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Uncle Brother Falls in Love

Both blind, they relied on his precise memories to experience the world

We had an uncle called Brother, and sometimes we called him Uncle Brother. I don’t know why we didn’t address him by his real name.

He was my daddy’s older brother and was blinded in an accident as a young man around 1930. The accident happened many years before my birth, so of course, I only remember him as my blind uncle. He was married and the proud father of a son, who now lives in California. At some point, something happened between him and his wife, and he found himself alone with no way to work because he could not see.

With no other recourse, he moved back to the family home, a small farm in North Texas. As a child, I clearly remember driving there from the South Plains with my family to visit Granny and Papa and our uncle.

The house never had running water, but it did have electricity for the Kelvinator icebox and one lightbulb on a cord hanging from the ceiling in each room. My uncle knew his way around every inch of the house, the yard, the garden, the orchard and the outhouse. He waved a cane in front of him as he walked. He milked the cows, drew water from the well and fed the calves.

Granny kept several cakes and pies in a pie safe for the large family. My uncle would squat in front of the pie safe, open the bottom doors and cut a big piece of pie or cake. Then he carried it in his big, work-roughened hands to the porch steps to eat.

Everyone loved our uncle. Even though he was big and stocky, he had a still, quiet way about him, never raising his voice. He liked to talk one-on-one with anyone who had the time to listen to a story or two.

My little sister and I enticed him to play with us, hold us and tell us stories. He had one glass eye, and he’d remove it and let us hold it. We took his hands and dragged him outside to a rusted bedstead that sat under a large tree. We had fun washing his near-bald head. He’d sit patiently, holding the dishpan of soapy water between his legs, hanging his head over it and allowing us to scrub and rinse as long as we wanted. Usually, we washed his glass eye, too, and we’d ask him if the soap hurt the eye socket or the eye that didn’t work. 

“Guess the color of our dresses” was one of our games. He’d finger the fabric and guess pink, blue or yellow and say the correct one much of the time. Magic! We gave him a kiss on the cheek each time he was right.

One day, the Lions Club in town approached him about the possibility of attending a school in Pennsylvania to learn Braille and get a Seeing Eye dog. If he could accomplish this, the organization intended to give him a small newsstand in town.

Such a plan had never occurred to my uncle, but he accepted the opportunity with gratitude. Packing his suitcase and boarding a plane for the first time in his life did not seem to frighten him. While he attended the boarding school for the blind in Pennsylvania, he not only mastered Braille, he received a wonderful German shepherd named Sam.

And now … for the rest of the story …

He met a lovely woman at the school. I believe she attended classes to train with a new dog. Blind from birth, she had never seen the world as our uncle had. With his usual way of telling a story, bit by bit, building up anticipation, he described, oh, a cow, for example, or a field of corn. She became enthralled with the tales, and yes, she fell in love with him. In return for his stories, she played the piano and sang to him.

My uncle returned to Texas to take up his new profession. Someone took him to town every day to work in his newsstand. I have no idea how long he did this. Back home at night, he wrote letters to his ladylove—in Braille. On one visit to our grandparents’ home, I leaned on my uncle’s worktable while he punched holes in the strips of paper. Knowing he was writing to his girlfriend, I asked, “What did you tell her then?” Patiently, he told me something, probably to appease me. And he showed me how to use the apparatus to write a few words. I’ve never forgotten that experience.

Eventually, Uncle Brother moved to Pennsylvania, married his sweetheart and set up a home with her and their Seeing Eye dogs, Sam and Lady. The Lions Club helped him obtain a newsstand in the neighborhood, close enough so he could walk to work. His sweet wife walked there at noon to take him his lunch and eat with him.

During my high school years, Uncle Brother and his wife flew to Texas. One day, Daddy drove them to a local farm. There, Daddy led his blind sister-in-law to a cow and helped her “see” the animal Uncle Brother had described to her. Surprisingly, she did not display any fear. He also led her through a cornfield, so she could hear the rustle of the stalks and feel the plants and ears of corn. She talked a lot about her experiences, saying her husband had not told her how big cows were.

The couple lived happily for many years. He passed away first, and she followed soon thereafter. Now, if that’s not a love story, I don’t know what is!

Celia Yeary, who lives in San Marcos, writes classic romance novels.