Pointing to his ear with a tiny plastic tube running from it, he explained. “Not waterproof,” as he fingered a barely visible hearing aid.
I took that as a sign and launched into my own tale of grandchildren who turn me to face them and speak each word, slowly, yet pitched for the outside world to hear.
I come from a family of women whose hearing fails as age intrudes. My mother’s great-aunt Mary clipped a black box to the front of her cotton house dress every morning, turning up the volume so she could listen in on conversations.
Her naptimes included turning off her hearing box. Children were asked to speak softly while she rested, but, truth to tell, she could not have heard a train come through her living room.
My hearing test, long overdue, was given at the Auditory-Verbal Center, the office of a non-profit group, offering therapies to children born with no hearing at all or who are hearing-impaired.
The goal of the Auditory-Verbal Center’s work is to give children tools to distinguish words and know their meanings without solely relying on lip-reading or sign language.
As those who work with young lives in need of an extra hand, the therapists and audiologist are patient and kind, lavishing praise on each discovery a child makes and working with parents who continue therapies at home.
As part of a session on choosing a hearing aid or, in my case, aids, molds were made of a section of my ear canals. With thick bubble-gum-like material filling them, I watched a conversation between my husband and the audiologist, but could hear nothing, not a sound.
I felt sad to the bone, reminded of the children born in this country, 33 every day, who enter a world of complete silence.
Unlike great-aunt Mary, I will not be entangled in wires or attached to a control box as my diminished hearing is helped by two small devices fitted behind my ears and connected to a conduit into them.
I’m told I will be able to tune out background noise in restaurants and crowds, to pick up the nuances of British accents, those peppering English murder mysteries, to hear the soft voices of my grandchildren, who have been patient as I dragged my feet and put off a hearing evaluation.
Not being technologically savvy, I admit to performance anxiety as I get the hang of hearing aid care and settings.
I chose the larger, (though still small) hearing aid model, knowing I could easily drop or misplace a stylish choice no larger than a lima bean, its battery replaced with doll-sized tweezers.
At times, haven’t we secretly wished to shut out the world, to sit in peace and quiet, rearranging scrambled thoughts after too much traffic noise, television, droning on and on, or conversations lasting past our attention spans?
Yet surely there is profound loss, a sense of isolation in never-ending silence, in coping with understanding words of others while not hearing them, in expressing feelings without the gift of voice.
In college, my sociology class was asked to emulate signs of aging. A teacher’s aide smeared Vaseline on plastic eye glasses and we inserted ear plugs into our ears.
The point was to feel empathy for those who had blurred vision and hearing loss. Even at 18, it was a sobering experiment. We bumped into desks and spoke loudly to one another, knowing our compromised eyes and ears would be returned to healthy ones, but feeling vulnerable.
In my house, modern science has removed cataracts and will now help restore loving communication. I’m counting on the new hearing aids to render mute the pesky question I’ve asked my husband far too often: “Is it me or have you always mumbled?”
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.