Braille in the mail


By Cendri Johnson


This is a picture of the orange envelope that showed up in the delivery box of the Ebbtide about two weeks ago. As you can see, it was a rather odd method of addressing and mailing an envelope — lots of scrawling letters, but no return address and only a first name on the back of the envelope: Doreen.

We opened up our mystery packet, and found three sheets of blank paper. That was odd; why would someone send us printer paper? I mean, we’re a school newspaper, we kind of have an unlimited supply. Upon closer inspection of the paper, however, we were able to spy a long series of tiny raised dots. Someone had written to us in braille.

Nobody at the Ebbtide could remember having any recent dealings with anyone who reads or writes braille, nor did we have any idea as to why someone would be writing to us like this. We had to find out what the letter said, and since all of us are completely illiterate in braille, I took the letter to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library in Seattle in order to have it translated.

Once I arrived at the library and met with Ed Godfrey, the braille interpreter at the WTBBL, Godfrey was immediately able to tell me about the letter. He didn’t even have to look inside the envelope to know what it was — he recognized the handwriting on the outside. Apparently, “Doreen” has written lots of these letters and has delivered them to varying institutions: according to Godfrey, there was “Virginia Mason Hospital, [the] Seattle Times publication, … even one to a financial planning office.”

Godfrey was also able to affirm that Doreen is the same name that the library has seen attached to these letters for quite some time now.

“This is probably about the eighth one that we’ve heard about … This goes back probably, oh a couple of years anyway, maybe five,” he said.

They still, however, do not know who Doreen is, and they are unable to look her up or identify her in their system for confidentiality reasons, since the WTBBL is a public library. The writing, according to Godfrey, is poetry. It’s not any well-known poem as far as either of us know, so my guess would be that it’s original material from whoever is sending out these bizarre epistles.

The poem goes something like this:

Winter Boots, little skis
Tied the strings up a low ankle
Style zipped up my coat
Pockets one pocket with keys
The ice was so fresh
Looked up at the balcony
To make it around
Had a big guess
I came to the corner
Crossed one foot over
The first…make
The strength of my legs

Additionally, Godfrey explained that the letters are all the same poem, and what’s more odd, they aren’t even written in “good” braille. There are several “mistakes” in the language of the poem, as Godfrey easily pointed out. Godfrey has also not been able to discern the means by which this Doreen produces her letters, as printing braille usually requires a special type of thick paper, and what we received was on average printer paper and not produced by a braille printer.

There is a way, Godfrey pointed out, to write braille manually, but it is an incredibly tedious process, and it doesn’t appear that this was the method of production either. One more odd factor in this mysterious occurrence was that according to Godfrey, “People usually get seven or eight full packets of this.”

So why the Ebbtide only received one packet with one page of writing, he did not know, but Godfrey said he would not be at all surprised if we continued to receive several more packets from “Doreen.”

If we could say anything to Doreen, it would be that we hear you and we hope to find out more about you.