I remember him as being fifty years old, tall and strong. He wore coveralls and heavy work shoes and dark glasses all the time. A friend of my father’s, he lived alone but worked for us now and again. His name was John, and he had been blind for more than forty years.
John lived in an unfinished, one-room house with crooked walls and a very crooked chimney. The house was untidy and smelled of damp and decay, fried food, smoked bacon, coffee grounds, and coal and wood smoke. John had built the house—that accounted for the crooked walls and chimney. He ate mostly bacon and eggs; fried potatoes, bread and milk—that accounted for the smell.
Although John’s house was about two and a half kilometers from our house, and about the same distance from a small store where he bought his food, he could confidently walk those gravel roads at a pace that I envied.
He did a little carpentry work for people in town if they weren’t too concerned about the quality of the finished product. One summer he worked with my dad to build an automobile service station. John would walk to our house, work with my dad during the day, eat a lunch my mother prepared while he sat on a pile of boards, and then walk back to his home that night. Dad always watched until John was out of sight.
During the spring and winter months, Dad drove a school bus taking local children to and from school. His bus route took him past John’s house four times a day. He would honk the bus horn, the school children would wave, and John would wave back from his window as if he could see the students’ faces. When John would oversleep and not be at the window, or if there wasn’t smoke coming out of the crooked chimney, dad would stop and shout from the bus doorway, “John, how are you going to get things done if you sleep until midday?” John would come to the window and give some excuse about his alarm clock not going off, and dad would drive on.
Remembering the way my dad used to communicate with John has built a lasting appreciation in my mind for my father. Dad didn’t study any books, or listen to any college professors lecture on how to help blind people to be independent. He just used common sense and was sensitive to John as a person. Dad checked on John almost daily to make sure he was well, but I never remember him asking such questions as: “John, are you all right? Is there something I can do for you? Do you need anything? Can I take you somewhere?”
Instead dad would ask: “John, I’ve been preparing a talk. Would you like to listen and see what you think of it?”
“John, I’m going to be constructing a building. What do you think of doing it this way? Could you help me?”
Dad always asked for help from John, and he always got help; but in reality dad was not getting anything—he was giving. In every contact he had with John, dad’s message was: you are a person, you are important, your opinion means something, you have a right to be here; human dignity is eternal and essential.
In those days, when you could no longer take care of yourself, you moved into an “old folks’ home.” At age seventy-one and ill, John decided to move into such a care center, and it was like opening a new door for him. There he regained his health and met a happy woman whom he called Sunshine. Sunshine had never been able to walk. John, with his strong arms and legs, was able to help her get around, and she was able to see for him. John changed his lifestyle, became reconverted to the Church, was married in the temple, and lived a new and happy life for thirteen years before he and his dear companion passed away. No one was happier for John during those last years than my dad who showed me how to serve others as the Savior would have served—with love, compassion, and respect.