Every time I see the scene in which the young Helen Keller discovers the word “water” at that iconic pump at the Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, I cry and get goose bumps. The quintessential scene of “The Miracle Worker” brings many to tears every year at Keller’s birthplace.
On a spring day in 1887, the birds chirped and fluttered back and forth between the maple trees, under a deep purple sky with white, puffy clouds. The sounds and sights of that day, like every day of her seven years of life, went unnoticed by the deaf and blind Helen Keller. At her side was Anne Sullivan, the relentless teacher who pumped water on Keller’s hands while spelling the five letters W-A-T-E-R repeatedly to no avail. It seemed to be a forever world of silence around Keller.
Until that day when something happened, and the young Keller knew those signals in her palm meant the cold liquid around her fingers. By the end of that day, she had learned 30 words, and the life of every deaf and blind person would change for the better.
This weekend marks the 39th Annual Helen Keller Festival on the Ivy Green grounds in Tuscumbia. Tours of the Helen Keller home will be provided, as well as several music and art shows and the grand event on Friday and Saturday nights, the outdoor performance of “The Miracle Worker.”
This is the 56th season for the Broadway-style play at the home, which tells the story of Keller and Sullivan.
“The festival starts this Thursday,” said Sue Pilkilton, executive director of the Helen Keller Birthplace. “We open up with a parade at 6 p.m. We’ll also have entertainment in the park and on Friday we have Keller Kids, which is a group that teaches first through sixth grade.
“We have ‘The Miracle Worker’ play on Friday night and we have tours of the birthplace throughout the day. The play is every weekend through July 8,” she said.
The performance is a popular event for many from across the country and is a constant sellout. One of the actresses who plays Sullivan this year, Macy Ladner, played the role of Keller a few years ago.
“I’ve been here 46 years. I love what I do,” Pilkilton said. “I fell in love with it when I was a young girl when we studied ‘The Miracle Worker’ and Helen Keller’s life. That summer, I started in the gift shop and I’ve been here ever since.”
The drama, written by playwright William Gibson, celebrates the life of “America’s First Lady of Courage.” Actors converge from all over the country to perform the play on the grounds of the Ivy Green.
For Pilkilton, it doesn’t matter how many times she has seen the play. It gets her every time.
“You can’t just see the play; you have to experience it. When Helen learns her first word, water, it brings tears to people’s eyes, and to my eyes,” Pilkilton said.
If you are after a story that not only will give you goose bumps and possibly cause some tears, but a story of perseverance and resilience, and a story that has changed millions of lives, Tuscumbia is where you need to be.
For more information, visit www.Helenkellerfestival.com.