Patty and I have chosen this wonderful piece from Phyllis Staton Campbell
Not Just A Cake
There is anticipation in the air at the school for the blind, and it happens every month. Actually, it happens each month that somebody in the boys’ dorm has a birthday, and that pretty much adds up to every month in the nine-month school year.
Birthdays are special, of course, everybody knows that, don’t they? Well, not always. For these kids from different backgrounds, some with other disabilities as well as blindness, and away from home and family all week, it might not be so special for everybody.
Of course, many get gifts, cards and phone calls from home, but sad to say some do not, and for those who do, they’re still away from that special human touch, and their very own cake. Not for these kids. They will never experience that feeling of loneliness that tends to creep in on such special days, due to the imagination and caring of Miss WK, one of their dorm advisers. The mother of a grown son, she knows from experience the importance of something special on that special day, and nothing is more special than a birthday cake, well, maybe birthday brownies. And it should be noted here, that her son, big enough to pick me up and twirl me around, still gets a birthday cake of his choice each year.
“Okay, you’ve made your point,” you may be saying. “So she runs by her friendly bakery for a cake on her way to work. That’s cool!”
Wrong! Before the big day, the birthday boy picks his treat, cake, or something different, such as brownies, even cheesecake. Then, the real fun starts. A great discussion takes place with everybody joining in, as they make the shopping list for the excursion to the grocery store.
I have never gone on one of these excursions, but I can just imagine WK, like the proverbial woman who lived in a shoe, shepherding her group of cane wielding children along the aisles at Wal-Mart. There are stops along the way not only to pick up cake ingredients, but for people to pick up any personal items. At checkout WK takes care of cake ingredients, while each student pays for his own item, carefully counting change, and passing bills, previously folded to identify denominations. Okay, so this is old hat to us, but remember the pride when we were learning? WK naturally keeps an eye on her charges to be sure they haven’t forgotten their lessons, helping where needed.
The big day is here! It’s time to bake the cake,. WK reads the recipe before they start, and assigns the various tasks according to the student’s ability, or in some cases to someone who hasn’t done that particular task before. There is a task for everybody, no matter what their disability along with their blindness might be. Nobody is left out, and nobody is made to feel inferior, each job is important. If somebody makes a mistake, and naturally they occur, it’s treated like a learning experience for next time, and they all have a good laugh.
WK is now embarking on an adventure of her own. She’s learning braille, not a requirement for dorm staff.
“I want to be able to help my kids,” she says. “I want to be able to put their names on their doors without having to ask them to do it at the office. I want to help them label things, and help them write out the recipe in braille.”
Obviously, this is more than a cake. It teaches so many practical skills, organization, shopping with a bit of money management thrown in, teamwork, kitchen skills and just plain fun.
I’m not trying to push residential schools here, but I can’t help thinking, that no matter how good mainstreaming may seem, this is something that those students will probably never experience. There is nothing more satisfying than working together with other blind people. You, are just the same as those working with you. Of course, as with WK’s students, some have more or different abilities, but those things are the natural differences experienced in life, not differences that those around you attribute to your blindness.
“We couldn’t expect you to play as well as the organist at our church,” someone said to me.” it wouldn’t be fair, you’re blind.”
Now, I freely agree that she may be the better organist, I’ve never heard her play, but it has nothing to do with the fact she can see. She probably practices more than I do, or just plain has more talent. Such a thought would never enter the mind of a blind person. Hopefully, we judge each other by merit, or better still not at all.
The cake is done, and judged “awesome!” And if it may have sunk a touch in the middle, or if not quite all of the sugar made it into the measuring cup, nobody notices, and couldn’t care less. It’s their cake, their very own creation, if you please. It is indeed, more than a cake, it is a symbol of independence, and an expression of the love of one woman for others.
(Note: Due to confidentiality names and location are changed, but the facts are true and accurate.)
About The Author:
Phyllis Staton Campbell, who was born blind, writes about the world she knows best. She calls on her experience as teacher of the blind, peer counselor and youth transition coordinator. She says that she lives the lives of her characters: lives of sorrow and joy; triumph and failure; hope and despair. That she and her characters sometimes see the world in a different way, adds depth to the story. She sees color in the warmth of the sun on her face, the smell of rain, the call of a cardinal, and God, in a rainbow of love and grace.
Although she was born in Amherst County, Virginia, she has lived most of her life in Staunton, Virginia, where she serves as organist at historic Faith Lutheran church, not far from the home she shared with her husband, Chuck, who waits beyond that door called death.
Books by Phyllis Campbell:
Where Sheep May Safely Graze
Come Home My Heart
Friendships In The Dark
The Evil Men Do – True crime, written under contract for the family of the victim.
Who Will Hear Them Cry
A Place To Belong
Out of the Night