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A Letter from Summer Camp
Gregory J. Rummo
JULY 2, 2002
Well, almost everything.
Most of them can’t hear the warblers singing in the canopy of the deciduous forest or the waves lapping against the shoreline, or the wind in the needles of the 100-foot pines.
James is deaf, as are most of the campers at Isola Bella.
Run by the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, IB is situated on Twin Lakes in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains.
The Alvord family originally purchased the island in 1906. When Muriel Alvord passed away in 1960, it was bequeathed to ASD.
The philosophy of the camp is to provide “enriched outdoor-recreational experiences through experiential learning.” Many of the counselors are themselves deaf or hard of hearing. The mode of communication at the camp is “total communication,” a combination of American Sign Language, voice and body language.
My wife and I drove up to the camp this past Sunday. It was Parents' Day and it also marked the mid-point in our son’s two-week stay at Isola Bella. We needed to bring him some fresh clothing and a new bag of snacks, as well as take back his dirty laundry that had accumulated from the prior week’s activities.
But we were also curious to see if our son had missed us. It was his fourth year in attendance at IB, but this was the first time he was staying in camp for the entire two-week session.
When he caught a glimpse of us standing
outside the cafeteria, the first question he signed to me from across the room
was: “Who won the World Cup final?” Forget about, “Hi mom, hi dad, how are you—I
“Yeah, sort of,” he signed back but I could see he was struggling with the truth.
Our experience wasn’t uncommon. One mom was really bent out of shape. “He hardly acknowledged me,” she said about her own son in between mouthfuls of potato salad. Another couple, whose son is a classmate of James at Lake Drive School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children in Mountain Lakes, NJ had the same lament.
But none of this was really a surprise to my wife and me.
My wife is a “child of deaf adults”—a CODA. Being raised by deaf parents, she was steeped in Deaf Culture. She especially realizes that deafness is not viewed in the deaf community as a handicap. And it is times like these, when we see our own son immersed in Deaf Culture, that that truth hits home.
We stayed for about two hours—just long enough to grab a quick bite of lunch and watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new pavilion; a beautiful, rustic screened-in structure that will provide a dry, bug-free place for indoor activities such as ping-pong and movie night.
We left Isola Bella for the two and one-half hour drive back to New Jersey. As the car bucked and swayed on the dirt road that winds through the woods and over the bridge spanning Twin Lakes, neither of us spoke.
Finally, after having driven ten miles or so on Route 44, my wife broke the silence. “Next year, I’m not even going. I’ll pack enough clothes for two weeks.” She laughed as she said this but I could tell she was feeling the same as I was.
“It could have been worse,” I said. “It’s good that he’s a little independent. He could have been standing there with tears streaming down his face signing, “ ‘I want to go home.’ ”
Instead, it was the two of us, struggling to hold back our own tears, as we watched our little boy, struggling himself, to become a young man.
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