For many of us, our life story could be told by our highs and our lows, our choices and those made for us, and often influenced by the era in which one was born.
During my years of writing for a daily newspaper, I often wrote feature stories on an individual with an interesting story to tell. I would sometimes ask the person I was interviewing to describe a childhood moment that remained the most memorable, and perhaps most life-changing, no matter how many years had passed.
I once interviewed a man who ran a broom-making shop in our town. Pershing Schuck was an interesting fellow who had gone blind suddenly and without prior symptoms, at age 13 from an untreated infection.
Learning to listen
There were so many questions I had jotted down ahead of time, but I struggled to see my notepad in the darkness of his shop; he obviously had no need for lights. It was during that interview my approach to my work changed. I realized it was more important to simply listen, and listen with the intensity that came from wanting to know more about this person in front of me. That moment changed my writing style, and I carry it with me to this day.
Pershing Schuck told me, when I asked about that childhood moment, the very best thing that ever happened to him was going blind.
“I got to go to school in Columbus, and I learned a trade that has kept me going, allowed me to meet people, and earn my own living. It was an opportunity that I never would have had if I had not gone blind when I did.”
Taking in details
He had grown up in tough circumstances, often going hungry for days on end. The farm on which he was raised was very near the home place of my grandfather and his siblings. When I told Pershing who my grandfather was, he said, “Oh I can remember exactly what their farm looked like across the way, and I could describe each of their faces to you.”
He went on to say that no one born with sight realizes the power of it until it is gone. “I would be willing to bet you none of my siblings could describe each of those faces. They went right on seeing and right on taking it for granted.”
It was in his moments of rest, in those early days of blindness, he began committing to memory every single person, place and thing.
“I can describe the differences in the trees, the leaves of each tree, because it suddenly became very real to me that I would never see them in the same way. But I see them still.”
If not for the darkness in his shop that day, no one would have guessed Pershing was blind. He moved about with a quick confidence, knowing where each item he needed could be found. He was interested and engaging, asking nearly as many questions of me. The one I recall most vividly was “Did you drive a car here today? What color is it? Can it go pretty fast?”
He listened to my answers with a true curiosity most people do not.
Brooms that last
My parents had bought all of their brooms from Pershing over the years. He made brooms for the house and for the barns, and those brooms held up forever. The day I interviewed him, my father asked me to buy two more brooms. It was not because he needed them, but because Pershing deserved the business. He made those brooms so well that his walk-in repeat business was almost nil.
He sold brooms to various county offices, with friends helping him with the packing and shipping to far-away destinations. Not long ago, I learned that our local county maintenance staff still uses brooms made by Pershing, and he has been gone from us for quite some time.
“Your father is a good man,” he said as he accepted the money I gave him, trusting that it was a check for the correct amount. “I never saw your dad, but I know him,” he said as he finished wrapping the brooms.
“There is a difference, you know,” he said with a smile.
Story worth telling
When the full-page story was published, complete with impressive pictures of Pershing happily at work, it prompted many gracious comments. Pershing had served an enormous number of people in our rural county over the years, but most never knew his story.
It was a story worth telling, and I am grateful to this day that I was given the chance to tell it.
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