I don’t have the stories of long nights listening to my grandpa tell stories like many kids. My grandfather was born deaf.
Until I was in high school, he lived in a retirement community in Florida, and I would usually see him once a year during a family visit. Although American Sign Language was my father’s first language, he and my mother are both hearing and sign language wasn’t spoken in my home regularly. I learned to finger spell the alphabet, and a few basic signs, but my communication with grandpa as a child was mostly limited to pantomime, facial expressions, and written notes. My grandmother was also deaf. She lost her hearing as an infant. She would often vocalize some of her words in soft strained tones, but grandpa never made an intentional vocal noise.
Grandpa moved in with my family in high school after my grandmother died. Occupied with schoolwork, clubs, band, sports and friends, I never learned much more sign. However, I did have many warm and sometimes transforming moments with grandpa doing puzzles, watching Wheel of Fortune together, and hearing stories about his childhood thru my dad, the interpreter. Grandpa, who died 9 years ago at 98, remains today to be one of the most direct, humble, gentle and patient men I have ever known.
The year I left for college, grandpa turned 90. Midway thru my first semester, Grandpa and Dad decided to make the 14 hour trip from Illinois to Pennsylvania to come visit. They called me at my dorm from their hotel when they arrived. Dad launched into how the trip went and was starting into making plans to meet up for dinner, when grandpa interrupted and asked for the phone. The next thing I heard was the gentle but dragging murmur of what sounded like a tape recorded voice playing on the wrong speed, “III LLLOVVE YYOUU”. My dad got back on the phone, choked up. “I have never heard my father speak,” he said.
I may not have gotten to spend hours listening to my grandpa tell stories like many kids, but the words I did hear from him, I will never forget.
Written By: Jaia Peterson-Lent