Blind Friends

Ever wondered what it would be like to be blind?  I have had the incredible experience of what this might be like.  Many years ago the mega- food plant where I was once employed (Gawd  how I love retirement!) decided to hire five blind or ‘legally blind’ employee’s through a government sponsored program  to enable the handicapped to be gainfully employed and earn a good income.

Their job entailed the taste testing of product flavours against a ‘standard’ to be sure our suppliers were always giving us a constant and reliable product.  They then taste tested the finished products that we manufactured for the same quality.  To allow them the most ‘tastes’ per shift they could enjoy (?) a snack of soda crackers between ‘tastes’ to refresh the taste buds.

The Cast of Characters:

Mr. R P was the ring- leader of the group.  Mr. R P was “legally blind” meaning he had partial sight and as such he prepared test samples and kept records of the results for the group.  As this gentleman was of French descent and a handsome fellow to boot, he had a bit of a reputation of a lady’s man.  I don’t know where he went wrong, but he is best known for having the shortest marriage in history.  Married on a Saturday and came to work Monday as a single man!  He was a talker and his favourite expression to the lady’s was “wanna play hide the salami”, I swear I have no idea what that meant… guess the new bride didn’t want to.

Mr. RS was also partially sighted, couldn’t see too well up close…but I swear he could see a fly on a post half a mile away!  As mentioned in a previous blog (Roto Routers), he couldn’t  legally drive but had a vehicle for others to drive him and his family around or on errands.  This is the guy you wanted around if you had a break-down on the highway!  He could rebuild that engine with duct tape and a coat hanger, change the oil and filter, replace the windshield wipers, burnt-out headlight, do a complete brake-job and rotate the tires for you before you could dial CAA!

This fellow was an accomplished guitar player and we both thought we were really great singers!  He had a quaint sense of humour (much like my own).  We both enjoyed, actually loved, to have a drink or two once in a while.  Favourite memory of Mr. RS was of him and I having a few (and singing) and driving the local side roads.  I would steer my old Ford Courier (Mazda) mini- truck and upon letting up on the gas pedal and depressing the clutch, Mr. RS would shift the transmission into the next gear for me.  We would laugh our fool heads off at this antic.  Note:  kids and grown-ups, never, ever try this at home or on the road!!

Mr. PJ was a very quiet gentleman who always seemed to me to be off in another world.  I once asked him what it was like to be blind.  After thinking for a minute he said “imaging closing your eyes in a very dark room and how dark it is.  Then imagine a darkness  a hundred times darker being blind”.  Mr. PJ was sighted until about twenty years ago when a jealous husband with a shot gun wanted to hurt him…or worse!

Mr. JS was a tall, skinny ‘scarecrow’ of a guy.  He and I were best friends for many years.  Our love of booze and Country music found us partying many times.  Many a Thursday night after work would find us in one of the local watering holes downtown until closing time.  I still chuckle at the smirk on his face when one time a stripper in the bar sat down on his knee during her performance.  I don’t think she knew he was blind and she never would have guessed from his silly grin.  Many an hour was spent drinking in his recreation room where if anyone would have listened…we could have solved every problem in the world!

Ms. H.P. was a real sweet-heart, the only member of the group that had never been sighted, she was a wonder!  She would arrive in the morning to the lunch room and with the powerful smell of my coffee- making filling the air, she would always say Hey Ranger, how are you?  Though I had not said a word, she knew that I was there.  How you ask?  She knew everyone by the perfume or after-shave they used!  Ms. H.P. could walk into almost any room and with her hand raised slightly, could actually sense a wall or obstacle along the way.  I still smile at how the group in the lunchroom would be commenting on the current events of the day, she would pipe-up and say “hey did you read in the paper last night about…” The first time I met her she said to me “you talk too fast, I can’t understand you”. Since that day many years ago, I mentally have slowed down my speech and pronunciation.  Even today, the Bushwhacker will notice that sometimes I still stumble over some words when talking.

Clearly, when blind, ones other senses are greatly magnified.  These employees would arrive each morning in a taxi and would find their way to the second floor Lab. Negotiating many stairs, turns and doors and walk to the far end of the Lab without running into anyone or anything!  They do this by memorizing and remembering,  (I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday!) how many steps it takes to get everywhere they go.  When pouring a coffee or any liquid into a cup, they use a finger at the top of the cup and can feel when the cup is full.  They are so amazing in so many ways.

Do Not, and I repeat Do Not ever play any card games with them that involves betting and hoping that you will have an advantage over them!!

They would quite often play cards to pass the time between taste sessions and they had become experts at it!

To play cards with the blind is easier than you might think.  The cards, of course have to be labeled in Braille and each player, sighted or not must clearly call out the card, suit or number played… and expect to lose the game to one of them!

Yeah, writing about these old friends makes me want to look them up, it’s been years!


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