Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

Life Lessons From bob

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My sister Karla spoke about her fondest memories of our dad during his memorial service in January. As I listened to her recollections, I was reminded of my own with Dad. There is so much to sift through; so many things I want to remember forever, it’s overwhelming. Because I cannot possibly put them all down at once, I have decided that whenever I feel the need to work through the grief and loss of losing Dad, I am going to blog about him.

For instance, Karla spoke of being awakened at dawn to go fishing, bribed with coffee and doughnuts, casting off and trolling Long Island Sound for blues or stripers. Sometimes we would jig for bunkers, a popular bait fish. The days were long, sometimes intolerable due to motion sickness, but they were all spent with Dad. From age 10 to 14 I lived on that boat every weekend. One summer Dad took me, my stepmom, Helen and her sister law and kids on a ride around the Long Island Sound. While on the way back to our dock in Cos Cob, we were hit by a squall. Dad did a very smart thing, braving the 6 foot swells, he ran full throttle and got us behind a small island just outside the harbor. We tried to anchor but were blown ashore. All that time he kept his cool, got me to get everyone below and put on life vests but yelled at the others to stop screaming and panicking. I got to ride out the storm on the deck with Dad, and he told me what to do if he got hurt, how to call in an S.O.S., etc. Thank God it didn’t come to that but I remember he said I earned his respect that day.

I can thank Dad for teaching me how to stay calm and think things out even in high stress situations, a skill that helps me in my chosen profession. Let’s face it, when a client becomes argumentative, threatens to hurt someone, or is combative, the more they escalate, the calmer I become. It’s saved my ass many times.
. It certainly came in handy when I lost my vision and needed to keep a level head when lost or confronted with a situation in which my brain and common sense, not my sight could help me.

I miss those life lessons Dad strived to teach me and I am fortunate to have spent the time I did with him.


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Guide dog handlers use our canine partners to go just about anywhere. We work our dogs to the office, the gym, to the market, the mall, and so many other locations it would take half a page to list all of them. I’ve even worked my dog at wakes and funerals.


The most unique  and memorable locations Verona and I went together occurred during a trip to Ontario in 2010. Our family spent the week going  to all the tourist attractions and the Maid of the Mist was on my bucket list.


I should have gotten a clue when the staff handed us each a waterproof poncho but I had no clue what was about to happen and how it would affect Verona. We boarded the ferry like boat and set out for the base of Niagara Falls. As we got closer, the mist hit us. Verona didn’t like getting wet and huddled under my legs. Then the sound of the falls hit us and the roar , the wind, the power of it all was awesome. I was holding on to my husband, feeling it all and when it ended I looked down at Verona. She was still huddled against my leg, dripping wet. My husband said she looked miserable. I stroked her head and told her she was a very good girl for tolerating all of it. I don’t know many dogs who could have stayed and been exposed to such sensory overload and rode it out like she did.


When we finally disembarked she made double time getting us off the boat and didn’t stop to shake herself off until we were on solid ground.

Another experience I thought was unique was touring the Ripley’s Believe it or Not  Museum and the Madam Trousseau’s Wax Museum.  We wove and darted amongst the crowd in Ripley’s, Verona leading me through the exhibits, up and down the stairs, through doors, and following my husband the whole time so we didn’t get separated. At the end of the Ripley tour, we were led to an optical illusion room. Part of the experience was to walk through a large tube with flashing lights. The illusion of the flashing lights made one think the tube was rotating. My daughter went first, telling me about the footing and that it was okay for Verona. When it was our turn, I gave the forward command and we stepped in to the tunnel.    Halfway through my husband followed us. As I stepped out with Verona, both of them were laughing.

I asked them what was so funny. My daughter said that Verona was walking crooked, her legs splayed out as if the tunnel was really spinning. We concluded that optical illusions work on guide dogs as well as people.


Next we toured the wax museum. It was interactive and a lot of fun. Verona and I sat with Oprah, which I thought was very funny. We also found the row of bronzed copies of celebrity faces and I guessed most of them correctly. Leonard Nimoy has a huge, crooked nose and Angelina Jolie has a very delicate facial structure, making her appear via touch as very beautiful. William Shatner has a very chubby face, which I still think is very funny because when he was younger he was supposed to be very handsome. Being able to touch them was one of the best parts about it.


Anyway, back to the next unique experience. We entered the science fiction hall and as we passed the Alien exhibit, the damn thing popped out of the egg and scared the crap out of me. I yelled and jumped back and so did Verona. Then I started to laugh along with my husband and I told her it was okay and we moved on. It really was very funny. At least I can rely on her sense of self-preservation, right?


Since then, we’ve been on many other vacations and have had other wonderful experiences, but I will always remember Ontario as one of the most exciting and fulfilling. It was  the first trip with my first guide dog and my entire perception of what it is like to  be a blind traveler has changed for the better. In fact, every time I travel I find it rewarding and I know it’s due to having a great  canine partner with whom I can share it.


January 2013


by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0