Friday, August 21, 2009


Not long ago a teacher whose work I follow posted a blog about one of her teachers.

When I responded with a comment about the on-going memorable influence of teachers, she said she didn’t seem to know much about the influential teachers in my life. Well, there was a challenge. Allow me to introduce you to the Eric Cardinall that I knew, junior high socials teacher at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind, 1965-68.
So often you don’t know what you didn’t know until you learn it, and even then sometimes you don’t know you didn’t know it unless it happens to be something really significant. Mr. Cardinall and I started together at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind. Before we got there I had been attending Lougheed School a thousand miles away in Lougheed Alberta, and he had been teaching half a block away at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf. Suffice it to say that the worlds we had left were light-years distant from the world we had entered. The world we had entered was comprised of tight little knots of blind students who had been learning together for many years. There were things they’d been taught, ways of being a blind student from the first day of school. I had been speaking sighted language. He had been speaking sign language. I, the only Wendy I had known in the first 12 years of my life, was joining a class of 12. Two other Wendys had been there a long time. They lived their lives by double names first and last. How else could you speak to either of them without getting the attention of neither or both? Now that there were three of us, it was the rule that I should become WendyCookson, a compound name uttered as quickly and loudly as possible to avoid further annoying confusion.
“Too confusing,” declared Mr. Cardinall, tied in a tangle of Wendys on the first day of school. “I shall call you Cooky.”
I’d never been called Cooky before. It would have been completely out of order back in Lougheed, where Cooksons were plentiful. But in this foreign landscape the name was all mine, a gift of individuality from Mr. Cardinall, a man carving out his own space as he carved out mine. He was learning Braille. This was a bit surprising to me. Having travelled so far to attend a school for my kind, I did think the teachers would know Braille. But it wasn’t required of the junior high teachers, and so the majority of them didn’t bother with it. We read Braille—or nothing if we weren’t good at Braille. They read print. Mr. Cardinall studied in the evenings and learned a little more each day. Proudly he would display his new learnings. I knew how he felt. I had learned Braille on my own a few months earlier. Every day of that heady time had seemed like Christmas.
Mr. Cardinall taught me geography—by touch. “Here,” he said, “are five balls of play dough for each of you.” We each laid down a sheet of paper and placed the balls where he said they should go. One was Saskatoon, another Regina. “Off to the left and a little way up is Edmonton—the closest we’ll come today to where Cooky lives. Place Calgary below it. Now go way down and a little to the left for Vancouver,” Walking around the room, he adjusted our blobs for more accurate relativity.
I wonder now if Mr. Cardinall knew that I had never before given consideration to the relative location of cities. Mine had been a life of guided transportation. People took me places. I got into a car, or boarded a plane. The rest of it was unimportant until I discovered that I hadn’t known it. Yesterday, as I booked a plane ticket to Saskatoon, my hands reach back through time to touch those play dough blobs. I’ll be flying a little bit down, and a little to the right.

1 comment:

Hanna Sinclair said...

Thank you Ms. Cookson, for the lovely words about my grandfather (or "Grumps" as he nicknamed himself) Eric Cardinall. While this took place years before I was born, and in a setting different to the ones I knew him in, your anecdotes describe the man I knew. I am so glad to hear he had an effect on his students, and that he is remembered by some of them so many years later.