“Hello, I am Deaf,” said the young woman. Her voice was loud. Her words were enunciated.
Her grandfather translated our conversation in sign language.
We were in the hotel lobby. Eating breakfast. Three strangers in the dining room, nursing plates of lukewarm eggs. Hotel breakfasts—even on good days—taste like reclaimed sewage. But if you set your mind to it, you can swallow anything.
The young woman was mid-20s. She wore a pink dress and high-top basketball shoes. Brunette. Brown eyes. Her personal style is one her granddaddy calls “funky.”
The young woman was reading my lips, eyes focused on my mouth. I tried to talk slow, but she was having problems understanding. So her grandfather began signing.
“I can read lips,” the young woman finally explained. “But not yours. You have a beard, your mouth is hard to see with all that hair.”
I told her that next time we met, I would make sure to give the old Chia Pet a trim.
She was born Deaf. Her biological mother was didn’t want her, so the girl was given away to one of her aunts. But her aunt didn’t want her either. Her aunt was more concerned sustaining a lifelong pain-pill buzz.
So her aunt just left her in the crib all day, until the infant girl almost starved. A neighbor found the baby when they heard her screaming. A baby has to be crying pretty loud for neighbors to hear.
Someone rescued her. Within months, she was adopted by an older couple in their 60s. And this is where Grandaddy takes over telling the story.
“It was my wife,” said the old man. “She was the one who heard about her first. There was no way my wife wasn’t bringing this baby home.”
The young woman blushes when the story is told. She calls the old man “Grandpa,” and her adoptive mother used to be called “Grandma.” Grandma is deceased now.
I asked why she calls her parents by these names instead of calling them Mom and Dad. The girl said these titles raised less questions during everyday social situations.
“She’s always called me grandpa,” said the man. “I mean, look at me. I’m an old geezer.”
He laughs. I laugh. Which makes the young woman laugh, too. The young woman laughs louder than both of us. It’s a beautiful sound.
No sooner had the old couple adopted the baby than Grandma began taking classes at a local community college to learn sign language. She brought the infant carrier into class with her. She fed her daughter during school hours.
“My wife made those professors drill us, it was sign language boot camp, REALLY NEEDED to know how to speak the language, and it took us longer to learn, we’re not as quick as young folks.”
Over the years the old woman worked closely with the young woman’s teachers at school. And even though nobody says it, I get the impression that Grandma was this girl’s everything. When she died, the world went dim.
This week, Granddaddy and the girl are in town looking at wedding dresses. The young woman is getting married in a few months. They’re meeting friends downtown. Everyone is excited. But they wish Grandma was alive to see it.
“She would have been so proud,” says the old man. “When you adopt a child, you always know a wedding day is going to come. It’s always in the back of your mind. I wish she would have lived long enough to see her baby girl get married.”
The young woman and the older man finish breakfast and they show me a photograph of the old woman on their phone.
“That’s Grandma,” says the young woman.
In the photo, she looks frail. White hair. Wrinkles. To most people, she would appear like a run-of-the-mill 80-something. In fact, you and I might even pass such a woman on the street and never even pause to notice. But she was more than that. Much more.
“She never saw herself as anything special,” said the old man with a laugh. “She always thought she was nothing special. My wife was such a quiet, shy woman.”
He laughed. He dabbed an eye. Then he said, “I’ll bet she was shocked when she saw all the angels waiting in line just to get her autograph.”
Someday, if everything works out the way I hope, I’ll get her autograph too.