Seeing beyond blindness
Port de Grave senior defies disability
At four o’clock every weekday afternoon, the Port de Grave boy leaves school and gingerly wends his way to the only home he knows. He and his grandmother drag the kitchen table over to the window. He sits down and does his homework by the light streaming in from outside. In this way, the years pass and he graduates eighth grade.
As a boy, this was a typical day for Bert Reid, who has been blind since an early age.
There was a time when he could manage to distinguish a five-dollar bill from a ten-dollar bill if he held both objects mere inches from his eyes. But that’s a thing of the past. Today, the 67-year-old is blind. He’s even unable to see the burst of a camera flash in front of his eyes.
Sitting in his room at the Bay Roberts Retirement Centre, he recalls the influences that shaped his life. First and foremost are his grandparents, Marion and Eli Reid, the ones who “did the most ( for me),” he says proudly. “ They raised me till they couldn’t do it anymore.” His nan receives singular praise. “ When I did my homework, a scattered time I’d write down below the line,” he says. She helped him stay on track. “ She was Mom and Dad to me, as far as I was concerned,” he adds.
Because he was familiar with the lay of the land, Bert had no trouble walking around Port de Grave with the aid of a cane. He collected door to door for the blind, sold tickets for a variety of causes, and went to dances. “I was really active,” he says.
Eventually, Bert and his grandmother moved in with her daughter. About nine years ago, he became a guest at a personal care home in Shearstown and, later, in Brigus. Last year, he moved into the new home on Country Road.
Bert is known for his positive attitude about his blindness. “I got used to it and never let it get me down,” he says simply. “Okay, I can’t see, so what am I supposed to do, sit here in a chair and give up? I don’t think I’ll do that.”
And please don’t waste precious time by pitying him. That’s something he doesn’t want. “ There are lots of people in wheelchairs with their arms and legs off,” he says. “I can get ready and go anywhere, if someone picks me up.”
He never allowed his blindness to prevent him from succeeding in life. Leaving school, he went to work in a shop in Port de Grave. He even delivered groceries around the community. In later years, he worked in canteens in St. John’s, with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion Hospital, and the post office on Water Street. During all those years, he depended on the support he received from family and friends.
He deals with what many people regard as a disability by living each day to the full and by making the most of life. His personal faith in God sustains him. And he highlights the role of good friends. “All I have to do is ask anyone to do stuff for me,” he says.
A member of the Orange Lodge for 45 years, he’s quite active with Lodge No. 26 in Cupids. “I love going to lodge meetings just as well as I love going to church,” he says. A proud moment for him was when he advanced to the Red Cross degree in 2008.
Recently, Bert was moved to tears when the lodge presented him with a new chair to make his days more comfortable. “It means a lot to me,” he says, “and I really appreciate it.”
As much as he loves his new chair, he doesn’t stay in it day and night. He goes outside to the courtyard for a breath of fresh air and to shovel snow. He can’t wait for August to roll around when he makes his twenty-third annual trip to the Lion Max Simms Memorial Camp on the Exploits River near Bishop’s Falls. He listens to radio and he often chats with a good friend in Nova Scotia, who just happens to be a woman.
A keen listener
Bert is sharp as a tack. It’s diffi- cult to fool him when it comes to voices.
He may not be able to see you in person, but he has an uncanny knack for recognizing your voice after he has heard it once.
And, he has a keen sense of humour, saying to a photographer recently, “I’d say that camera won’t work any more after you take my picture.”
What does the future hold for Bert Reid?
He’s waiting for laser surgery to remove a cataract or two from his eyes. His doctor says that without the operation, Bert “won’t even see daylight from dark.” With the operation, though, he “may get to see shadows.”
In the meantime, would Bert like to be able to see? “I wish I was able to see,” he says. “I guarantee you I’d be a happy person if I could. I’d give God thanks,” he adds.
Any words of wisdom for fellow sufferers? “ There are times you have your ups and downs, but it doesn’t have to be because you can’t see. You can’t give up because of that.
“I must say, although I’m blind, I really lived a full life,” Bert says. “ While God gives me the health and strength to walk, I won’t let a lack of sight stop me.”
Bert Reid, who is blind, is shown here at the Bay Roberts Retirement Centre on Country Road. He enjoys goiong outside for a breath of fresh air and to shovel snow.