The minute that meeting was over, I made a bee-line to the hearing chick who had been my lifeline in the classroom. I learned that she was what they called a CODA: Child Of Deaf Adults. She was a native signer. (She would become my best life-long nothing-could-ever-change-it friend. She would also introduce me to the man who would become my husband.) I let her know I was new to town, new to the college, new to signing, and had lots of time to work with the Club if anything was needed.
So you will understand my environment, I was attending East Central University, a school with a strong program for Deaf students as well as some Deaf Studies courses, ASL classes, and an interpreting minor. The university was just 30 minutes from the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. I consider the environment I was in to be, in terms of the Deaf community, culturally rich.
Janice took me under her wing, but didn't spoon-feed me, especially when it came to language learning. She gave me the very best advice I could have ever gotten. She told me that I needed to find some way that my relationships with Deaf people would be be mutually beneficial. She was protecting the people in her World. She advised me to get a TTY and asked if I had a car. I did have a car and since several Deaf students did not, I began offering rides to those students. I would also proof-read papers. In turn, they guided me through their World. They invited me to sit with them at football games (that we never watched, but instead formed a circle in the stands on the opposing team's side so we could visit). They invited me to go dancing after the games. They took me with them to the school for the Deaf homecoming games and reunions, the Deaf Bass Fisherman picnics, and Deaf Awareness Days. They very quickly became some of the best friends of my life.
I remember arriving at OSD one afternoon for some event and getting stopped by my Deaf friends before we headed inside. They said, "Remember: No mouthing English! We better not see it! Mouthing English is SO hearing!"
Another friend would take me with him to Wal-Mart when he needed work done on his car. He didn't need me to accompany him, but would allow me to tag along and practice interpreting for the automotive guy. While waiting for the car repairs to be done, we would walk the isles, visiting and expanding my knowledge of ASL. He was about the age of my father. He was very purposeful in his interactions with me, always making a point to teach me something, knowing my goal was to become a fluent signer and interpreter.
During this same time, I remember sitting at a round table at the Deaf school. It was well into the middle of the night and the older Deaf couples were telling stories that made me cry tears of sorrow and even more tears of laughter. Stories about growing up, stories of oralism, slapped hands, secretly signing in the dorms, yelling contests in the bathroom, parents that just never "got it," learning as adults that farts made noise or that bathroom stalls did not prevent sound from travelling through the room. I feel very nostalgic when I watch the part of the PBS documentary Through Deaf Eyes. (Available on Netflix streaming.) If you watch Jack Gannon tell of a traveling minister attempting to "heal" him, notice the way Jack's wife is enthralled with his story, hanging on every word as if this is the first time she's heard it, giggling and laughing as he tells his tale....That is what I would witness regularly as I was invited to sit around the table to watch these stories be told. I'm pretty sure I missed a good portion because of my lack of fluency, but even only understanding half was enough for me to see the richness and value of their stories. Oh how I wish I had recorded them!
(The more I write, the more I remember! ...to be continued....)