by Deb Cook Lewis
It was a few days before Christmas in 1990. It never snows in Seattle, so we all went off to work with no thought of the dire weather predictions. It’s always hard to predict on the coast anyway, right?
It started snowing hard around 3 p.m. So the commute – well, there actually was no commute because of the several inches of snow that fell on the city, which is noted for its 7 big hills and no snow removal equipment.
At 5:00, four of us (all blind people) went out to catch the bus. What bus? After an hour of standing in the cold with no vehicles coming by at all, we gave up and slowly trudged back to the building. We were going to spend the night at the Department of Services for the Blind. There actually were seven people spending the night, 6 of whom were blind employees of the department.
Let’s have dinner! Lucky for us the orientation center had been preparing food for a Christmas party, so we had a cheese ball, crackers, festive cookies, and spiced cider for dinner. Not bad for storm rations, I’d say.
Now, let’s sleep! The home economics room had a bed and a sofa, that’s two people covered. Two of us slept in the staff break room. The other 3 found places to bed down in offices. And it’s all good until…
What’s that sound? Uh-oh!! I think someone’s in here with us. The two of us in the breakroom had to hatch a plan in a hurry. We can’t be invaded in the middle of the night; we must take action, right?
After some quick discussion, we grabbed some cast-iron skillets from the break room — I’m sure they hadn’t been used in years, but we’ll put them to good use now. As we ran from the room with our skillets to save the day, my co-worker had the brilliant idea to douse the lights in the hallway so that it was now pitch black. Just wanting to make sure the blind guys had the jump on this situation, right?
The intruders began screaming in a language we couldn’t understand, which allowed my co-worker to quickly locate and tackle them with his skillet. I’m sure that janitorial crew has gotten as much mileage out of this story as I have. We finally got it all straightened out and all had a good laugh. Now back to sleep; it’s really cold when the heat goes down.
In the morning, we had some more party food for breakfast, and I settled in to become our new receptionist. As people called in to report that they could not make it to work, I would cheerfully answer the switchboard. They were each in total shock to hear from me (usually one flake and I’m nowhere to be found), and when I reported on who was here, they were even more surprised since it was all of the blind staff who lived farther away. Guilt is so fun sometimes!
Most people did not learn the entire story until they returned. I couldn’t help myself, I violated the agency’s big email rule. We’d only had email a few months, and we could only send email inside the agency, or so we were told. But I had discovered how to send it to other state agencies. So during the night, I sent email about our plight to everyone I knew of in any agency and to all of our staff who weren’t with us. Of course I knew no one would see it and act; no one had home email in those early days. But next day, or whenever they came back to work, there were the hourly updates from me detailing all the fun we were having and how we had rescued everyone from invaders.
Seattle has more snowy winters than we ever get credit for, but Christmas of 1990 is one of the most memorable for me.