Seeing Weyman Would Be A Dream Come True
Monroe, Louisiana – Daniel Brantley is fifteen. He’s been blind since birth. I met him a year ago in his hometown of Shrevesport.
I made a public appearance there. After the show, Daniel’s mother brought him backstage.
I do not mean for any of this to be self-serving. It was just something about Daniel Brantley. He asked me questions about my work and my life I couldn’t answer.
He wanted to know where I was when I put this book or that book on tape. He wanted to know who the announcer was on the tape.
He asked me about names and places from columns I’d written years before and had completely forgotten about.
Then, he wanted to know about my boyhood friend and idol, Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr., a great American. “Mr. Lewis,” he began, always the polite one, “is Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. here with you?”
I said, “I’m afraid not Daniel.”
“I really wanted to talk to him,” he said.
“I’ll say,” added his mother. “For his birthday last year he invited his friends to come dressed like they thought Weyman might look.”
I would have enjoyed seeing that. Weyman would have, too.
Where did Daniel get this interest in me and what appeared to be an interest in humor in general?
We cut a comedy album in Shreveport that night. We decided to dedicate it to him – “To Daniel Brantley, my No. 1 fan.”
I saw Daniel again here in Monroe. Because of Daniel and his remarkable zest for life and laughter despite his blindness, I did a thing here for the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I met another remarkable person, Joanne Wilson, who is the director of the center. She’s also the mother of five and has been blind herself since she was 16.
“What we do at the center,” she was telling me, “is try to change the image of blind people. The image we want to lose is that of the blind beggar on the street.
“The center teaches blind people self-esteem, work skills and independence. We prepare them to live better lives, to be worthwhile employees,” said Joanne Wilson.
“What we want to do is set them free.”
Set them free.
The deal I did here was to raise money for the center’s summer program for blind children. The center wasn’t going to be opened for the children this summer because it couldn’t afford it.
But a lot of kind people in Monroe came through for us. The reason I said “us,” is that they have named the summer program after me. I’ve never been so honored.
After the show, Daniel came backstage again and did his impressions of Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush for me – and damned fine impressions they were.
Prediction: This young man will be on a stage himself one of these days.
I saw Daniel again, and I met Roland and Andrea and Chico and many others, all blind children who want what the rest of us want – a fighting chance.
Before Daniel left he asked me, “Are there any good eye doctors over there at Emory Hospital in Atlanta where you had your heart surgery?”
“I don’t know,” I said to him. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” he said, “maybe one day I can have an operation like you did on my eyes and be able to see.”
I’ll mention to Weyman to include Daniel’s dream in his prayers, too.