Short stories are not normally my preferred reading material. Not long after my trip to New York, I discovered Grand Central, an anthology of unconnected stories taking place at New York’s Grand Central Station on one day in September 1945. I loved New York so much, and have a serious fascination with the post-War period, so of course I had to read it. Little did I know that I would find one story with a blind character that would leave me scrambling to discover the author.
“The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy was that story.
It is less about the blind man, but by how his brief interaction with a woman formerly part of the Lebensborn program changed her life.
A man and a woman meet on a train. It is not a love story; he is already married, and she’s been so used by men. But he enables her to see that where she’s been and where she’s going are both so similar and so different.
This story is hard to read, particularly as it puts to voice many of the ideas about disability that are faced by disabled people today. The woman on the train had two children in the Lebensborn program, one of whom had been taken away for being a “Mongoloid”. The businessman on the train is impeccably dressed, with perfect manners; he faces life with realism and optimism – and discrimination with firmness and grace – that is both fairly unique and yet sets him up to be the “angelic blind character” that sets my teeth on edge. He notices her perfume because his mother used to wear it, he knows what direction the wind is blowing based on other factors, and my city-slicker thinking makes me wonder if such observational skills really did exist in that time and place.
Ultimately, this man – with a mind for business, a wife and son at home, and the words of a priest – opened this woman’s eyes to a new way of life. Without spoiling other elements to this story, I’m glad it was his openness and patience that pushed her forward into a new way of thinking.