The ticking of a hand-wound clock and the voice of my father’s aunt were what I first noticed as I tried to sit quietly on a Victorian chair with curved wooden legs and a not-very-soft needlepointed seat. I wasn’t able to sit still for long. “Go into the kitchen and get a watermelon pickle,” my great-aunt said merrily. Legally blind due to glaucoma, she could see only shadows and silhouettes. I was an avid reader as a child, so blindness terrified me. Although she applied drops to her cloudy eyes, there were limited treatments and no cure in 1965.
I looked at my mother’s face, and she nodded her permission for the kitchen excursion. I rose, following my brother to the counter where the jar of watermelon pickles sat. Of course I’d had pickles before—kosher dills, sweet gherkins, and homemade bread and butter chips (though I never could understand what pickles had to do with bread). But as my brother and I looked at the canning jar on the counter, we exchanged skeptical glances, wondering about these pale green spears. How had our mostly blind great-aunt canned these pickles?
Unconvinced that anything known as a watermelon pickle would taste good, even though the juicy red fruit was a favorite of mine, I let my brother open the lid first—and waited to see his face as he took a bite—before I chose a spear myself. He liked it! I took one from the jar and carried it on a folded napkin as I returned to sit near my mother.
Back in the parlor, our great-aunt was demonstrating her new device, a record player and special records from the Association for the Blind: books and music on disks with braille labels. Her fingers nimbly removed one from its paper jacket, and soon the big-band sounds of Dorsey serenaded us. “I can listen to books as well,” she said happily.
With my watermelon pickle in hand—still uneaten, even though my brother had appeared to survive his taste-test—I watched my great-aunt’s face come alive to the music. Closing my eyes, I wondered what it would be like to live in a world of darkness, with only sound and no light, and quickly opened my eyes again as I took a bite of the pickle.
Julie A. Dickson
Exeter, New Hampshire