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But she gathers seashells

by Sandy Fiedler
Jacel and seashell
Jacel and her seashells. Photo by author

"I play in the water and pick up shells. I feel them with my feet while I'm wading," says Jacel, age 90. Every summer her family takes her to the beach along the Gulf Coast of Texas where she gathers seashells. Her total blindness isn't a total handicap.

"I'm living a good life yet. I enjoy my days. They are filled up," says Jacel (pronounced Jay'-cel), who still lives independently in her home.

Jacel was born in 1910, in Waco, Texas. When she was seventeen years old, a doctor told her that she would be blind within a year, most likely due to aftereffects from a case of measles. The prognosis caused her to break off her engagement to her fiancé. However, he persisted and they eventually married.

Her last of three children was completing high school when she became almost completely blind. How is it she kept her eyesight for so many years defying the doctor's one-year prediction?

"I did a lot of praying all those years. I think the Lord helped me through," she reflects. "I've had the Spirit of the Lord all my life. Ever since I can remember, God has been with me," she reflects.

When her eyesight deteriorated at age 48, she still had enough vision to distinguish large objects and colors. After she and her husband James retired to Palestine, Texas, they traveled into Canada and Mexico and places in-between. She climbed mountains and toured Carlsbad Caverns.

"I kept up with him. He'd tell me what things looked like; then I could 'see them.'"

When her husband became too ill to drive, undaunted, she walked to the neighborhood grocery store by following the curb. Sometimes she would ride a bicycle with a basket to carry her purchases.

Her blindness became total about 15 years ago, several years after her husband died. She sees nothing but black. To get her groceries, she began using TRAX Transportation Service, funded by state and federal moneys, private donations, and optional fares for passengers over age 60.

A few years ago, she had a heart attack and in the hospital a social worker told her that the could get housekeeping help through an organization funded by the state of Texas. This service sends a woman to do housekeeping, such as cooking, vacuuming, and laundry, for two hours each day during the week.

On weekends, however, Jacel takes care of herself entirely, cooking her own food in the microwave or preparing a simple stovetop meal like soup. She makes her morning coffee and juice.

"I know all my furniture. If I just touch something, I know where I am in the house. I know where everything is in the kitchen and I place items into the refrigerator so that I remember just where they are when I need them."

Conveniences include a talking clock and a talking wristwatch, and her telephone speed dial is set with numbers of relatives and emergency help. Remarkably, she cuts her own shoulder-length hair.

Jacel is a voracious "reader."

Photo by author

Through a free service of the State of Texas Public Library in Austin, she receives audiobooks. When she has completed several books, she puts them in a special addressed mailer, sets them on a table on her front porch, and the mailman picks them up, postage-free.

She reads five or six books per week. "One night this week, I read all night and had to sleep some the next day," she says with a smile. She has the complete Bible on tape, also.

"I read so much that I don't have time to watch much television," she notes. But she allows herself two hours of TV "watching" a day. At 5:00 p.m., she turns on the TV for the local and national news. "I like to keep up with what's going on, and I always watch Wheel of Fortune."

When someone at church assists her in walking from one room to another, she'd rather touch hands than have someone take her arm. "I can walk more freely," she states independently. Jacel uses a white cane when she walks in the yard. "I could have a seeing-eye dog, but I don't really want it. It would get in my way."

"All my family loves me and I love them. I have a good family. They're all happy and very busy. I like to see them busy. But they check on me."

It is said that if you meet an older person who is a cantankerous grouch, old age didn't make him that way - he was that way when he was young, too.

Jacel must have been a sharp, happy, contented young person. Her attitude now is the product of 90 years of facing circumstances as they came, with the Spirit of the Lord to help her. She has found a way to circumvent obstacles, while accepting what she could not change. Long hours in late life could be empty and lonely. Then is the time to draw on previously developed interests and make them pay out.

"I'm just a person whose got to live while I'm living." Jacel says firmly. "I've always been that way."

Blindness? Jacel hardly notices it. She's too busy gathering the life's seashells.

July, 2000

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