The Dinner

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For the Cunningham family, who are all legally blind, grocery shopping means taking a 45-minute bus ride. (Daniel Wirtheim)

by Daniel Wirtheim

It’s the first of December and a heavy overcast sky stirs above Anita Cunningham as she waits for the No. 12 bus that will take her to the nearest Walmart Supercenter.

Her purple rain jacket is unzipped. A Greensboro Transit Authority pass hangs across her chest. Her hair, dyed a fire-engine red, matches her dangly Santa hat earrings. And her glasses amplify a pair of blue eyes to the edge of the frame as she scans the street for the No. 12.

She’s brought a black collapsible bag along with wheels and a long handle designed to make lugging groceries easy while using public transportation.

The bus stop is just a sign on a quiet corner of Greensboro’s Warnersville neighborhood, just south of downtown. Behind the stop is a white picket fence that belongs to the single-story home where the three Cunninghams live.

There’s Arianna, Anita’s granddaughter and adopted daughter, who is 14 and a student at Kiser Middle School. Arianna is autistic and legally blind but thrives musically, she’s a violinist in the Greensboro Youth Symphony Orchestra. Arianna has what the Cunninghams and her instructors call “perfect pitch.” She often learns instrumental parts without reading the music. In concerts she has absolutely no way of reading the music, so she memorizes everything. Getting Arianna to her orchestra recitals is one of the few instances that the Cunninghams use SCAT, Greensboro’s paratransit program.

There’s also Lonnie Cunningham, Anita’s husband, who is 74 and has been legally blind since birth. Lonnie was born in Roxboro, to a poor family that didn’t have the means to buy the young, mostly-blind and albino boy a pair of glasses. Lonnie worked in tobacco fields as a boy and went to Governor Morehead School of the Blind in Raleigh before moving to Greensboro to work at the Industries of the Blind.

The Cunninghams bought their house specifically because of its proximity to the bus station — since being legally blind means no one in the household drives.

Typically Lonnie gets groceries on a Sunday, when the factory is closed. But today Anita needs a few things so she’s waiting for the No. 12.

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Anita’s granddaughter, Arianna Cunningham, reads The Wizard of Oz in braille. (Daniel Wirtheim)

The No. 12 will take Anita to J. Douglas Galyon Depot, where she’ll switch to a connector that takes her the rest of the way to Walmart at the Pyramid Shopping Village in far northeast Greensboro. When Lonnie shops on Sunday, the bus runs a direct route to Walmart but on every other day a connector is necessary. If she misses the No. 12 bus, there’s also the No. 13 that passes the Cunningham house. All routes convene on the depot and one of the two arrives at Anita’s bus stop every 30 minutes. As a member of the GTA board, Anita says it’s the best bus system in the state.

Before working with the GTA Anita used to teach in the compensatory program at GTCC, until a serious back injury left her unable to work. While she collects disability and Lonnie continues to work at the factory, Anita fills her time with volunteer work. She meets weekly with the GTA board, she volunteers with her church the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and the Mobile Oasis Farmers Market. She takes Arianna to orchestra recitals, sings in the church choir and goes bowling with a blind league once a week. So much of Anita’s life is built around the bus schedule and five minutes after its scheduled arrival time, the No. 12 arrives.