In my hand, I hold a Victor Reader Stream. It belonged to my mother-in-law. It plays Talking Books, audio described movies, music and recorded messages like shopping lists. It has a broken charging port. The port was defective from the get-go and my mother-in-law finished it off by jamming the charging cable into the port too hard too often.
My mother-in-law was a voracious reader. When she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, I was already two decades into RP and two years into my Victor Reader Stream. I became my mother-in-law’s librarian and tech tutor, downloading her chosen titles and demonstrating the Stream. She would sit in her armchair, listening to her Stream, stabbing the buttons, earbudded, entertained, silent, satisfied.
My mother-in-law was the eager student of the Stream and I the eager instructor. My urge to pass the torch of mastery came, in part, from her habit of turning thumbs down a ten-hour book after ten minutes, resulting in her demand exceeding my supply and, at times, my patience. Her oft-repeated preamble, “I know you’re busy…” preceded the inevitable, “but I need books.” I was, usually, happy to comply, for I, too, love reading. I’d just never run into a person who could read, partially or completely, eleven books every seven days.
Prior to her macular degeneration-induced need for tech support, my mother-in-law viewed me as a marginally useful man introduced to her by her daughter, my then potential, and now late, wife. With the Stream, I became indispensable. I taught my mother-in-law the tricks of the one-handed NLS download, whereby an imagined book Wi Fi’d into her Stream in five short minutes. And, while the iPhone confounded her and Braille proved beyond her, her Stream became her best friend and I, by association, became useful, even valued.
My mother-in-law’s Victor Reader Stream now resides with me. I’ve found a workaround for its broken charging port. But more than its usefulness, I value its heritage: the help I gave and the pride I felt, the gratitude she gave and the joy she felt. And all it took was realizing that the best way to help myself cope with blindness is to help someone else with the same struggle. That’s what it takes.
“This Is Us” by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, from All the Road Running (2006)
“These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs, from Our Time in Eden (1992)
“The Way It Always Starts” by Mark Knopfler, from Local Hero (soundtrack, 1983)
“When I’m Sixty-four” by The Beatles, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
“Education” by The Kinks, from Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975)
“When the Water Falls” by Collective Soul, from Collective Soul (1995)
“Transistor Sister” by Freddy Cannon (1961)
“Show Me How This Thing Works” by Cracker, from Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey (2009)
“Mother” by Police, from Synchronicity (1983)
“Marion the Librarian” from The Music Man (1957), sung by Robert Preston, Hugh Jackman
“Space Captain” by Joe Cocker, from Mad Dogs & Englishmen: Live at Fillmore East, 1970
“Wild Theme” by Mark Knopfler, from Local Hero (soundtrack, 1983)