Abe Schmidt - The Blind Man

by Bill Newman

A well known character in our neighborhood was Abe Schmidt known to some as "the blind man" but to most as Schmitty. Schmitty, as I knew him was in his late 60's and was truly blind. There were many stories about the cause of the blindness. The story that was most popular was that the blindness was a result of syphilis. The story that Schmitty told was that he was a shoe salesman and that he had rubbed his eyes after handling someone's diseased feet.

Schmitty walked with a white cane and was quite adept at making his way around the neighborhood. He lived on Clinton Ave. which was a long walk for him to my neighborhood, Hawthorne Ave. Any day there was no rain or snow Schmitty could be found someplace on Hawthorne Ave.

The New Jersey Commission for the blind had several programs that made Schmitty's life easier. He had a pass that admitted him and a companion to any movie in town at no cost and a like one for bus or trolley service. There were times that I would take Schmitty into the Hawthorne Theater. I enjoyed many a show this way. I don't think Schmitty enjoyed any movie, to him it was a way to kill a few hours.

The commission for the blind had several programs that enabled the blind to do some sort of work and make a few extra dollars at the same time. Schmitty was entered into a belt making program. He was able to buy enough supplies to make a belt for .50¢ and he turn sold it for $1.00. In those days $1.00 for a leather belt was considered a fair price.

The belts were available in brown, black, white or any combination thereof. A belt was made by inserting a single piece of leather into the tongue and continuing to insert other loops till the desired length was reached and lastly snapping on the buckle.

I would help Schmitty with his belt making by sorting out the different colors for him, measuring and checking the completed work for color or size errors. I did not receive any compensation for this other than the free trips to the movies.

Schmitty's level of intelligence was about equal to a 12yr. old child. He enjoyed talking to children as they were his equals. Adults only tolerated Schmitty if they were not busy. His command of the English language was on a par with a third grader's. Today I still recall two gaffes he always made, an Alka Seltzer was called "an Elsa Selser" and spaghetti was always pisgetti.

Schmitty's moment of fame came on a fall evening when he challenged myself and several friends of mine to a game of "hide and seek." Since he could never find us, we would always have to look for him.

We gave him extra time to hide and then started our search. An hour later it was dark and we still had not found him. The adults we told assured us he would be ok.

The next day we found out that he had climbed into the back of a pick-up truck belonging to the neighborhood plumber. Sometime during the night the plumber was called out on an emergency call. He drove off with Schmitty asleep in the back.

When Schmitty awoke he climbed out of the truck, took his cane and went walking along the street. He had no idea where he was until he was stopped by a beat policeman. Schmitty was driven home in a police car and all ended well.

The story was worth two paragraphs on the back page of the local paper. Schmitty always carried the newspaper clipping with him and showed it to anyone that hadn't seen it. He couldn't have been prouder of what he did than if he had been elected president.

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