Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 30, 1976 · Page 71
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May 30, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 71

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, May 30, 1976
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Page 71
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Debbie at 6 o 'clock Photos by James Stewart By Mtrtha Smitk The last time Debra.Crites saw flowers blooming, she was 6 years old. "They were red," she smiles. "I .think they must have been roses,!' Debbie hasn't seen flowers or anything else since then. The 22-year- old Sissonville resident is totally blind, the victim of an accident that ble, then go between the table and the wall to the spot where I work." As impressive as Debbie's mobility is, itpales by comparison to her knowledge of plants, all of which she's never seen. The roses she remembers by their smell. "Some flowers I know, by fragrance," she says. "Mari^oldi'have a peculiar odor^Others I can tell by theuleaves. African violets and Sense of smell helps Debbie identify some plants. happened all too frequently, in hos--" r gl°xi m 'a have fuzzy leaves. Begon- · * _ » · · _ · _ _ · it _i_. · ! . · " « * _ _ i*« houA «*aal cliftlr larvae ann nnA With loving care, her fingers gently place a tiny plant in new soil. State Magazine, May 30.1976 pi tal'nurseries in those.days: She was a bit small at birth and was placed in an,incubator where she subsequently received too much oxygen, .The tissues of her eyes were irreparably burned. Permanent, utter blindness struck six years later. But even if she hasn't seen roses since 1960, Debbie Crites is surrounded by them all the time now. Roses and begonias and jade plants and hundreds of healthy growing things^ -....· · . ' · . " - ·:..,,-; She is studying horticulture at the West Virginia. Rehabilitation : Center at institute. Her teacher is retired florist Ben White, a relent-, less drill sergeant whose perpetual questions and insistence on perfection turn uncertain students into master gardeners and florists. Beneath that tough-guy facade that howls if a trowel is improperly handled or a cut flower isn't wrapped exactly in the prescribed manner, lurks the soul of Ben White, softie. "This here is my sweetheart," he says, roughly hugging Debbie. She · . is his first-totally blind student and he is proud of her progress. "I went to Columbia, S. C. to a school for the blind, then to Clemson University to study horti-thera- py," he explains. "1 went to learn the best way for teaching all the handicapped to work with flowers." White also went to,Romney to visit Debbie's alma mater, the West Virginia School for the Blind. There and in North Carolina he learned the value of Braille and he gives Debbie an opportunity to copy down the floral terminology with her Braille stylus and slate by taping those important lectures for her. Safety is a top priority in the operation of the rehab center's string of greenhouses. White insists that all tools, pots and stacks of flats be kept well out of the walkways that meander among the rows of plant tables. Debbie knows where everything is in the greenhouses and follows a mental map, always using the same path to locate items and . return to her work table. She rattles off an explanation of her travels among the plants: "1 follow the flower beds on the right. I make a right turn at the third bed and between the second and third flower beds in that row is my soil. After I fill up my flats, I return on the left and come back to the first greenhouse. I continue along the sides of the beds to the ta- ias have real slick leaves and one begonia has large, butterfly-shaped leaves with rough edges." Telling the difference between a begonia and geranium is the work of a moment for Debbie. She gently runs her finger over a leaf's edge, then confidently pronounces: "It's a begonia. The edge is rough." Under the butterfly leaf, she locates the, double blossom and, cradling it, says, "This is a girl because it has, the pouch with seeds inside." While Debbie enjoys the business of identifying plants and looks forward to working with cut floral ar-, rangements -- each batch of blooms will be color coded in Braille for her -- her first love is potting the tiny seedlings. The system White taught her was learned at Clemson. Debbie stands at her work bench with her materi-. als around her in a semicircle. The formation is like the digits on a clock: individual pots are placed at 12 o'clock; the cluster of plants at 3 o'clock; her dibble (a tool for mak- . ing holes in the soil) is at 9 o'clock and the soil for potting is in the center. "I stand at 6 o'clock," Debbie smiles. "This is where 1 always work so 1 know where everything · is." · ;- · ." ' .-' . · With loving delicacy and sensitivity, Debbie's finger separates the thin tendrils and roots. She fills a : small pot with soil, then uses the dibble to make a hole for the plant. Her fingers gently press the rich soil around the stem. A tiny plant has a new home, a fresh start. "1 heard so much about this program," Debbie reflects. "Iwanted to try something new. I didn't want to get stuck in the stereotyped role of the blind vendor. This work makes me very happy." Her mother, Mrs. Betty Crites, encouraged her to try horticulture, Debbie adds. "She thinks this is just great," ' Debbie says. "She knew I'd never be happy at a vending stand. "I love this work because even if I can't see the blossoms and the colors, I can make them grow. It makes me feel good to know I can bring beauty to somebody else." Grinning impishly, Debbie Crites suggests her next goal will be branching out into tree pruning. Imagine: the tree at 12 o'clock, the big, sharp clippers at 3 and Debbie at 6 o'clock. With Ben White and Debbie Crites working together, it seems entirely possible. CHARLESTON. W.VA. :\ m

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