Excerpted from Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School. Bruce Atchison is also the author of When a Man Loves a Rabbit. He lives in a small hamlet in Alberta.
I followed the rest of the boys back to the dorm after school.
Doubtless, I thought, a grownup would soon be picking us up and taking us home. As it was a warm sunny afternoon, the wait was somewhat pleasant.
Becoming bored with hanging around the swings, next to the dorm, I asked one boy, “When will we be going home?
“Christmas,” he said bluntly. I could not believe my ears.
“You’re joking!” I managed to blurt through the shock.
“No, I’m not. We really have to stay here till December.”
I felt utterly devastated. How could my parents betray and abandon me in such a faraway place? Christmas seemed a million years away. What began as a wonderful adventure suddenly became a tragedy. I held back my tears, though I certainly felt like sobbing.
That was not the only shock I received that day. Miss Boyce sent everybody to bed at seven. I could not believe it. No one went to sleep at that hour of the evening. “This must be some sort of mistake,” I thought, so I started to wander the hall.
“I told you to get back into bed!” Miss Boyce ordered.
“I want to play. The sun’s still shining.”
“Go back to bed and I mean it!” Miss Boyce barked.
I shuffled back into the bedroom feeling thoroughly defeated. With the sun blazing brightly outside, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep. To my surprise, I drifted off fairly quickly.
I had many new customs to learn in Jericho. One of them was having to change into play clothes after school. I thought it was unnecessary, having never done that at home, but Miss Boyce insisted. I had never worn clothes with my own name written in them either. Mom sewed the labels on to prevent my laundry from becoming mixed up with that of other boys.
Miss Boyce forced us to wear overshoes on rainy days. They were made of stiff brown leather and were supposed to be worn whenever we left the building. I despised them because they made my feet feel heavy and awkward. Our supervisor failed to comprehend why I hated them since “all good little boys” wore overshoes.
Miss Boyce ordered us to make our own beds each morning as well. Mom had always straightened out the bedclothes for us at home. Consequently, I was unfamiliar with that chore. I had difficulty tucking in the sheets to Miss Boyce’s satisfaction that first week. She angrily demonstrated the proper way to tuck in the bedclothes one morning and broke a nail in the process.
“Look what you made me do,” she wailed as she stared at her right hand. Though I felt ashamed, I also thought it was ridiculous for a person to have fingernails that long. Her peevishness was a mystery to me. Being a young boy, I had no understanding of why a broken nail was such a tragedy.
I also had trouble putting on my new black raincoat. As I never had worn one like it before, I did not know how to close the fasteners. This was another complication that upset Miss Boyce. She reacted as if I had those problems in order to make her life more difficult. I eventually learned how to do all of those new tasks, but it was a steep learning curve.
The food was different than it was at home. Breakfast usually consisted of lumpy Cream of Wheat with soggy toast and milk or cocoa. We occasionally ate scrambled eggs, which did not taste like the kind Mom made.
Instead of sandwiches or soup for lunch, the Dining Hall staff served strange dishes like egg omelette, which we nicknamed egg vomit, and melted cheese.
The staff also served us a dreadful dish called Spanish Rice. Not only did I loathe the taste of the overcooked tomatoes but those bay leaves made me gag. I especially hated the coleslaw and the Jell-O with bits of vegetables in it. It was beyond my comprehension why anyone would ruin a perfectly good dessert with bits of cabbage and carrots.
For supper, the Dining Hall served child-torturing foods such as liver, parsnips and squash. Everybody had no choice but to eat fish on Fridays. I disliked it because of all those bones. The chips served with the fish were rather soggy but they were edible. Usually, we ate an apple for dessert, but occasionally the staff served us two slabs of plywood with blueberries in between. I had never eaten pie with such hard crusts before. Those dull butter knives were little help.
On rare occasions, the Dining Hall served good-tasting fare. I loved grilled cheese sandwiches and wished we could have had them more often. Corn fritters also were a tasty treat at lunch. Infrequently, we ate pudding for dessert. It was a singular treat indeed when the Dining Hall gave us vanilla ice cream.
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