The first book that made an impact on me was the story of Helen Keller.

When I was about seven or eight, my mother had me sit down to watch “The Miracle Worker” the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. I was completely absorbed in the story and was fascinated with this “hand language” that Annie taught Helen.  The first word taught to her was; d-o-l-l.

A few days later mom and I were at the library. Mom, remembering my fascination with the story of Helen asked the librarian for a book recommendation. The Librarian (41 years ago and I can clearly see her face but not her name!!) shuffled through her cards (this was long before computer technolgy), walked down a row of books, and pulled one out. She handed it to me with a smile, and commented, “This is one of my favorites.”

Once home, I went to a favorite reading spot in the backyard (a stump of wood resembling the Phoenix) and sat down to read. I loved being inside the minds of the characters. I loved Annie challenges because of her upbringing. I was amazed at the intelligence of Helen Keller. And then, at the back of the book…illustrations of the American Sign Language alphabet.

That summer, at seven (or eight) years old, I taught myself how to shape the alphabet with my hands. (Before this, I was attempting to teach myself Egyptian hieroglyphics! Which I keep meaning to get back to…) By the time I began third grade, I was “proficient” in the American Sign Language alphabet and my multiplication tables (but that is because my dad offered to pay me $25 to learn my 1s-12s. Which I did, and I got my $25.) ((just goes to show that I will learn something for my own curiosity, as well as take someone else’s money.))

I began to teach my friends in the third grade the alphabet. “So much better than passing notes”, I explained. “We can talk and not make a sound”, I insisted.

They learned, and we begin to “talk” silently in class. This was a wonderful way to communicate…until the teacher noticed.

Mrs. Schneider. She is the one who introduced us to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”! (another favorite book…I can still remember the CHEER that went out when Charlie unwraps the candy bar with the golden ticket…especially David Mack….) ah, but I wander off into another story.

So, Mrs. Schneider notices and sits down with me. Asks me to show her. I make my way A-Z forming the letters quickly and clearly with my right hand. She then asks me to show the entire class. And I did. Now with my secret language ‘out’, I no longer communicated with my friends in this way.

Over the years I continued to read books about Helen Keller. The list of her accomplishments is extensive. She was an author, speaker, suffragette, pacifist, radical Socialist and a birth control supporter.

Once in awhile…I drill myself. Good exercise for hands that pound away on a keyboard all day…actually – a few months ago I WAS able to use this as a way to communicate with a woman with hearing/speaking challenges. I was relieved, she appreciated that I could communicate with her.

So, for me…the first book on my “Books that influenced me” list is the story of Helen Keller.

College isn’t the place to go for ideas.

Helen Keller

You can see and learn American Sign Language alphabet here.

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