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June 7, 2004

let your fingers do the talking

From: Baxter Bulletin, AR - Jun 7, 2004

By Louise Fleming

Louise Fleming

Struggling to fold three fingers into the palm of my right hand, while thumb and little finger pointed toward Betty Crowe, made me regret again not learning to sign while my fingers were still limber.

Our sister Vivian's daughter has been deaf since a toddler when she caught measles from her older sister four years her senior. This was before the time when shots were routinely given to prevent this disease.

Betty is fluent in ASL-- American sign language. She learned to talk with her fingers while at Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock. A teacher there told her mother it would be better if Betty learned the spoken language while home for summer vacations. But still, I regret not being able to communicate with her in both ways.

Now, I've learned that the "I love you" sign isn't static, as I'd supposed from Betty's demonstration. Her sister-in-law lost her hearing as the result of meningitis when she was a small child and has both signed and spoken verbally for just about that long. She was able to attend public schools at a place where deaf children were already being mainstreamed.

Both women have had successful careers, Jan as a registered nurse. Betty forged a new area for the deaf in the Chicago public schools, where she was the first deaf teacher to teach deaf students.

At Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., she made friends with young people and adults who bridged both worlds, while she, because of the nature of her deafness, found signing to be the easier way to communicate. A lively debate goes on in the world of the deaf as to which is the better method. I suspect much depends on individual circumstances and leave the argument to those who know more than I about it.

I was happy, however, to know I still could learn new knowledge, and was able to reply to Betty's "I love you" as the two women said goodbye before leaving our house that last day of their visit.

With Betty and me, there was yet another way of communicating. Left with Edith and me one afternoon while Jan took some time off from caregiving, I got out Bea Devlin's old pastel box. Then I gave Betty the pen-and-ink sketch I'd made of a bouquet of roses, with dark and light areas indicated for a rendition in color. A sheet of blank white paper was used to demonstrate the way one can work with pastels, to build up intact layers of color, or blend it in various ways.

Betty got more blank paper to wade in for herself, while I worked on the pastel of the magnolia Jan and Betty had brought from the handicap-accessible motel they stayed at in town. It was intended for Jan, who also tried her hand at pastels after a visit with our neighbor Jimmie Snow.

That magnolia was a challenge for me. By the first afternoon it had begun to open, and by the next day, it was full blown, and just plain ugly, its waxy white turned dirty gray, and the nest of seeds spilled out over the table at which I worked.

Betty's rose, however, was still pristine. And as I told her while we both were engrossed in our separate worlds, it's not important if one makes mistakes in painting, that's how one learns. And isn't that a good feeling, to know that however old and stove-up you may be, you can still learn new things.

Eat your heart out, Dona Dudgeon. I now can sign "I love you." With one hand, yet.

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