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My 24-year-old son, Lynn, was born deaf. In the small rural community where we used to live in Iowa, there was no one his age with whom he could speak sign language. Conversation was always difficult.
Although Lynn’s father and I had no trouble with his distinct way of speaking, others had a hard time understanding him. Lynn had learned to read lips, but people often didn’t think to look directly at him and enunciate clearly. When he wasn’t with his dad or me, or on shift at the tire factory, Lynn spent most of his time alone.
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All that changed when my sister sent her son Dale to live with us after his father died. It turned out to be a blessing for all of us. Lynn taught his cousin how to ride, rope and break a horse. Dale learned sign language and began to act as an interpreter for Lynn with their hearing friends.
I was so happy to see Lynn getting out into the world, but I could not help worrying about what would happen if Dale wasn’t around to interpret for him. What if Lynn needed help and no one could understand?
I was sitting in the kitchen one afternoon, anxiously waiting for the boys to return from looking into a job lead for Dale. I know they’re grown, Lord, but still I worry. Please grant me peace of mind, knowing they’re in your care. I busied myself around the house. Then the phone rang. “Mrs. Fox?” said the woman caller. “Lynn and Dale have been in an accident, but they’re not badly injured.”
“Where are they?” I asked, panicked. “And who’s calling?”
“They’re at the hospital in Osceola,” the woman continued, “in good hands.” She hung up without explaining who she was. I raced over to the hospital.
Lynn was waiting for me in the emergency room. His face was pale and he was limping, but his only concern was his cousin. “Dale has hardly said a word since the accident,” he said, leading me into an exam room where Dale lay on a table with a nurse by his side. “His leg is hurt,” Lynn explained.
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“And he has a mild concussion,” the nurse said. “We’re keeping a careful watch on him. Meanwhile, the highway patrolman wants to have a word with you and your son.”
The patrolman introduced himself. “Lynn already gave the paramedics and me a lot of information on the scene,” the officer said, “but I want to ask him some more questions before I make an official report.” He turned to Lynn. “We examined your car, and it looks like one of your tires rolled off the wheel. How fast were you going when you lost control?”
Lynn looked at me. He was confused. “My son is having trouble reading your lips,” I told the patrolman. And that’s when it hit me: Lynn had been without an interpreter throughout the whole ordeal. How had he been able to communicate with the patrolman or the paramedics at the scene? I wondered. He must have had a hard time. I asked the patrolman about it.
“There was a young woman signing to your son when I arrived at the scene ahead of the ambulance,” he said. “I assumed they were together.”
I turned to Lynn. “Who was signing for you at the accident?”