Sunday, November 17, 2013


When I started going to college to become a sign language interpreter, it was really weird. I was older, there were little kids there fresh out of high school. Some of them had taken sign language as their foreign language in high school, and some were CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults), so they already had a grasp of the language and were easily bored with us beginners and the slow pace. My second quarter, I took ASL 2 and walked into the classroom to find out I had a deaf instructor. She was nice enough to have interpreters that first day of class, to ease us into the transition. After that, there were no voices in that class. Her name was Gayle. She was older, probably in her 50s. She was thin, wiry, always wore cowboy boots, and if you saw her out of the classroom always had on a cowboy hat. It looked perfect on her. She had lost her hearing as a young woman due to illness. Her hands were beautiful. She was the most patient, kind person I have ever met in my life. She had a wickedly barbed sense of humor, and never missed an opportunity to inject humor into her teaching. She was never cruel, or harsh, but she *was* firm. She tolerated no nonsense in her class. If you couldn't zip your mouth and move your hands, you were OUT. I adored her.

My college sponsored a Silent Weekend every quarter, it was basically a full-immersion camping experience, where deaf/hard-of-hearing joined students, sometimes faculty, and just regular folks. It was voices off the entire weekend. It is SO DIFFICULT to remember to not talk first thing in the morning when you're groggy from sleeping on the ground and stumbling around looking for the shower houses. I started going to them that second quarter, because I had to have a "deaf interaction experience" to write about for my class. I was terrified. I had only learned some basic signs, and there was no way I could converse fluently. Everyone was very patient, and notepads and pens were used sparingly. Some of the Deaf folks refused to write things, and would repeat things over and over and over slower and slower, or different ways, until you GOT it. It was an amazing learning experience. Gayle went to all of these. She helped out with setup/tear-down, showing by example what we should be doing. She mingled and played games with everyone. She was in her element.

We became good friends over the years that I went to school, and continued to hang out at Silent Weekends every quarter. One year she was in charge of setting up the Special Olympics locally, so I volunteered to help out interpreting awards. It was the first time I had ever heard her use her voice. I didn't even know she COULD speak! She spoke in a low, even voice, that fit her PERFECTLY, and was clear. I asked her about it, and she shrugged and just signed, "Well, it's useful sometimes, but I don't rely on it." One year I gave her a Sign Language Barbie. It has Barbie as an ASL Teacher, little cards in there showing basic signs, and she's making the I Love You handshape. Gayle loved it. Before I moved, I made her a Pysanky egg, that had the ILY hand shape repeated around it, and more traditional designs on top and bottom.  I can still feel the tight hug she gave me when I presented it to her.

Several years ago, Gayle got sick. She had cancer, and although she went through treatment, and fought it, in the end it claimed that amazing woman. As her loved ones, my friends, were going through her effects, they found the egg, and sent it back to me. It now sits on my desk, a daily reminder of my wonderful friend, and to be kind, and patient, and make beauty with my hands.

1 comment:

  1. Very Sweet, Very Neat.