In honor of Helen Keller’s birthday, June 27, I have written this post about my 2010 visit to her birthplace, Ivy Green.
I’ve always been a reader. One book I read as a child that has had a lasting impact was a Helen Keller biography. I’m not sure if it’s because I also had bad eyesight and therefore felt a small connection or if it was simply the inspirational life that she led, but inspirational it certainly was. I would close my eyes, pretending to be blind, then try to feel my way around the house. Difficult without peeking, even already knowing what it all looked like. My imagination was no match, though, for the added handicap of deafness and the seemingly insurmountable hurdles she faced.
After reading the book, I learned the manual alphabet of sign language and can still form most of the letters today from memory. I wanted to also learn American Sign Language but never had the opportunity until I started working at DFAS Oakland. One of my new co-workers was deaf. Soon after starting work there, I signed up for a class. I wanted to be able to talk to her, at least a little, in sign. Sadly, I was the only person in the office who had ever made the effort to learn sign. It was difficult but fun.
Finger-spelling is always the fall back if you don’t know a sign but I have a hard time “seeing” the word that is being spelled so I am slow in understanding but eventually figure it out. It’s like a foreign language. I have to translate the “foreign” word into English to understand. When I’m reading finger-spelling, I have to recognize the letter being shown then mentally put that letter into the form of a written alphabet to really recognize it. Then combine each of those letters to make the word that was spelled. Definitely not a quick way to communicate as a beginner!
I re-read the book two weeks ago when I was preparing to write this post. Reading it again, as an adult, with the additional life experiences and wisdom of the 35 or so years I have l lived since reading it as a kid, made her story even more incredible to me. If I thought it was hard to imagine as a kid, it’s even harder to imagine as an adult. All that she was able to overcome and the tenacity she had to live a productive, giving life – so remarkable. I have always thought of her as a hero, but even more so now I think. I have downloaded her autobiography, Story of My Life, to Kindle and plan to read that book too and hopefully learn even more about her amazing life. So many sacrifices made by many, but especially Teacher (Annie Sullivan). The love, the caring, the partnership. I’m not giving it all the justice it deserves. So much to learn from in knowing the Helen Keller story.
My Pilgrimage to Ivy Green
While planning one of our annual road trips, I discovered that Helen’s birthplace was in northern Alabama and definitely within reach as a stop along our usual path. I didn’t make it there that year but a couple years later it worked out. I saw the water pump and the house and it was SO cool! I was so excited to be there at the place where it had all happened.
Some pictures of our visit to Ivy Green
Happy birthday, Helen!
What about you? Are you familiar with her story? Who was a childhood hero of yours?
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