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Poem for Those Who Have Experienced Loss During the Past Year

IMPORTANT NOTE:  For the first time since initiating this blog on January 19, 2013, I am introducing a post with a warning to my WORDWALK readers.  The following poem is highly filled with emotions that may cause some readers to be very emotional.  Please understand that the fictional–yes, fictional–poem, although realistic in numerous ways, is a writing of my creation and imagination–with all due respect to those who may have endured or encountered similar experiences.  Since writing this two-part poem in letter (epistolary) form on January 14, 2021, I have debated whether to share this poem on my blog or elsewhere.  On January 21, I shared the poem with my longstanding critique group who did encourage me to post the piece on my blog for more people–especially those who have experienced the loss of a loved one or friend during the past twelve months–to read.  On February 8, I presented at a Readers’ Workshop, a reading of only the second letter of the poem.  With our nation’s soon marking the span of one year of this COVID Era, I decided to post the “Epistolary Prayer” on this final post of February. 

                While the first part or first letter by the character of the daughter presents the problem addressed in the poem, the second letter from the character of the mother is positive and uplifting.  If you wish, you may read only the second letter by reading what follows the second set of three asterisks.  If better for you, read the following only in the morning or afternoon, or when you are with someone.  On the other hand, you may just wish to return to WORDWALK next week when I begin my traditional month of celebrating another year of working with Leader Dogs:  my 31st anniversary of working with Leader Dogs will be marked with each post of the month of March.

* * *

Epistolary Prayer Debate of Our Times

Fictional Poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Dear editor,

cc:

Dear Governor,

Dear State Senator,

Dear God,

No one should be disallowed

from holding the hand of a loved one

at one’s dying hour.

I beg you:

please pass the “Dying Hand Bill,”

WC 07.11.19.13,

today–

because even today is too late

for some,

for too many,

for my mother.

Whether this bill allows a gloved or ungloved hand,

you must pass this bill

for all who are loved.

My mask may hide my feelings in public;

but my heart will forever bleed

upon this page

for I will be forever haunted, haunted

by my mother’s being forced

to die alone–

alone, alone–

no one to hold her hand.

Now, alone, alone, I will carry this tragic imprint

on my heart

for all of my remaining tearful,

grieving days.

With grave concern,

Crying Resident in Milwaukee

* * *

Dear editor,

Dear daughter,

God bless my daughter,

for she is good;

and despite the tone of her voice and pen,

she means well.

I am well,

but  just so far away;

yet you will be surprised by the times

I have been so near to you,

my daughter.

Do not let the thoughts of that night

haunt you.

I believe–

yes, I believe

that someone did hold my ungloved hand

that night.

In the velvet darkness of that night

came a soft, expanding golden light.

Then, at my dying hour,

I felt the gentle breeze

of angels’ wings around me.

With strength I thought I did not have,

I moved my hand from under three heavy blankets

and reached out

to hold

and be comforted by

what I believe–

yes, what I believe

was the glorious hand

of God.

In the palm of His hand,

I felt your love and presence,

I saw your smiling face

and a photo album

of all my happy times on Earth.

You thought you were not with me,

but I assure you

that at my dying hour,

I was with you.

Please do not let your heart grieve so;

stop crying yourself to sleep each night.

I am with you always.

The other day,

when you felt,

in your gloved hands,

the snow-covered hydrangea,

I was there.

Of course,

dearest daughter,

I am for the passage of the bill;

but you must come to terms with my passage

and be blessed

by understanding

I was not alone.

I believe–

Yes, I believe

I was not alone:

now, you,

my beloved daughter,

must believe.

From the snow-covered

Wings of Love,

your grateful mother

* * *

NOTE:  While the sentiments of this poem are heartfelt and filled my eyes with tears as I wrote the poem and practiced reading it for presentation, I emphasize that this poem is fictional, but truly hope that it will bring a touch of peace to someone who may need to be comforted today. 

With sincere sympathy to all who have experienced loss of a loved one or friend during this past year,

Alice and Willow

February 24, 2021, Wednesday

Not Your Typical Weather Report, but a Weather RE-poem

Not Your Typical Weather Report, but a Weather RE-Poem

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            With all of the unusually cold temperatures and snow-upon-snow of the past couple of weeks throughout most of the nation, I decided that ‘tis the season and ‘tis the perfect week for a “weather RE-poem”–that is, a re-posting of one of my favorite poems, one that is perfect to lift up our cold and snow-covered spirits on this February 17.  Although this poem speaks of “January Joy” and is from the “January Section” of my book THE CHRISTMAS CARRIAGE AND OTHER WRITINGS OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON, the poem seems perfect for this week when too many of us may need a little seasonal humor.  On the recorded version of my book, available only to patrons of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (DBC 08305), the narrator sings the final line of the poem:  I was pleasantly surprised by this musical touch at the conclusion of the narration of this poem.  (My book is still available in print from Amazon.)  By the time you arrive at the end of reading this poem, I hope that you also will feel like singing at least eight notes. 

            How ironic that via Zoom today, I attended the monthly meeting of my gardening group!  At another meeting yesterday, I learned that both a rose and tulip were named in honor of Helen Keller.  Only thirty days until spring!  However, until the tulips bloom, enjoy “A Snowflake Garden.”

A Snowflake Garden

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

For my winter garden,

I planted just a few snowflakes.

How they grew and multiplied!

With my shovel,

I transplanted some of them;

and they keep growing higher and higher.

From Mother Nature’s Nursery,

from one little seed of snow,

so much continues

to grow and grow.

The gray clouds and bitter wind,

the Polar Vortex and other such Arctic masses

have just been perfect for The Massa Snow Garden.

Would you like some seedlings of snow?

A snowflake garden has no weeds to pull,

no bugs or winter worms.

Dressed in my Alaska attire,

I tend to my bountiful harvest,

almost every day.

Still the snowflakes spread

like the most fertile of ground covers

to rival the summerside’s phlox and vincas.

Working in my snowflake garden,

I look toward the sky

and want to shout to Mother Nature:

“Enough already!

Tell all those angels

to stop crocheting snowflakes!”

How can such delicate, tiny works of art

amass to such a splendid mess?

No, no, I am channeling

my inner Snow-Angel attitude

and spreading some January Joy.

My mid-winter mantra is as follows:

I do not want to escape the Frozen Tundra!

I do like my little snowscape!

I like my snowflake garden!

Now, as I, in a more mellow mood,

continue to shovel,

to cultivate the delicate snowflakes of my garden,

I sing:

“Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, SNOW!”

Yours (almost) truly,

Alice (and Leader Dog Willow) in Snowland

First posted on WORDWALK:  January 22, 2014, Wednesday

February 17, 2021, Wednesday

Two Valentine Surprises and Two Good Hearts

Two Valentine Surprises and Two Good Hearts

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                At my age on this WORDWALK, one does not expect a Valentine surprise; however, since my prior posting on WORDWALK, I received two such surprises. 

                My Florida (formerly Hoosier) cousin Carole told me in advance to be on the alert for an envelope with three seals on the back.  The United States Postal Service did deliver this envelope in good time and in especially good shape.  When I opened the envelope, much to my most pleasant surprise, I found that someone had brailled the card’s greeting and a message with the names of the senders–Carole and her husband, Tim.  I wondered if she had found someone around her retirement community to braille the card.  No!  During a happy telephone conversation, I learned that my cousin (who always manages to be five months younger than I) brailled the card!  Yes, at age … well, seventy … she learned grade-one braille for her older cousin!  Of course, Carole did not go about this process lightly:  she ordered via the internet the Book LEARN BRAILLE:  UNCONTRACTED (GRADE ONE) AND CONTRACTED (GRADE TWO), by RJ Clarke, copyright 2016.  This print book is for sighted people who wish to learn braille.  Additionally, Carole utilized a series of eight you.tube videos that assist in teaching braille, both uncontracted and contracted, to sighted individuals.  Finally, this special relative of mine purchased online a braille slate and stylus (instruments for writing braille) to be able to braille onto the commercial Valentine card.  What a tremendous effort!  Of course, the brailled card is displayed prominently in my townhouse.  Although both she and I are trying to downsize, I told Carole that I will have to save this very special card.  Six lines of beautiful braille dots pressed firmly into the thick cardstock paper–and pressed forever into my heart.

                The link to the first of the videos about learning braille is:

The above link is for uncontracted, grade-one braille and is only a few minutes in duration.

                Two days later, I received in the mail another envelope, delivered in fine fashion by the USPS.  Another pleasant surprise of a commercial braille Valentine card!  This card is from my sister and brother-in-law, but it has a somewhat unusual story behind it.  Mary Elizabeth related to me over the phone from Colorado that when she was in Target looking at the display of Valentine cards for her five fabulous grandchildren, a card with velveteen hearts and smiling faces on the front panel grabbed her attention; the card was right beside a flag that noted “For Kids.”  Nevertheless, as soon as she picked up the American Greetings card, she knew that it was a braille card–most likely overlooked by the employee who had set up the card display because it was not really a card for young children.  Kismet?  Well, Mary purchased the card for me; and I now have it displayed midst my holiday decorations in my townhouse.

                Next, this morning, I called a friend who is several years older than I.  After we had chatted for a while, she told me that she did go outside on Sunday–our absolutely coldest day of this Polar Vortex period.  Although my friend is a native Wisconsinite and never really complains about the cold temperatures nor snow, she did admit that standing and waiting for a bus was a bitterly cold experience.  No, this senior citizen was not planning a bus ride to a destination:  the bus stop was her destination.  When the bus finally arrived, my friend gave the bus driver a large Wisconsin bag filled with twelve newly hand-knitted hats and scarves for the bus driver to give to those bus riders who needed the warm apparel.  Then, my friend told the very appreciative bus driver that she could keep the tote bag.  Through the years that I have known this neighbor, I have learned how much volunteer work she does for a nonprofit organization; however, giving away the hats and gloves on a winter’s day when the morning temperature was negative eight with a wind chill of minus twenty-seven affirms in my mind that she does indeed have a “good heart.” 

                Finally, I must also mention the “good heart” of my beautiful, gentle, sweet, and highly intelligent Leader Dog Willow who blesses my life each day and makes my life so much easier and enjoyable.  On one of our warmest days (twelve degrees) of this prolonged cold snap, Willow happily wagged her tail when I told her we were going to Metro Market.  (The only day we have missed going for a walk was, ironically, on this past Sunday.)  Of course, our recent walks have been shorter than usual; but we are glad to avoid cabin fever with our short jaunts outdoors.  Besides Willow’s harness and leash, I put her coat and four boots on her.  Those little boots of hers always bring forth smiling comments from people whom we meet on the sidewalk or at our destinations.  In sync with Mother Nature, my British Black Labrador has grown an especially thick coat of gorgeous hair this winter. 

Once again, Willow guided me very safely and professionally to, around, and from the supermarket.  At the store today, the young employee who was helping us to do our shopping remarked what a “sweet dog” Willow is.  Yes, thanks to her parental dogs Holly and Sergeant, as well as Willow’s puppy-raisers and trainers at Leader Dog School, I do have a sweet guide dog with a good heart. 

                I am giving a WORDWALK “halo” of thanks to each of the four “good hearts” mentioned in this blog post!

Happy Valentine’s Weekend to all of my WORDWALK readers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

February 10, 2021, Wednesday

Midwinter Musings of a Midwesterner

Midwinter Musings of a Midwesterner

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                After we Midwesterners were spoiled by a relatively mild late autumn and early winter, the midwinter song of Mother Nature has the harsher tones of past winters in Wisconsin.  In the Milwaukee area, the drifts and snowpack of the two most recent storms left us with the greatest snow depth since the winter of my last year of full-time teaching (2010-2011). 

                Despite the challenges of a cold and snowy winter, I cannot imagine living somewhere without the changing of the seasons:  I think those quarterly shifts of Nature do feed my poetic soul.  Nevertheless, pondering this shortest month of the year, I do wish winter were the shortest of the four seasons, rather than the longest.  Since the previous few posts on WORDWALK have been of the lengthier variety, this post will conclude shortly with a brief, new poem of the season.

Midwinter Muses for the Midwestern Poet

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In the midst of a long Midwestern winter,

poetry comes …

yes, poetry comes …

on the delicate lace of a snowflake,

midst the feathery wings of a Snow Angel,

from the stinging bites of sleet,

around the snowdrifting barnyard,

beneath the streetlight of a salt-covered city sidewalk,

on the rosy, cold cheeks of a child,

under the tall hat of the smiling snowman.

Still in the midst of a long Midwestern winter,

poetry comes …

still poetry comes …

alongside the clear chimes of the cathedral bells,

in the snap of Jack Frost’s fingers,

upon the cutting sounds of gliding ice skates,

in the padded applause of mittened hands,

within the whirl of a wintry wind,

with the muffled laughter of sledders on a sloping terrain,

from the mesmerizing stillness of a below-zero night.

Ah, yes, Poetry has come, settled into my wooden rocker,

and is kept warm under the crocheted, woolen afghan,

beside which my Leader Dog Willow lies softly asleep.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and poetic February!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

February 3, 2021, Wednesday

From Braille to Zoom, From a Birthday Toast to a Paw Note

From Braille to Zoom,

From a Birthday Toast to a Paw Note

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

What a week this one has been!  This WORDWALK post will feature events of yesterday, Monday, and Sunday–January 26, 25, and 24.  Mother Nature’s creating a snowscape with our biggest storm of this winter is only the backdrop–not the focused event of this blog post.

                Yesterday (January 26, 2021), on my favorite television program JEOPARDY, currently guest-hosted by Ken Jennings, Did you guess the answer correctly to the $400 clue under the category “Historical Survivors”?  The clue was:  “Blinded in an accident at the age of three, he became a church organist and got a scholarship to the National Institute for Blind Children in Paris where he went on to teach and develop the system of writing that’s named for him.”  What a wonderful idea to have this clue during National Braille Literacy Month!  The contestant Gabriela rang in and answered correctly in the form of a question.  If you have been reading my blog this month and/or if you have read the book I recommended earlier this month–LOUIS BRAILLE:  A TOUCH OF GENIUS, by C. Michael Mellor–I am certain you answered correctly.  “Who is Louis Braille?” 

                Through my decades of watching JEOPARDY, I have heard a number of clues about Louis Braille or with the answer of Louis Braille.  Although I realize the limitations of writing a brief clue to fit in the game’s space, I could do a little revising of this clue.  I believe that the scholarship came before Braille’s occupation as organist.  Certainly, the young Louis Braille developed the system named for him before he became a teacher at the school in Paris.  Finally, the code which Braille invented was not just a system of writing, but very importantly a system of both reading and writing.  Nevertheless, I do thank JEOPARDY for once again giving a nod to the genius of Louis Braille and the tactile alphabet which he invented.

                Since Louis Braille was so forward-looking, I think he would be delighted with today’s Zoom platform of communication.  While I do enjoy and learn from the numerous meetings which I attend via Zoom, I am especially grateful for Zoom’s giving my extended family a means to gather together more easily.  During this COVID Era, my extended family has had three reunions on Zoom.  With fifty-two participants, the Zoom Birthday Party on this past Sunday, January 24, 2021, was the most well-attended, most fun, and most memorable.  Happily, we celebrated the birthday of my aunt (of 84 years) and my cousin (of 82 years).  When you read the following toast which I prepared in advance to give at the party, you will realize how geographically spread apart my extended family is.  In the midst of all of the introductions and updates, three little ones from Arizona and two little ones from Michigan sang a delightful version of “Happy Birthday.”  While my sister handled the hosting duties, a cousin from Oregon was in charge of a fun family trivia game before her son played a piano selection, especially chosen for his grandmother–one of the birthday ladies.  After I offered the toast, an Indiana cousin led all in the birthday song.  As soon as candles were blown out, everyone had time to eat cupcakes or birthday cake and visit.  You would have recognized the January birthday ladies because they were wearing tiaras!

* * *

Toast at Zoom Birthday Party on January 24, 2021

                From Klondyke to Colorado and to the Kalamazoo area, from Blanford to Burnsville, from Florida to the Philadelphia area and Ohio, from Terre Haute (the “Crossroads of America”) and all our other hometowns in Indiana and Illinois to our relatives in the far western states (Oregon, California, Utah, and Arizona), from Mexico City to Milwaukee–please join me in raising your glass with gladness, gratitude, and good cheer to toast these special January birthday ladies–Carla and Aunt Kathy. 

In the light of these birthday candles, may you, Aunt Kathy and Carla, continue to glow with smiles of happiness, grace and beauty, good health and good cheer.  May the warmth of love you feel on this special day be with you throughout the coming winter months and always!  May you both cherish treasured memories as you look toward many, many bright tomorrows.  May your blowing-out-the-candles wishes come true and bring joy to you!  With our love, admiration, appreciation, and happy hearts, we wish each of you, Aunt Kathy and Carla, a delightful birthday and a wonderful year!  Happy trails!  Everyone, please join me in repeating a hearty and boisterous “Cheers!”

* * *

PAW NOTE:  Between snowstorms, my Leader Dog and I took advantage of the weather and sidewalk conditions to go shopping at our local supermarket on Monday morning.  Only when we turned north onto Van Buren did we meet a stronger wind.  Heading north to our destination, we pass a few driveways of which my Leader Dog Willow is always mindful.  At one of the driveways from the parking lot of the supermarket, I could hear a vehicle approaching more quickly than usual, but I knew that my Leader Dog would judge the situation properly.  The vehicle did stop, but Willow also stopped just shy of the far end of the driveway.  Besides the wind and the motor noise, I heard a dog in the vehicle frantically barking; however, I could tell that Willow was not turning her head to look at the barking dog.  My British Black Labrador was looking straight ahead.  When I asked her to go “Forward,” she exercised what Leader Dog School refers to as “intelligent disobedience.”  With my boot, I reached out and around, but felt nothing but a clear sidewalk.  I make a practice of repeating the “Forward” suggestion only twice more.  When Willow did not move, I reached out with my gloved hand and felt an unattended shopping cart.  Although I imagined that the driver of the vehicle might have been growing impatient, I took a few moments to praise Willow for her firm stop before the metal shopping cart.  As usual, my Leader Dog was very happy with this praise and wiggled a little with pleasure.  She does like me to feel an obstacle with my foot or hand before she takes me around the obstacle:  in this way, Willow makes certain that she will receive her highly earned praise.  We went around the cart and on to our destination while the vehicle’s driver had an opportunity to witness the important work of a well-trained guide dog and a most appreciative Leader-Dog handler.  How blessed I am with my Willow!  Thanks again to Leader Dog School and to all who make possible these amazing guide dogs!

Enjoy these remaining days of January!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 27, 2021, Wednesday

Celebrating WORDWALK’s Eighth Anniversary

Celebrating WORDWALK’s Eighth Anniversary

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                On this 19th of January of this much-anticipated year of 2021, as we await tomorrow’s Inauguration, I am recalling the two times when I had the pleasure of touring Washington, D.C., and also surprising myself with marking the eighth anniversary of the initiation of this WORDWALK blog.  During this National Braille Literacy Month, within these thoughts of our nation’s capital and my blog’s anniversary is a braille connection.  So, let’s begin to connect the dots that will weave together this anniversary blog post.

                Fortunately, for my older sister and me, both of my parents enjoyed traveling:  throughout the years of vacationing with our parents, we visited thirty-eight states and many historical sites.  In August of 1965, after Mary Elizabeth had been graduated from Clinton High School and I was looking toward my sophomore year, our parents planned a summer vacation for the four of us in Washington, D.C.  As usual, this trip was a road trip.  Thanks to then Indiana Congressman Richard Roudebush, my mother had secured for us special passes to visit The White House, Capitol Building, the Smithsonian Institute, and other points of interest.  Despite the summer’s heat and humidity and a great deal of walking each day for a week, I greatly enjoyed touring the historical buildings and museums, as well as visiting the National Cathedral and watching the changing-of-the-guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. 

                At that time in the 1960s, a tourist could visit more rooms of The White House.  For whatever reason, the silk wallpaper most impressed my sixteen-year-old mind.  The Red Room was strikingly beautiful while The Blue Room was attractive in a stately manner; The Green Room completed this trio of famous rooms that were etched into my memory.  Near the kitchen, the guide told us about The White House china patterns, some of which were displayed in a special case.  Later, for my souvenir of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I purchased a beautiful, full-color book simply entitled THE WHITE HOUSE.  Through the decades, I practically memorized the photos in this lovely book; happily, I still have this book on one of my bookshelves. 

                From 1983 through the first half of 1984, I worked on eighteen lessons of the Library of Congress course to become a braille transcriber.  After completing the eighteen lessons, which were checked by a Terre Haute (Indiana) resident who had already been certified as a braille transcriber, I selected a large-print book about President Harry Truman and First Lady Bess Truman for achieving the transcription of twenty-five brailled pages–11-by-11.5-inch pages–to be graded by someone at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C.  By the time I completed all of the meticulous work for this braille transcription course, I decided that I had put more effort into this course than into my first master’s degree:  my parents felt the same way.  Thus, rather than mail my manuscript of twenty-five brailled pages to our nation’s capital, my parents and I chose to take a second road trip to Washington, D. C., so that I could hand deliver my manuscript to the proper office at the Library of Congress.  Amazingly, in the summer of 1984, we did.  Although the office was in the annex of the Library of Congress, hand-delivering my meticulously brailled manuscript at the Library of Congress was a thrill. 

                During this second trip to D.C., we visited the Capitol Building again and even saw Senator Ted Kennedy coming down a stairway.  Although we did not tour The White House again, we tried to see some places which we had missed previously.  For example, we especially enjoyed touring Mount Vernon and taking a night tour to see the historic buildings in lights.

                In September of that year, a few weeks after our return from Washington, I was delighted to receive in the mail my certificate which is dated August 23, 1984, and verifies my being certified as a braille transcriber by the Library of Congress.  The accompanying letter noted that I achieved the score of 98 of 100:  I had made in those twenty-five pages of single-line spaced braille two cells of errors that I had not caught during my brailling and proofreading.  What a relief to know that I had achieved my goal!  This goal eventually led to other opportunities for me, including a fellowship grant for earning my second master’s degree in blind rehabilitation at Western Michigan University and a full-time job teaching braille and other rehabilitation courses before returning to the traditional classroom to teach English.  Yes, I am tremendously grateful that learning braille and training with my four Leader Dogs led to such wonderful opportunities.

With braille always nearby and Leader Dog Willow ever at my side, I look forward to another year of sharing my writings with my WORDWALK readers.  My special and sincere thanks to all of you, especially those of you who have been following WORDWALK since January 19, 2013.  Finally, my continuing appreciation to my friend Jenna who on a Saturday afternoon eight years ago, helped me to initiate this blog.  In January of 2013, I never imagined that I would average fifty or more posts each year for eight years … and still happily counting.

With great gratitude for your joining us on this 8th-Anniversary WORDWALK,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 19, 2021, Tuesday

From Scholastic Books to Braille

From Scholastic Books to Braille:  A Journey in Reading

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                During this past week, I heard that Scholastic Books marked, in 2020, the 100th anniversary of its founding in Pennsylvania.  Always fascinated by books, I, as a young reader, loved having the opportunity to purchase the paperback Scholastic Books for pleasure reading and for the onset of a lifelong collection of books–standard print, then large-print books, and finally braille books.  Despite my downsizing during last year, I still have a few of the Scholastic Books on my bookshelves.  Three of these books are about Helen Keller; the one of these print books which I purchased first is the most dear to me because in the back of the book is a pictorial representation of the braille alphabet–the place where I was first introduced to the braille alphabet. 

                In 1981, when I still had some limited usable vision, I used a hole-punch and some cards which I cut to the size of about one inch by two inches; thus, in this manner, I made flashcards for my learning the braille alphabet.  I did not create raised dots as the braille system uses, but only had holes to resemble the dots.  In this unusual way, I began to learn braille.  Since at that time, I was unaware of any rehabilitation center or even the Hadley School for the Blind to learn braille, I chose to learn all that I could about braille by taking the braille transcribing course through the Library of Congress.  While I took an unusual road to braille, I am grateful for my opportunities to learn braille and to continue to use Louis Braille’s system of reading and writing throughout my later decades.

                When I went to Western Michigan University for a master’s degree in blind rehabilitation, I received an exemption from taking the braille course because I already had earned my certificate as a braille transcriber from the Library of Congress.  (This framed certificate hangs on the wall above the desk where my Perkins brailler is.) 

                A Perkins brailler (or braille writer) has only six keys (one for each dot of the braille cell), a lever to advance the paper, a lever or key to backspace, and a space bar.  Although I first borrowed for a short while a Perkins brailler from someone, I purchased my current machine in 1982; this heavy-duty machine has traveled with me wherever I have moved.  To make the depression of the keys easier, I have an electric brailler and also have “extension keys.”  The number of pages I have brailled in the past more than four decades I cannot begin to count!  I do distinctly recall the first time my dad and I tried to insert the paper into the borrowed standard brailler.  I thought we would never insert the cardstock type of paper properly, but we finally managed to master this clever machine.

                As a volunteer and as a full-time rehabilitation instructor, I enjoyed introducing adult students to braille and teaching them braille.  Louis Braille made the teaching of his system so easy and logical because he invented, from age twelve through age sixteen, an ingenious method for his tactile alphabet which eventually spread around the world. 

To understand the basics of braille, you must know that a “braille cell” is a rectangular space in which there is room for three dots vertically and two dots horizontally.  A braille cell may consist of zero to six dots, in various patterns.  This six-dot cell configuration allows for 63 possibilities for the arrangement of dots.  Each dot has a particular number:  from top to bottom on the left side of the braille cell, the dots are numbered one, two, and three.  On the right side of the braille cell, the dots are, from top to bottom, four, five, and six. 

The foundation of his code was the first ten letters of the alphabet.  Once he had the dots set for the first ten letters (letters “a” through “j”), he added to each of these initial letters dot three for the next ten letters (“k” through “t”).  Then, in the third row of the braille alphabet, Louis braille added dots three and six to the first five letters to create the last five letters of the braille alphabet–“u” through “z,” minus the letter “w” which was not used in French during the time of Louis Braille.  Later, the letter “w” was formed by adding only dot six to the braille letter “j.”  Learning braille by this “row method” facilitates the learning of the dot configurations.

                To make a letter in upper case, Louis Braille placed a capital sign, only dot six, in the cell prior to the letter to be capitalized.

                For brailling the numerals one through nine and zero, Louis Braille used the number sign–dots, three, four, five, six–in a cell to indicate that the next cell or cells before a space or certain marks of punctuation would represent a number.  Again, he used the first row of the braille alphabet so that the number sign with the dot configuration for letter “a” is the numeral one; the number sign followed by the dot configuration for letter “b” is read as the numeral two, etc.  The number sign followed by the dots of the letter “j” represents zero.

                Of course, braille consists of much more; but below you will find a chart of the very basics of the braille code. 

The Foundation of Braille

The braille cell:

   * dot 1  * dot 4

   * dot 2  * dot 5

   * dot 3  * dot 6

ROW ONE:  a-j

A:  dot one

B:  dots one and two

C:  dots one and four

D:  dots one, four, five

E:  dots one, five

F:  dots one, two, four

G:  dots one, two, four, five

H:  dots one, two, five

I:  dots two, four

J:  dots two, four, five

ROW TWO:  k-t

Add dot three to each letter of the first row to form each letter of the second row of the braille alphabet.

  K:  dots one, three

L:  dots one, two, three

M:  dots one, three, four

N:  dots one, three, four, five

O:  one, three, five

P:  dots one, two, three, four

Q:  dots one, two, three, four, five

R:  dots one, two, three, five

S:  dots two, three, four

T:  dots two, three, four, five

ROW THREE:  u, v, x, y, z (and then the exception “w”)

To form each letter of the third row, add both dots three and six to the first five letters of the alphabet.

U:  dots one, three, six

V:  dots one, two, three, six

X:  dots one, three, four, six

Y:  dots one, three, four, five, six

Z:  dots one, three, five, six

W (the exception):  letter “j” plus dot six only or dots two, four, five, six

                Sometime in the 1980s, my dad made for me some braille teaching tools which I still have and use.  He cut each board to the measurement of four inches by six inches; then, he drilled six indentations into each rectangular board so that up to six marbles–representing the braille dots–could be placed into the round indentations.  Of course, Dad sanded each wood block, or braille cell, to a very smooth finish.  At a presentation about braille, I have also used gum drops to represent the braille dots.  At the end of the presentation, I told the audience that they could eat the braille dots!  Learning the tactile alphabet invented by the remarkable Louis Braille can be fun.

PAW NOTE:  Although my current Leader Dog, Willow, has never tried to read braille yet, I do recall that each of my first three Leader Dogs–Keller, Heather, and Zoe–would at times lie her head upon a braille book or braille magazine opened on my lap as if she were trying to read the dots–or at least trying to determine why I was touching the dots instead of petting the guide dog.

 With thanks for your interest in braille during National Braille Literacy Month,

Alice and leader Dog Willow

January 13, 2021, Wednesday

Waltzing with Braille

1809–A Wonderful Year

                In 1809, at least three remarkable individuals were born–Louis Braille on January 4, Edgar Allan Poe on January 19, and Abraham Lincoln on February 12.  While I was extremely pleased to visit the historical homes and burial site of President Abraham Lincoln and enjoyed teaching Edgar Allan Poe and his writings, I keep in touch with Louis Braille–the inventor of the system of raised dots for tactile reading and writing–every day.  Thus, for this first WORDWALK blog post of the new year of 2021, I have for you a piece focusing on Louis Braille.  After a multitude of accomplishments in his relatively short life of only forty-three years and two days, Louis Braille passed away on Epiphany, January 6, 1852.

                To learn much more about the life of the amazing Louis Braille, I highly recommend that you read the extremely well-researched book LOUIS BRAILLE:  A TOUCH OF GENIUS, by C. Michael Mellor, copyright 2007.  To pay a small tribute to Louis Braille, I share with you the following new poem.

* * *

Waltzing with Braille

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Unlike a ballerina,

I am not tiptoeing over the braille dots:

I use the pads of my fingers, not the tips.

Although I first did hesitant, measured movement over the braille dots,

I am now waltzing over the delightful dots.

Dot six, then dot one, followed by dots one, two, three.

In the middle cell are dots two and four–

but There’s more–dots one and four, then dots one and five.

Yes, within these magical dots,

invented by the fifteen-year-old Louis Braille,

I found myself by finding a new method

of reading and writing:

once again, letter, words, sentences, stories

came to me–not through my too tender eyes,

but through the heart in my hands.

Alas, I was no longer a wallflower at the Word Ball,

I was waltzing with braille

and cheering for the literacy

which braille promises on any dance card.

As I read

LOUIS BRAILLE:  A TOUCH OF GENIUS,

by C. Michael Mellor,

I want to hear the wheels of the stagecoach

in which Louis’ father took the young boy

from their home in Coupvray

to Paris, France, for his education.

while I read these words of dots,

I want to hear the music

that Louis played on the piano in the parlor

or played on the pipe organ at Notre Dame de Chartres.

Before I close this braille volume,

I will remember and give thanks

to the hands and mind,

the strong and determined heart

that invented these precious raised dots

so that children and adults who are blind

may read and write,

read and write in the remarkable code

of Louis Braille’s raised dots.

On this anniversary of his birth–

January 4, 1809–

let us raise a glass of great gratitude

to the gift of Louis Braille.

Cheers!

* * *

NOTE:  The series of dots in this poem spell the word “Alice.”  For more information about the braille alphabet, please return to WORDWALK next week as the celebration of Braille Literacy Month continues.

God bless America, and New Year’s blessings to all of my WORDWALK readers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 7, 2021, Thursday

A Winter Poem and a Cheery Song to Ring in the New Year

A Winter Poem to Close 2020 and

A Very Cheery Song to Dance and Sing into the New Year!

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Thank you for joining us on WORDWALK throughout this surprising and suspending year of 2020.  On this New Year’s Eve WORDWALK, you will find a winter poem which I wrote in early November for a Readers’ Workshop, as well as a delightful song “Dominic the Donkey, the Italian Christmas Donkey,” performed by Lou Monte.  This endearing donkey is guaranteed to make you want to celebrate the new year with dancing and singing along. 

                Besides continuing with the donkey theme on WORDWALK, “Dominic” is certainly a familiar name in our family.  In addition to my paternal grandparents having a dear friend and neighbor named Dominic, a cousin who was a paratrooper at the Battle of the Bulge was named Dominic.  A young cousin who was graduated from Indiana University in May and who is now working in Chicago is named Dominic.  Although my maternal grandmother was frequently called “Minnie” after immigrating to the United States from Italy, her given name was the beautiful-sounding “Domenica.”  Thus, I do like the name of this little donkey, known as “the Italian Christmas Donkey.”

                Before the donkey tale, I am sharing with you a 27-line poem that gives you a glimpse of my 2020, which included two moves–one to Michigan and one back to the same block where I have lived for over 29 years in Milwaukee.  Secondly, I chose this poem for this final posting of 2020 because the part of Milwaukee where I live had its first snow of the season last evening–eight inches of the myriad of snowflakes.

* * *

Back to Where I Know Winter

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Now that the autumnal wind of change

rustled all deciduous trees and wrestled each limb

until dry leaves were the losers,

I am back to where I know winter,

know where ice patches will precariously form,

know where the lake-effect snow will drift and dare the wintry walkers,

know where the plows will stack the compacted snow at one of four points of each intersection,

know where the north wind will challenge my standing firm at the curb,

know the depth and texture of the snow in which Willow may lose a pastel blue boot,

know when I must wear my Frozen Tundra layered garb,

know whom to call if DPW must do more for safety in the snow.

I am back to where I know winter,

the winter I need to ponder and imagine,

to create and slide with spellbound words.

In the bitter cold,

I am bittersweet;

for I am back to where I know winter,

back to where I know

how to throw a snowball packed firmly with

just the right words.

I am back to where I know winter,

where I know how to write

in this winter of my life,

where I can write,

where I write

with winter, Wisconsin, and Willow

in the palm of my double-gloved hand.

* * *

MUSICAL NOTE:  At the tail end of this old and challenging year, I want to give you a musical tale of good cheer to perk up your spirit for the new year.  As you celebrate tossing this old year away and reach gladly for 2021, please enjoy the following which dances along with my December Donkey theme on WORDWALK.  You may want to share the link below with some children in your family and/or circle of friends.

Dominick, The Italian Christmas Donkey – Lou Monte – YouTube

Bright wishes for a healthy and sparkling new year!

Cheers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

December 30, 2020, Wednesday

Along a Christmas Wordwalk, Thinking of Christmas Miracles

Along a Christmas Wordwalk, Thinking of Christmas Miracles

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                On this Christmas Eve of this most unusual and challenging year of 2020, on my Christmas WORDWALK, I am thinking of miracles–Christmas miracles.  Thus, this shorter than usual blog post will include an acrostic poem of only seven lines and a link to a very special holiday performance. 

                As I write this holiday post, we are witnessing, what is to many of us, the miracle of the vaccine against COVID 19.  How grateful we are to all who brought forth such a miracle vaccine!  Although I wrote the following poem in December of 2018 with other thoughts in mind, I now believe that this short acrostic has another meaning in 2020.  If you read only the initial letter of each of the seven lines, you will find that the “stem” or “acrostic” spells out the word “miracle.”  Our best gift–our miracle gift–this Christmas is the vaccine.  God bless all who developed the vaccine, produce it, distribute it, administer it, and receive the vaccine; with this miracle, let us all look to a brighter, happier, healthier, and more peaceful new year.

‘Tis the Season of Miracles

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Miracle?  Yes, ’tis the season!

Incredible–yet I believe.

Rare, remarkable–so, we rejoice.

All still are praying; all were praying:

Come early Christmas miracle,

land with angel’s wings on holy hope.”

Especially now, everyone is grateful, faithful, blessed.

* * *

                Even when I was a child, I really liked the singing of Tennessee Ernie Ford.  Thanks to my smart-speaker, I have been enjoying listening to rotations of songs of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Christmas recordings.  Thus, I found “The Little Gray Donkey”–a spoken word and singing performance by Tennessee Ernie Ford, accompanied by the Roger Wagner Chorale.  The following link is from the 1963 Christmas special entitled “The Story of Christmas,” a one-hour television broadcast in color.  However, the link is only of “The Little Gray Donkey” and is approximately four minutes.  I chose this performance as a follow-up to my short story “Merry Christmas from the Mary Club,” posted on WORDWALK on December 9, 2020, because of the two donkeys in my short story.  I hope you will enjoy the spoken-word and musical performance via the link below as my gift to you this Christmas.

Warmest wishes for a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

December 24, 2020, Thursday