Blindness and verbal abuse don't keep White River Junction's Robert Pickering down
Robert can't see the flowers in his yard blooming, but he still cultivates them every spring
Hazen Street is a working class neighborhood a few blocks from White River Junction's burgeoning hipster district. When I see an elderly man in a wheelchair holding a Chihuahua laughing with a couple of women, I pull over to say hello.
Robert Pickering introduces me to Elizabeth, his wife of 28 years; their friend, Dawn; and littlest but not least, his lap dog, Mitzy.
“I’m in a wheelchair the rest of my life and I’m blind, and this is my little medical dog,” Robert tells me, rubbing the pup behind the ears. “This is my little sweetheart.”
Robert is wearing aviator shades, a well-thumbed baseball cap, jeans and a plaid shirt with a tin of Grizzly chaw tucked in the pocket. If he were inclined to despair, Robert would have reason.
Going on three years ago, a massive stroke robbed him of his vision and left him unable to walk. The former furniture maker and bike repairman saved enough money to buy himself an electric wheelchair, but the darn thing lurched dangerously when he hit the joystick. So abandoned it for his old push chair.
Worst of all are the disrespectful kids he and his wife run into around town, Elizabeth tells me. “Everybody picks on him, all the kids.”
Robert, his cheeks whiskered and his mouth frequently stretching into a smile, doesn't dwell on that in our conversation. On Thursday, he has a big plastic bucket positioned between his knees to transport flowers to the garden of the home he and Elizabeth share on nearby Barnes Street. Deeper into spring, he says, 158 gladiolas will bloom in a starburst of color.
“I can’t see,” he says, “but I do my own flowers.”
Jeffrey Good can be reached at jeffgoodUV@gmail.com. He'd love to hear about other people Worth Knowing.