By Carolyn Dale Newell

Iva and I enjoyed three days in Gatlinburg alone. Why is this a big deal? It is the first time in my entire life I vacationed by myself. Last year, I made a few trips without my husband, but someone was always just in another room. My new independence feels unreal especially since we have only been together for less than a year.

In March, we spent a weekend learning routes to the Gatlinburg Convention Center, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. After another trip in May, I felt confident we could tackle this solo trip in August.

Being alone in a hotel room requires sticky dots on the microwave and AC unit to make them accessible for the blind.

People ask me how Iva knows where to go in a busy vacation area. We teach her to target certain places, and she remembers. The hard part is I have to keep a mental map of our surroundings.

We train Iva with a clicker, plus a treat and praise. This makes a spot memorable for her at the convention center, she took a right off the sidewalk. Next came the steps and then the door.

Navigating inside the convention center was challenging. A long corridor with many doors provides many opportunities to make the wrong choice. I cannot depend on sight to choose the correct door. The hum of escalators and drink machines whisper to me, “turn here”. Of course, Iva knows her turn, but I need to recognize them too.

Once we enter the exhibit hall, Iva learned one way to the auditorium. Then Iva targeted my seat with a luggage tag hanging on it, out of the four thousand possible seats.

We teach Iva to target the door at businesses using the same technique. A sighted person must work with me to ensure we are at the correct place during Iva’s training. Iva mastered six businesses and several crosswalks and curbs.

The first time we stayed at this hotel, I knew it was a lovely place for a writing retreat. The beautiful Smokey Mountains towered over our balcony as I pounded out words on my laptop. Iva made this writing holiday possible. God has blessed me with the wonderful gift of Iva. The freedom to walk the crowded sidewalks and go places with no one except Iva is exhilarating.

Of course, everybody loves Iva. Not one day passed without people inquiring about her. Many people offered assistance to us. Waitresses, store clerks, and hotel staff went above and beyond their normal duties.

A guide dog can be a handful. Juggling water bottles, collapsible bowls, and my Starbucks treat. People offered a helping hand when I gave Iva water. One man passed us, and I heard his prayer, “Be healed in the name of Jesus.” Only in Tennessee.

In a world filled with evil, good people still exist. As a disabled person, I could have been a target for the criminal element, but God did not allow that. Some people behave rudely, but good-hearted folks outweigh them.

If we listen to our TV’s and radios, they never cover the story about the nameless faces who stop and love their neighbor. How can we offer a moment of kindness to someone today?


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