It had been raining steadily for four days, and the question of whether the fete would go ahead on Saturday was constantly up for discussion at the family dinner table. I was about 12, and very excited about the event taking place in the hospital grounds where we lived, as Dad was the CEO. I was the strongest proponent of going ahead, whatever the weather.
Saturday dawned, and the rain continued. ‘They’ll have to call it off,’ said Mum. ‘The ground is far too boggy.’
‘No, they won’t,’ I said, eternally optimistic.
‘I know what we’ll do,’ said Dad, who had always been an ideas man. ‘We’ll move the fete from outside on the lawn to inside in the hospital roof space.’
The volunteer set-up crew readily agreed, so at 6 am the full-scale operation of moving the contents of 20 stalls, soft drink machines, fairy floss makers, public address systems and all of the paraphernalia required for a successful fundraiser began.
My mum and sister were in charge of the cake stall, carrying what they already had stored at home to the hospital and up in the lift. My dad and brother were wheeling trolleys of soft drink boxes to and fro, and carrying the bags of ice necessary to keep them cool.
The family tradition of ‘all hands on deck’ was deeply ingrained in me, and I was desperate to help. But that would be a challenge for a blind 12-year-old, where the environment was wet, muddy and constantly shifting. My face fell further and further as one after another of the set-up crew told me there wasn’t anything I could do.
As it had done often in the past, and would do again and again during my life, my dad’s warm hand on my shoulder saved the day.
‘There’s more than enough jobs for everyone today,’ he said. ‘The only puzzle is working out which one you can do. And I’ve solved the puzzle. Come and drive the lift.’
The lift was the pinch point for the whole operation. Everything and everyone going to the fete had to go up in the lift. And due to the high demand from the ground floor and the roof, it was constantly tripping out and causing delays.
‘I’m going to override the automatic system and put this on manual, and I want you to drive it,’ Dad said to me. ‘If this lift doesn’t keep going we won’t have a fete.’
I couldn’t have been prouder. I stood two centimetres taller, and spent the next 12 hours driving that lift – eating and drinking while going up and down, and strategically selecting quiet times for rushed toilet breaks. No-one else was touching those controls. There was no way I was letting down my dad, or risking the fete not going ahead.
This story encapsulates my book and my life. It shows me learning from my parents that I was not the kid who was blind, but an integral part of a functioning family unit; I understood that we, with our Christian values and ethics, and as well-off members of Australian society, had a social obligation to support those not so fortunate. As Grandma used to say, achieving success is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.
I learned from my family that most things could be achieved – the challenge was finding a way.
In this book I share my memories of 60 years on the planet – happy memories of love and support, tough memories of challenges and failures and positive memories of achievement. I share the unique experience of a life without one sense, but with heightened awareness of the information gained through others. I also share the advocacy for change for people with disabilities that has been a constant companion in my life.
I have woven stories throughout the book. I have learned that not only are stories the way we develop and pass down our culture, but they are also what remain in people’s memories. This is constant, whether they are told by voices in the ear, words on a page, images on a screen or a combination of all of those. If you get a laugh from one of my stories, or find useful a piece of wisdom I have gained, then my book will have been a success. One of these pieces of wisdom, which came from seeing my daughter become the questioning and feisty teenager that I once was, is that no lesson told by an adult has anything like the effect of one you learn yourself.
Of course, there are regrets in my life. But overall I’m satisfied with the part I have been able to play in the lives of my family and friends, and in Australian society. I’d like to share it with you anyway.
You can order a copy of the book at http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/Book.aspx/1392/Finding%20a%20Way or, if you would like to order a braille edition, use this link https://graemeinnes.com/shop/
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Graeme Innes AM