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Through Lattice Windows: Wacky Welcome

"Since I apparently don't look blind, it was necessary to explain to our visitors that I can't distinguish faces, see people in the passage or avoid luggage left in doorways. The teenagers, in their usual inimitable style, took this in their stride and were soon making elaborate gestures to be helpful.

Within hours, it had become a standing joke that I had to ask who I was talking to - a standing joke, that is, until I asked my own daughter. She was shocked to realize how much my eyesight had deteriorated since she'd been away.''

Leanne Hunt is a writer who will make you smile and warm your heart.

For more of Leanne's columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/through_lattice_windows/

Recently, my eighteen-year-old daughter visited home after being away for several months. She brought with her a group of friends who were to spend the week with us. As they were shown to their rooms, my guide dog Lulu did her usual slide down the passage on the carpet to show how clever she was, successfully breaking the ice.

Since I apparently don't look blind, it was necessary to explain to our visitors that I can't distinguish faces, see people in the passage or avoid luggage left in doorways. The teenagers, in their usual inimitable style, took this in their stride and were soon making elaborate gestures to be helpful.

Within hours, it had become a standing joke that I had to ask who I was talking to - a standing joke, that is, until I asked my own daughter. She was shocked to realize how much my eyesight had deteriorated since she'd been away.

Macular degeneration tends to occur in bursts, with nothing happening for ages and then surprising you with a sudden change. I compare it to looking through a lattice window in which some of the diamonds are blacked out. You get used to looking through certain gaps, then one day, a gap closes and you are left feeling disorientated and vulnerable - until you train yourself to look through another gap.

The first half of the week went well and we had some interesting chats. Then my daughter left on a camp and two of the teenagers went home. They were being replaced by two other members of the group who were supposed to be joining us for supper. This was where the fun started. Although I was expecting them, they came to the door without announcing themselves as the newcomers. Consequently, I didn't make the connection immediately. I asked them the normal questions: "How was your day? Are you hungry? Would you like to make yourselves a cup of coffee?" The boys responded politely, if a little warily.

It was only when the remainder of the group arrived and we sat down for supper that I realize my blunder. The poor fellows had been subjected to weird questions like "Is someone there?" and "Are you wearing a jersey?" since they'd walked in the door. They must have thought their friends' mother was mad.

The cherry on the top was when, in an effort to make conversation at the table, I told the teenagers about a fascinating movie I had watched on television the night before. It was about a man who claimed he was an extra-terrestrial and a psychiatrist who found himself being drawn into the man's story and losing his sense of what was real. One of the newcomers recognized the story I was referring to and said, "Oh yes! That's a Denzel Washington movie, isn't it?"

I replied, in my usual vague manner, "I don't know. Denzel Washington is black and this actor was white I think."

There was a slight awkward pause, then somebody leaned over to give Lulu a vigorous rub on her tummy. Only then did it dawn on me that the young man I had been talking to was also black! So much for trying to be the perfect hostess! Luckily, my soppy labrador knows just how to divert attention to herself, so within moments the awkward situation had been forgotten and the boys were talking animatedly about their own dogs at home.

All in all, I think they took it very well. It's not every day you have to deal with a wacky blind woman who gets you mixed up with someone of a different skin colour or even gender! But hey, maybe it was good for them? The world is full of mad people and dogs that save the day. You've just got to expect the unexpected and go with the flow!

As for me, I found the incident rather amusing. I come from a society that has a painful history of racial discrimination and was raised during the era of apartheid. Political and social changes over the past decade and a half have heightened our awareness with regard to building a non-racial South Africa. Sometimes, in our effort to be politically correct, we over-compensate and err on the side of caution. On this occasion I had done the opposite - yet the fact that I was so totally unaware of the thing that had once divided people in our country was in itself meaningful. Sometimes, looking through lattice windows affords a more human view than looking through clear ones.

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