Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Child Who Changed My Life

As a kid I had severe, chronic asthma and, in the early 1950s, I was sent to the Stanford Convalescent Home. I recently learned it was actually called the Stanford Convalescent Home for Impoverished Children. I had never considered our family to be impoverished, but we certainly didn't have much money.

Like all new residents, I spent my first week at the home in the unit with little kids and bedridden children. One of the little ones was a girl named Gladys. She had big, blue eyes and curly hair and an impish smile.

I only knew her for that one week, but she changed my life forever.

Gladys was deaf. She was born with no fingers on one hand and was six months old when her parents discovered she was deaf. They brought her to the convalescent home and were never heard from again.

Back then schools didn't allow deaf kids to use Sign Language. The theory was they'd be motivated to speak and read lips if they couldn't sign.

But, when the teacher and nurses weren't looking, Gladys and I communicated with gestures, expressions, and body language. She was full of mischief and I enjoyed her company.

I was in another unit for five weeks before going home and never saw Gladys again.

But because of her in High School I volunteered with a program for "handicapped" children and spent a lot of time with a boy who was deaf. (He and I also secretly used gestures to communicate.)

Because of Gladys, in college when I was given an alphabet card I practiced fingerspelling until I could remember how to do it.

Because of Gladys I learned American Sign Language, worked at California School for the Deaf for years, married a Sign Language interpreter and interpreted in several churches, and raised three Deaf foster sons with Special Needs.

I would LOVE to find Gladys again (she'd be in her 60s now) and let her know how she changed my life.

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