I used to attend night college classes. My history class was in a trailer that had coffee machines in back, ashtrays out front, and a bathroom roughly the size of a luxury coffin.
The room had people from all walks of life. Men in camouflage caps, stay-at-home mothers, teenagers, middle-agers, active military, lawn-maintenance professionals, a peace officer, a Hooter’s waitress.
And one deaf boy.
The deaf kid was twentyish, tall, skinny. His mother came to every class with him. Each night, she wore the same green Publix uniform. Each night, she brought glazed donuts.
Each night, she sat beside her son, translating the professor’s words into sign-language.
They were pleasant folks. He smiled often. She spoke with an accent that sounded like a Georgia hayfield.
At the end of the semester, students were assigned to write essays about our ancestry, then read them aloud. And if you’ve ever had the privilege of watching thirty adults stand at a podium, reading with as much sincerity as it takes to scratch one’s own ass, you understand torture.
One student wrote about his father’s high-school football career. Another discussed her Dutch heritage. I almost slipped into a donut-induced coma.
The last to speak was the deaf boy. He walked to the front. His hands were shaking.
He spoke slow, with labored moans. He told us about himself, about his siblings, about how his father abandoned his mother when doctors discovered he was deaf. And when he started talking about his mother, he had to quit reading.
If you’ve never heard a deaf boy cry, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Before he finished, thirty caffeinated blue-collars rose and faced the back of the room. We applauded the woman until her face turned red. Even the teacher clapped.
Then his mother came forward to take the pulpit.
It was pure impulse. And even though she wasn’t a student, she told her own story—signing her sentences. An entire trailer full of janitors, landscapers, and Hooter’s employees sniffled. Her talk was so honest, I get stuffed-up just remembering it.
After class, I saw her on the porch, eating a donut. I told her I thought she was an exceptional woman.
She answered, “Honey, I’m just doing the best I damn well can for my son.”
That was a long time ago.
And, to be honest, that night wasn’t exciting enough to be worth writing about. I can think of more interesting literary topics than a bunch of over-aged students, reading essays, each hoping to make a C—if we were lucky, a B.
But that night, on my way home I stopped at the drug-store. I bought a greeting card and scribbled on it in the parking lot. I used every pretty word I knew.
I signed the card:
“Thanks for doing the best you could, Mama.
“Love, your son.”