WENDY’S WEEK The Visit that Changed my Life for the Better
Before I move on to tell you more about the ups and down of my week I promised to recall a cold dreary day at the beginning of December in 1958. In my article last week I told you about my mother’s determination of keep us together despite the fact that she was totally blind. Thanks to the change of heart of Mary Scott, her ‘blind welfare worker,’ who had initially recommended that I should be put up for adoption and my mother sent to a blind institution (see last week’s article). Thankfully people with disabilities are treated far better now, and encouraged to live a ‘normal’ life.
My mother was given a month to prove she could look after me, her home and herself. Over the next month she taught herself a little more each day and got a thrill when she eventually achieved something that she found difficult. I remember one Friday afternoon bursting in from school and throwing my satchel on the settee.
‘Mummy, Mummy, you’ll never guess what happened…’ I stopped when I saw my mother standing on a dining chair holding on to the window sill and looking rather worried.
‘What are you doing up there Mummy, you look so funny.’
My mother’s face lightened a little. ‘Yes I must look funny, but please help me down. I felt the net curtains and I thought they were grubby so I got on a chair to take them down to wash, but after getting on the chair I lost my nerve and have been stuck here for two hours.’
After tea I suggested that we went into town the next day, Saturday. ‘But you must remember that Mummy is blind, I can’t possible go into town, said my mother,’
Why not?’ I protested. ‘I’ve been thinking, if we walk hand in hand and whenever we come to a curb, I can say up or down, it’s so easy’ My mother thought for a minute and remembered what Mr Lawton, her ophthalmic surgeon had said, and decided to put her complete trust in me. The next morning we set off, it was cold and sleeting and we had to wait a while for the hourly bus to town. Just as the bus was approaching, I glanced down at my mother’s feet and noticed she had one black and one brown shoe on. ‘Oh no I gasped we will have to back home,’ as I whispered to my mother that she had odd shoes on.
‘Well I am not going back,’ said my mother with her usual determination.’ People who look at me on one side will think I am wearing a black pair and those on the other side will think I have a brown pair on, but my mother had already made a mental note not to buy two pairs of the same style again, and when we got home she asked me to put each pair of shoes in a bag together. The only problem we encountered was with money. No one could mistake the three-pence, sixpence or the half crown, but the notes presented a problem as my mother could not tell the difference between the ten shilling, pound or five pound, although there we not many of those around in those days. Suddenly it hit me, there was a solution, and I explained my plan to my mother. ‘The ten-shilling note we shall fold in half, then in half again, then again to make a small square The pound note in half only twice and the five pound note can be folded in three. My mother found this easy and from them on she never once made a mistake with money.
Towards the end of the month Mary Scott arrived to inform my mother that a visit from the the Welsh Board of Health had been set for next Wednesday. ‘They will need to talk to your daughter, so I will call in at the school and tell them your daughter will be absent that day.’ Suddenly mother was filled with dread. What if it all went wrong? She could not bear the thought of losing me or her home.
Mary reassured her and gave her some advice and encouragement telling her to be as natural as possible and just pretend they are not there. ‘I will be here, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you, but I know you will pass with flying colours, and if ever you are in doubt think of your daughter and your future together.
On the Tuesday my mother explained to me that it was an important day for her and she would have to go through a rigorous test.
Just after ten the following morning there was a thunderous knock on the door and before my mother could get up Mary Scott walked in. She introduced her senior colleague, a Mr Johnston who like Mary sounded a very friendly caring person. Next she introduced Mr Collins who was the Officer in Charge of placing people in the Blind Institutions then two other men stepped forward explain they were from the Welsh Board of health, and then finally Mrs Hamers spoke, explaining she was head of Child Welfare. Of them all my mother feared Mrs Hamers most of all, because she knew that if she didn’t impress her she had the authority to take me into care and start adoption proceedings.
Mary Scott spoke next and asked my mother to go about her usual daily routine as if no one was there, and they would watch in silence. First my mother got up and going to the pantry brought out a tray of scones she had prepared earlier on and placed them in the oven. Then she went about her daily routine including going up stairs and making my bed, and folding my pyjamas and placing them under my pillow. She came back to her chair and felt for the drawer and proceeded to lay the table for eight. She placed the kettle on the first and went to the over feeling the top of the scones. I was itching to help, but had been told firmly not to do so. The scones were cooked to perfection and my mother placed them in the middle of the table with a glass dish of jam and one of butter. Making the pot of tea she brought it to the table and asked everyone to sit down. Mary Scott said she would pout tea, and even to this day I can see my mother’s radiant face as she offered everyone a home made scone. Mr Collins spoke first praising her for her sheer determination and said there was little point in her being placed in a Blind Institution when she was clearly capable of looking after a home and child. It was then the turn of Mrs Hamers who turned to me wanting to know about what chores I was expected to do, did I have any friends, was I allowed to go out to play etc.
Finally one of the men from the Welsh Board of Health spoke, congratulating my mother on her achievements and said that my mother had made them think out how they treated people with disabilities. Needless to say we were allowed to stay together, and Mary Scott became a regular visitor teaching my mother to read Braille and I can remember her excitement as she told me she had just read her first Jacobite trilogy, Flight of the Heron, Gleam in the North and Dark Mile all by DK Brosker.