Friday, August 8, 2014

Eli at the water pump at Ivy Green, Helen Keller's home.
Future activist icon and Tuscumbia, Alabama native Helen Keller was struck with an illness at the age of 19 months that thrust her into a private world of darkness and silence. A child of normal health, Helen was born to parents who loved her and wanted the best for her. When what is believed to have been scarlet fever left her dumb and blind, her parents were understandably devastated and lost (I can relate). In her darkness, young Helen became hard to handle. Temper tantrums and angry antics were common and the only thing her parents knew to do was give her what she wanted. In “Helen Keller: A Life” by Dorothy Herrmann, Helen is described as a “monster” by family and friends. She kicks and pinches people, and at the dinner table is allowed to eat with her hands, throws food, and eats from other people’s plates. Family and friends encouraged the Kellers to
In front of the main house at Ivy Green.
have her institutionalized or at least hidden away- people of that day, especially, thought that the “brain fever,” which is what Helen was officially diagnosed with, left its victims mentally ill. But her mother, Katherine “Kate” Adams Keller, always had Helen present and active in the home despite her reign of terror. Helen ruled the roost at Ivy Green, the name of the plantation home. Kate was the second wife of Arthur Henley Keller, a former captain in the Confederate Army. Though her roots reached to the north, she grew up in Arkansas and was a daddy’s girl to her Confederate Brigadier General father, according to Herrmann. She was beautiful, and 20 years younger than her 42-year-old groom. Her bubble soon burst about married life and about her husband as she learned that he was not as financially stable as one would think he would be. Being a captain in the Confederate Army wasn’t worth much in 1878, when they got married, and he had a law degree that
Eli taking a break outside the cottage.
he wasn’t using. So, to earn a living he worked as a plantation farmer, and he owned a newspaper of which he was the editor. It also grew to be obvious that her husband’s love of hunting and care for his hunting hounds were of high priority to him. Helen jokes about that in personal letters later. Kate wasn’t happy, nevertheless with little complaint took on her role described, by Hermann, as that of a pioneer woman compared to her life as a Memphis Belle. Although, Herrmann said, that she would go for periods of time without talking to her husband. But, she worked alongside any farm hands they had, and tried to do things like maker her own butter to save money. So, she could roll with whatever was thrown at her to make it work. She did what she had to do. She was a good cook and became known for her beautiful flower gardens. With a disappointing marriage, Helen’s birth brought incredible joy to Kate. When Helen became ill and subsequently
The kids were invited behind the tourist rails to have their
picture made where Helen ate her meals and threw awful
tantrums as a small child before Miss Sullivan came.
deaf-blind, Kate’s heart was broken. But, despite the years of tantrums from Helen and the years of pressure to institutionalize her from family, Kate never gave hope that her first-born daughter could be helped. So, when she ran across an article about another deaf and blind girl who had been taught to communicate, she took notice. Kate convinced her husband for them to travel to New England to seek out the same road for their little girl. That road led them to a young, inexperienced teacher named Anne Sullivan. The key to unlock the darkness that held her daughter was with another person, a stranger. Captain Keller, despite his shortcomings as a husband, was an invested father and offered a decent wage to Miss Sullivan for her to move to Alabama. Kate eagerly took her into her home. She never questioned or hindered the drastic and sometimes troubling measures that Miss Sullivan took to un-teach her daughter and then to finally reach her daughter. How hard it is to be helpless and feel useless when it comes to the health and development
Helen Keller was very religious. This is a braille Bible, not sure
if it was hers. In the background is the doll used by Miss
Sullivan when she taught her to say "doll."
of your child. Helen wrote later in one of her books, that, before she met “teacher” as she always called Miss Sullivan, she literally attached herself to her mother’s skirts and went with her everywhere, while she worked, while she did everything a mother does during a day - which wasn’t sitting at a computer desk writing a blog. How hard it would be for a mother who has physically been the homebase for her child, the place her child felt safe, to peel her off of her skirt and give her to another, a stranger in her darkness. How heart-breakingly humbling to hand that child over to someone else to do for her what she could not. For a woman who obviously knew how to roll up her sleeves when the going got tough, and didn’t mind doing what needed to be done, it would feel like failure. That’s my opinion, and I’m telling you, it feels like failure. When Miss Sullivan moved to Alabama and into the Keller home, it was during their first meal together that
After Ivy Green, we had fun at Spring Park.
the young teacher sensed the obstacle Helen’s parents were as they emotionally crumbled to Helen’s unruliness. So, as I was told by a tour guide at Ivy Green, as soon as they left the room, Miss Sullivan locked the doors. Now, with just Helen and her in the room, the youngster was forced to acknowledge her presence and so began her first lesson. It quickly became apparent to the teacher that she would need Helen’s undivided attention for days in order to break through the darkness. Miss Sullivan requested that she and Helen be isolated in a cottage on the grounds. Captain Keller was against the idea and was not a fan of Miss Sullivan’s strict disciplinary tactics with is little girl. But, Kate convinced him, just as she had convinced him to pursue an answer in the first place. Kate knew what was best for Helen. She knew that Miss Sullivan was what was best for
We loved the train, especially this guy.
Helen. She knew that for her to step aside was what was best for Helen. That took as much strength and courage to do as what Miss Sullivan was doing. In published letters that Helen wrote, many are to her mother. Helen sounds so excited to share news with her mother, and describes events with such vivid detail. (It is so interesting to read her own thoughts and how she describes the color and sounds.) No matter if it was about a stroll in a garden or if it was about meeting a king, she was excited to share news and connect with her mother. When trying to just quickly google about Kate Keller, pretty much everything only says “She was the mother of Helen Keller.” But, how profound is that simple statement. She was the mother of Helen Keller!

We visited Ivy Green last week, and went to Spring park in Tuscumbia. I have been to Helen Keller’s home a few times over the years, and the girls have been once. But, how surreal to stand at
the water pump where Anne Sullivan finally broke through the darkness that held Helen Keller. And, how cool it was to count it as school!

Eli is doing pretty well. We had mid-cycle chemo today and they had to down-dose due to his immune system not being quite high enough to meet the treatment requirement. It was so close. I hate it, but I’d rather get less chemo for longer since it is working - or we still think it is working. We leave for Memphis next Sunday, August 17, for MRI on that Monday. I was afraid about him being able to rebound this cycle, but he seems decent. There aren’t many “normal” marks on his lab work sheet, but nothing horrible by St. Jude’s standards. Lack of eating continues to haunt us, but we just push and push. A dietician came to talk to us at the clinic. I told her everything we were doing and she just kind of said, well,
We enjoyed reading about the Indians and the spring.
sounds like you are doing all you can do. She gave me the name of a little juice box, and that was it. I do want to push the nuts and smoothies with him again, I kind of got out of the habit of that as he complained about his belly more and more.

We took a (cautious) trip to a water park this week. It was one of about three things left on the kids’ summer vacation bucket lists, so I really wanted to get it in, but I was nervous about Eli possibly needing blood or platelets since it was recovery week. Since his lab work was decent on Friday, we went on Monday and I watched him closely - CLOSELY, irritatingly close. His energy was low, which is always concerning and could be a sign that he needs blood, but he hadn’t had a nose bleed in day at that time, he didn’t have any more congestion so no sign of a cold coming on and his color was good. So, with no signs of anything impending, we went. He had been asking all summer to go, so we went without friends just in case we had to turn around and leave because of him (it’s one thing to disappoint my kids, but I’d hate to ask friends to go then say, “oh, sorry, Eli doesn’t look good, we’ve got to go home.” I would do that if I needed to, but I would hate to. I'm already not a very popular mother, so that would not help me in the polls for sure). The kids and I had a
At Spring Valley Beach Park.
wonderful day, and it was a nice distraction from the ending of Eli's summer 2014. The girls did the big kid stuff for a little while, and Caleb was in love with the water playground. He was all over it. Eli couldn't keep up with him and really wanted to play, but Caleb was just so fast. So, he just kind of walked around with me in the water for a while. After lunch, they all played together without being told. They had a great time hanging out and just playing and my heart was full just to sit on the side and watch. It’s always nice for me to take them somewhere fun because they pretty much think that all I want to do is laundry. Years ago, I took a day in the summer and we just played with a water slide and plastic pool and just things in the yard all day. Abbey, about age 7, I guess, came to me and said, “See, mama, isn’t this more fun than doing laundry?” And, one time, on a girl scout camping trip, Hg, about 8 or so, was reading the chore list for the weekend and it said “clean the bathrooms.” She said excitedly to the mother standing next to her, “Oh! My mom will be so excited. She is always making us clean something.” So, I always like it when I have an opportunity to show the kids that I’m not all barky and finger-snappy.

So, we squeaked in those little day-outs because school started this week for Four and Two. Four started kindergarten and Two started sixth grade. One and Three continue their academic pursuits at Thunderhead Academy. It’s a little stormy at Thunderhead right now, but I’m hoping that with the others in school that the atmosphere will become a bit milder. I am hopeful for a slow weekend of mowing the yard and laundry and nothing. Please, please, remember sweet Brayden
We had fun, it was a beautiful day.
as he is on hospice now, and that little family is having some heart-breakingly precious days. Please, also include prayers of thanksgiving for us as we travel this road cradled in the comfort of our Creator’s hand.

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