My niece Christy Ford never caused any heart attacks during her childhood but she came close.
Like many of us in our large family, Christy was born at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids. She is sixty years old today, and if that isn’t enough to give me a heart attack, nothing will. How did I get to be old enough to have a 60 year old niece?
When it came to any kind of physical endeavor, Christy was fearless. She’d try anything. One time, my sister-in-law Lorraine and brother-in-law Don Ford were with their kids at the park. Two year old Christy was all of a sudden missing. Looking up, somebody spotted her standing on the top step of the highest slide in the park. Before anybody could frantically get there to rescue her, the toddler calmly sat down and slid down the slide. Her shell-shocked parents’ hair was standing on end but they lived to tell the tale.
One time when she was four years old, my husband Gene and I were visiting with her one afternoon at Grandpa Pat and Grandma Mabel’s house. Christy went into the bathroom. When I heard a rattling sound, I ran into the hall and realized she had locked herself in and probably didn’t know how to unlock the door.
I was in a panic. I needed to tell her how to open the lock, but Christy is deaf and couldn’t hear me. I yelled for help and Gene and Grandpa Pat came running. “Christy’s locked in the bathroom”, I hollered. “She must be petrified. We have to get her out!”
I was a basket case, imagining what a trauma she was enduring trapped in a strange bathroom. In what seemed like forever, tools were found, and the lock was “picked”. When we opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was little Miss Curly Top, smiling from ear to ear, without a worry in the world. She had figured out somebody was working on the door. Her aunt was a wreck, but Christy was perfectly composed. In fact, if we hadn’t rushed to her aid, she probably would have calmly figured out how to unlock the door herself.
Her fearlessness was greatly encouraged in school. When she was three and a half years old, she was enrolled in St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. The school taught lip reading rather than sign language and Christy became quite proficient in communication at an early age. (She did learn sign language later as an adult and teacher.)
Christy attended St. Joseph’s till she graduated from 8th grade. The nuns at the school expected the students to be self-sufficient but even they must have been taken aback by the energy and courage of the little urchin in their midst. She was exceedingly proficient in sports and her athletic talent helped her develop the resilience and discipline that was to help her for the rest of her life.
Her fervent love of basketball, softball and swimming continued till she got sidelined with some health problems, but she says she’s still walking and doing stretches, and she’s still an avid supporter of NCAA women’s ballgames and WNBA games. I remember seeing her play in two baseball games in Eugene and I was amazed as her power and speed. And fearlessness.
As a nomadic air force child, Christy attended two high schools and four colleges in Washington D.C. and Oregon. She received her A.A., B.S., and M.Ed. degrees in art and physical education. Her last graduation was in 1977.
Her jobs since then have mostly been teaching and coaching both deaf and hearing students, working for the post office and doing social work. She’s been working in Texas, but really misses the Northwest and would like to move back to Portland in June.
Christy’s deafness has never fazed her or handicapped her, and she’s never been afraid to venture “where no man has gone before”. As an example, one time she was called for jury duty in Eugene. She reported for duty on the assigned day, but when the court realized she was deaf, they granted her a waiver. “But I want to serve on the jury”, she said. “Can’t you provide me with an interpreter?” The effort was successfully arranged, and it was the first time in the history of Lane County that a deaf person served on a jury.
For my husband Gene’s Requiem Mass, Christy hired an interpreter so she could follow along with the words that were spoken. The interpreter also signed the words to the songs that were sung, and it was among the most beautiful elements of the service. The deacon of our parish was glowing afterwards. He told us that it was the first time, sign language had ever been used in Mass at St. Bridget’s and he loved it. Christy contributed a lot of beauty to us that day.
Christy’s fondest pastime over the years had to be the care and rearing of five gorgeous miniature schnauzers. Sadly, the last three dogs all died last year and they have left a bleak hole in her life. After she gets settled in Portland, she wants to get another pair of schnauzers.
She’s become a really proficient “handyman” in the homes she’s owned, and she’s kicking around the idea of working for a Home Depot. Or, maybe because she misses the dogs so much, at a Petsmart.
To celebrate her birthday, I thought we could watch a music video. Why not? Just because she’s deaf doesn’t mean she doesn’t jam and jive. She probably knows this singer’s work well, but in case you don’t, meet Sean Forbes. He’s a deaf rapper from Detroit, 28 years old, and just signed a recording contract last year with the same record company that handled Eminem. Besides rapping, he plays the drums and composes music.
And like Christy, he’s fearless!
Here’s an interview with him from the Fox network last year.
I hope the snow has melted by now, Christy, and that you haven’t been out fearlessly shoveling it. You’re supposed to be recovering from surgery, remember?
Happy 60th birthday wishes, dear niece, from your biggest fan!