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March 27, 2005

The Listening Post : The Red Hat Sparklers

From: Salem Statesman Journal - Salem,OR,USA - Mar 27, 2005

A sign-language interpreter helps translate the lunchtime conversations of a group of deaf women who are members of the Red Hat Society

March 27, 2005

A group of ladies in red hats trickled into the dining room of the Tudor Rose teahouse on Liberty Street on March 4.

The red hats matched the women's flushed cheeks as they kissed and hugged one another at the start of their monthly meeting of the Red Hat Sparklers.

The Sparklers is a chapter of the Red Hat Society, a national social club for women older than 50. Part of the Red Hat motto is throwing cares to the wind and having fun, which is one reason members wear red.

There are 13 members in the Red Hat Sparklers, and most of them know one another from attending the Oregon School for the Deaf years ago.

Sally Maxwell, the queen mother and co-founder of the group, greeted each woman as she arrived at the tea house.

Dixie Baker: I have a funny story I want to tell. I bought some white shoes at Goodwill. So I asked this professional shoe-repair place, is there some way we can take the heel off, because it was going to fall off. He said no, I should be able to fix it and have it stay on, no problem.

So I went home and I wanted to change the color from white to red. And so I had asked him, can I spray-paint them, and do you think the spray paint will stay on?

He said yeah, no problem. So I went home and spray-painted them. Then, I went up to Portland. It was a holiday function, and I was walking around Portland all day.

And when I looked down, the paint had started to chip off, and my shoes looked like they were polka-dotted with white spots showing through the red paint. And it was a very funny story because I was really embarrassed that happened.

Sally Maxwell: Ever since then, we always look at her shoes and say, "How are your shoes doing?"

(Most of the ladies laugh. Some were having a hard time following the conversation because the group was split between two tables, even though they had requested one table. Some of the ladies missed parts of the conversation because they couldn't see each other's hands as they were signing.)

Dot Johnson: There's another story about the time we all went and took the train to the Portland Convention Center and then we walked around the MAX. And we were all dressed in our (red and purple) clothes. And we had this one guy who was following us and flirting with us, and he would not leave her alone.

(She points to Juanita Heiken across the table.)

He was, like, about 50 years old and blue-eyed. He was just following her and talking and she was like, yeah, yeah, go on. But he just wouldn't stop.

And then she brought him over to me. When that happened, he ran off. I was trying to read his lips (to see) what he was saying. He did say, "Oh, I really like that red hat. You look OK."

So she came up to me and said, "I'm trying to read his lips and figure out what he's saying," and then he ran off once there was more than one of us. Penny is hard of hearing. We looked for her and asked her what he was saying. He took off at that point. He didn't want to be scrutinized that closely.

(The whole table of women begins laughing.)

Dot: My husband, he complains because I go out and I have such a good time and I leave him home, just sitting around with nothing to do. I tell him I'm sorry. It's the ladies' group. If you want to dress up like a woman and get the clothes and get the outfit, maybe we'd let you in. But so far he hasn't done it.

(The ladies finish up their meals as Karen Duval begins talking about an upcoming surgery she has planned.)

Karen: There's a lot of things I can't be eating. So I have to eliminate some things. I want to eliminate a lot of stuff before my surgery.

Lola Colley: Are you going to have the cochlear implants put in?

Karen: Yeah.

Lola: Do you think it'll be better?

Karen: I'll be able to hear better, and the dizziness will be reduced -- the vertigo.

Dot: I don't buy it that it's going to increase your hearing by 80 percent. I don't buy that. They might be saying that. I know some ladies who have had the cochlear implants, and they're still having to rely on interpreters. I've seen it so many times, where it doesn't improve your hearing the way that they say that it will.

Karen: Well, but I'm so dizzy.

Dot: Well, that would be worth it, if it would reduce the dizziness.

Karen: I'm kind of scared about it.

Juanita Heiken: Well, if the insurance and stuff is going to pay for it, it's worth trying.

Karen: I got an e-mail from Horace. Horace, you know. You know Horace? His fiancee is sick, and he was saying that he's really happy with his cochlear implants. Very, very happy. Have you met her? She got a cochlear implant and she's very happy with them also. Yeah, Horace said his hearing was improved enough that it was well worth it.

Dot: Well, OK, fine. I'd say it's like 50-50. Happy, not happy between the people that have had it. I think one of the negative things that people talk about is I know a teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf that had a cochlear implant and it caused some problems, and you can't reverse it once it's done.

Karen: That's true. But the problem you're talking about. The technology has changed.

Dot: Well, it didn't improve her hearing at all.

Karen: Well, that could be because when you get the implant and the outside hearing aid changes. That was a person in one of the first groups to have that done.

Dot: Yeah, it was a long time ago. That was when I was in college. I graduated in 1984, and I think they got their implant in '84, and they were not happy with it. They didn't wear it.

Karen: Yeah, and then you're stuck with it because it's in your ear.

Dot: I think it's worth it, though, because of the vertigo you're talking about, though. If it will help you with the dizziness, then it's going to be well worth it.

Karen: Yeah, it's just horrible. It's crazy. I feel dumb when I'm having the vertigo.

Dot: It doesn't have anything to do with intelligence.

Karen: Well, I know. (pause) But my thoughts, it interferes with my thoughts. I can't think, and that makes me feel dumb.

(An interruption in the conversation.)

Sally: We don't need all this serious talk. Let's get back to just concentrating on having fun.

(The ladies began planning their next outing and where they would meet in April.)

Sign-language interpreter Christine Peries' efforts contributed to this story. or (503) 589-6967

The cast

Sally Maxwell, 66: Queen mother and co-founder of the Red Hat Sparklers, a deaf ladies' chapter of the Red Hat Society. Maxwell, who grew up in Indianapolis, started the deaf ladies' Red Hat group in October after a trip to Seaside, where she came across clothes and other items that had a red-hat theme.

Dot Johnson, 69: Co-founder of the Red Hat Sparklers. Johnson grew up in the Salem area but lived in Texas for 20 years before moving back to the Salem area four years ago to take care of her elderly father.

Lola Colley, 74: Retired from Lockheed Missiles, where she worked as an electronics assembler.

Karen Duval, 59: Retired and lives in Salem. Has two grown children, a daughter and a son.

Juanita Heiken, 75: Grew up in Oklahoma. She moved to the Salem area when she was 16 and went to the Oregon School for the Deaf for two years. She worked for 14 years as a data-entry operator for Boeing of Portland before retiring in 1990.

Dixie Baker, 52: Lives in Keizer. She has four grown children and six grandchildren.

Copyright 2005 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon