I did research through the mail and going to the library – there was no such thing as internet – to find the best auditory/oral education for our son, mapped out a route and set a timetable for our exploratory trip. As we traveled we would meet up with my brother and Barb, and another couple of friends, Trudy and Herb, at specified locations around the United States. In between we’d visit with many friends made through the years of college and military life. Since there were no cell phones or email we had to rely on the US Mail General Delivery and public phone booths. Although there were several highly regarded oral schools on the Eastern Seaboard we decided to skip the crowded cities of New England and explore new territory in, for us, the wild west.
I’ve found the old loose-leaf notebook where my dream of telling this old hippie story started. I open it to: The First Day–June 26, 1974. What perfect timing. So we begin:
We left in a tropical storm on our shakedown trip from Ormond Beach to Venice, FL to say good-bye to family and friends. Violent winds and rain christened the new Dodge van and our carefully packed hand-built cartop carrier leaked like a sieve. All had to be unstowed. It took all day in Grandma Fifi’s clothes dryer to dry blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, clothes, while we did an epoxy repair job on the carrier. We tried to pack “intelligently” for the big haul cross-country and still have room for living. In a van? My mother spent many hours ringing her hands (and hankies) wondering what she would do with all the leftover gear that wouldn’t fit. She had just gone through the same thing with Terry and Barb the week before and her patience was wearing thin. I don’t blame her. The Green house has always been used as home base because of a welcoming attitude, ample space, and Fif’s delicious home cooking. Of course the real reason was that two out of three of her children and two of her grandchildren were leaving in vans for “God knows where” to live as hippies for “God knows how long”. Though we’d been hashing and re-hashing the plan for over a year, none of the parents thought we’d actually become wanderers.
I, myself, found it hard to believe that we were actually giving up our stable life with two kids, our little 3 bedroom/2 bath ranch in middle class suburbia. But harder still – how did I ever talk my husband into giving up his successful position as a white-collar “investment advisor” – the new-fangled word for a stockbroker?
So why, where, when and how did we get from Florida to Colorado? I began living as an armchair hippie somewhere between the late 60’s and the early 70’s as we followed a more traditional route of our conservative past: bearing two children, buying a ranch style house for $20,000 including a beach access, in a sweet young neighborhood half a block from the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Halifax River on the other in, Ormond Beach. We watered our salt-saturated yard, strolled the babies, hung out on the lawn after work with the neighbors, babysat for each other, slathered the kids with zinc oxide sunscreen, went fishing and crabbing, had a boat and a station wagon.
My brother Terry and his gal Barb would come over to visit and go to the beach from the University of Florida where Ray and I both graduated a few years earlier. And if we could find a babysitter we could head to our alma mater for live concerts: James Brown killing us with his music and falling down drunk off the stage, or the first live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar with ‘actual’ nudity. In fact Terry and Barbara were the first to offer to take care of Scooter for the weekend, giving us time alone together before our next baby Nicole was born. He was at the height of the terrible two’s: independent, willful and not very language proficient. I remember pulling up from our first vacation, the two of them looking totally exhausted, outside on the lawn with Scooter awaiting our arrival.
My mother, formerly a speech therapist and drama coach, felt comfortable taking care of him, which she would do often when we’d get together on weekends. They took to each other immediately and loved spending time together. In his words:
“Grandma Green, the grandmother I was closest to, was one of the most loving and generous people I knew. One of the reasons we had a close bond was because she used to be a speech therapist and would coach me on saying words properly when I couldn’t hear them. She always spoke to me as an adult and would discuss worldly things with me which I loved because it would broaden my inquisitive mind.”
We stayed in our little Ormond Beach Peyton Place for 7 years as the hippie itch attacked me. I read Be Here Now by Ram Dass, smoked my first joint, did macramé, wore vintage clothes without a bra, stopped shaving my legs and yearned to be a flower child. Such a dreamer! How in the hell did I ever talk daddy Ray into leaving his Merrell Lynch life, still wearing the tied neck and shiny shoes of his military past? Maybe part of it was that my brother and all his hippie friends were graduating from college and celebrating with an adventure across the USA, living on the road, and we got caught up in the excitement.
The planning began. We sold our house, bought a van and refurbished it into a rolling home. Ray quit his job and applied for unemployment. We’d have money to live on until we decided what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. Our underlying motive became combing the country to find a superlative oral school for Scooter to give him the background he needed to be successfully mainstreamed into regular hearing classes.
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Back to Life and Deaf.
A memory pops into my mind, so clearly, of Scooter showing his spirit while hoding his teacher, Sunny Bates’ hand in the parking lot of Marineland. He’s stamping his little foot, shaking his head no, next to the old Dodge station wagon we bought from Grandma and Gaga Patterson. He doesn’t want to go home and accept the fact that the excitement and spectacle of watching the dolphins and whales jumping, singing and dancing for us is over.
It all started when my TV cable went out. For a decade I’ve been piggy-backing off a cable that wasn’t supposed to be live. Holding on to the attitude of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book era, I didn’t feel too bad getting a little free cable from a big rich conglomerate. I started cleaning out the space getting ready for a new big legal flat screen variety and there, mixed in with the almost obsolete DVD’s and CD’s, is a copy that says ‘super-eight movies’. I pop it in and begin to watch. OMG, the beginning of our family: Scooter learning to walk. I laugh, I cry as our family life goes scrolling by. I do a quick calculation, 1968 – 1978, from Ormond Beach, FL where the children were born, through our lives as hippies traveling the country in a van, settling in Boulder, CO and our return to Sarasota.
After 1½ hours and a decade roll past, I’m emotionally drained. A smile soothes my face. My memory has been so easily nudged with these genuine images from the past. It’s all on a movie
lost, then found in the clutter of life. I sift through years of gift opening in front of endless Christmas trees, fancily dressed toddlers precariously carrying baskets of brightly decorated eggs, crowds of neighbor kids adorned in peaked hats in front of blazing, then smoking animal-shaped birthday cakes. But in between there’s real life: Scooter’s first steps,first run, first fall, picking himself back up and continuing on; no crying or laughing, just pure inquisitiveness and determination.The kids model silly wild outfits I sew them for Christmas. I sew myself sexy ones to go with my bleached blond hair. We enjoy drunk,crazy fun times with the grandparents at their 25th wedding anniversary. I discipline Scooter and drag him away when he won’t stay of the street.We dancing and party with friends at a neighborhood New Year’s Eve bash where Ray passes out on the couch deeply enough to ignore us taking the drink from his hands as we continually change his hats. We take old Boulder Hippie friends boating to Sarasota’s topless beach (Sarasota was not so staid back then) and return to romp nude in our backyard.
But let me pick up the thread where I left off. Scooter’s new teacher was with us on that Marineland trip. Miss Sunny Bates, the best teacher a child could have, had become a close friend of the family. She loved that boy, his spirited independent ways, quick intelligence and potential to move into the hearing world, and we loved her. After our shaky beginnings with oral education, she took the ball and ran with it, giving him the background he needed to successfully inhabit a hearing world.
Granted the circumstances weren’t perfect-a class of children with mixed disabilities: deaf, emotionally disturbed, cerebal palsied, autistic, aged 2 ½ (or potty trained) through 5. With Sunny at the helm, it worked and I became a volunteer teacher’s aide to pick up the slack, my first job since teaching elementary school in El Paso, Texas. What an eye-opener and education for me, too.
Hope my alterations and changes are not too confusing. Next time a different perspective – a memory from the horse’s mouth – my son.
I’m taking a break in my Life and Deaf memoir to post a memorial to my dear friend Nat Fain.
“The whole idea of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot in one’s own country as a foreign land.” G.K. Chesterton
I found that land in my own backyard. I knew I was home when I saw the infinite unobstructed vista of grass and water, sea and sky straight to the horizon that is the Florida Everglades. The ability to see all around me; clear of tall mountains, trees or buildings, is part of my South Florida heritage.
Captain Nat was a perfect sailing companion for our adventure along the Lower West Coast. A rare Florida native, he embodied the traits of a true southern gentleman and accomplished sailor. A smile showed readily on his handsome tanned face as he loped about the boat on his tall lanky frame, tightening lines or checking GPS settings. He was easygoing, but calm and direct in the face of crisis. He had been engaged in boating, from marine mechanics to sailing the Caribbean for many years. I was new at the game and had a lot to learn.
I met Nat, Phyllis and family over 45 years ago, when my husband and I moved next door and into the best neighborhood I’ve known. Their daughter Tamy became our first and best babysitter (along with her mom) as our family grew. Our families remained close friends through the years though we both moved away from Ormond Beach. –It was one of the few relationships that lasted a lifetime. The years passed. Nat lost his wife to cancer and I lost my husband to divorce. I’d always dreamed of sailing and finally got the chance. Nat bought a new boat and needed a first mate to fill out the crew. After taking deep-sea sailing lessons and getting on-the-job training from a great and patient teacher, we were ready to go.
The 38 ft. Krogen sloop with a nice shallow draft was fitted out like a queen for the week. We left Key Largo during the spring equinox on a perfect wind. After learning to work together as a team and getting a few kinks out, Nat gave me the wheel, “Give it a try. Lady Luck’s with us and the weather’s perfect.”
“I’m ready to fly!” I pulled in on the sail and laughed as the Blue Moon leapt ahead. We sailed smoothly through the Long Key Bridge, north along the West Coast and spent our first night anchored under a clear starry sky.
We established a daily ritual. I made breakfast, washed dishes with the salt water hose and shaped up the ship. Nat puttered in the cockpit preparing for the daily sail, first through Florida Bay. Being new to the modern technology, I marveled at the accuracy of our GPS and automatic pilot maneuvering the boat through the narrow channels. We took turns sailing, one carefully navigating the Florida Straits, while the other took care of the daily chores. The weather remained beautiful, cool but sunny, windy, with a few fluffy clouds.
After attending to sailing duties there was plenty of time for all those leisurely pursuits one is always interrupted from doing at home. I read books, wrote and listened to music on the fancy sound system. Nat was an excellent captain. I respected his deeper knowledge and he delighted in the exuberance I showed for my newfound sport. We worked things out together, gave each other space, and had fun. Best of all was the sailing; the wind filling the sails and my face, the boat heeled and running fast. I liked trimming the sails for that extra spurt of speed, the boat a spirited filly shivering in excitement to be released.
“ I love it out here!” I sang out hauling in the line an extra inch for that extra bit of speed.
“You’re a natural,” Nat observed as the boat leaned into the wind.
“I couldn’t be doing this if it hadn’t been for the sailing lessons you made me take. You’re a great teacher – and eternally patient.”
“Let’s hope the winds of fortune remain with us.”
We anchored off the beach of East Cape, the most eastern point of Cape Sable where Florida Bay ends and the Gulf of Mexico begins. Appreciating the east wind on this unprotected shore, we boarded the dinghy to explore the isolated beaches. The setting sun bathed the thin strip of beach in its golden light. Ours were the first human footsteps to grace the shore, dancing in and out with those of the raccoons, shore birds, and trailings of myriad mollusks. Behind the beach was Glade. Dry saw and wire grass stretched in all shades of brown to the eastern horizon, interspersed with yucca in bloom, cactus, sabal palms. The gumbo limbo trees’ bark, shining red gold in the sweet light, lent substance to the legend that pirates buried treasure under their roots. A baby coon sauntered playfully downwind until it detected our scent. Scampering up the closest tree, it shook with fear, surprised by us giant predators invading its space.
We rambled on careful to watch for dangerous plants or animals, seeing visions of crocodiles and pythons hiding in the grass. “This might be the only place left that humans rarely tread,” I sighed.
“We haven’t seen any yet. Probably won’t either, the only way to get here is a long boat ride.”
When the blood red sun leaked empty into the sea we returned to the sloop to enjoy a simple gourmet meal of grilled lobsters and vegetables, the gentle rocking of the waves and the cool breeze rippling across our skin. As the night darkened the shore and the stars peered through the giant sieve of a sky, my thoughts turned from the peacefulness of our first day to the past when civilization was just arriving. I fell asleep dreaming of being a biologist, catching a ride on a pirate ship, surveying all types of weird and wondrous species on these inhospitable shores and praying that if we encountered wild Calusa Indians, they would be friendly.
We spent the next day sailing the Ten Thousand Islands up the West Coast with the best winds one could ever want. Reaching the Little Shark River, we motored up river and anchored at Oyster Bay. Mangroves and water surrounded us in a green silence. We found a small canopied waterway into the giant mangroves and followed it as far as the roots and mosquitoes would allow. I could see only outlaws, the likes of P. Matthieson’s Mr. Watson or explorers like DeSoto’s conquistadors braving such a harsh environment. We were neither, and gladly returned to the sloop and the Gulf winds. At dusk flocks of ibis in tight formation, filled the evening sky on their way to roost in the swamp. The wind and our luck held. Our evening was bug free.
At first light the disturbed surface of the sea gave me an inkling of the drama occurring beneath it. Schools of fish surfaced and arcked over the water escaping some larger threat. Cool mist softened everything to gray. Flocks of white dots glinted over the Seurat sea. The sun leaped above the gumbo limbos and a breeze picked up so lovely, damp it gentled my sun-parched skin. As we neared the Keys, we followed a procession of sailboats heading south for home. Anchored on our last night, dense grey clouds adorned the bright giant red sun dissolving into the ocean, marking the end of our pristine and peaceful dream trip sailing on the edge of the Everglades – one place in Florida left as a reminder of the uncivilized past.
Thank you dear friend Nat, for making this adventure possible and sharing it with me. I love you and will miss you terribly.
Today my husband and I sit with the audiologist and otologist at the Shands Speech and Hearing Clinic in Gainesville. Our 1 ½ year old baby boy, Scooter is on my lap, happy to be out of the sound and stimulation proof cell; happy to have the headset off. The doctor tries to exchange pleasantries but we’re not concentrating, sad little smiles plastered on our faces. He clears his throat and tells us, “ your son is profoundly deaf.” The nagging suspicion we’ve had is confirmed. The shock of the present blocks the past and the future. First there’s a feeling of relief – of knowing something definite. Next we get commiserations – “I’m so sorry. With Rubella it could have been much worse; blindness, brain damage.” We try to listen to results – “90dB loss, both ears, a little residual hearing that can be amplified.” Advice – “Get a hearing aid on him right away. Learn all you can about deafness. There are many options. I’ll give you the address and phone number of the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind.” Oh my God, not an institution! “And last but not least think about having another baby. Another child in the house will probably be the best teacher your son could have.”
Any questions? “Yes. No. Lots. None.” We can’t assess any of this yet. We ride home in outward stillness, our minds running crazy inside, with our bouncing beautiful, unbothered baby boy. He hasn’t changed. Only we have. We bring him home to our new house in Ormond Beach. I feed him, play with him, tuck him into bed and burst into tears.
I go through all the emotions of the stages of grief:
Denial. He’s fine.
Pity. It’s not fair. Why me? It’s too hard. Where do I start? This creeping dreadful possibility of the last two years has finally manifested itself upon us, no matter how intensely I denied it and shoved it away.
Guilt. I needed to wallow. If I hadn’t been teaching with a bunch of sick kids.
Anger. The kid I got rubella from – why did his incompetent doctor-grandfather allow him to go to school during a rubella epidemic?
Bargaining. Please God I’ll do anything. Don’t let this be true.
Depression. Why me? nothing’s going to be okay. What have I done to my child?
Then comes a raging drive to fix him, to help him make it in a world he can’t hear. How can he learn to talk if he can’t hear? Infants learn by imitation. A picture forms in my mind – a little boy holding a tin cup with a sign around his neck “deaf and dumb”. A horrible stereotype. Never! Not my son!
Now I have a mission. First the audiologist fits him for a single hearing aid in the ear with a little residual hearing. He’s a baby. He’s irritated with all the fussing and poking. When the aid, about the size of a playing card only thicker and heavier, is finally “attached” with a harness that looks like a bra except there’s only one “cup” for the aid, all he wants to do is rip the whole contraption off. He’s young enough not to be embarrassed, but too young to understand the importance of this uncomfortable gadget. While he’s getting used to the aid and the new sounds he’s hearing I start researching and studying.