‘Bring Your Life to the Table’: Hawaii Island author completes, publishes unique book after losing sense of sight

  • Sally Hammond talks about her book "Frangipani and Leaky Boats" at the National Federation of the Blind West Hawaii Chapter Friday at Hale Halawai. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island author Sally Hammond published her first work in 2018, though on something of an ironic note.

“Frangipani and Leaky Boats, Bring Your Life to the Table,” a coffee table book full of anecdotes from around the world, explores the craft of tablescaping and extols the virtues of communal dining in an effort to encourage readers toward the cultural value of sharing a meal together — something Hammond said America is sorely lacking when compared to most of the rest of the world.

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With more than 100 photographs of farmers markets, elegant and rustic tableware and elaborate centerpieces including flower arrangements that capture a sense of culture and place, Hammond’s book is visually becoming. The unfortunate irony is she’s unable to enjoy the fruits of her labor from a perspective most readers take for granted.

The idea for the project was birthed by Hammond and co-author Phil Gibson sometime around 2000 when she resided in Singapore. Back then, Hammond still possessed a full sense of sight.

Doctors diagnosed her with macular degeneration in 2003 and three years later, of her own accord, Hammond hung up her car keys for good. Since that time, her sight has continued deteriorate. Among several frustrating elements comprising her situation, no doctor has ever been able to definitively determine the cause of her disease.

“They think it could have been some trauma that flipped a gene,” said Hammond, adding that the typically hereditary macular degeneration isn’t common in her family. “That’s the only explanation any doctor has ever been able to give me.”

Her declining sight played a role in slowing the pace of the literary project but there were also other delays, Hammond explained to fellow members of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), West Hawaii Chapter at a presentation about her book Friday afternoon.

However, using new assistive technologies, she was able to navigate formatting and editing concerns. Her efforts were supplemented by a desktop modifier that transformed typed text into audio.

“Everything is so much slower when you start losing your vision. Everything takes so much longer,” Hammond said. “But there are ways around it. Blindness can be reduced to just a characteristic.”

The loss of sight can be emotionally similar to learning of a terminal illness or losing a loved one, often hurdling a person into the five stages of grief, in which denial and acceptance bookend anger, bargaining and depression.

Hammond said the most trying part of the process was the loss of independence. But she didn’t wallow. The depressive phase, she explained, came and went with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s one weekend on her lanai.

Finishing her ice cream she remembered thinking, “OK, well this is the new reality. Let’s get up and get on with it.”

NFB was important in Hammond’s process of moving on, as she identified strongly with one of the organization’s mottos — that she could still live the life she wanted.

Her life pre-macular degeneration and married to an Air Force colonel took her from India to Thailand, Hawaii to Spain and several other destinations in between eventually inspiring a book about “conversation, civility and conviviality sparked through table setting.”

Her life post-macular degeneration led her to finish that book and assume the role of NFB president for eight years.

Dianna Jones, the new president, said Friday that meeting Hammond during one of the most frightening times of her life did more than just change the course of it.

“I feel like Sally Hammond kind of saved my life,” she said. “I walked into this room and it was like a big group of hugs.”

Several members of NFB aren’t completely blind, a common misconception. The organization is geared toward helping not only the blind but also those with low vision and loved ones of people dealing with declining sight, Jones added.

And the group, while relatively small, is hugely supportive. After a Friday reading, members inquired as to when and where they might purchase a copy of Hammond’s work. She said hard covers were scheduled to arrive Monday and will be available on Amazon.

Those interested can also purchase the book by visiting Facebook and searching the title, “Frangipani and Leaky Boats, Bring Your Life to the Table.” Once connected to the Facebook page, a link with a photo of the book’s cover appears under the “Shop” tab in the middle of the screen. Clicking that link begins navigation of the purchasing process.

She added a PDF version will likely be made available for purchase at a later date.

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Kona Stories will also feature Hammond at its monthly Words and Wine event on July 2, which includes a talk with the author and which she hopes her co-author will be available to attend.

“We want to encourage people to enjoy dining again,” said Hammond, explaining her Gibson’s intentions behind writing the book. “Just getting together with family and friends enjoying good food and good conversation.”

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