We lived on Orchard Road. I know that because I knew what an orchard was. I did not know why our road was called Orchard Road. I had not seen any orchards on Orchard Road so I had a bit of a problem associating orchards with Orchard Road. I did not even know that associating unlike and like was a mnemonic technique.
I had to have been five years of age because talk I heard around home having to do with me more and more had to do with school and me. So I did know the value of associating likes and likes.
My dad, at the appropriate time of life, time of year, time of day, called me from the porch. The porch was an important place in homes in Memphis. Maybe porches were important places in homes in places other than Memphis. Memphis was all I knew. I did not even know how to write my name. I did not even know that not knowing how to write my name was why dad called me from the porch. To deal with my not knowing how to write my name. Or anything else.
What I knew well was this. When dad called, things always worked out better if I answered up just as though I had spent the day waiting for him to call. Like a Seeing Eye Dog. That is what they called a blind man’s dog when I was a boy. And that is what I was. A blind man’s dog. When I went to bed that night I fell asleep marvelling that I was the only blind man’s dog in Memphis who could write its name. Maybe the only blind man’s dog in the world. But, Memphis was all I knew.
Dad sat on the wide, wooden, sofa length, porch chair which with a sofa length cushion on it became a porch sofa. Dad patted the space next to him. “Come and sit,” he said. I came and sat.
“Remember some time ago I explained to you that a thing exists that is called the alphabet. Recall that the alphabet contains 26 symbols. We can use the symbols as letters with which to build words. Each symbol has its own sound and picture. Do you understand?”
“What you have not realized so far in life is that when people SAY words they use the symbols of the alphabet AND when people write those same words they use the symbols of the alphabet. We are going to use some alphabet symbols to write a word. The word we will write is your name. Jack. OK?
Dad had in his right hand a number two pencil. In his left hand he had a Big Chief writing tablet.
“Now watch, Jack. Especially watch how I hold the pencil.”
He folded the cover over the top of the tablet. He lay the tablet on his right thigh. He wrote from left to right above the first line indicator. He wrote it level and with well defined letters. He pronounced the letters as he wrote. “J a c k – Jack.”
“Now, you do it, Jack. Same size I wrote. That should equal about 4 of the lines indicated by the light blue line color. Right?”
“Use the table so you can write steadily.”
I wrote. I spoke. “Dthay Ay Dthee Tay – Dack” My speed was about 1/5 the speed of dad’s writing.
“OK, Jack. Check your work. Compare each of your letters with mine. How does it look?”
“Dthay Ay Dthee Tay – Dack. But yours looks better, dad.”
“OK, son. Try again!”
I did. Each time it looked better. After the fourth time, I said, “end of page one.”
“That is great, boy. Each time looks better, doesn’t it?”
“So, what do you know that you did not know an hour ago?”
“I will never be a great cartoonist, dad. I will never draw buildboard pictures. But I will become good at using the alphabet to say my name if I have a pencil to say it with.”
“Good, son. You will use the alphabet to say your name if you have a pencil with which to say it.”
“Jack, you will be writing for the rest of your life. You will write many things. You are a smart boy. You will write things correctly. You will write important things. But, you just wrote the most important thing you will ever write – your name. That is called your signature. That is how you identify what you write. That is how you show that what is written above your name was written by you. Writing is the most important form of communication from your brain to the brains of other people. Tomorrow we will work on your last name. You can do it, Jack. You have the knack.”
“Maybe I will become CanDo Jack, dad.”
“Or maybe CanDo Knack, Jack. Or CanDo Jack Knack. You can become as many entities as you want. And claim a signature for each. When people see you, perhaps they will say, “There go CanDo Jack, CanDo Knack. Those guys!”
I did not understand all that I grasped in that lesson. But, I was immensely pleased that I had communicated for the first time my four letter word name with my second method, the pencil.
Over the years I became enthralled with the input and output of language. And being able to communicate what could be read in the few moments, and perhaps recorded for all history.
My favorite book was the Mac and Muff primer. My favorite sentences were those first motion statements and questions. “See Mac run? Here comes Muff. Jack feeds the pony. Jack feeds Mac and Muff. Jack is Mac.” Jack could read the text in the primer. Jack could copy the text with his pencil in his Big Chief tablet. Jack can add actions to what he copies from the book. Jack can write his own stories. Jack can make a primer using folded sheets from his Big Chief tablet. See Jack write. Watch the characters move. See Jack publish. See Jack read his story to his dad!
Ten years later, my blind father taught me how to drive a car. Same method. Demonstration. He explained what he was going to do. Then, he backed the car out of the drive with me in the passenger seat telling him precisely when to turn, when he needed to be more to right or left. When he needed to stop. When another car was anywhere around. He drove the car up to the corner, turned around, drove back and parked the car in the drive exactly where it had been when we started.
“Now, you try it, Jack.”
See Jack drive!