George Joseph - Journey to a Child’s Heart
 Elita Sohmer Clayman

My mom was the fourth child in her family. The fifth child Joseph was born blind and the second child Michael was born healthy. He was about four, he got an illness and it was not diagnosed properly, he lost his hearing and therefore his ability to speak. So Joseph who when grown changed his name to George and Mike tried to converse and they could not because of their individual handicaps and as brothers were even not able to play together or even argue as siblings do.

George grew up and was very accomplished in his work life and also his personal life. He played the piano of course by what is called ear and any song you hummed to him or that he heard on the radio, he could immediately play on the piano. We kids had to take piano lessons to learn a new song, Uncle George was gifted and of course, not being able to see could not see the printed version. So he played it from ear and was a wonderful and accomplished pianist. In later life, he played in a combo group which performed at weddings and various affairs. When I married in 1960, Uncle George played a few songs on the piano accompanying the band that he had recommended to us. He did that to honor his favorite niece (me) and her new husband Jerry.

George, I do not know why he changed his name from Joseph was adored by all the nieces and nephews in the large family. My brother Herbert and I particularly loved this special man. He could talk about any subject and he was well versed on what was happening in the world then. Of course, there were no television sets, so he got all the news and opinions from the beloved radio that we in those years were fond of.

George graduated from a regular high school which was unheard of in those days and he never walked with a cane or had a Seeing Eye dog. During the Second World War in about 1944 an ophthalmologist named Dr. Mary Small decided after examining him that there was this new invention called contact lenses and possibly George Joseph could be fitted with them. He might be able to see very large print and she did not know what else since they were being experimented with in this country. They were manufactured only in Japan and he chose not to get them because we were coming out of the war with them. He felt it unpatriotic to buy something Japanese and so he declined. She told him he would have to do it soon before it might not work as he aged if he waited.

This was his choice and no one in the family tried to influence him after the initial conferences about it. He was married to RoseMarie at that time and one of the other gossipy sister-in-laws blamed her because she did not encourage him to try the lenses.

One said that maybe she did not want him to ‘see’ her because perhaps he had imagined her as more of a beauty. I think he just did not feel that at that age he could contemplate a new life of sight when he had been blind for so many years. He must have been about forty or forty five at that time and life was ok for him in his mind. He had a good job, a fine hobby of playing the piano at events and a loving wife and adoring nieces and nephews and siblings.

Dancing at a late age to some is something of a pleasant hardship and chore and one must really want this happening to happen to them. I was forty-three when I started sincerely to take lessons and to dance. Of course, one cannot equate George’s declining contact lens with taking dance lessons but to him it seemed a hardship he did not want to enter in. To some folks seeking a hobby, ballroom dancing seems a hardship though never in the manner of George Joseph’s lack of sight. Some people feel they are too old to bounce around the wood floor. Others think they cannot comprehend all the moves and brain work needed to do this. Others feel they are too aged already and others do not have the encouragement of friends to accomplish this. He thought the name Joseph did not define him and so he thought George a more romantic name that acknowledged his personality.

Personality he had and then some. He had this marvelous melodious voice and when I spoke with him on the phone, he sounded like he was a movie star or a radio announcer. He was very handsome with dark black hair and I often thought how sad he never saw how he looked. He did not let sadness overtake him from being blind. This was his life and he felt blessed to be alive. His work life consisted of being a professional medical secretary at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He was not a secretary in a doctor’s office; he was an official medical secretary for the hospital. All of the famous and important doctors after an operation would request George to type their notes because of his meticulous manner in transcribing their work.

He walked around the huge surroundings of Johns Hopkins without a cane or Seeing Eye dog. How he did this we never could understand. He crossed the streets down there in downtown Baltimore after arriving there with a driver who brought him and others to work.

My special Uncle George was a dear man who inspired everyone around him to conquer their fears and their anxieties by his cheery and loving manner. I was important to him. He was a splendid human being and an inspiration to all the many nephews and nieces.

The sad part was that George and Mike could never talk because of their different handicaps but the shaking of their hands and the hugging of their bodies still conveyed their love for one another. Mike married and moved off and George for a few years lived with my mom and dad before I was born and before he married RoseMarie. She adored him and they had had their secret word for each other. They would call themselves Dar and one day I asked what did that stand for. They said Darling.

Darling he was and all that he was became a journey to my heart. Once we went on a public bus. Of course his eyes were closed and people would stare at him and he could feel the stares. I as a young child of about eight stared right back at them for their inconsiderate attitude towards him. I wanted to yell out to them, do not stare, this is the most beautiful human being you will encounter. It was as if they were fascinated by this man with his eyes closed and still able to walk on and off the bus.

His eyes may have been closed but his heart and soul were open and full and he had a life of adventure and happiness.

People who ballroom dance have their eyes opened wide when they begin to perceive what dancing is all about and how it will affect their lives forever. When I was down competing in Florida in 1982 with my teacher, a blind lady got up and danced in several heats with her teacher. She won all her heats over sighted people and no one knew till it was announced that she had won this or that and that she was blind. She held her head up and moved to the music and the audience could not distinguish her blindness from afar.

She and George being blind from birth both accomplished great feats in their life. Hers with her feet and George with his work and his music and just being our favorite uncle. He will always have his name written on my heart and George or formerly Joseph SAW MORE WITH HIS EYES CLOSED than many people with their eyes open.

So to all you new or old ballroom dancers, you can believe like George Joseph did that even if sometimes you think life has dealt you a raw deal, go out and achieve and attain and be fulfilled because there is nothing you cannot do if you have the will to do it.

Do not keep your eyes closed because you are blessed with open eyes and sight. See all you can see and believe all you can believe and perceive that you are special and that you can be involved in this activity and will be making a journey into your own heart. Your heart will welcome this voyage and you will be the blessed traveler into a world of ballroom dancing and so much happiness and joy. You will be like my Uncle George seeing the world as only you can and the stares you will get will be ones of appreciation for your talent and the person you are now at whatever age you happen to be.

Elita Sohmer Clayman
Baltimore, Maryland
March 2008

Keep on Dancing 


Published by René Zgraggen
Montgomery, AL