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The Magic of Touch

by Bob Smithdas

Recorded from THE REPORTER, published by the Industrial Home for the Blind, Brooklyn, New York, with permission of the author.

Back in the days when I was attending the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind in Pittsburgh, we had a teacher of woodwork who was a crotchety perfectionist. In order to please him, everything had to be exactly right--corners had to be absolutely square, planing had to be done precisely to the line, and drilling had to have hairline accuracy.

I entered this man's classes when I was 12 and in the fourth grade; I was in them until I was 16 and beginning my freshman year of high school. During all these five years, I never undertook a constructive project, not even such a simple one as a bookrack. Before I could do this, Mr. Schroder said, I would have to learn to saw and plane absolutely straight, so I spent most of my time in an effort to cut scrap lumber with the utmost precision.

It was a frustrating experience, always hoping to no avail that I might be promoted to building a cabinet or some other piece of furniture. Yet it held hidden dividends. Eventually, when I went to Perkins School to continue in high school, I found that I was one of the best woodworkers in the class.

There was an even greater reward. Because I had to feel the fine lines marked out on the wood for so long a time, my sense of touch became markedly acute. My awareness of good workmanship was much increased; I could appreciate fine designs and symmetries. As I grew older, I seemed to acquire a tactile sense that helped me identify many articles just by touching them, not having to "feel" them out thoroughly.

Once I went to a tobacconist's shop on Nassau Street, where I was shown a pipe that was said to be perfect. The shopkeeper told me it had no flaws of any kind. I ran my fingers over it, and at the base of the bowl, I felt a tiny pit, scarcely distinguishable. I told the man the pipe was slightly marred. He took it and stared at the spot I pointed out. Still he could see nothing amiss. Then he got a magnifying glass and at last discovered the blemish in the briar. He tried to buff it out, but this only made a shallow depression where the pit had been.

The sense of touch, like that of sight, is developed by continuous exposure to new experiences. And the world of touch can be an amazingly varied one--full of different shapes, textures, consistencies, and other details.

I am fond of shopping in large stores or specialty shops where I enjoy "looking" at everything. Whether it is cut glass or fragile china, carved wood or wrought iron, I always find something to interest me and hold my attention.

Mr. Schroder may have seemed unduly harsh as a disciplinarian in my early years, but his unalterable insistence upon the perfection of small details has definitely added immeasurably to my appreciation of the "fine things of life."

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