Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents


At a brownie picnic in the May school holidays of 1943, I found myself with Elva Mansfield, exploring the water's edge, finding shells and other curious bits of marine life. Instantly she understood the implications of my being blind. We held hands so that we could comfortably walk in the water and around the beach together. She talked about the things she saw, and even what other people were doing. Elva was, and is, an intuitive person who takes a matter-of-fact, practical approach to every situation.

Elva lived in Hudson Street, around the corner from our shop. To get to her house I would walk left to Nappers' corner then left down the little hill at the top of Hudson Street. I would pass the wide opening which was Nappers' Lane then follow the fences along until I reached her house which was number fifteen.

The house before hers had a high paling fence at the front. I could sense its height as I passed. That was my clue to finding Elva's low picket fence.

The very next morning we played in her bedroom and on her front verandah with her dolls and other toys. Her dolls had real baby's clothes and everything was well-kept, tidy and clean. From that day until this everything she owns wears better, looks better and lasts longer than anything comparable of mine. This applies even to our husbands, though I'm not sure that this relates to the way we treat them.

Shopping: nudge when I should talk. Walking, visiting, playing with dolls, board games, reading to me. We Want a Child. Saw her wedding dress before wedding.

Her friends would ask Elva how she could be my friend. What was there for us to do, to talk about. Her Auntie Nell came to tell my auntie I was a bad influence on Elva. She was probably right. Described pictures. Grandfather used to take us. Dances.

Stole or bought lollies for her. Put them on the kitchen window-sill behind the curtain. Helped her with the washing-up, scrubbing the washing on the scrubbing-board and putting it through the electric ringer. At home I never washed, polished or even swept a floor. At Elva's I would help her scrub the front verandah. It was she who told me you must sweep the dirt away before you begin to wash it, and scrub the timber planks along, not across the grain.

One Christmas I went with Elva, her mother and baby sister, to stay with their aunt's family in Taree. Elva's mum was partially paralysed, so Elva fed and cared for her baby sister while helping her mother and me. She was patient, competent, quick and kind.

Somehow, Elva's mother acquired a ticket for a joy flight over the Taree hills and beaches. At the last minute she would not go up in the plane, and she gave the flight to me. I heard the disappointment in Elva's voice, but there was nothing I could do and I didn't know what to say.

It was a small plane without windows, I think, and the air came rushing in. The flight was exciting as we turned this way and that, and wobbled, it seemed to me, all over the sky.

Poor Elva. Her Auttie Elsie was critical of her for not helping her mum, and wrote something unkind in Elva's autograph book. We were twelve, but I really felt sad for Elva on that holiday.

On rainy days, Elva would read stories for me, or we would play board games such as Ludo and snakes and ladders. Each of us threw our own dice, but Elva moved for both of us, describing our positions on the board and letting me know who was winning. I didn't feel grateful to her, or unequal. We were friends, and that was how our friendship worked.

Sometimes I was resentful when Elva went to play with her school friends, but this was insignificant.

Both of us enjoyed walking. We would meet after Sunday School, each with a list of directions for a mystery walk. "Take second turn to the right." "Turn left at the third cross street". We would take it in turns to read our next instruction, thus not knowing in which direction our walk would take us or where we would end up.

When Elva was given a "two-wheeler bike" for Christmas she tried to teach me to ride. Unlike some other blind people, I simply could not balance, and after I put two scratches on its mud-guards my loving, generous friend chose not to let me "ride" her bike any more.

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