Vera moved on to tasks in other areas. Continuing in the realm of communications she brought me several hand writing guides. These were made of plastic and had strips cut out of them.
Handing me a clip board she said, “Here’s a full-page writing guide. Take a look.” The clipboard had several sheets of paper with a sheet of plastic clipped on top.
“You can see that there are long horizontal strips cut out of the plastic,” she continued. “Here’s a pen. Give it a try.”
Taking the pen, I located the top strip, positioned the pen at the left end of it and began to write. It wasn’t easy. When I lifted the pen at the end of one word I felt unsure about where to put it to start writing the next word.
“I feel kind of lost,” I said.
“I know,” said Vera. “It takes some practice. If you let the clipboard rest on your lap you can use your left index finger to follow the progress of the pen as you write. That will help you know how much space to leave between words and when to start a new line.” I tried it. She was right but it felt awkward.
After a few minutes Vera handed me two other writing guides. One had cutouts strategically placed for addressing an envelope and the other was about the size of a credit card and had just one cutout. “The larger one is for envelopes and the smaller one is just a signature guide,” Vera told me.
I tried each in turn. After a few minutes of serious concentration I burst out laughing. “You know what,” I said in an astonished voice. “I’m staring down at this writing guide like I can actually see what I’m doing.”
With a knowing laugh Vera said, “Yes, I still do the same thing. It’s perfectly normal and you’ll probably always do it.”
Next came the typewriter. I had the typewriter I’d used in college and Vera told me to have it set up for her next visit. I knew I should be able to type without being able to see the keys. How many times had my high school typing teacher admonished me to not look at the keys?
“Okay,” Vera began at our next lesson, “I know you learned to touch type a long time ago but let’s just review the layout of the keyboard. Find the spacebar and then move up two rows from that. Feel along that third row up and you’ll find two keys with little bumps you can feel.”
It seemed to take about half an hour to accomplish this but I finally said, “Okay, got it. Hmm, I’ve never noticed these before. Have they always been here?”
“Yep, and what’s more you’ll probably find them on every typewriter you ever need to use. Now, settle your index fingers on the two keys with the bumps and the rest of your fingers should fall naturally on the home row keys.”
Vera then spent quite a long time calling out keys for me to strike, all the time explaining and reacquainting me with the layout of the keyboard.
“This is just weird,” I said after a while. “How do I know if I’m hitting the right keys or not?”
“Well, let’s see.” She dictated a couple of sentences for me to type. It was slow going. When I finished Vera told me to take the page to my mother who was in the kitchen to see how I had done. To my amazement, I had only made a couple of mistakes.
“Now, typing is like Braille in the sense that you can work on your own and at your own speed.” Pulling an index card with Braille on it out of her bag she said, “Here, this is the phone number for a free correspondence course in typing.”
“But,” I began.
Anticipating my concerns she added, “It’s a school in Illinois that develops courses for people who are blind. The courses are tape recorded and you send in your lessons as you complete them. A teacher at the school will grade you and send your results back to you in a Braille letter.” I couldn’t think of any other objections so I took the card.
“There are beginning, intermediate, and advanced courses. Even though you’ve had typing in your sighted life I’d suggest that you start with the beginner’s course…just to brush up.”
A week later, when my typing course on tape arrived, I was very glad that Vera had told me to start at the beginning. It was unexpectedly difficult. I set up the tape recorder next to the typewriter and began. I was supposed to be able to just start the tape playing and keep up with it. There were long pauses in which I was supposed to be able to type what the tape told me to type and then be ready when it began speaking again. At first I couldn’t do it at all.
“Vera, this is impossible,” I wailed at our next lesson. “I just can’t do it.”
“What you need to do, at first, is make liberal use of the pause key on the tape recorder,” she soothed. “Here, let’s give it a try.”
Soon I got the hang of listening to a phrase, pausing the tape, and then typing the phrase. “But I feel like I’m cheating,” I moaned.
“That’s okay,” Vera said. “Just do it this way until you get your accuracy and speed going again and then you’ll be able to keep up.”
As usual, Vera was right. Remembering something completely unrelated to typing I said, “Hey, I’ve been wondering. Is there a writing guide for writing checks?”
“Well, there are some check writing guides but they don’t always fit every check.” Digging into her bag, which always seemed to contain whatever was needed, Vera said, “Here’s one. You’ll have to get your father or mother to look at it and see if it fits your checks.” It didn’t.
“There’s another way of custom making a writing guide for anything,” Vera continued, completely unperturbed. “If you can get your hands on some clear plastic you can make your own guide. You lay the plastic over the check and then cut out the strips so they exactly match your checks.”
This time it was my father who came to the rescue. I described the dilemma over dinner that night. After a few thoughtful minutes my father said, “I think I know just the thing.” Although retired from his medical practice for a couple of years, my father still had plenty of colleagues and friends at the hospital. The next day he returned from an errand and came into the den where I was reading.
“I’ve got it,” he said. “Let’s go back to the bedroom. I have some exposed x-ray film. Here, I’ll tack it over one of your checks on this cutting board.”
He then took up a scalpel and carefully cut strips out of the film exactly over the places on the check where I would have to write in the date, amount, and so forth.
“Now, let’s see,” he continued. “I’ll cut another piece of film for a backing.” In his precise way he taped the two pieces of plastic together at the left edge. “Here you go,” he said, handing me his finished product. “You can open the two pieces like a book and slip your check in between them. Then the cutouts will be perfectly aligned over the places where you need to write.”
“Hey, this is great,” I exclaimed.” Pausing a moment I added, “And whose broken arm is pictured in my check writing guide?”
With a chuckle he said, “No one’s. I had the x-ray technician just expose a blank sheet of film.”