Effie Roebuck gave a Christmas party yesterday, and 200 people came. They were the blind and the elderly and, in a few cases, the retarded. They came in vans and school buses and taxicabs from around the city, stepping out on the steamy pavement at 1421 P. St. N.W. in Sunday suits and huge smiles, chatting with withover led them by the arm as if they were 17 and had life by the ears. In a sense, maybe thet did. The handicapped need a lot more, but they seem to ask a lot less.
Effie Roebuck is a 65-year-old, buxom, blind woman with a sick husband and bitten-down fingernails and a heart as big as a river. She makes her living selling newspapers and half-smokes at a vending stand in the basement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Don't feel sorry. She never has. Beats sitting," she says.
Every year, for the past nine summers, Roebuck has put on her "Christmas in July" party for anyone, blind or old, who wants to come. You get the idea, though, that they wouldn't have to be either.
At Effie's Feed there are trees and presents, and there are turkeys and collard greens. This year there was local media celebrity Petey Greene making the jokes, and a rollicky woman at the piano banging out "Silver Bells" like it was "Bringing in the Sheaves." All in 90 percent humidity. If you listened, you could hear the fine high whir of central air.
Effie said she didn't get time to make the Mississippi jambalaya. She felt terrible. "Daddy" (her husband and partner for 33 years) is feeling poorly, and what with one thing and another, including a flat tire on the way over, she felt lucky to get there at all. As it was, she looked dandy in a floorlength flowered dress and a fresh hairdo.Like the others, she needed it feel her way along tables and chairs to her place.
The site of this year's party was the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind's service facility off 14th Street. Outside it was summer in the city: one or two drunks happily nodding off in the haze, kids careening crazily on skates and bikes.
The partygoers, some of whom wore "Senior Power" buttons, sat in a second-floor assembly room, on folding chairs, at long tables stapled with white paper. They ate from paper plates with plastic forks. The favors consisted of matchbooks from the National Bank of Washington. The setting had the class of a father-son Boy Scout breakfast.
The brightest face may have been Effie Roebuck's. Some of these people may not be here in December," she said. "That's why we got to have Christmas now."
She said she developed the idea years ago when she used to work in a senior citizens' center. (Blindness has never kept her at home very much.)
"Every year, when Christmas would roll around, I'd see these people who worked there giving out junk as presents. They just wanted to get rid of the stuff. Outcast things, awful old things. I said, I'm going to have me a real Christmas for these old folks.'"
She paused and looked a trifle sad.
"My parents never lived long enough to be senior citizens. This is what they would have wanted me to do."
A blind lady came up. Her red-tipped cane was crooked in her arm.
"Excuse me, Effie, it's Theresa: I just wanted you to know I'm here."
"Why, how you feeling darling?"
"Oh, I'm getting along."
"We all gettingh along."
Petey Greene said Roebuck called him up over a year ago to get him to work the party. "I never heard of the woman. She said she wanted me to be a quest speaker at some Christmas party she was giving, I said. "Fine, when is it? This December?" She said, 'Nah, it's next July.' I cupped the phone and said to the other guy in the office, 'Hey, I got a crazy woman on the line. Get on and listen to this.'"
William Benjamin Watson attended yesterday's party. He is 76. He isn't blind. He lives at the southern tip of Prince George's County. Grew up there, he said. Most everybody close to him, except his son, is dead.
Watson had a dark, pin-striped suit, a tie with a clasp, a little pin that said "Merit." He got the pin for making baskets for hanging plants at a senior citizen's center. In his pocket, he had a rosary and a walnut he said he's been carrying around since 1945. The walnut is black and smooth as marble. "Think it's a world record?" He said.
They brought Watson his plate of ham and macaroni and greens. He took 40 minutes to eat it. He trimmed the fat from the ham like a shaky surgeon. CAPTION: Picture, Effie Roebuck and helpers in kitchen at Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind; by Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post