Ivy Green, Tuscumbia Alabama
When on a pilgrimage it is best to let serendipity be your guide. I initially planned to go directly home after visiting the Ave Maria Grotto but at the hotel was a flier for Helen Keller’s childhood home. Looking on the map I realized that it was only a little over an hour north of Cullman, Alabama and I could easily fit it in to the afternoon before heading back to Tennessee.
After a visit to the bookstore at the Grotto and a stop by the ATM, I headed north to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the northwest corner of the state. The rolling hills and white trees, bright sunshine and bucolic farms passed quickly and I was soon in the charming old southern town. Ivy Green, the home of Colonel and Mrs. Arthur Keller sat on the edge of town, built in 1830, originally on a 640 acre plantation and one of the first homes in the area.
Ivy Green has always been in the Keller family and still has much of the original furniture and beautiful worn pine floors. One of the rooms has been turned into a mini museum and the back porch is the even tinier reception area. There are still 10 acres surrounding the house, kitchen and summer home.
Helen Keller was born in 1880 at Ivy Green, and was perfectly healthy until around 19 months old when she developed a fever that left her deaf and blind. Her parents took her to many doctors who could not provide any answers until a meeting with Alexander Graham Bell who suggested they find a teacher for young Helen instead of a cure. The Perkins Institute for the Blind sent one of their former students, Anne Sullivan, only 20, to be Helen’s teacher. The first month of Anne’s time with Helen has been immortalized by the play The Miracle Worker; the 1962 movie adaptation won numerous Academy awards. According to the docent at Ivy Green, it is a very accurate depiction of those first difficult weeks when Helen, 6, who had no language or manners, resisted this intruder into her dark, silent world.
Finally after a month Helen had a breakthrough and realized that the shapes Anne was making into her hand were words, that there was a way to communicate. It is such a remarkable story of victory for both Anne and Helen, now an integral part of the history of the United States and a triumph of the human spirit. Helen was the first deaf/blind person to earn a college degree and went on to have a career writing and lecturing around the world. This little girl who had no language went on to use language brilliantly.
I have known this story all of my life and now was so excited to be visiting the place Helen broke through her world of darkness and silence to give incredible light and inspiration. I loved seeing the dining room where this wild little girl was tamed, the tiny house where Anne had long days to get Helen to accept her and the simple water pump where Helen learned her first word. This is a place of hope for all of us that with love and perseverance we can over come the toughest challenges and open our hearts to love.
The best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. —-Helen Keller
I headed home across northern Alabama, through Huntsville, past the rockets at the Space Center, along the beautiful lakes, all while listening to the words of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. More cassette tapes that had interviews from 1979 but contained answers I was looking for. Recordings made so long ago but perfectly important that day. It had been a full day of happiness and inspiration from two dear souls, Helen and Bother Joseph, that overcame so much to leave us all their bright light. It was also the first anniversary of my father’s passing. He would have loved my little adventure. I arrived home late that night and opened my computer to check on some emails when my father’s picture popped up in the corner as a facebook notice. “Do you know Millard Smith”. I said “yes I do!” A sweet message that he was OK and all was right with the world.