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What’s so funny?

December 10, 2007

by Jen Bakken

Years ago, I met a single mother and quickly became friends with her.

She had three special needs children, who I helped her with, and they became like family to me. The more I got to know this family, the more I admired the mother.

I marveled at how she could keep it all together, with a smile on her face, and her strength was remarkable. I also found her profession as a sign language interpreter interesting, and asked her if she would teach me how to speak with my hands.

Many days, we would sit around her kitchen table with all three kids, and quiz each other.

One person would say a word out loud, and whoever was able to sign it first would be the winner.

I quickly mastered the alphabet, but had difficulty remembering anything else. Since the children were fairly fluent in sign language after learning it from their mom, they found it humorous when I struggled.

They would ask me to sign the word “book,” and I’d sign the word “window.”

Instead of signing the word “waffle,” I’d show them the word “waddle” and they would fall to the floor with laughter.

Not wanting to give up or admit defeat, I kept trying, much to their amusement.

One day, I went with the family as they visited some friends of theirs who were deaf.

While I was a little nervous, I was also excited to try out my sign language skills. I wonder, now, if I was invited because they were looking for a comical afternoon.

When we arrived at their friend’s apartment, the two other women went down to the pool. This left me with the children, and a man who was deaf.

One of the children had opened the door and went into the hallway. As I corralled the little one back into the apartment, a cat came out of nowhere, ran into the apartment, and hid under the couch.

I jumped at the chance to test my skills.

Running up to the man, I realized I couldn’t remember the sign for “couch” or “cat.”

Again, not wanting to give up, or admit defeat, I decided to give it my best shot.

While I stood there face-to-face with him, I signed what I thought was the word “cat,” then pointed under the couch.

I waited for him to respond or rush to get the strange cat out of their apartment, but he didn’t move. After I signed “cat” and pointed under the couch a second time, he tilted his head to the side, furrowed his eyebrows, and looked at me in the strangest way.

Suddenly, he started laughing so hard, there were tears in his eyes.

I was so confused.

The children came running into the room, and after he talked to them in sign language, they were all laughing.

I looked back and forth between this man and the children for what seemed like forever. When I finally demanded to know what was so funny, one of the children looked at me and said, “Jen, you just told him there was a horse under his couch!”

Let’s just say, I’m doubtful that I will ever live that one down, although I will never forget how to sign the word “horse.”