S1: Episode 19 - Cleo Carranza

Portrait of Cleo Carranza

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:          Welcome to my Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else.  Episode 19, Cleo Carranza.

Cleo:    My name is Cleo Carranza. 89 years old and I live alone. And um, I’m totally blind. I do my own house cleaning. I mop a little lick and a promise, and I try to keep my house clean. But when I first move into this house, I was infested with roaches. So that’s my motto, keeping everything clean.

In 1942, I went to the recruiting office. I was real young, you know, and he asked me, how old are you? I said, I’m 18. So he said, “okay, here’s a piece of paper.” He said, “take it home and let your father sign it.” So I, I grabbed that paper and I ran home. My dad came and I says, “I got this piece of paper, dad, because I joined the Navy.” And he said, “you what?” And um, he almost ate me with his eyes. And he says, “okay, I’m gonna sign this son, but I’m gonna tell you what you don’t know who makes these wars.” And I grabbed the paper and I ran back to the recruiters. Next day we got on a train. It started snowing. It was October. And we got up to bootcamp. There was a whole bunch of guys outside and they holler, you’ll be sorry <laugh>.

When I went to see the optometrist, because I went to check on my eyes for glasses. He says, what you have is glaucoma. He said, but don’t worry about it. There’s all kinds of medicine, lasers, and what have you. He done a lot of surgery in my eye. It was very sad because the last time I went, he put me on this machine, look my pressure in my eye, and he said, I can’t do anything for you. Your eyes all scarred up. You’re gonna go blind. You know what? It really hurt me. I was shocked. Yes, I was. When I came home, you know, I started thinking about my blindness. After a week I says, oh, what the heck? I’ll just leave it up to the Lord. And then I just started using darkness. I’ve been blind for more than 25 years. It feels that you’re in a dark world. <laugh>. That’s how he feels.

You know that one time there was a guy that done some work for me and he was sitting there, he says, um, do you ever feel lonely that you don’t have anybody to talk to? And I told him, you know what? To tell you the truth. No, I don’t. I feel more nervous when I have a lot of people here. My last fall was, uh, less than January, a cat came in and I was grabbed by the neck and I slipped and I fell on my pumpy. That’s my tailbone. And I couldn’t get up. So I crawled all the way to the door and I grabbed that cat and threw him out. I had cats to come in the house. You know what? I laid there for 24 hours.

No, no. I never forget that. I’m blind. I think about it all the time. The only thing I’ve learned going blind is, uh, by touching things. You know, I can see that the radio’s there because I touched it and I can visualize it in my mind. I gave a speech one time because this lady, she called me one day and she says, Cleo, I want you to make a speech because you are a role model. I am. I didn’t know that <laugh>. So anyway, I said, okay, I’ll do the speech. I told him that everything I do in my house, I do my own laundry. I clean my kitchen, I do little cooking. My dryer’s outside. And I heard one of ladies said, “oh, he hang his clothes outside, <laugh>.” I said, “yes, I do.” After I finished, yeah, they clap. The happiest period of my life was when I was a little boy, because I had my mother. My mother was there. We were really young. I think when she away, I was about six. Well, the only thing that I can remember is that we used to eat together. When my dad and my mother would make a tortillas, corn tortillas, you know that if my mother would’ve lived, I think my life would’ve been different. Why is that? I don’t know. I know it would’ve been different.

[Outro Music]

Host:    I had the great pleasure of spending three days with Cleo Carranza just a few months before his 90th birthday. His laugh was contagious. He worked many years at Kelly Air Force Base as a civilian aircraft painter. He said, “I was always excellent in math. I was self-taught. I bought many math books. I learned geometry, trigonometry, and some algebra. I could remember anything with numbers, telephone numbers, addresses.” Cleo served in the US Navy during World War II. He said, “When you have brown skin, not everyone is good to you. But overall, the military was a great experience. I was a hard worker and everyone trusted me. I learned a lot. I saw a lot of things I never saw before. It changed me. Yes, it did.” He said it changed me.

Join us next week. Two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast. For portraits and transcripts. There are so many ways, different ways to experience moments to their fullest. Thank you for listening.