Our Friday flight from O’Hare had been delayed four hours. By the time Hanni, Mike and I got to Morristown, I was ready for a glass of wine. Or two. Or three. “Will Merlot do?” Jim Kutsch asked. “If not, just let me know — we have a wine cellar in the basement.”
Yeesh! Jim and his wife Ginger both are blind, they’d held a myriad of major
Ginger Bennett (L) and Jim Kutsch (R), great hosts and great guides to Morristown, NJ. (That
big-time jobs between them, they manage a household on their own, they both have Seeing Eye dogs, he’s now the President of the Seeing Eye. Isn’t that cool enough? They are wine connoisseurs, too?!
“We’re not collectors,” Jim explained. Our dogs were scrambling at his feet, acquainting themselves with each other. ” The cellar came with the house.” Keeping track of the wine in the cellar had been difficult at first. “I was feeling through all the shelves one day and it dawned on me,” he said. “The wines were arranged in a sort of grid.” And so, of course, he did what any other blind computer geek would do. He used his talking computer to create an excel spreadsheet of the cellar.
Other Reminders Our Hosts Were Both Blind
1. Ginger would pet a dog, then ask aloud, “Which one are you?” She’d feel for their necks (each of the three had different sorts of collars) and then she’d know for sure.
2. Jim set a talking timer when he put our burgers on the gas grill outside. When it chirped, he knew to turn the burgers over.
3. Ginger poured my first glass of wine and set it in front of me. She had no way of knowing where I might have set that glass after that, though. So when I ask for a second Merlot, she set the bottle near me and tapped it with her fingertips. I heard where the bottle was and could pour that second glass myself.
4. I heard Jim flip a switch as he led us into the room we’d be sleeping in. Then he asked Mike, just to make sure. “Is the light on?” The next morning we paraded to the Kutsches’ favorite coffeeshop for breakfast – Colby leading Jim, Peyton leading Ginger, Hanni and me bringing up the rear. Poor Mike had to walk alone.
After breakfast we spent a glorious day at the Seeing Eye’s Family day for Puppy Raisers — a day of dogs, demonstrations, videos, free lunch and ice cream to help puppy raisers realize the rewards of their dedication. Nearly 2000 volunteers showed up for the fun, and the Seeing Eye ordered caseloads of special copies of Safe & Sound for the event. Puppy raisers lined up to have me sign (and Braille) my name into each book. Hanni’s pawprint was rubber stamped on each copy, too, of course. Ramona, the wonderful Seeing Eye staff member who’d been tracking our flight delay the day before, was assigned to help with the signing. “I’m glad you guys made it!” she said with relief in her voice. “Those O’Hare-Newark flights are notorious for being late.”
She led me to a signing table and we got started. A few minutes later she was already so busy opening containers of books that she couldn’t help me rubber-stamp Hanni’s pawprint. Mike was called to action and was a good partner — he had no trouble hurrying me on if the line got too long. Anyone who has been to one of my book signings knows how I LOVE to chat with everyone who comes to the table.
A Surprising Thing Mike & I Learned from the Puppy Raisers
I thought puppy raisers might secretly hope that in the end their puppies wouldn’t make it into class. Dogs removed from consideration as a guide are offered to the volunteer who raised the dog as a puppy. If the puppy raiser cannot take the dog, the dog becomes adoptable to others. But as the puppy raisers counted off the number of puppies they’d raised, I could hear their voices fill with disappointment when naming the ones who hadn’t made it. “He had toileting issues,” one little girl told me. Another dog was too protective. One lab suffered from chronic ear infections. As the event was drawing to a close, I asked a member of the Puppy Placement Department what the hardest part of her job was. I expected her to say it was taking the dogs away from the families to start training. “Oh, yes, that’s hard,” she acknowledged. “But the families all know that is going to happen.” The hardest part, she said, was phoning the families whose dog had been removed from the training program. “They take it hard,” she said.
One of Many, Many Examples of Nice New Yorkers
Booksigning over, we were whisked to the train station in Morristown for an overnight in New York City. Hard to imagine where NYC got the reputation of being rude — everyone was so kind to us. When Hanni, Mike and I exited Penn Station, Mike told a transit cop the address of our hotel. “Is it possible to walk there?”
“Too far,” the cop said. We headed to the taxi cue. All of a sudden we heard that same cop calling out to us. “Over here!” he said. He had hailed a cab four us himself.
The whole weekend was fab, from staying at the home of the Seeing Eye president and his wife in Morristown on Friday night to hanging out with Ramona and meeting all those dedicated puppy raisers during the day Saturday to our night at the “Desmond Tutu Hotel” in Chelsea. When I emailed Ramona today to thank her for all her hard work, I told her the good news about our flight back: it actually left Newark on time. “You oughta buy a lottery ticket,” she said in her email message back to me. “You’re awfully lucky.”