Ding! Elevator doors open and out I step, heading toward my appointment. Turning the corner, I see, halfway down the hallway, a short, stout lady with short, graying hair, standing with her hand stretched up to the sign on the wall by an office door. She’s gently tracing it with her fingers and that’s when I notice the white cane in her other hand.
“Can I help you?” I asked. I assumed that for this woman to be there alone, to have found her way up to the second floor of a medical building and confidently navigating a hallway to a doctor’s office, she must have some sight. But, as I walked up to her and looked into her face, I saw she was totally blind.
Turns out we’re going to the same place. Her name is Ellie and, since she agreed, I gently took her arm to guide her. We had a pleasant chat as we walked along. Once in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, she sat down, I sat beside her and we continued to chat.
Thanksgiving was coming up, so I asked, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I figure she’s got family or friends that will include her in. Ellie said, “We’re staying at home, but I’m not cooking the turkey.” I thought, well, of course you’re not. You’re blind. But to be polite I said, “So, you cook?”
Ellie said, “Yes”, but her partner wanted to do the turkey, she was only doing the sides. I thought, Oh my God, she cooks. She really cooks. I said, “I can’t boil water. So, if you’re doing the sides, what are you making?” I kept expecting her to tell me, at some point, she’s teasing. But no, she’s doing mashed potatoes, the dressing, green beans, the whole shebang. And to top that, they’re not just cooking for themselves, they’re having company. I was amazed. Out of my mouth sprang, “Oh, hell! I have no excuse now!”
Ellie laughed. Then she continued, “Well, actually I teach cooking.” I said, “No! You teach cooking?” I can’t cook. She’s blind, and not only does she cook, but she teaches cooking? I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” She said, “No, I teach cooking to the blind.”
I almost fell out of my chair. I was so impressed. I proceeded to ask her question after question about how that could possibly work. Ellie patiently explained to me how, through the use of tapping with wooden spoons, they judge distance and placement, which also keeps the students safe. That cooking is very much about sounds and smells. How you have to listen to the intensity of the boiling water and learn the difference in smells as a dish cooks along. I said, “You know, I get that.” Words in a recipe never relate to what happens on a stove. But this smell and listening thing made sense.
Ellie explained things to me in a way that no sighted person has ever been able to make sense to me before. This gave me hope. If this sweet, blind woman could not only cook, but also teach cooking, surely I could accomplish something. Albeit something small, but something.
Now Ellie had told me her partner was coming to join her to be with her during a medical procedure. So, the whole time we’re talking, I keep thinking, in the back of my mind, that since her partner is cooking the turkey, the partner is sighted. I took that for granted. I know I’m not safe in the kitchen, so with a blind person cooking, somebody would have to keep an eye on things.
After a while the waiting room door opens and in walks a short, stout lady, almost a duplicate of Ellie. She’s tapping her way into the room with a white cane and she is also blind. And she’s the one who’ll be cooking the turkey!
I had to face it. There’s no hope for me. I have now met not one, but two blind women who can cook better than me. And, not only do these two women cook for company, they both teach cooking…to the blind. In addition to that, they’re both much safer cooking in the kitchen than I ever will be! I give up. They have put me to shame. – By Martha Hannah