Bob Tarrant was just a teenager when he first realized he had an issue with his eyesight.
Back then, he often tended goal when he and his friends played ball hockey.
“I used to notice there was shots coming from the side I wasn’t picking up quickly,” he said. “At that point in time we didn’t know what it was.”
The Lawn native, who retired in June after a 31-year teaching career, would eventually come to learn he had retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a group of hereditary disorders impacting the retina. It affects roughly one in every 5,000 people worldwide, according to the Retina Foundation of Canada.
Tarrant, who has 11 siblings, says a number of other family members also have RP, including two brothers.
In his younger days, the disorder didn’t stop him from doing anything he wanted to do, Tarrant says.
“The biggest issue at an early age is night vision, you lose your night vision fairly quickly, and then it’s your peripheral vision is the next thing that goes,” he explained.
Unlike others, though, with different variations of the disorder who have lost their eyesight quickly, Tarrant says his family has been lucky for that not to have been the case with them.
Tarrant, who now lives in the Conception Bay North community of North River, has also played in bands since he was a teen, and over the years, working in dark night clubs has been a challenge.
Music is also helping him and his siblings give back.
In 2014, Tarrant recorded a CD with his friend and former bandmate Gordon Edwards, also of Lawn, using the funds raised to support the music program and set up a scholarship program at the school in their hometown, Holy Name of Mary Academy.
Then, the whole family got in on the act, releasing a Christmas album in 2016 that featured all 12 siblings singing. The funds were used to buy ukuleles for the school along with a sound system for the church in Lawn.
Tarrant recently wrapped up another family album, this time featuring 11 of the brothers and sisters singing classic country songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. “Gone Country” also features one very personal song penned by Tarrant himself.
“I Can See” is about a day in the life of a person with a visual impairment, Tarrant says, explaining he used his own experiences to write the song.
Half of the proceeds from this CD will go towards RP research while the rest will be used to help with the start-up of VIBES, the Visually Impaired/Blind Enrichment Society, for which Tarrant will serve as chair.
“There’s a point in time when you do everything, like for example driving a vehicle and doing all the things that everybody else would be doing in life, but after a while as you get older and as your vision declines, you end up not being able to do those things,” Tarrant said of his song and eye disorder.
You may look back and miss those things, Tarrant says, but added “I Can See” is not a sorrowful tune. It also shows gratitude for life’s gifts. For him, playing music in clubs and venues throughout Newfoundland and Labrador for decades was one of those.
“I’m certainly very thankful for that, and now of course I’ve sort of generated my musical energy into recording, which I’ve done a lot of lately,” Tarrant said.
Sending out positive VIBES
Some of the funds raised from the Tarrant Family’s “Gone Country” album will be used for the start-up of VIBES, the Visually Impaired/Blind Enrichment Society.
Bob Tarrant, who will serve as the organization’s chair, says the aim is to remove barriers that prevent people from going to certain places because of their vision problems.
Take a restaurant, for example. Tarrant says navigating the building might prove difficult enough, but then there’s the challenge of ordering from a menu.
One of the things the organization is planning to do is work with restaurants to offer a package that would include a large-print menu, a visual magnifier and a pair of reading glasses.
“That’s one aspect of it, and of course there will be other things that we will be doing to promote socialization for people with visual impairments that will be ongoing over the course of the organization’s life, for sure,” Tarrant says.