Happy anniversary to me.
Aug. 1 has held a special meaning for me for more than a half century. It was Aug. 1,1969, when I met the man of my dreams. Not only a man I will love till the day I die, but a man I would try to emulate. I have failed several times.
I have had the privilege of mentioning O.V. Williams many times in this column. He was my stepdad. He is my No. 1 favorite person in the world. Not only did he attempt to teach me through example about character, integrity, work ethic, faith and good citizenship, he also gave me a lifetime lesson about the uselessness of self-pity. He chose a subject for a book report who became my second most admired human: Helen Keller. My stepdad and Helen Keller have often shared the No. 1 spot on my list of favorite humans.
The grade received for my book report has been long forgotten, but the lesson has never escaped me. “The Story of My Life” by Helen Keller was not an easy book to read. It had too many pages. When I suggested skimming through the book, my first lesson followed quickly.
His quiet but indelible words were piercing. “If a woman who could not see, could not hear and could not speak could write a book, you can read the book,” was all he said. Making excuses to justify taking a shortcut would never be acceptable to him.
Making excuses, especially when one was blessed with all the physical and mental capacity to do the job was a big no-no. “If a woman could not… ,” would always creep into my head whenever an undesirable task was at hand.
The book of Helen Keller’s life and the movie adapted from it,“The Miracle Worker,” became the foundation of our relationship. She was my stepdad’s hero and favorite person. So, she became my favorite person. He lived his life without making excuses. Even when there were understandable reasons for not completing a challenge, he offered no excuse. More than once he refused to use bad weather as an excuse for not making it to work on time. If a blind, deaf, mute woman could write a book, he could walk to work in the snow and cold. And not necessarily uphill both ways.
Helen Keller died one year before I met my stepdad. Her book, a movie and his emulation of her life would be as close as I would ever come to meeting her. That was until this past week. For the second time, I found myself in close proximity to Tuscumbia, Ala., the birthplace of Helen Keller. Twenty-nine years ago, I only had time to drive through the town and see the signs designating her landmark. This time, I did not have an excuse to pass up the opportunity to stop.
Listening to the tour guide spew fact and fact about her illness that resulted in multiple disabilities, I could hear my stepdad’s voice, “She was just a child when she lost some of the functions you take for granted. But, look at all she accomplished. How many languages can you speak? How many books are you going to write? And, you can’t get your butt out there and do your paper route because it’s too cold?”
I saw the famous water pump where Keller learned her first word, the two-room cottage where she learned manners and the kitchen where she and her teacher had a long food fight.
While he never discounted the work of her just-as-extraordinary miracle-worker teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, he always said that Helen Keller did the work. He also pointed out how she accomplished so much during a time when society and government did not extend equal rights to disabled citizens. She did not have the benefit of Affirmative Action or an American Disabilities Act.
Aug. 1 is a special day. My stepdad liked to drink beer. I like beer, too. I will make no excuses.