“Braille, Bingo and Razor Blades,” April 2, 2018

He’s never asked for much in life. Food on his table. A roof over head. A ride to church on Sunday mornings. And a decent radio so he can sit on his porch and listen to gospel music or Clemson Tigers football.

It doesn’t take a lot to make my brother happy. Any win by the Tigers will do it. A phone call from his sisters. Or recalling a memory, like the Christmas he got a cap pistol; the summer we went to the beach; or the day he got on a bus without telling his family what he was up to and rode for 12 hours to meet and marry the love of his life.

He’s had some interesting adventures, loves to talk about them, is thankful for what he’s got and seldom complains. But lately he’s been thinking he needs a little something … more. Something to do. Some place to go. Somebody to talk to.

Joe is blind, has been all his life. He suffered damage during birth that impairs his walking and his vision and his thinking. Parts of his brain work fine. Other parts, not so much.

Our mother used to say Joe would never have survived birth had he not been so stubborn. Maybe so. But without that stubborness and an unwavering faith in God, I doubt he could have survived his life.

There were all those months when he was confined, as a little boy, to a bed in a hospital ward, recovering from surgeries that made him cry out in pain, but failed to strengthen his legs.

There were all those years he boarded at a school for the blind learning to read Braille and fight bullies and find his way in a dark world with a white cane.

There was all the grief and loneliness and heartache he endured when he lost, one by one, his mother, his wife and his stepfather, all to cancer, and his younger brother to a stroke.

And for a while now, there has been his growing frustration of wanting, and failing, to find work — anything he can do to give him purpose and get him out in the world and make him feel a little more useful.

Yesterday he left me this message: “Sister, this is your brother calling. I’ve got some good news I want to share with you, so call me back. What it is, OK, I’ll just tell you. I got approved for a program at a seniors center. Call me back and I’ll tell you more.”

So I called him back and he told me plenty. What it is, he said, is a program where senior citizens can socialize Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

“They picked me up yesterday at my apartment in a bus, took me to the center, gave me a snack, fed me lunch and took me home. And it was all free!”

“What did you do there?”

“Well,” he said, “there was a big crowd of people and they congregated in groups to visit with each other. They wouldn’t let me keep my walker at my chair, so mostly I just sat there. But I talked to a few people, and they were very nice.”

“You sat there for four hours?”

“No, Sister, we did lots of stuff. We had a kind of dip and chips for a snack, and a big sandwich for lunch. I think it was pork. And we played Bingo.”

“You played Bingo?”

“Well, they didn’t have Braille Bingo cards so somebody put the markers on the card for me. And I won some razor blades!”

“Good for you! But don’t you use disposable razors?”

“Yeah, I don’t like blades. I almost gave ‘em back, but it seemed rude to pass up a prize, so I kept ‘em. It was fun to win.”

Joe doesn’t know the name of the program, who sponsors it or how he got approved for it. But he knows this: It’s a good thing to do. A good place to be. And good people to talk to.

“I just thank the good Lord for it,” he said.

So do I.

Some people see life is as a long road of bad luck. Joe looks down that same road and sees good things coming his way. It’s a choice, and sometimes a hard one, but he makes it every day.

His birthday is soon. He can celebrate with the seniors. I’m sending him a Braille Bingo set.


  1. Franklin Johnson says

    First, let me tell you that I believe it’s stupid to criticize when you don’t know all the facts. Second, it’s none of my business. Third, I know what the likely response will be. Fourth, I know how I will criticized by other respondents. Sixth, that I’ll bet there are others who feel as I.

    So, here goes nothing.

    I have never heard a more heart-wrenching cry for companionship and human interaction in my life. The crumbs that were tossed – a bingo game, a sandwich, the few nice people who came over, the nature of the prize – are meager by any standard. His joyful acceptance shows his sense of self-worth is rock bottom.

    If he were my brother and I had the possiblity of getting him meaningful employment with social interaction, he wouldn’t spend another night in that lonely, perpetually dark apartment.
    It seems obvious to me he has come to the end of the road where he is. Despite his bravery and tenacity, all his cards have been played.. Bluntly, I think he needs help and you are the perfect person to provide it. Somewhere in your organization or in the contacts you have in your six million readers, you can get him a contributive job on his own merits. Why would he be too proud to take an honest job located somewhere that he can love and be loved by his family. You are moving to be close to family. Why shouldn’t he?

    Skip my caveatsin the first paragraph and find a way to rescue your brother.

  2. Jeannie Young says

    Sharon, once you’re back on the Monterey Peninsula, we need to get you connected with Ron Kihara, who may be able to offer some insight on additional positive options your brother could explore where he is.

  3. Miriam Deluca says

    Have you even written a book. If not you should tackle it. You write so beautiful

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    I’ve been wondering how Joe was doing – last time you wrote about him he was looking for some kind of a part time job…. I prayed he would get something, but this time spent at the senior center sounds even better ?.

    Thanks for the update!

  5. Samantha Orez says

    Sharon Randall,You brighten so many people’s lives,you know that? My best wishes to your wonderful brother Senior Citizens Centers are such a blessing to our oldsters(me included) and almost every locale has one. Please support them if you can..

  6. Sarah Webster says

    Enjoyed this story of Joe. I rooted for Clemson because of him in some championship they were a couple of years ago. I think they won, but my memory fades. So how can we send him birthday cards? Shall we send to you and you forward or??

    • Sharon Randall says

      Sarah, thank you for wanting to send my brother a birthday card! Unfortunately, he can’t read it (unless it’s in Braille) and it frustrates him to get mail he can’t read. Moreover, he doesn’t like having others read his mail for him. My sister lives 30 miles away, visits when she can and he will let her read anything that seems “important.” But she’s not well herself and can only visit once a month or so. All of that is to say this. If you’d like to send him a birthday greeting to me, as an email (randallbay@earthlink.net) I will phone him and read it to him. Thanks so much for your kindness!

  7. Love this piece! Sometimes we need a reminder of what is real and important in life. Thanks so much and love and prayers for your and yours.

  8. Linda Gordon says

    I agree with Patti! I have always enjoyed your writing so much & so glad I found you again. Tell your brother I am delighted for him & his new friends!

  9. Elaine Mccaffery says

    Aww, the way you feel about your brother, and family. I like that about you.

  10. Patti Peters says

    It has been a long time since your column left my local paper. I am so happy to have found you again. I remember many mentions of your brother Joe…I am SO happy to see he is doing ok and found something to let him socialize. Thank you Sharon for your words.

  11. Carol Toothman says

    Wonderful story! What a brave brother you have.

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