Hanni and I have visited 4 schools in the past couple of weeks. Five, if you count a side trip to my alma mater, York High School in Elmhurst IL. But I’ll get to that later. First, the elementary schools. Reavis Elementary in Chicago, Jefferson Elementary in Milwaukee, Kipling and Wilmot Elementary Schools in Deerfield, IL all had us come as part of “disability awareness week.” Our presentations were geared to first graders, who were learning the five senses, and third graders, who were studying Helen Keller. “Have you ever heard of her?” a third grader asked. I told her I had. “Helen Keller was a writer, just like me! “I said. “Except she wrote a lot about politics.” The crowd grew silent. These 6 and 8-year-olds had no idea what I was talking about. Note to self: save discussion of Helen Keller’s socialist and feminist leanings for some other time. We moved on.
A student who had already read Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound said he noticed that the woman in the book used a white cane before she got a dog. “Did you use a white cane, too, before you got your dog?” I had to explain that, hey, I am the woman in the book! “Do Hanni and I look like the pictures?” They chorused a “Yes!” Hanni turned 10 last week. People tell me she’s turning white around the muzzle. It was a relief to hear the kids say she still resembles the young energetic pup Anthony LeTourneau painted for the illustrations in Safe & Sound.
A first grader wanted to know what Hanni dressed like for Halloween. She didn’t dress up this year, but I was tempted to dress as a baseball umpire and go trick-or-treating with Hanni at my side — you might recall the umps were in a little hot water during the playoffs last season?
And now for our high school visit. Hanni and I didn’t go to York to perform; we went to see a performance. Remember my great niece Anita, the one I mentioned in my blog post about Obama’s election night party? She is a star on Willowbrook High School’s freshman basketball team, and Willowbrook and York are rivals. My sister Bev came in from Michigan to see Anita play, and Flo was going, too. Anita’s family and her grandma and grandpa (my sister Cheryl and brother-in-law Rich) always go to Anita’s games, and Hanni and I decided to take the train to Elmhurst and join the fun.
So there we were on the second row of the bleachers: Anita’s 93-year-old great-grandmother who uses a walking cane, seated next to Anita’s great aunt Beth, who uses a Seeing Eye dog.
We were right at the center line. Basketball shoes thumped back and forth. When I heard action at our right, I knew to cheer: Willowbrook might score. When the action was at our left, I could yell, “Defense!” Flo was a natural at play-by-play. She’d groan every time the ball went in-and-out of Willowbrook’s basket, so I knew when they missed. And she ever-so quietly repeated “Miss it, miss it, miss it” at every York free throw. A groan after that told me Flo’s voodoo didn’t work, York made the shot.
Anita played well, and The game was very exciting. I know it’s old news by now but I just gotta say: it is oh so cool that girls are encouraged to play sports now. Helen Keller would be pleased.
After the game, 14-year-old Anita was promoted to the varsity team – she’ll be playing in the regionals this week. Not sure Flo and I will make it to any of those games, though. After we successfully climbed down from the bleachers, Flo pulled me close. “I don’t know about you, Beth,” she whispered. “But my butt is sore!”