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The Story Of My Life, Part 3
Helen Keller proved to be a potent propagandist for the oralist cause. She felt that gaining the ability to speak was freeing—indeed, one of the most important experiences of her life. Even though her speech was never easily comprehended by strangers, it allowed her to communicate directly with them, rather than through Anne Sullivan. Oralists such as Alexander Graham Bell made similar arguments, suggesting that sign language isolated deaf people from their families and the rest of the American nation. Keller's account supported this view of sign language.
At the same time, Keller’s account is far more revealing than Bell’s or Fuller’s about the immense and constant effort that it took for her to learn and maintain her speech.
THE next important event in my life was my visit to Boston, in June, 1888. As if it were yesterday I remember the preparations, the departure with my teacher and my mother, the journey, and finally the arrival in Boston. How different this journey was from the one I had made to Baltimore two years before! I was no longer a restless, excitable little creature, requiring the attention of everybody on the train to keep me amused. I sat quietly beside Miss Sullivan, taking in with eager interest all that she told me about what she saw out of the car window: the beautiful Tennessee River, the great cotton fields, the hills and woods, and the crowds of laughing negroes at the stations, who waved to the people on the train and occasionally brought delicious candy and popcorn balls through the car. On the seat opposite me sat my big rag doll, Nancy, in a new gingham dress and a beruffled sunbonnet, looking at me out of two bead eyes. Sometimes when I was not absorbed in Miss Sullivan's descriptions I remembered Nancy's existence and took her up in my arms, but I generally calmed my conscience by making myself believe that she was asleep.
When the train at last pulled into the railroad station at Boston it was as if a beautiful fairy tale had come true. The "once upon a time" was now; the "far-away country" was here.
ON OUR arrival at the Perkins Institution for the Blind I at once began to make friends with the little blind children. It delighted me inexpressibly to find that they knew the manual alphabet. What happiness to talk with other children! Until then I had been a foreigner speaking through an interpreter. In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught the dream of my childhood was realized. It took me some time to appreciate the fact that my new friends were blind. I knew I could not see; but it did not seem possible that all the eager, loving children who gathered around me and joined heartily in my frolics were also blind. I remember the surprise and the pain I felt as I noticed that they placed their hands over mine when I talked to them and that they read books with their fingers. Although I had been told this before, and although I understood my own deprivations, yet I had thought vaguely that, since they could hear, they must have a sort of "second sight," and I was not prepared to find one child and another and yet another deprived of the same precious gift. But they were all so happy and contented that I lost all sense of pain in the pleasure of their companionship.
Nancy had a sad experience soon after my arrival. She was covered with dirt -- the remains of mud pies I had compelled her to eat, although she had never shown any special liking for them. The laundress at the Perkins Institution secretly carried her off to give her a bath. But this was too much for poor Nancy. When I next saw her she was a formless heap of cotton, which I should not have recognized at all except for the two bead eyes which looked out at me reproachfully.
One day spent with the blind children made me feel thoroughly at home in my new environment, and I looked eagerly from one pleasant experience to another as the days flew swiftly by. I could not quite convince myself that there was much world left, for I regarded the city as the beginning and end of creation.
WHILE we were in Boston we visited Bunker Hill, and there I had my first lesson in history. The story of the brave men who had fought on the spot where we stood excited me greatly. I climbed the monument, counting the steps, and wondering as I went higher and yet higher if the soldiers had climbed this great stairway and shot at the enemy on the ground below.
The next day we went to Plymouth by water. This was my first trip on the ocean and my first experience in a steamboat. How full of life and motion it was! But the rumble of the machinery made me think it was thundering and I began to cry, because I feared we should not be able to have our picnic out-of-doors if it rained.
I think I was more interested in the great rock on which the Pilgrims landed than in anything else in Plymouth. I could touch it, and perhaps that made the coming of the Pilgrims and their toils and great deeds seem more real to me. I have often held in my hand a little model of the Plymouth Rock which a kind gentleman gave me at Pilgrim Hall, and fingered its curves, the split in the centre and the embossed figures "1620," and turned over in my mind all that I knew about the wonderful story of the Pilgrims.
Just before the institution closed for the summer it was arranged that my teacher and I should spend our vacation at Brewster, on Cape Cod, with our dear friend, Mrs. Hopkins. I was delighted, and my mind was full of the prospective joys and of the wonderful stories I had heard about the sea.
My most vivid recollection of that summer is the ocean. I had always lived far inland and had never had so much as a whiff of salt air; but I had read in a big book called "Our World" a description of the ocean which filled me with wonder and an intense longing to touch the mighty sea and feel it roar. So my little heart leaped high with eager excitement when I knew that my wish was at last to he realized.