Ama Ati Aidoo, a Ghanalan author, once wrote that, ‘Humans, not places make memories’. Paddy Browne was one of these humans. Paddy lived in Halfcarton. He was blind. But, he was also so much more.
He and his brother Joe had a little shop in the porch of their house. It merely consisted of two or three shelves on the wall. Paddy seemed to be the housekeeper and the shopkeeper. Joe looked after the cooking and the outside jobs. The shop had such basics as matches and ‘Players Please’ cigarettes, carbolic soap, tea and sugar (both of which were in short supply in the aftermath of World War 11). Occasionally, there might be penny bars!
Often on my visits to the shop Paddy would be on his knees washing and dusting under the dresser and other pieces of furniture. No corner was missed. Other times he could be up on a stool cleaning the windows. Everything would always be spick and span. I marvelled at his dexterity in performing these tasks and wondered how he could see.
Hanging from a knob on the window shutter, there was a long leather strap. I saw him once sharpen what seemed like a knife, and he did that in between his shaving strokes.
When it came to serving in the shop, Paddy was no less proficient. I can still see that far- away vacant look in his grayish green eyes as he fingered the edges or front of the coins received and change given. He knew the halfpenny from the sixpence and the florin from the half crown. He could distinguish the hen and her chicks on the penny from the fish on the florin or the Irish hunter on the half crown. The change was always spot on.
Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and a lecturer was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. I know now the possibilities that there are for blind and deaf persons. Back then, and as a child, I didn’t have a clue. Paddy, however, had that special something that held me spellbound.
He would not have learned Braille and hence could not read or write. They had a battery wireless, but it had its limitations. We know now too, that ‘visually impaired’ persons can encode spatial information by touch and of course by voice. These two innate natural gifts Paddy had mastered. But, he was also blessed with a very gentle and quiet demeanour. I don’t recall him holding a conversation except to give and receive a message, but his whole bearing and disposition communicated enough to demand wonder, respect and to help me remember him.
Kris Menace’s song ‘Stars can’t shine without darkness’ rings true of Paddy. And, as Helen Keller wrote, ‘The only worse thing than being blind is having sight and no vision’.
Paddy, you now enjoy the light of the beatific vision.
Sr Nancy Clarke. (Cullentra) Galway 2018