Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
By Patricia Turner
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His mother picked up the book she'd been reading to her six year-old son and placed it back on its shelf.
“I want to read it myself!”
“I understand, Stevie.” Her heart ached for him. There were so many things her son could do, and do well, but he was deeply passionate about being able to read.
Fifteen year-old Louis bent over in concentration, focusing the work of his fingers. The tool was familiar: his father used it for years in his harness making profession. Now Louis was applying it to a different purpose.
“The code has to be quick to read”, he thought. The dot and dash code of the French military had failed for his needs in part because the patterns took too much space on the page and the phonetic style made it cumbersome to use.
“I couldn't imagine he'd ever pick up that tool again”, mused his mother, watching.
“Doesn't he realize it's the same tool that took his sight in the first place?” His father shook his head.
She remembered that day - oh how she remembered it. The blood pouring from his eye, his screams. Then the few days that went by when he seemed all right, before the infection took the sight of her three year-old son in both eyes.
“Certainly he does, Simon. It doesn't seem to matter. He's obsessed with being able to read.”
“Mother, I just don't know what to do. Stevie is becoming increasingly unhappy with this one thing that he just can't do.”
Her mother, a retired school teacher, thought for a moment.
“Anne, I know he's at the age where other children are beginning to read. If Stevie could learn to read in another, different way, I believe he would make the effort and do so.”
Though God allowed the one thing to be taken away, he'd gifted the boy in other ways.
“After all, look at how he's taken to the guitar already.”
“Yes Mother, but is there another way?”
As Louis grew, his brilliant, creative mind was restless, yearning for the ideas, the stories, the worlds locked away in books that he couldn't read. He became impassioned with finding a way to enable himself and other blind persons to read as quickly as a sighted person.
At the age of ten he went away to a school in Paris for the blind.
“The books are so incredibly heavy”, he wrote to his family. “And there aren't many of them. The letters are raised and are so large that it takes too much time to feel each one all the way to the end of the sentence. Sometimes I can't remember what the sentence was even about by the time I get to the end.”
“Louis”, one of his teachers approached him one day. “Louis, I've just heard: the French military is using a code of raised dashes and dots to transmit messages to the troops at night so that they don't have to use any illumination to read them.”
“A series of dashes and dots...that could work!” Louis' teacher helped him obtain a copy of some of the code.
He worked with the military code for several weeks in growing frustration. “They're just too cumbersome! There has to be a more workable way.”
One afternoon while he was home on vacation, Louis made his way to his father's workshop. Feeling among the leather working tools, his hand fell upon the blunt pointed awl. He hesitated for only a moment.
Taking in hand the tool that had taken his sight, Louis began to devise different patterns of bumps. Six tiny bumps arranged in double columns of three, some raised with others remaining concave: he worked out a pattern for the twenty six letters of the alphabet.
Young Louis worked tirelessly, his mind engaged in his task. His parents watched, amazed and overjoyed as their son used the tiny patterns of bumps to create a sentence, which he then quickly read back using touch.
“Anne, surely you've heard of the Braille tactile alphabet? It was created years ago by a young man named Louis Braille.”
“It works!” exclaimed the delighted boy. Turning toward his mother he shouted: “It works! I'm reading!”
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