My Life

By Gertrude Breazeale

My early life was no different from that of the other children, who were born and reared in the agricultural territory of the "Dear old South Land". I was a gay, active young thing; and I never liked to think that the other children could do things which I could not. I would attempt most anything at least once. My mother has often told me that I was the noisiest, most mischievous child that she had ever seen. If I was not laughing, singing, or shouting at the top of my voice, I was crying or complaining about something.

I was born May 30, 1914, on a little farm North East of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and my present home is only a quarter of a mile from that very spot. As I have said before, I grew up under all the natural environments of farm life.

My father is of a French family, who came over from France and settled in South Carolina; my mother is of English descent. They were both devout Christians and taught their children early in life to have complete faith and confidence in God and to trust him for everything, not only for the cleansing of our sins, but also the healing of our bodies. Thus, we were brought up under very strict discipline. Twice each day we children were called together, a passage from the Bible was read and we knelt together for a few minutes of prayer.

When I was a small baby, my parents noticed that I could not see objects unless they were very close to my eyes. Thinking that I was only near sighted and that they could have me fitted with glasses when I was older and correct the trouble, my parents did not take my handicap seriously.

When I was five years of age I entered school. I remember the little book my father bought for me and can still see the baby faces, which covered the first page. On the next page was written, Mamma loves baby, and baby loves Mamma. Before the years were finished, however, my eyes were in such condition that I had to with draw from school.

My parents decided to take me to a doctor for an examination to see what the trouble was and if anything could be done about it. The doctors in Philadelphia fitted me with glasses and said that was all they could do for me. My eyes continued to grow worse.

Finally a specialist in Meridian was recommended to us; and on May 28th I was taken to see him. He examined my eyes several times, and after we had spent a few days under his treatment, he told my parents that he thought I had too much acid in my blood. He wanted to operate upon my eyes. Mother and Daddy were unable to see a connection between his diagnosis of the trouble and his wish to operate, and would not consent to it. This made the doctor very angry, and he told my father that he should be punished by the laws of the country for allowing me to go blind. He put some medicine in my eyes, how ever and told us that as long as the effect of the medicine was in my eyes I would be able to see, but when this left I would be totally blind. This was May 29,l9l9. Two weeks later I lost my sight.

Although my blindness had been approaching for several months, total darkness was a severe shock to me; and was the factor that was to change my life completely. My blindness was also a great shock to my parents and friends. I was no longer active and gay, but I sat with my face buried in my hands and moved only when someone came to assist me. My mother says that everything was like a funeral in our home for several weeks. In fact, she rather had seen me dead than to see me go through life in total darkness. She thought this because she did not understand blind people, and had not heard of the school for the blind where they teach and train blind students to be happy, useful citizens.

Many people have asked me if I can remember how people or things around my home looked. Unfortunately, I cannot remember seeing anything or any one except my father. Upon the walls of my memory there hangs a vivid and lovely picture of him.

One day about the second week in June, I walked out of the house onto the porch. It was a beautiful day. The sun shown brightly and fell in full splendor across the porch. The birds in the near-by trees sang as if they would burst their little throats. The yard was a perfect flower garden with a variety of species of flowers arranged in attractive ways. This lovely scene affords the back ground for the painting of my father. While I was standing here, my father, a tall handsome young man with dark curly hair and soft gray eyes came from his work and paused upon the steps with his pocket knife in his hands. He asked me if I could see the knife; I could. I shall never forget the look upon his face. It was a mixed expression of pleasure and despair. It was gratifying to him to know that I still had partial vision; yet he knew that it would only be a few more days before I could see no more. He gathered me into his arms and carried me into the house.

I stayed at home until I was eleven years old; then I agreed to go away to school. In September 1924, I entered the school for the blind for the first time. My father accompanied me on this occasion and stayed with me for a few days. While I was in the classroom getting acquainted with my teachers and learning what was required of me, my father walked down town to pass the time away. On coming out of class and finding him gone, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had gone home without saying "good-bye". Suddenly I was afraid and terribly alone. The teachers and girls were extremely kind and sympathetic. I responded to their treatment so well that when daddy came back two hours later, he did not suspect that I was home sick. Thinking that I was perfectly happy, he made plans to go home that afternoon; But when he came to say "good-bye" to me, the scene changed. When he told me that he was going home I burst into tears and begged him to take me home with him. Although my conduct greatly disturbed him, he pleaded with me to stay in school so that I could grow up and be like other people. In desperation, I told him that if he would take me home with him, I would learn everything there was for me to learn in one day. He stayed with me that night, but left the next morning before I waked.

Several years later, he told me that he came to my bed and kissed me "good-bye" while I was asleep. After standing and watching me for several minutes, he left. Even after he reached the station he decided to go back for me, but he found that he would not have time before the train would leave. Now both he and I shall ever be eternally grateful that the train was on time and that he could not carry out his decision.

Within two weeks I was perfectly content and intensely interested in my new environment. As I was very eager to learn, I studied hard and took advantage of my opportunities. I began in a class with fifteen other students, but when I graduated in 1937, I was alone. The others had married, gone to other schools, or had dropped out of school entirely.

My life and experiences while in school were similar to that in any boarding school. The superintendent of the school, an eye specialist, immediately became interested in my eyes. He told me that I had cataracts and wanted to operate on my eyes. But, again my parents would not consent. When I was eighteen, the decision was left to me and I permitted him to operate. I had so much confidence in his ability and my hopes were so high, that when the operation failed, it was a great disappointment to me. At first I felt that life was unjust; then I began to resent the seeing public. Not because they could see and I could not, but because they would not treat me as a normal person. When they discovered that I could not see, they seemed to shrink away from me and seem to think that I was something to be caged up and viewed from a distance. Too, I resented my handicap because I felt that it robbed me of all the things normal girls naturally desired. I know I was definitely mistaken.

After I had finished high school, I tried to obtain work on some of the programs which the government had created for the benefit of the blind and placed under the head of the W. P. A., but I was unable to secure a position because my father was a farmer.

In 1938, I visited the school and met Mr. G. F. Meadows, who was the principal. He became interested in me and through his influence I was able to go back to school and study the dictaphone and secretarial work. He sensed my attitude toward life and set about to correct it. He saw to it that I met every person who happened to visit the school or came to see him. He wanted me to learn to contact people and to converse with them easily.

One night I told him how I felt about everything. He was so shocked that he proceeded to lecture me for two hours. He told me that people did not feel the way I thought they did, or if they did, it was because of their ignorance. He said they would have to be taught and that I was the one to teach them. He told me that I had what it took to be a success, but as long as I held that kind of attitude I could never hope to be one. He suggested that I go to college to broaden my views and to come in contact with the world I so dreaded and feared. At first I protested, but later I gave in. Again, through his influence it was possible for me to go to college.

One day while I was working for Mr. Meadows, the State Auditor came into the office. "Mr. Meadows", he said, "Is this young lady your secretary?" "No, I just use her on special occasions".

" Well, I need a good secretary and a book keeper", the Auditor immediately spoke up.

"She is just the one you are looking for. She keeps my books sometimes and does an excellent job of it."

Mr. Meadows turned to me and asked if I would like to work for the gentleman. I gave him no definite answer, where upon the auditor became enthusiastic and insisted that he needed me. Before I was hired on the spot, I made my exit from the room. Mr. Meadows later told me that he led the man on until he had him believing that I was indispensable to him, and then told him that I was totally blind.

"Well, if she is blind, how did she get out that door? The auditor exclaimed. Mr. Meadows still enjoys telling how I can fool the public.

During this post-graduate year, I was closely associated with a lady whom I have grown to love dearly, Mrs. Julia C. McCoy. She was a great influence upon my life and she helped me discovered that my attitude was wrong. She encouraged my going to college.

What success I have had is partly due to Mrs. McCoy.

Although the hopes of my friends were not fully realized my first year in college, their faith and efforts were amply rewarded when I graduated three years later with honors from The Mississippi Southern College.

It takes a lot of courage and hard fighting for most of us to obtain success. Few of us stop to realize that the hotter the battle, the greater the victory. The Diamond, one of the most valuable stones in the world, is buried deep under the ground and has to be dug out, cut and polished before it is worth anything to the public. The best in us too, has to be dug out with hard work and polished with courage, ambition, and determination before it is of service to humanity.

With sight, I would like to have trained as a nurse and worked in one of our best hospitals for several years. And then, married a missionary and gone with him to some mountainous country or some foreign land. Thus, I would have been able to aid the people physically as well as spiritually. Since this was impossible my ambition has changed.

Now, I want to be a teacher and work with children in the lower grades. I want to watch them grow and develop into strong healthy men and women who will make good American Citizens. I want to help those who need all my help.

"I want to live in the house beside the road and be a friend to man".

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