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Helen Keller

December 22, 2012

Alabama – Tuesday, December 18

Tula and I headed out for a long walk through the park as soon as we were packed up – through some pine woods, along the Tennessee River and around a big marina. We covered nearly 4 miles before hitting the road. Florence is one of 4 towns that make up the “Muscle Shoals” area of Alabama, and I thought I would drive through the other 3 towns before heading east through the state. I had read that there was a food pantry in Tuscumbia, so I was thinking about that…but, I was distracted. Between Sheffield and Tuscumbia, I saw a little green road sign that pointed in the direction of Helen Keller’s Birthplace. Since I was right there, I thought I would drive by. And it looked interesting enough to pay the $5 to go through the house and grounds. I was fascinated! I remember learning about Helen Keller back in 5th or 6th grade, and I know I read her biography ages ago. But I hadn’t thought about Helen Keller for a really long time (and it never occurred to me to think about why she is pictured on the Alabama state quarters!). I was the only visitor, so the lady volunteering there showed me all around the original house – furnished with the actual things they used, and she had a lot to say. The dining room table was set with their china – or what was left of it – before Helen could communicate, she broke many dishes while misbehaving! There were 3 items in the house that I found especially interesting – one was an ornate fireplace shield, and I always thought fireplace shields were to prevent sparks from flying out. But their purpose was to shield some of the heat from people sitting near the fire, because men used wax to help shape their long mustaches, and ladies’ makeup often had wax as a base ingredient, and if people were to close to a warm fire, the wax could begin to melt, causing some problems for men and women alike! Then there was a table in the hall with a mirror over it – nothing unusual in that, but there was also a mirror underneath the table – so ladies could check to see if their petticoats were showing. And the dining room had a pretty wooden chest on legs – it held the household sugar which was only bought twice a year, and was kept under lock and key. There were drawers underneath which held the implements to chip pieces of sugar off the block in the chest. It was a cozy, attractive house, and one of the rooms had a small museum. I was able to run my fingertips over braille (I truly don’t know how people can learn all the letters – my fingers felt too big to distinguish all the bumps!) And I saw the braille slate and 037

048

049

051

052

053

064

065

071

073stylus that Helen used to get through college – braille is written from right to left since the indentations that make the bumps have to be turned over to read. Then I went outside and saw the actual pump where Helen Keller was standing while her teacher Annie Sullivan signed the word ‘water’ into Helen’s hand, and that was the breakthrough moment in Helen’s communication. To see and touch the pump was a connection to history. The grounds had the kitchen building (often separate from the main house because of the threat of fire), an ice house, and gardens landscaped by the Lion’s Club. And I had absolutely no idea that Helen Keller was so instrumental in making the prevention and treatment of blindness a top priority for the Lions Club. She had challenged them to help – choosing that particular organization because she felt lions were strong, brave and kind, and The Lions Club accepted her challenge. There was a big display wall with Lions Club patches from all over the world – and there have been Lions Club members who have visited the Helen Keller Birthplace from all over the world. It was a special visit. There is a Helen Keller Foundation, which works on research, prevention and treatment of blindness, and I was torn between donating to that, or donating to the Helen Keller Birthplace, and when the lady told me the Foundation helps fund the Birthplace, I simply made my donation-of-the-day right there, which was more personal for me instead of mailing a check to some office. I walked away from there grateful again for good (correctable) vision and hearing. It’s astonishing what she did without the gifts of seeing and hearing.

I needed to do some more walking, and Sheffield didn’t really catch my eye for a long walk, but Tuscumbia sure did. We walked all through the small town, and out into neighborhoods that went on for blocks and blocks – tidy homes on neat streets, and it was a beautiful afternoon for walking – sunny and nearly 70. It’s hard to believe it’s mid-December. With the walking and donation done, I headed to the post office to take care of some mail, and then it was nice to sit in the car and head east a bit to Decatur, where I called it a day.

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