Thoughts and Memories

February 17, 2013

My brother has been busy scanning family pictures from the Chapman family album. Some of those pictures are snapshots of my grandparents when they were young that I think are extraordinary. Among those are some pictures of both my uncles as young boys and before Tad got sick. I thought I’d share them.

 After looking at these pictures and how the two brothers interacted I wonder what would have happened if Tad had not gotten sick. We talk about family systems and I can only think of how Tad’s illness affected the entire family, including my Uncle Tom. So much attention and focus on Tad’s needs, how lost was Tom? I don’t know, because the letters don’t mention him – which says something in itself. 

January 2013
I have recently been very encouraged to continue with my blog. Perkins Institute in Watertown MA recently posted some of their archival information about Tad. I emailed them to remark upon it and they replied that they had no problem with a link to their site and that, in fact, they were putting a link to my blog on their website. I asked about some items my mother had donated to their Touch Museum and they found those items are still there and they asked for any stories I might have about them. I was very happy to oblige although what I know of these items is mostly from my childhood memories.

In 2001, I provided some archival material about Tad and the Tadoma method to a documentary about the sense of Touch entitled, “Touch: The Forgotten Sense” [Producer: Max Films Television] in return for a screen credit. They featured a young boy named Chris who used the Tadoma Method. I was told access to Chris was very controlled because they wanted to protect him and allow him to develop without being in the spotlight. I learned awhile ago that Chris died but that he had forged a life for himself that was self-determined. This showed me that Perkins had developed a more healthy approach and I remarked to the archivist about Chris. Her reply agreed that while Helen Keller is an inspiration, there are other stories to tell that are also special and she encouraged me to tell Tad’s story.

I have been blocked and stuck on my blog for some time. I continue to wrestle with the problem of working full time at a demanding and stressful job (I am a Medi-Cal Eligibility Call Agent) and then trying to pick up where I left off the last time I had time and energy. In order to work around this problem I’m giving myself a page to put my thoughts, feelings and reminiscences as well as a “scrapbook” page with miscellaneous pictures or actual scanned pages from Tad’s scrapbook. I hope this will give me a way of moving ahead and continuing to share his story.

If I had written a book about Tad’s life I was going to call it, “Achieving Normal.” Why? As I read the letters and newspaper articles it is apparent to me that the only model for living your life as a deaf-blind person was Helen Keller who was an extraordinary person. She lived most of her life in the public eye and lived a life of service. But not every deaf-blind person is a Helen Keller.

I have not read all of my grandfather’s letters yet, there are SO many. At some point, a choice was made to give Tad an ordinary life, a life that was not lived in the public eye. It could not have been an easy choice. My grandfather describes Tad as “ruined” in more than one letter. His concern about what was to be done to provide for his child was constant. I think my grandparents hoped he would be able to make his way by doing public-speaking, as Helen Keller did, but there was a cost, a cost that would have been paid by Tad. I also think many of the educators who helped Tad hoped to use him to launch their own careers and to achieve some fame. (I’m grateful Sophia Alcorn was not one of them.)

Deaf-blind children and adults are incredibly vulnerable: ninety percent of the sensory information humans receive is not available to them. There are multiple factors contributing to their vulnerability, many of which have nothing to do with them and everything to do with the rest of the world. “Before Laura Bridgman proved otherwise, deaf-blind people had been classified with idiots; according to the influential British jurist William Blackstone, they were “incapable of any understanding, as wanting all those senses which furnish the human mind with ideas.” [Gitter, Elisabeth (2011-04-01). The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, The Original Deaf-Blind Girl (Kindle Locations 43-45). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.]  Laura Bridgman and Dr. Samuel Howe of Perkins proved wrong those who thought she was an idiot because she was deaf-blind. But Dr. Howe himself viewed his student/ward as an experiment in the acquisition of language and education and used her success to further his own reputation. It is repugnant to me that, “At the peak of Laura’s popularity, in the 1840s and early ’50s, thousands of sightseers flocked to see her on exhibition days at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, and local guidebooks listed her as a major tourist attraction."  [Gitter, Elisabeth (2011-04-01). The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, The Original Deaf-Blind Girl (Kindle Locations 55-56). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.]

Tad was dependent on the goodwill of those around him. Often Tad’s needs pulled the good out of those around him – for a minute people would make the effort to go over to him, speak clearly and allowed him to touch their face.  Tad’s vulnerability is demonstrated by the burglary that occurred when he lived alone in South San Gabriel – alone, but surrounded by caring and active family members. Someone who knew he was deaf-blind walked into his home WHILE he was there, got into his boxes, dressers, and cupboards and took what they wanted. If the burglar had been tidier, we may never have known the theft had occurred. My mother moved Tad away from that home to a safer environment as soon as she could after that. But Tad continued to live independently for a few more years with just a caregiver who came in to do light housekeeping and shopping for him and me doing what I could. It was the frailty of age that finally ended his independence, not his disability. But it is this quiet independent life that I think should be recognized.

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