Iona Shares Her Story
May 22, 2020Jim Oswald

Many of us don’t like to cook, but for Iona, cooking is especially difficult, even hazardous.

“You’re standing over the stove and sometimes things just pop at you,” Iona explains, not mentioning – perhaps purposefully – the eye disease that has dogged her since childhood.

Iona was declared “legally blind” at 21. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, though one gets the sense that she has fought hard throughout her life to see her limited vision as only a restriction, not a barrier.

At 80-years old, Iona is an avid reader, and has been since she was a child (“Braille took me a year to learn!”) and these days she volunteers by reading books to kids. It’s a valuable way to spend her time, she notes, as the books “always have a message, like about being courteous or how to live.”

She was once part of a group of women who practiced synchronized swimming – “we swam to Moon Over Miami,” she remembers with a laugh. When asked if she still swims she says, “It’s been awhile,” and anyone listening carefully can hear the regret in her voice. Her days consist mostly of reading, typing (she was once a transcriber for the Social Security Administration), and exercise.

Iona doesn’t elaborate even when pressed, nor does she complain, about a life curtailed by limited eyesight, as well as by the color of her skin. A few times she allows that it hasn’t been easy, like when the hospital where she worked tried to fire her when they realized how little vision she had; they failed, but did manage to forbid her to interact with patients.

“I have seen so many people who shouldn’t be working around patients!” she says now. “But because they had 20/20 vision they had no problem keeping their jobs.” At one point she recounts a story of police arresting her without cause but lets it trail off. “There is so much racism in this country, we don’t know the half of it,” she says, before switching topics.

Iona moved to San Francisco in 1964, eventually enrolling in City College, which, she says, “had the most wonderful teachers, who helped me to have confidence.” She continued her education at SF State. “It took me 8 years to get my degree!”

Meals on Wheels has been a “godsend,” Iona says. She lives on her own in an apartment.

“The roof over my head costs more than my Social Security benefits!”

Iona says she enjoys many of the meals and breakfasts from Meals on Wheels, particularly the sausages and the cartons of milk, the fruit, and even pancakes. She has a special love for the soup and the enchiladas. But Meals on Wheels offers her more than just food. Iona shared that she received a refrigerator from Meals on Wheels after hers stopped working, and the volunteers sometimes help her with shopping and errands. “They’re wonderful people,” she says.

Note: Pictures were taken prior to the March 17, COVID-19 shelter-in-place order in San Francisco.


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