Telling My Deaf World story was inspired by this video. Thanks, Molly, for bringing back a flood of memories for which I will be forever grateful. I realize how fortunate I have been. The biggest thanks go to my friends, mentors, teachers, and guides through the Deaf World. I will never ever leave!
Before I was even an idea, my parents began learning sign language. Growing up, I vividly remember Dad standing up next to the preacher, interpreting the service. He was never trained as an interpreter, but learned to sign from the members of the Deaf community in and around Little Rock in the late 1960s and early 70s.
My parents learned old-school Amslan, signing "GO" with two rolling "1" handshapes and "WHO" circling the mouth. They signed in English order and threw in some SEE for good measure because that was what they were seeing at the time.
At age five, I was prouder than proud to sign my first sentence to our fifteen year-old Deaf friend, Jeff. "TIME....TO....GO." I can visualize that moment as if it were on film.
Jeff spent quite a bit of time with our family, even coming on some family trips with us.
When I was still very young, Jeff moved off to attend the residential school several hours away and the other Deaf at our church slowly disappeared. So I did not grow up surrounded by the Deaf World, but what I had experienced from birth to age five or six would be enough to prove addicting to me.
Looking back, I don't remember a time that I did not want to somehow be connected with the Deaf World. I thought I wanted to teach deaf kids. I mean, what else could you do working in the Deaf World?
My junior year in high school, my parents enrolled me in a continuing ed class at our local community college. Now I know the teacher was horrible, but to her credit, she brought in several people from the Deaf community. One couple was particularly encouraging. They (seemingly sincerely) told me I had a natural gift for signing and they hoped I would continue learning. They told their friends I worked at Hardee's, so Deaf people could come in on my shift to sign their orders to me.
My senior year in high school, my grandmother gave me a business card of a sign language interpreter. I had never imagined there was such a profession and, outside of church, had only seen interpreters in the little bubbles on TV.
I went to college in Ada, Oklahoma my sophomore year with big head, thinking I really knew sign language, when in actuality, I knew a lot of random church signs, some SEE signs, and the entire Hardee's menu. I knew nothing of the language of the Deaf World and very little of the people.
Walking in to my first "Silent Friends Club" meeting in a room full of Deaf people, I was about to be seriously humbled.
(to be continued....)