If you only knew how many times I have heard that question. And it was being asked way before any movie with the same name came out...
I was borne in Parkersburg, West Virginia, a long time ago. It was discovered too late that I was in the group of less than 1% of kids in the world that are borne with Glaucoma. Not a special honor I can tell you.
With the medical knowledge limited at that time, many doctors missed the early diagnosis blaming it instead on psychological reasons. I'm not here to fault medicine for my blindness. I didn't have a lot to say about it then, and still don't. Everyone is handed something to deal with in life, and it's how we deal with it that makes us who we are.
I spent a lot of my early years with my grandparents in West Virginia. Granddad was a preacher and I got to travel with them all around the country while I could still see. This was back before the interstate system was finished too.
Several of our trips brought us to North Carolina. I’ll skip a lot of the details here, but I told my grandparents on one of the trips I was going to live there one day. I kept my word and in 1984 I moved to Charlotte.
I attended the school for the blind in Batavia, New York from the middle of fifth grade until the end of 11th grade. I had already decided before I started high school I was not going to graduate from that school. I was afraid of how it would look when I filled out a job application and had to put "blind" anywhere on the page.
I found a niche for me in sports. I wrestled in high school and that was my ticket out. During my Christmas break I asked the coaches at the high school in the town where I lived if I could work out with their team so I wouldn't lose the conditioning I had worked so hard for.
After just a few practices, the coaches asked me why I wasn't going to school there.
Are you kidding? I'd been trying since seventh grade to get back in a public school system. They spoke to those in charge and I was able to make the big switch if only for my senior year.
While in the school for the blind, I had two industrial arts teachers I won't embarrass now by name, but they taught me the love of woodworking. And the difference between fear and respect for power tools.
My careers have taken me all around this country, and my love for sports has allowed me to travel beyond our boarders. Yeah, I competed in Canada... Actually I have competed in Japan as well, a time I'll never forget.
I have to say I have been blessed over my lifetime. I have met and worked with some of the greatest people I could hope to meet.
After high school I went to Daytona, Florida to attend the American Motorcycle Institute. Only the third totally blind person to attend, they weren't set up for "special needs." Bob Burns and John Matthews ran the teaching side of the school when I went and the extra time they spent with me was incredible. When I didn't understand the description on the board or paper, they took me to a live example or made a model up for me to grab hold of.
The part that made me feel so much a part of the school was the way they didn't change the rules. The first project we were given was to take a two cycle engine apart and put it back together. This little engine powered a pogo stick. I can remember finishing it and hearing it start up. Not really a special thrill, I had already been rebuilding car engines that were much larger and more powerful.
I carried the machine into Bob and John's office and said I was done. They asked me if I had road tested it. I stood there with I know what was my "Are you serious?" grin and they told me everyone has to road test their work before they can call it done.
I turned around in their office door and fired the power pogo stick up. With my anything for a laugh attitude, I got on and cranked the throttle.
Down the hall I went! Taking out chairs and ash trays on the way. I decided the trip was over when I ran into the Pepsi machine. Sometimes you have to work hard for a laugh.
I graduated from the school in the fall of 1973 and that's a terrible time to look for work in the motorcycle field in New York. The following spring I found work at a Kawasaki shop.
Kawasaki had just come out with their Z1, 900 CC the year before. The shop I was working for had a few problems with the bikes going out and missing obvious set up problems. The owner called us into a meeting and said "I don't want one more bike going out the door without it being tested first. If you work on it, you drive it!"
Well, I'd heard this speech before. And I knew I could drive a motorcycle. So when I finished up a big beautiful Z1 and my brother walked in to pick me up, I told him about the meeting. I don't think I ever remember my brother getting scared when I wanted to do something. He just got on the bike behind me like it was done every day.
There was a huge parking lot across the four lane highway the shop was on. The business was closed so we had that whole parking lot to drive around in. When my brother told me traffic was clear, I shot us across the highway and into the parking lot. He looked back at the shop and my boss was standing in the showroom window bighting his nails. He obviously didn't know what he had said earlier was taken seriously.
When we came back, it was explained to me that there was no need for me to test drive any more bikes. My heart was broken!
I like Florida so much, I went back to attend the American Marine Institute classes for stern drive boats. This was something I was already somewhat familiar with because they run car engines in the boats. I graduated at the top of my class and was the first blind person to ever go through the marine part of the program.
From that point, things were tight for many years to come. It was hard to find work where I lived because people saw me as a liability. The chances of getting hurt they felt, out weighed any benefit I could offer.
Since I had already been working on cars and had gone to school, I figured I’d just go to work for myself. I had no idea what would happen if I hung a sign out and ran a small ad in the phone book. I was buried with work in no time.
I’ve been a fixer most of my life. I couldn't afford to call a repair person for a long time, and I guess when I got to where I could afford one, I didn't’t see a need any longer.
I’ve gotten past the point of worrying about what everyone thinks. If I have to get on the roof, I go up the ladder like everyone else. That scares people more than it scares me. Heck yeah I think about falling off. And I don’t care for the idea at all. So I’m careful.
I built my current little shop on my own for the most part. I had my youngest son Daniel help me a couple times but when he shot a 16 penny nail from an air powered framing nailer through my finger, I went back to working by myself. I think I’m probably safer if I work the nail gun. At least I’ve never shot myself with one…
I retired him for other kinds of help I need. He and I have played golf together since he was eleven. Those are other stories for other times…
I moved to Chapel Hill in 2006 after marrying my wife Ruth. And while my shop is about a third the size of my shop I owned in charlotte, I have been able to get much more involved in woodworking.
You never knew what might be going on in the garage at my house in Charlotte. I rebuilt transmissions for a number of years for Dealerships selling Pontiac and Dodge.
When I left the automotive field, I had no shortage of customers even though I was trying to get away from it.
You could find a car up on jack stands with a transmission on the bench, while a tractor might be sitting beside the car. Or I might have been Building an entertainment center on the bench at the back of the shop...
Now I don't mess with cars much. The occasional brake job or a timing belt for my kids or a friend. I feel like I've gone back in time having to work in the driveway once again and I don't care so much for that.
I have made many new friends in the area. I have had to change my choice of Woodcraft stores, since I don't get back to Charlotte near as often as I get into Raleigh.
I owe a lot to all of the guys at the Woodcraft on Pleasant Valley Road. For taking the time to display tools and hardware. When you can't physically see something for the first time, you can't imagine how crossed up the mental picture can get.
Herb and the guys there have pulled things out of the box so I can see how it fits together. And I think I've gotten them past their fear of me running power tools. Either that or they leave the room when I turn one on. Hard to tell with all the noise...
No one knows what the future holds. So I try to make the most of anything I do. I hope you have also found a direction to follow in life beyond a job.