," she reasoned. "You'll be in school next year you know." That fact totally eluded me.
Though I had fun that day, I felt chronically homesick throughout my time at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. My condition was inadvertently made worse when my Uncle and aunt came to visit me there. Here is an excerpt that tells what happened.
Miss Boyce ushered me into the waiting room, normally off limits to children, where my uncle and aunt sat.

After asking how I was doing, Uncle Bill gave me a white race car, a gas station, and a silver dollar for my upcoming birthday. As we chatted, Uncle Bill assembled the gas station. Then he presented it to me. I marvelled at its gas pumps and rows of toy automotive products. A cosy feeling, similar to being home, swept through my heart as my uncle and aunt encouraged me to play with the toys. Jericho faded into the background as I enjoyed being in the company of my relatives.

All too soon, my uncle and aunt hugged me, wishing me well. Sadness engulfed my heart as they walked out the front door. Christmas was still two months away, almost an eternity for a child on the verge of turning eight years old.

"I'll keep your dollar safe in the desk and you can ask for it next June when you go home," Miss Boyce promised. As I had no reason to disbelieve her, I meekly handed it over. "A whole dollar is a lot of money for a schoolboy you know," Miss Boyce explained.

My beautiful gas station did not last long. Piece by piece, it became progressively vandalized until my supervisor threw it in the garbage. The race car did not last either. I felt heartbroken that everybody was allowed to play with my toys and wreck them with impunity while I was severely punished for taking apart the space station.
Today's disabled children need not be sent to distant institutions as I was forty-five years ago. They can be home-schooled or enroled in designated local public schools equipped to help them. Please visit the Inscribe writers site and click on the Deliverance from Jericho button to learn more about this book. Though it was written for a general audience, this memoir would be of interest to teachers and vision-loss professionals. They doubtless would benefit from contrasting my experiences with that of today's registered blind students.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The great water fight of 1964.

Blind and visually-impaired children are just as mischievous as their sighted peers. I amply demonstrated this in my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir. During my first term at the institution, I perpetually ran afoul of both supervisors and teachers. The following excerpt is just one of the many examples of my rebellion against the dictates imposed upon me.
More trouble came my way when I foolishly followed the crowd. One night someone started a water fight. At first, I tried to ignore the rapidly growing chaos in the hallway. "We're having a water fight. You want to join us?" a boy invited. "No, I better not. I'll get in trouble." "Come on, you're missing out on the fun," he urged. The object of the game was to spit water at somebody and the other person was supposed to dodge it. I forgot who spat a mouthful at me but I retaliated. Soon the hall floor was drenched as many of us joined in the fun. "The night nurse is coming!" a boy warned. Everyone involved in the water fight scurried into bed and tried to act as if nothing had happened. Suddenly we heard a thud and a splash as the night nurse slipped in the hallway. "Who's responsible for this mess?" she demanded as she went to each bedroom. "Everybody out of bed!" The night nurse checked our pyjamas and wrote down the names of anybody who was wet. Then she told us to change into dry pyjamas and go to sleep.

All those involved were rounded up after school the next day for questioning by Miss Boyce. "I want to listen to Peter's record player," I whined as our supervisor dragged me out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the Quiet Room. Along with our supervisor, Superintendent Principal MacDonald, a stern grey-haired man, joined the inquisition that afternoon. The questioning appeared to continue interminably. I remember that the ringleader was spanked but I cannot recall his name.
Having been raised in a home where discipline was somewhat lax, it was inevitable that I would get into trouble repeatedly that autumn. During the writing of my memoir, I recorded as many of these incidents as I could remember to demonstrate the humanity of us blind students. To learn more about this 196-page paperback memoir, please see the Inscribe page.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The bowling ball convoy

One of Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind's proudest boasts was its two-lane bowling alley. The chief accessability feature of the facility was a set of chrome hand railings to guide blind children as they bowled their balls. What the proud administrators failed to tell the public was that the alley lacked pin-setting machines. Two hapless students inevitably spent their entire recreational periods setting up pins and sending back balls. Even so, the more inventive of us victims found ways to amuse ourselves. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here's an example of our mischief and how we had revenge on our dormitory supervisor, Mr. Moiarty.

I did not mind going bowling and I understood that somebody needed to set up pins as well as send the balls back. Even so, I hated those tournaments which the intermediate and senior dorms held. Mr. Moiarty badgered me until I agreed to set up pins for the teams. The first Saturday afternoon of the tournament was warm and sunny. The weather clashed with my bleak mood as I shuffled into the bowling alley. While I was setting pins up, and before I signalled that I had moved out of the way, he decided to lob a ball down the alley.

"Get out of the way," he shouted, suddenly realizing what he did.

"What!?" I called. The ball hit my right shin with a resounding crack. I doubled over, howling in agony. Mr. Moiarty raced to the pin-setting booth, picked me up in his arms, and carried me to the infirmary. All the way there, he apologized for not looking first. Fortunately, my shin was only bruised but it ached for a couple of weeks. However, that accident did not excuse me from setting up pins for long. As a result, my loathing of organized sports grew rapidly that autumn.

Though working in the pin-setting booth was tedious, Geoffrey and I, who usually were sent there, did find ways to amuse ourselves. The funniest of these was to hoard balls until the bowlers ran out of them. Then, the two of us placed almost all of the balls on the rails. Like a convoy of trucks, they rolled toward the rack. All but one travelled up the slope to where the bowlers waited. When that ball rolled slowly back toward the pin-setting booth, Geoffrey or I sent the final ball down the rails. It collided with the other ball, knocking it onto the alley and toward the door. The game caught on with the other boys, much to Mr. Moiarty's annoyance. I happened to be at the other end of the alley one evening when he chased a rogue ball into the lobby. The ludicrous sight of our supervisor frantically grasping at and missing the ball had me doubled over in uncontrollable laughter. We considered ourselves fortunate that no punishments were meted out for showing such disrespect. However, we giggled behind Mr. Moiarty's back whenever someone mentioned our bowling ball convoy game.
My memoir includes many other acts of innocent devilment and harmless defiance of authority in a matter-of-fact style. The final chapter contains a short history of Vancouver's infamous institution from it's beginning in 1922 to its closure in 1998 due to the sexual abuse of deaf pupils. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 U.S. from the Bruce Atchison PayPal-equipped page.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Has the world ended yet?

Preachers continue to predict the world's end and it keeps not happening. Family Radio founder, Herald Camping, is one of the latest ministers to claim that the Bible has given him an exact date for Judgement day. He reasons that from the flood during the time of Noah to 2111 is exactly 7,000 years. Camping figures that Noah entered the ark on May 21st, so the wrath of God will be poured out on that date in 2111. In view of his failed September 6, 1994 prognostication, this one also is unbelievable.

Back in 1970, I fell victim to this end-times prediction addiction. Here's an excerpt of my next book, How I Was Razed, that shows how gullible I was regarding those prophets of doom. Its still in need of revision and editing so I apologize for any mistakes in the text.

The entire nation was shocked on October fifth when the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ), a group dedicated to violently removing the province from confederation, kidnapped British trade commissioner, James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour and Immigration, Pierre Laporte, five days later. These events troubled me deeply. Was this one of the end time signs? Would Christ come and take us to be with him before the nation broke up? "I'm worried, Stephen," I confessed that evening. "What are we going to do when Canada is no more?" "Don't be such a moron," he scorned. "Canada's not gonna break up. The government will deal with the FLQ and that will be the end of it. You're so naive," he added. Though I made no reply, I still felt that the country was in peril.

Prime Minister Trudeau seemed to have the same opinion. The War Measures Act was enacted on October sixteenth. It drastically curtailed personal freedoms and gave the police powers to enter homes without a warrant. Most Canadians applauded this action but some felt it was an unjustified intrusion into personal freedoms. Though some innocent people were arrested and a barn, used as an FLQ meeting place, was burned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Federal Government of Canada had valid reasons for concern. During the years 1963 to 1967, the FLQ planted 35 devices in a systematic programme of bombings of government and English Canadian business establishments. From 1968 to 1970, they planted over 50 bombs. Having armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Montreal upset Canadians accustomed to the blessings of a peaceful country. the body of Pierre Laporte was found in the trunk of a car on October seventeenth and James Cross was freed on the third of December. Some FLQ members were arrested, some fled the country, and the group was disbanded. I thanked God for his intervention in the crisis, though I wished that nobody had been killed.

On the thirty-ninth anniversary of the FLQ's heinous crime spree, My fears of that day seem ridiculous. I now know that Christ said nobody knew the time of his coming except for his father in heaven. These phony end-time prophets have cried "wolf" so often throughout history that few folks believe them. When Christ does return, it will be as sudden and unexpected as a thief in the night. I, for one, won't waste a moment trying to guess when that will happen. I'll keep on giving to the poor and studying the Bible as God meant it to be read, not through the theological lenses of publicity-seeking preachers.