November 05, 2012

They were articulate, especially.

Tonight, I was briefly remembering a scene from my first novel, Owe Nothing. It was a little girl, perhaps five or six, and her even younger brother. They had come to the front door of my main character's home, and were motioning for someone to come and help them. Each of them were capable of sign language. They'd had to learn early, because their mother was deaf, and it was the only way they could communicate with her.

The brief flash of this scene which I wrote years ago, reminded me of the real people who's inspired it. When my sister and I first came to Vancouver, we were living in a Motel on Kingsway, called the Mountain View. Not long after we moved in, we became familiar with a woman named Mrs. Johnston who had two little children, Roxanne and Jonathon. I don't remember the woman's first name, but my mother briefly befriended her, and through Mrs. Johnston's handwritten notes and her children's interpretation, we learned that she had had German Measles as a little girl, and that is how she lost her hearing.

Mum, bless her, wanted to communicate with Mrs. Johnston. The lady could speak a little, but it sounded all like vowels and no consonants. "Butter" came out as "Buh-errr". I recall Mum saying "Butter" over and over again, patiently, and hearing Mrs. Johnston's malformed replies. Mum had been a singer, musician and actress in her younger years, and I now think that she was fascinated by the sounds her new friend made. Mrs. Johnston didn't seem to mind having my Mum as her unofficial elocution coach for the afternoon either. It was all about communication that day. A healthy and friendly, supportive exchange built on curiosity and a desire to help, or at least meet somewhere in the middle.

I have written a lot of sad, sorry and unfortunate stories about my parents (all of it true), but I don't think I have given each of them enough credit for their displays of genuine intelligence and sensitivity, or their abilities to each be articulate and kind.

It's too easy to remember the drunken fights, and recall people at their worst, but it's fair to also show that the evidence that each of us also has a good side that will speak kindly to a puppy, or spend an hour trying to learn how to talk to a deaf woman.