November 15, 2018
Finding the Way with Humor and Optimism
After every big holiday meal, a member of my family will say, “We should go for a walk.” When that happens this year, I’ll surely mention the story below.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go for a three-mile walk in downtown Scottsdale with your eyes closed? The thought has probably never crossed your mind, but if you took such a risky stroll and survived, you might be able to tell a story as entertaining as M. Daniel Germano’s “A Leisurely Spring Walk.”
Before you read my friend’s article, let me set the scene. New Bedford, Massachusetts, which Germano called home, is 60 miles from Boston and has a population of about 100,000. At the beginning of the 20th century, it had the largest Portuguese population in the U.S. The city’s Portuguese community, several members of which Germano encountered during his walk, is predominately Catholic. Now you are finally prepared to go for a walk with a legally blind person through the streets of and old New England city. You can leave your water bottle at home.
A Leisurely Spring Walk
By M. Daniel Germano
August 15, 2006
It was Saturday, a beautiful day with a little breeze and the spring sun strong enough to push the temperature into the mid seventies. So after fluffing up my sick wife’s pillow and getting her some ginger ale and Saltines, I decided to go off for a long leisurely walk to my friend’s home some three plus miles away. Both Craig, my guide dog, and I had put on some winter weight and since yesterday, we have gone on a weight loss program featuring vows of less food and lots of walking.
Rules of the Road
One of my rules of walking with Craig, my guide dog, or by myself with my cane, is that I clearly know my destination and how to get there. By this, I mean how many blocks will I be walking west, south, north, or east, and so on.
Today, this worked out well for quite a long time. Leaving my home, I turned left and walked up my street going in an easterly direction for three blocks, which brought me to a T turn. I then turned right and walked two blocks south to the corner of Hawthorn Street and, taking a left, walked east for another six blocks which brought me to cottage Street, which runs north and south. I then took a right and walked five blocks south. I continued going in a southeasterly direction, taking lefts and rights and crossing numerous streets as my route dictated for about two miles.
Change of Plans
But at the corner of County Street and Cove Road, I chickened out about making this difficult crossing. Here, three lines of traffic merged and went in various directions. I had not had the traffic signals or traffic patterns explained to me previously. I listened for a couple of minutes to see if I could get some assistance, but I did not hear anyone talking or walking around. This happens frequently, because today, few people walk; they just simply jump into their cars and drive to their destination, be it a quarter, half, a mile or so.
But anyway, I didn’t have my Blue Cross card with me, and my doctor cousin, Dolores, was in California and I didn’t want to screw up her vacation. So I turned around rather than crossing.
Plans Go Awry
Shortly thereafter, things started to unravel. I thought I would take a different and perhaps simpler route home. I knew where I wanted to go, to the corner of County and Hawthorn streets and then home. However, I had never counted the blocks between where I was and County and Hawthorn Streets before. After walking back a few blocks north on County Street, I again started listening for people of whom I could ask directions. First, there was no one around, then there was a man who spoke to me rapidly in Spanish, but I think he was afraid of Craig and he quickly walked off.
Old Fashioned Advice
I then came across an old Portuguese lady, who did not know where Hawthorn Street was, but she tried to persuade me to go to Saint John’s Church and if I prayed, prayed very hard, while kneeling, not sitting on the bench like those lazy ones, then maybe I would get my sight back and then I could get home on my own. I thanked her profusely and thought about finding a church and a pew with a kneeler which had sharp spikes sticking up through the kneeler, as a way of truly making a sacrifice! But instead I kept walking.
I thought about the old days, when God and his saints were still in vogue. Anyway, as a child, when walking through my neighborhood, many elderly women would stop me and give me a picture of a saint and tell me to pray to the saint and just maybe I would get my sight back. On many walks, I would collect three or more such pictures or cards, especially if I were walking through a Portuguese or Italian neighborhood. I was taught to respect my elders, so I would oblige them with “obrigado,” which means thank you, and walk on.
Daffodils without Directions
Now, continuing on my journey, I decided to take a turn west and then turn north, for that was the general direction I wanted to go in. I then met a lady I had met some time ago. Damn it, she remembered my name but hell, I did not remember her voice, though I did remember her as an attractive woman. She insisted on giving me a small bouquet of daffodils. She took off before I had a chance to ask where in hell I was.
Time for a Check Up
Craig seemed to recognize the area, and I also thought I knew just about where I was, but I did want to check it out. For now, my ingrown toenail was starting to hurt and I had walked farther than I planned. I heard a young lady’s voice and walked toward it.
“Excuse me, my dog and I took a wrong turn. Could you tell me where I am?” In a sweet voice she told me where I was and after walking a few steps back to the corner, I continued traveling. Two blocks later, a car pulled up at the curb and this man said, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yes, thank you.” The man said, “I thought so, but my wife was worried about you and sent me to check up on you.” I waved my daffodils and kept walking. I was sure that the man’s wife was the woman with the sweet voice, who had given me directions a few blocks back. I was happy that “someone was watching over me,” or however that song goes. Here I was walking the streets, a gray-haired old man with a paunch, his eyes closed, and a big German shepherd in one hand and a bunch of flowers in his other hand.
A few blocks later, I arrived home. I thought I should have gotten my dog about thirty years earlier, but putting these regrets aside, I put the flowers in a vase, got my dear wife a full glass of ginger ale and more Saltines and trudged upstairs to see her. I put the flowers on the nightstand and woke up my wife. I waved the soda and crackers before her and said to myself, what a wonderful husband I am. I helped her sit up and stuck the straw that was in the glass of soda, up her nose. She screamed and I nearly dropped the glass. After all that, I asked how she was. She told me that she was feeling better. She asked me about my walk, but you have heard that story already.
About the Author
M. Daniel Germano, known as “Duke” by his friends, was the first legally blind student to enroll and graduate from the University of Rhode Island (URI). His parents were Portuguese immigrants, living in Bristol, Rhode Island. The family had little money. His father, while sighted, was unemployed and in poor health, having had a leg amputated. Duke’s sister was also handicapped.
Germano did not attend any school until he was seven when the State of Rhode Island directed his parents to enroll him in the Perkins School for the Blind (founded by Helen Keller). He lived at Perkins until he finished its high school level curriculum at which time he enrolled at the University of Rhode Island.
I met him in the dorms the first week of our first semester when I heard someone a few rooms away singing and playing the accordion. It was Duke. We were taking some of the same courses and I became one of his readers (there were no computers, digital readers, or guide dogs then. He used a braille stylus, braille typewriter and tape recorder to take notes). Being a reader was a great gig. I was paid by the State by the hour. He was an older and better student and I was also taking the courses that I was reading for. That job continued for our four years of college. Later, in that freshman year, we both joined the Sigma Chi fraternity.
He carried a double major (Political Science and Economics) at URI and graduated in 1960 with a degree in business and a 3.5 academic average (4 point scale). He received an MS Degree in Public Administration, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Government.
During his career, Germano worked for the governor of Rhode Island, serving as assistant director of Rhode Island’s anti-poverty program, and secured more than $1.5 million worth of funding for educational and social services for the City of New Bedford as that city’s model cities education coordinator. As the Director of Federal and State Grants for New Bedford’s public school department, he coordinated the planning and implementation of over $10 million in Federal and State grants annually. As New Bedford’s Title One Coordinator, he managed the city’s largest federal educational program, which provided remedial support and pre-school services to 2,000 disadvantaged students. There’s more.
Duke has also given back to his community and has an outstanding record of community involvement and volunteering. For example, he chaired the New Bedford Opportunity Center, served on the Committee for the Hiring of the Handicapped, worked to beautify a local park, served on the New Bedford Library Building Committee, and served on the school district’s adult education advisory committee.
It’s fitting that Duke also served as an active member and chair of the Portuguese Education Society. The organization raised funds to distribute to Portuguese students about to enter college who had a strong academic record and whose parents were immigrants of low income status. Undoubtedly, Duke was able to “walk in the shoes” of those students and provide valuable assistance. It is not known if Duke gave any of these students daffodils.
“Duke” enjoyed a long and happy married and he and his wife raised two sighted daughters. He died last year, leaving many sad friends and family members who admired his sense of humor, fun-loving nature, optimism, sensitivity, perseverance, character and intelligence. He was a great friend and an inspiration to everyone who knew him. Let’s face it, until recent years, there have been many barriers that have made it difficult for people with disabilities to enjoy the same opportunities that are available to most Americans. He helped to break down those barriers. He was blind but never handicapped.
Related Articles & Websites
First Day in School: Dreaded Day by Manual Germano Article
First Day in School and Tales of Brother Germano Article