10-Love Letters from Vietnam - Kate's Own Basic Training

Previously on "Tim and Kate Plus Fate.."

Link to Complete Index of Letters

Tim is in boot camp at Fort Campbell, KY. They had met in November of 1968 and Tim had enlisted and was off to the Army by May, 1969.

Kate has just finished her first year of teaching after having graduated in the Deaf Education Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is now starting her summer job at "Camp Wil-0-Brook" - a day camp for mentally challenged children. She has worked during past summer breaks and was always fortunate enough to be assigned a group of six-year old children,most of whom had Down's Syndrome and loved camp - especially the wading pool!

A Discussion of "Politically Correct" (Respectful) Terms

Note: Kate uses the term "mentally retarded" in this piece. In 1969 that term was acceptable in schools and among parents and others in the community. Today the vernacular is transitioning to "mentally challenged" or "intellectually disabled". Often society balks at changes it thinks are being implemented because of "political correctness" - another term which, in my view, should be replaced with just plain "respectful." We should ask not, "Is that term politically correct?" but instead, "Is that term respectful to the community it represents?" But I digress.

A hundred years ago,, the term "deaf and dumb" was used when "dumb" meant "mute." It's easy to see why this term was blatantly offensive. The term transitioned to "deaf mute," again an inaccuracy and offensive since deafness does not mean that a person can't vocalize. (If you can't hear sounds, it is difficult to repeat them, but there is nothing wrong with the vocal cords or with the ability to articulate speech).

In 1968, when I first received my degree in Deaf Education, programs in the public schools were generally labeled "programs for the hearing impaired". In the 70's, however, after linguistic research proved to the hearing community that sign language was a rich and syntactically viable language, the deaf community became empowered. The community then embraced the term "deaf" in favor of "hard of hearing" or "hearing impaired". "Deaf" is a statement of power, acceptance, and pride. Even though "hard of hearing" is used today, many deaf adults, no matter what degree of hearing loos, prefer just plain "deaf". But language and vocabulary are living, breathing entities that reflect culture. And whether or not "deaf" will be acceptable in the further for that community or "mentally challenged" will be fully adopted by that community, remains to be seen. Labels can change in a heartbeat.

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Whether labels are staic or fluid, they nevertheless are critical because they create impressions. Incorrect impressions cause hurtful stereotyping, racism, and classism. Most people, when they put it in terms of labels people use for them, would agree that labels should always be determined by the community who will "own" them whether that is the deaf community, the Native American community, or any other sociological or cultural entity. Even the theater community has its preferences. My daughter prefers to be called an "actor" not an "actress!"

Despite the stereotyping banter that Clint Eastwood's character could pull off in "Grand Torino" labels are powerful. I personally try to use one and only one simple criteria for using a label and it's from a line from an old Chevrolet commercial: "Ask the man who owns one." And then ask another man/woman/child/parent who owns it as well. Ask the person who owns his blackness what term he accepts; ask the person who owns his or her deafness what is respectful; ask me, how I feel as an older citizen when you say "She's just a sweetheart" (ugh). And then you'll know.

23 June, 1969

Dear Tim,

I just came home from camp and tutoring. Here I was all set to tell you about the first day and what happened? It rained. On rain days the children don't come. When the rain days happen in the middle of the season, there's plenty to do (make costumes for the programs we put on, do planning, etc.). But today there wasn't much because we don't even know what type of children will be in our groups except for the fact that they're mentally (challenged)* retarded. So I worked on my lesson plan for tutoring. Gosh, if I hadn't had that time, I really would have been in trouble with what to do tutoring for that four year old deaf little deaf girl.) Do you think you'll ever be able to help me cure that darn old procrastination? Maybe, huh?

Know what? If you get this letter on Wednesday, it will be only three more weeks (about) until you're through basic. Right? Gee, something tells me that in three or 4 weeks someone on 68th St. is going to be ecstatically happy. (But I won't mention any names.)

Mom is babysitting later than usual tonight. I stopped by and talked with the little boys. They're quite precious. Randy is 10, Rusty is 6, Robbie is 4, and Renee is 4 months. Mom is very good with them and she does so much work there because she feels Bob and Rose really need somebody to help.

Holy gosh, I almost forgot! Mom and Dad bought those 2 1/2 acres of land! Now all they talk about is what they can name the "estate" and how many Christmas trees they can cut down from their own land. I think it's the best thing that could happened to them. Bob (the fella who Mom babysits for put his trailer up there tonight. He said we can use it anytime. He also wants dad to go fishing up there with him. Isn't it funny how fast people become close? Mom is so proud of the land that she wanted me to send you the brochure. I think think you can see much, but Mom wanted me to send it anyway.

Well, how has your week been going? Any more KP? Jean, at work, said her husband loved KP because he could eat all he wanted. Hope your KP was the same as his.

How has the weather been? I know you said it was hot those first couple weeks. It's so cold and damp here that right now I have my jacket on and hearing pad across my legs.

Well, Tim, keep smiling and happy. Be careful and be home soon.

I love you-
Always,

Kate
PS If you call, please call collect.

26 June, 1969

Dear Tim,

It's 11:30, a beautiful summer night. The wind is blowing through my bedroom windows and the crickets are chirping outside, and I miss you very much!

Today was just so jammed packed with activity that I'm still spinning. Camp days are always busy (except when it rains, fo course) but today was especially so because I happened to get three new children in my group. We're still short of counselors and if it weren't for those fantastic high school kids who volunteer, we'd be sunk. The group I have is exceptionally nice. Sue, our boss, asked how I always get the good kids in my group. I'll have to tell you about them (all 13) but that will be a letter in and of itself.

I was going to babysit for the family mom works for tonight because Mom's friend, marcy is staying at our house tonight since her son and daughter-in-law (whem whe lives with) are having company from out of town. Well, Mom and Marcy were going to drop me off. We all stopped in to find the children's grandma semi-hysterical because Rusty, the six-year old fell through a broken glass window. (His dad had taken him to the hospital). Well, after giving the other boys baths, Rusty came home from the hospital with his dad. The kids all sat outside while Rusty showed his bandaged arm to the neighborhood children who had come over. Two little girls gave Rusty some snapdragons. Then came story time and Robbie fell asleep in my arms. After the chldren were all in bed, poor little Rus awakened with pain and Mom and Marcy and I took turns holding him and trying to distract him from the pain. But he wanted his daddy (who had gone bowling after this whole thing.) His Mom works the night shift. Well, his dad got home about 4:00 am and things were better. Remind me to tell you, Tim, of the observations and resolutions I've made from this experience.

It's Friday morning now (I fell asleep between paragraphs). Fridays are wonderful because it's closer to the time we can talk together. I hope youd had a good week, Tim. Next Thursday, we wil have made it through 7 weeks of being separated. I'm missing you more and more each day. Remember, Tim, you're never out of my thoughts or my heart.

Love,

Kate

Deaf Child Signing "Mama"

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