Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE BOWLING BALL CONVOY TRICK

One of Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind's proudest boasts was its two-lane bowling alley. The chief access ability feature of the facility was  a set of chrome hand railings to guide blind children as they bowled their balls. What the proud administrators failed to tell the public was that the alley lacked pin-setting machines. Two hapless students inevitably spent their entire recreational periods setting up pins and sending back balls.

Even so, the more inventive of us victims found ways to amuse ourselves. Here's an example of our mischief and how we had the last laugh on our dormitory supervisor, Mr. Moiarty.

I didn't mind going bowling and I understood that somebody needed to set up pins as well as send the balls back. Even so, I hated those tournaments which the intermediate and senior dorms held. Worse yet, Mr. Moiarty badgered me until I agreed to set up pins for the teams.

The first Saturday afternoon of the tournament was warm and sunny. Nevertheless, the weather clashed with my bleak mood as I shuffled into the bowling alley. While I was setting pins up, and before I signaled that I had moved out of the way, he decided to lob a ball down the alley.

"Get out of the way," he shouted, suddenly realizing what he had done.

"What!?" I called. The ball hit my right shin with a resounding crack. I doubled over, howling in agony. Mr. Moiarty raced down the lane to the pin-setting booth, picked me up in his arms, and carried me to the infirmary. All the way there, he apologized for not looking first. Fortunately, my shin was only bruised but it ached for a couple of weeks. However, that accident didn't excuse me from setting up pins for long. As a result, my loathing of organized sports grew rapidly that autumn.

Though working in the pin-setting booth was tedious, Geoffrey and I, who usually were sent back there, did find ways to amuse ourselves. The funniest of these was to hoard balls until the bowlers ran out of them. Then, the two of us placed almost all of the balls on the rails. Like a convoy of trucks, they rolled toward the rack. All but one traveled up the slope to where the bowlers waited. When that ball rolled slowly back toward the pin-setting booth, Geoffrey or I sent the final ball down the rails. It collided with the other ball, knocking it onto the alley and toward the door.

The game caught on with the other boys, much to Mr. Moiarty's annoyance. I happened to be at the other end of the alley one evening when he chased a rogue ball into the lobby. The ludicrous sight of our supervisor frantically grasping at and missing the ball had me doubled over in uncontrollable laughter. We considered ourselves fortunate that no punishments were meted out for showing such disrespect. However, we giggled behind Mr. Moiarty's back whenever someone mentioned our bowling ball convoy game.

You can read more of our pranks in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School, available at the Bruce Atchison's books page.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A SANCTIFIED SENSE OF HUMOR

It's truly sad that many non-Christians think that the followers of Christ are humorless grouches. Such people never met folks such as myself. Not only do I enjoy puns, word plays, and the like but I love jokes which don't hurt anybody.

It was the highly esteemed, and pressed, Goon Show that helped me think up many good puns and clever jokes. Being a born-again Christian, I adapted my new-found skill to my Bible reading and prayer. For example, why did Jonah have a strange childhood? He was brought up by a great fish. Nobody was demeaned in that joke, yet it's funny.

Some stories in the Bible also are extremely hilarious to me. One of my favourites is when the apostle Peter was locked in jail for the night. An angel woke him up and opened the gates for him. Meanwhile, believers were praying late into the night for his release. When Peter knocked at the door, a woman named Rhoda didn't let him in but ran back to tell the good news to the prayer warriors. They didn't believe her at first. Peter kept knocking until somebody let him in. Hear those Christians were praying for Peter's freedom, and yet they didn't believe it when it happened. To me, that's side-splittingly funny.

I also use puns and quips in my daily prayers. When I misspeak, I blame the toothpaste. That's because after brushing with it, my tongue feels armed and hammered. God understands not only what I mean but that I got the idea from Bible teacher Steve Brown. In his case, he blamed the microphone for his verbal fumbles.

My mind tends to wander while I'm praying and shaving. When I forget what I was saying, I tell god that my train of thought left without me so I'll wait for the next one. I then ask him for a leash for my mind. After all, it's the leash he can do. Many Christians have a struggle with keeping their minds on prayer but I'm sure few use that excuse to justify it.

Additionally, I ask that the problems of my friends could be turned into a deck of cards. That way, they can deal with them. I know that there is nothing wrong with playing cards. They can be used or misused like any other object. By the way, my dad taught us to count by teaching us Blackjack. It didn't result in us gambling our lives away.

I sure am happy that whenever I don't know what I'm talking about, God does. He created us with emotions for his own good reasons. Imagine how dull this world would be without joy, elation, contentment and glee. If we didn't have sorrow, sadness, and even depression, we wouldn't be able to relate to others in their time of hardship. Even anger can be used for good when it spurs a person into action to correct injustices. Laughter is also a good emotional release. Even the writer of Proverbs understood that.

All of those emotions and more are mentioned in my latest book, How I Was Razed. Read more about God's wondrous providence at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

NO TRAINS TO DERAIL MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT

I miss trains. There was a time here in Alberta when every little town was connected by rail. People rode trains to the cities to visit their doctors and get shopping done. Students visited home often on weekends or during college breaks. Trains which passed through the Rocky Mountains had a car with an observation deck so people could appreciate the grandeur of the scenery.

When I lived in Fort Saskatchewan during the early sixties, I rushed to the classroom emergency exit to watch the train go by. These big machines rumbling through town and blowing their whistles fascinated me. My teacher once remarked, "You act as if you haven't seen a train before."

During summer holidays, I stood near the tracks as freight trains rolled past. Diane, my sister and close friend, sometimes joined me. We counted the cars and tried to read what was painted on the sides as the rolling stock rushed past.

Sometimes the train would stop. Fortunately for all concerned, Diane and I heeded Mom's admonition not to crawl between the cars. Her graphic stories of children losing arms, legs, and even their lives acted as a profitable restraint against the foolish urge to try something stupid.

When I moved to Radway, a small hamlet an hour north-northeast of Edmonton in 2000, the train passed through at least once a week.  What memories it evoked each time it happened. Even when the train came in the middle of the night, I still felt nostalgic for those halcyon days of my youth when the passing of trains were a wonderful excuse to stand next to the tracks.

Owing to a grain elevator fire in 2009, the train no longer comes through the town. Even the siding where excess rolling stock was parked now sits abandoned. The once-gleaming rails now are rusting unused.

I mentioned the train passing through Radway in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. This engaging memoir of God's awesome providence is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

HOW AN EDUCATIONAL AID BECAME A FUN GADGET

Being visually-impaired wasn't easy when I was in school. I had to learn aurally rather than from the blackboard. When I printed my words, I had to hold my head so close to the paper that my nose touched it. Then I was sent far away from home to a school for the blind. My level of vision meant that the teachers didn't know whether to teach me braille or writing. I also lacked a good hand-held magnifying glass then and when I was put back into the public system.

It was while I was being "mainstreamed" that counselors read book assignments on tape to me so I could write book reports and the like. The tape recorder, pictured above, was easy for me to operate. I also could rewind the tape if I didn't understand something or if I just wanted to hear a humorous part over again.

As with any gadget, it often becomes useful for fun pursuits as well as scholastic endeavors. Since a microphone was included with the machine, I began using it to record my silly stories on tapes which my family had.

Then I purchased a patch cord from a local stereo store and began taping shows from my radio onto a seven-inch reel which I also bought. Since the Sony machine had three speeds, I used the lowest one in order to record more material on my only tape reel. After all, money was tight then because I relied on my father for  food money.

In the mid seventies, I bought my own Sony TC-105. Again I had to scrounge money and cut back on treats. Even so, it was worth it. I could record whatever I wanted and I didn't have to return the machine to the CNIB.

Ten years later, my recorder began showing its age. It had trouble rewinding and fast-forwarding tapes. Near the end of the reels, it began slowing down too. So I replaced it with a second-hand model that a friend found at an auction. It worked well for a few years before succumbing to wear and tear. By then, nobody made open reel machines anymore.

I wrote about my educational struggles during high school and adult years in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. This story of God's marvelous providence in my life is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual bookworm Publishing in paperback and e-book form.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ANOTHER VENERABLE INSTITUTION VANISHES

In 1906, sight-impaired individuals had almost nothing in the way of entertainment. Unless some kind people took them to a concert or play, they remained at home. As I've experienced, sighted folks are busy and don't have much spare time to read news articles or books to folks such as myself.

Worse yet, braille books were few in number and costly to buy. People had to transcribe print books into braille, an effort that took many hours of tedious work. Even with the primitive braille presses of the time, only the most popular works were published.

The widow of a rich industrialist came to the rescue the next year. Matilda Ziegler read a letter to a local newspaper regarding the plight of the blind. She decided to create a braille quarterly magazine and fill it with news stories and the like.

As technology changed, so did the Matilda Ziegler magazine. In addition to braille, readers read it onto records which played on specially-built very slow speed players for the benefit of those who hadn't learned braille. Later on, cassette tapes were used. When the Internet became popular, digital copies were e-mailed to sight-impaired individuals. For a short while, the recorded version was available on special cartridges for digital audio machines provided by America's National Library Service.

Blind and partially-sighted folks have many different kinds of entertainment today. TV shows are becoming equipped with close captioning which special text-to-speech devices can translate into synthetic speech. Some programs have a narrator describing the action during breaks in dialogue. Amazon's Kindle has a screen-reading version which reads the text aloud. Screen reader programs allow sight-impaired folks to explore the Internet. Talking Books have been around for decades and now are being transcribed to NLS player cartridges.

With all this available access to amusements, and the rising costs of practically everything, the directors of the Ziegler estate realized that the magazine, which recently was only available as an e-mail message, was irrelevant. Furthermore, the expense, covered by the Ziegler estate,  couldn't be justified anymore. So after a hundred-and-seven years of publication, the magazine is now history.

Access to information, and especially the Bible, wasn't easy for me most of my life. I wrote about this problem in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Please check out my e-book and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MY 'MOUNTAIN TOP' EXPERIENCE ON A REAL MOUNTAIN

From time to time, I hear Christians talking about their "mountain top" experience. What they mean is an exceptionally good spiritual event. It could be as varied as answered prayer or leading somebody to faith in Christ. It's all very well to have such experiences but we'd grow bored if they occurred daily.

I also had an experience on top of Sulphur Mountain which I treasure for its rareness. Having poor sight, I can't see wildlife plainly unless the creatures are close to me. At times, I was able to bribe animals to come to me, as in the case of the squirrels in Toronto back in 1975. Other times, I wasn't allowed to feed the creatures but they came close to me. Such was the case with the mountain sheep I saw while on vacation in 1988.

On a sunny afternoon in September, after the crowds had left, I stayed at a hotel in Banff National Park. There were only a few tourists but we enjoyed our ride in the gondola, both going to the top and back. As we walked on the wooden sidewalks provided for us, I watched as a few female mountain sheep wandered around the gondola station. I took plenty of photos of these beautiful animals, including the one at the top of this page.

At one point, one of them came up to the boardwalk with her lamb within three feet of me. As they stood gazing at me through the bars of the railing, I took their photo. For a brief second, it was like we had some sort of connection with each other. Then both mountain sheep wandered off to lie down in the late summer sunlight.

As with other sublime moments I've had, I'll never forget how special that meeting was. In the grand scheme of things, it's inconsequential. To me however, that day has profound meaning.

I've mentioned my love of God's wondrous creation in my three memoirs. The first two are available at the Bruce Atchison's books page. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

IT WAS THE WORST SHOCK OF MY LIFE

What a shame that some folks minimize the suffering of others with sayings like, "There's people worse off than you." Though some folks whine about inconsequential matters, the suffering of many is a big deal to them. What I mean is that it's proportionally large. For instance, a broken toy can be traumatic to a child who highly valued it but the original cost of the item can easily be handled by an adult. I suffered a terrible psychological shock fifty years ago yesterday which might seem small to some, yet it devastated me.

It all began when my mom told me I was going to a new school in some place called Vancouver. Being only seven, I had no concept of distances. Consequentially, I felt that I could come home each day after school as I had always done.

The plane ride and staying at some place called a dorm seemed exciting to me. Having to march down to the dining hall seemed odd but I assumed I would be doing that just once. The school day didn't seem much different except that I was supposed to eat at that dining hall again. A teacher found me wandering the dorm's corridor as I wondered where everybody else was.

After school, I waited outside by the dorm as the other children played on the swings and teeter-totters. Surely I should be ready to go when the bus came to pick us up for our flight home.

A lady came out of the dorm and asked me if I would like to play on the playground equipment. I told her that I was all right waiting where I was. Little did I know what would happen next.

Growing impatient, I finally asked a boy when we'd be going home. "Christmas," was his astonishing reply. I thought he was joking but he assured me that we wouldn't see our families until the holidays.

The horror of what my parents did to me finally hit home. I was at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind, a residential institution far from my beloved home. I didn't cry but I sure felt like it. The warm, sunny day and the picturesque mountains across English Bay didn't matter anymore. I was stranded with no way of returning to my family except to wait for those months to painfully pass.

Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School chronicles my experiences there. In a matter-of-fact way, I present what transpired as I struggled to cope with uncaring supervisors, bullies, and terrible food. Read more about this memoir at the Bruce Atchison's books page.