|For some reason, this made it into the trip's photo album?|
One summer, Joy and I were invited (i.e., forced) to go camping with our parents and a couple of their married friends. We’ll call them Sandy and Brian. Sandy and Brian were lovely people and we had no qualms about enjoying the Smoky Mountains with them and our parents for a few days. The first day we arrived at the campsite, the main office had colorful pamphlets strewn about that Syl picked up to peruse. “Oooh, rafting, wouldn’t that be fun?” she exclaimed. We naively agreed and Syl wasted no time making our reservations.
On the appointed day, our party of six rafting novices lined up dutifully in front of our guide, a sunburned albino who had no clue that he’d just drawn the shortest of straws. Immediately, Joy begins interpreting his preliminary instructions, trying her best to emphasize the same words emphasized by the guide, as in, “When I yell LEFT, ONLY the left side paddles.” Strangely, nobody saw a problem with this scenario. Of course, once we left the safety of dry land, ‘twas mere minutes before the guide fully realizes that four of the six people in the raft cannot hear any of his commands—commands that are, to put it mildly, time sensitive. Joy and I are stationed on opposite sides of the boat, but by the time we get everyone’s attention to have them paddle a certain way, the current would shift and we'd wash up on a rock or spin aimlessly down the river.
|The faces only a Syl could love.|
It is during one of these free-for all spins that my paddle hits a rock, ricochets off my face, pokes a lens out of my glasses, and gives me a black eye. I also lose the paddle. Frantic, I am searching for the lens on the floor of the raft so I don’t end up with Mr. Peanut’s monacle when we wash up on another rock. Defeated, the albino looks at his raft of four deaf people, a half-blind eleven year old, and my sister, the only capable one on the raft. Syl, noticing that her hearing offspring are at their wit’s end, decides to seize this moment and sign “Deaf can do anything!” For this lack of tact, she is met with only cold, angry stares.
When our albino guide steers our raft onto a nearby embankment, he signals to another guide and says, “I QUIT!” After conferring with an obviously older, more experienced guide, this brave man takes on our raft of misfits. The new guide, to his great credit, works out a system in which he slaps the side of the boat that needs to paddle . After a few stops and starts, we’re soon on our way again. My horrors, however, are not over. Since losing the adult-sized paddle, I’m left with the child-sized spare. Not wanting to leave my counterparts to shoulder the paddling burden, I decide to do my part, which unfortunately requires me to lean over the side of the raft at a precarious angle to reach the churning waters. I am officially not amused. It’s not long before we reach a shallow part of the river where the current is strong and rocks and tree stumps abound. New Guide slaps my side of the raft and I start paddling furiously. So furiously, in fact, that my momentum propels me headfirst into the swift river, child-size paddle in hand, other hand holding onto the outside of the raft for dear life. My legs receive a heinous beating as they’re bumped along the shallow current and tree stumps.
Confidently, the guide says “No problem, we’ll just lift you right up outta there,” grabbing the shoulder of my life vest. He pulls up and stops. Then pulls again. It’s only after he repeated this exercise several times, my legs dangling like a marionette’s, that he and I realize my vest is stuck on the raft’s air valve. Still, the fact that the burly guide couldn’t pull me into a raft did little for my fragile 11 year old self-esteem.
After a final series of mini-rapids, the raft mercifully reached its destination. Once we floated into the shallows, all four deafies disembarked, each one claiming to have had SO MUCH FUN! Meanwhile, Joy and I stormed ashore, vowing never to go rafting with deaf people again. To this day my parents look back on that trip with a healthy glow of nostalgia while the mere mention of it causes my legs to twinge in pain.
In conclusion, dear readers, Deaf people really can do anything. Except raft.