The Walking Stick

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Chapter 7: Changes

Pearl swept past Grandma with a chill that gave them both goosebumps. It took all she had not to blow up at Grandma. Her nerves were shot. Pearl tossed her mysterious root underneath her cot and fell onto her pillow. “Could things possibly get any worse?” Pearl thought to herself. The only kids Pearl knew that were ever homeschooled were social outcasts or kids who were too brainy to attend public school and too poor to attend private school.

Grandma rushed into the cabin completely out of breath. “Pearl, I almost lost you once already today. I refuse to lose you again by you shutting me out! Now, I am sorry you found out about me homeschooling you next year in this way. I meant to take you up here and tell you on a night when we were relaxed and having fun.”

“So this entire trip was just a set up to tell me some more bad news,” Pearl interrupted. “I can’t believe this! You could have just ruined my world at home. You didn’t have to take me all the way out here to do that!”

“Just stop it, Pearl. Hush up just one minute! All of us are trying to help you the best way we know how. As soon as you stop attending your own pity party, you just might realize that! Your mom and I discussed several options, most of which simply would not work out logistically.”

“Such as…,” Pearl mumbled through clenched teeth.

“Well, Dr. Holt suggested several directions, and your mom followed up with each one. For example, you could attend tenth grade at Northrich Hills High School next year just like all the other kids. But if your sight continues to deteriorate at the rate which it has been, you will need an itinerant teacher or a resource room teacher to assist you. Your mom called up at the school, and they do not have a resource teacher. They can assign you an itinerant teacher, which is a teacher that travels from school to school to help kids with special needs. In your case, this teacher would make sure your homework assignments were transferred to large print or Braille. These types of services the school would provide for you. Are you listening to me, Pearl?” Grandma asked. Pearl had her eyes closed and was lying on the cot with her back turned away from Grandma.

“Yes. Go on,” Pearl said in an exasperated tone.

Grandma ignored Pearl’s rudeness and continued as if she were talking to an attentive audience. “Well, you could also attend a special school with other visually impaired kids. Unfortunately, the closest school of this kind is in Houston, and you would have to live on campus. The upside is you would receive year-round attention from specialized teachers. They would be able to teach you Braille, how to walk with a cane, how to move about town, etc…all this in addition to teaching you the required school lessons.”

With these final words, Pearl rolled over on her side and faced Grandma with angry eyes. “You guys would seriously send me away?” Pearl asked.

“Not unless you want to go,” Grandma replied. “Since I have been an educator for half of my life, I feel qualified to teach you from home. Dr. Holt liked this idea. In fact, he put us in contact with an organization that sends out a certified orientation and mobility instructor to the house twice each week to help the student adapt to new lifestyle changes in the comfort of her surroundings. The instructor would start off by helping us get schoolbooks in larger print so you can read them more easily as your sight lessens. She will also assist us in ensuring you are getting the free resources from the state rehabilitation agency. She will set up transcription services, so you can have your favorite magazines or books converted into a format that is easier for you to enjoy. And did you know you can order just about any book you would like on tape from the Library for the Blind for free? Pearl, this instructor will even teach you Braille when you are ready. It is the best of both worlds: you can live at home while learning the necessary skills to enable you to maneuver independently.”

“When does all this start?” Pearl asked as she sat up on her cot.

“August. Helping Eyes for the Blind is assisting us with the paperwork so that the state will pick up most of the cost. I have a little nest egg of my own that your grandfather and I built together. What the state doesn’t cover, that little nest egg will.”

“Grandma, you don’t have to do that. You need your money. I don’t want to take it.” Pearl was embarrassed that this was happening at all. She felt ashamed for causing trouble - trouble for worrying Grandma this morning and now trouble with the cost of her education.

“Nonsense, I can’t take that money with me when I die, and I am not getting any younger! That’s what grandparents do. They spend their money on their grandkids. Lucky for you, you’re the only grandkid I have. Now, it is my choice how I spend my money, and I choose to spend it on you. Got it?”

“Got it. Thanks, Grandma.” Pearl got up and hugged Grandma tightly. She did not know what to think about being homeschooled or learning Braille. Everything seemed so far off. Yet, Pearl knew her need to make changes was becoming more evident from day to day.

The remainder of their camping trip went quite well and without incident. Friday morning they packed up and headed home. Pearl almost forgot to grab the root she had tossed underneath her cot days prior. Over the last several days Pearl did not have time to think about the craziness of that day in the woods; she had been busy spending time and talking with Grandma. They had many good talks about life in general and the changes Pearl would be experiencing with her eyes. She was amazed how cool Grandma was away from the television set. At home, her personality had only been allowed to shine during commercial breaks. But in cabin 2-B, Pearl felt as if she was the center of Grandma’s attention.

When they returned home, Pearl was taken back by all the changes her mom had made. The refrigerator and pantry were completely reorganized. Furniture had been rearranged, and tan drapes had been added to the windows. Everything that her mom said she was going to do was completed. Pearl felt as if each room in the house contained a newly wrapped gift for her to unveil. Small changes here and there would certainly make a big difference. For example, her mom placed auto-sensor nightlights throughout the walkways in the house. And there was even a new key hanger with the house key encased in a neon-colored sleeve for Pearl to quickly recognize.

Pearl was touched by the obvious amount of work her mom had put into making these changes. She had even taken down the hanging plants and put them on the fireplace hearth. Pearl chuckled when she saw this. Pearl had previously hit her head on the hanging plants more times than she would like to admit. But what touched Pearl the most was what she saw when she stepped into her bedroom to put up her camping things. Laid out neatly on her pink quilt was a new collection of paints, brushes, canvas boards, and sketch pads. An easel was set up in the middle of her room with a big pink bow neatly tied to the top. A sheet from the sketch pad was attached to the easel. In big black letters her mom had written, “RP can’t stop Pearl from being Pearl. Love, Mom.”

Grandma stepped into Pearl’s room and put her hand on Pearl’s back. “My goodness, what a mom you have,” Grandma said as she looked at all the artwork supplies.

“Yeah,” Pearl managed to say quietly, “really cool.” Grandma hugged Pearl and then quietly left her room. Pearl unpacked each little tube of acrylic paint from inside the big white box. She laid the tubes out on her bed like a rainbow: all the brilliant colors, each holding a unique piece to a picture yet to be created.

Later that evening, when Pearl’s mom came home from work, they enjoyed sitting around the kitchen table discussing the changes that were made to the house and those still to be made. Pearl truly appreciated the support from both her mom and Grandma. She couldn’t imagine going through this alone, or being sent off to Houston to finish school surrounded by strangers.

Grandma glanced over at Susan and said, “You sure are looking well. New makeup?”

Pearl’s mom had a confession to make. “No. Same old stuff as usual. I did do something different though while you guys were gone. I went on a date of sorts,” Susan said sheepishly.

“A DATE!!” Pearl and Grandma exclaimed at the same time.

Susan laughed. “Why, yes. That’s right. I don’t even know if you can officially call it a date; maybe more of a get together.” Susan was beaming from ear to ear and was excited to share her experience with her daughter and mother.

“Do tell,” Grandma said impatiently.

“Well, Dr. Holt, I mean, Todd and I went for Chinese food Wednesday night at that little spot down the road.”

“Dr. Holt!” Pearl hollered. She was not entirely surprised, but at the same time she was amazed that her mom actually went out on a date.

“Yes, he called a couple of times to check on how I was doing with making the changes to the house. The second time he called, he asked if I wanted to meet him for dinner after work. He is a nice guy, and he has helped me sort out some of the decisions we are going to have to make now and down the road regarding your eyesight,” Susan said while looking at her daughter.

“Okay,” Pearl said. “What is his story?”

“Well, he was married for a couple of years. He is now divorced and has no kids. Since his divorce, he pours all his time and energy into the research facility. He enjoys the outdoors and likes classic rock. His favorite food is chocolate birthday cake,” Susan laughed. “I guess you could say we talked about everything. I invited him over for dinner tomorrow night. Thought we could all pitch in and make our famous spaghetti and meatballs.”

Both Pearl and Grandma sat quietly as they watched Susan. She was truly glowing. This new look was better than makeup and hopefully would last a lot longer too.

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