A Visit to Ivy Green

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”

Helen Keller

The statue of Anne and Helen at the pump. This was constructed by an Alabamian. It was built with marble from Sylacauga, AL.

This past weekend my family and I visited Ivy Green, the home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, AL. Tuscumbia is a town outside of Muscle Shoals and Florence consisting of many hidden gems and spots to explore and experience.

We visited during the Helen Keller Festival, an annual festival that celebrates Helen Keller’s life during her birthday weekend.

I visited Ivy Green about ten years ago and have vague memories of walking up to a large house surrounded by English Ivy and blooming trees.

Ten years later I found myself walking down a brick path leading to the same large house surrounded by English Ivy and blooming trees of plenty! The grass was a lush, emerald green. Bees buzzed around us creating a constant tune as we strolled the grounds of Ivy Green.

Strolled. Doesn’t that word sound nice? It fills my imagination with images of 19th-century men and women discussing their lives, futures, and hopes as they stroll the estate’s garden – straight out of a Jane Austen novel.

We walked through this little house and listened to the guide sharing Helen’s story. As we listened to the beginnings, middles, and ends of the Keller family’s lives a few facts jumped out to me:

  • The Keller family owned the majority of land that makes up Tusbumbia today.
  • Anne Sullivan, Helen’s “miracle worker,” was twenty years old when she came from Boston to teach Helen. My age.
  • Helen wrote eleven more books after she wrote her autobiography. ELEVEN.
  • She lived until the 1960’s – a full and happy life that inspired millions of people and paved the way for deaf, blind, and women around the world.

I was touched the most by Helen’s determination and courage towards life. She didn’t allow her circumstances to define her but rather she chose to embrace who she was and where she was and lived out of that confidence, courage, and bravery. She pushed and challenged the limitations and definitions for the deaf and blind set by the world.

It prodded me to reflect and think about my own life. It inspired me and touched my heart.

I truly believe that when a site or organization creates a human connection between the past and the present for a visitor, they have achieved the greatest of goals. As Helen Keller pointed to, the most beautiful things come from the heart. If we can touch and inspire the heart, we have made a true human connection.

Ivy Green did that well – as did Helen.

Helen’s dresses

We walked through the rooms of the house. We peeked at Helen’s dresses in her closets and looked into Anne and Helen’s bedroom/schoolroom.

Anne and Helen’s bedroom
One of many displays of artifacts, gifts, and personal items. Here are some of her school books she used to learn to read!

In the back of the house, we found an aunt’s room converted into a museum room. Artifacts, gifts, and personal items surrounding Helen represented some of the biggest and smallest moments in her progressive journey. A large, life-size version of the 2003 Alabama state quarter and gifts and mementos from people around the world greeted us. One wall displayed the old costumes and programs from past productions of the “Miracle Worker.” I enjoyed wandering through the room. Seeing these items and tributes in addition to the rooms made Helen Keller even more real, human, and close. I felt as though I was getting to know a new friend or a soul sister.

Eventually, we exited out the back and strolled through the grounds. Directly in front of me was the outdoor kitchen and cook’s quarters. To my right was the little cottage that Anne and Helen used as a school space sometimes. Also to my right was the water pump – the only physical object left of the most defining moment of Helen’s life. The pump has a pavilion surrounding it. I am unsure if the structure was there during that moment, but I looked around at the space and proximity of everything else to this water pump.

I stared at it for a minute and tried to imagine what that moment must have been like for Helen and Anne. I pictured Anne, one hand on the pump and the other hand spelling out W-A-T-E-R over and over into Helen’s hand. Helen frustrated and confused. Anne determined and desperate.

And then a miracle. A moment. The connection between the word and the water clicked. Did Anne ever walk by this pump and see it as a reminder of the miracle? Did this pump represent a greater image, promise, or hope for her dear Helen’s future? Was it a source of comfort and hope to Anne as she walked into the room for the next everyday lesson?

I walked up to the pump and gently put my hand on it. I let the thought and the image sink in.

My next connection with Helen was around the corner in a little garden with a bust of her sitting atop a brick pedestal. I stood in front of her at eye level. I looked into her eyes, and the first thought that came to my mind was “What a courageous woman!”

Face to face with courage.

She fully and relentlessly lived a life of courage that gave hope to millions around the world. She showed the deaf and the blind the extent of the possibilities for them at a time when the world said their lives were limited. Pushing the status quo, she encouraged others to live courageously in their lives day by day.

My visit to Ivy Green was worth the drive. I walked away feeling encouraged, thankful, honored, and touched by the life of Helen Keller.

The site has done a beautiful job in its conservation efforts, visitor experience, and educational programming. Truly a gem in the heart of Tuscumbia, Alabama.

If you’re looking for a focal point for your next weekend roadtrip, I would recommend a visit to Ivy Green. If you go next year to the Helen Keller Festival, I would suggest staying and watching the play, “The Miracle Worker.” Theater, the space that creates and exhibits some of the deepest truths and emotions of the human experience, will give an even deeper connection and understanding concerning the life of Helen Keller.

We were made to be courageous, my friend. I am still discovering this, but I think it begins with us asking this question each day.

What courageous step can I take today?

This can be a big step or a small step. But it takes a step. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, courage is defined as:

“mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”

Courage doesn’t remove the fear but it is a strength, a choice to persevere regardless of the circumstances. In this life, that strength is found within ourselves. That strength is only found in the strongest and truest source: the author and perfecter of our faith. And this courage doesn’t have to look perfect. It can be imperfect. Courage is a daily choice, determination, and trust.

Will you take a step with me today? What does your step look like?