This is Percy. At 97, he is – I am told – the most elderly deaf person in Australia. (I suppose I should qualify that by saying that I mean he has grown up deaf and using sign language, rather than losing their hearing in old age.)
What a guy.
The other night, I had the great honour of performing some comedy at the ASLIA Queensland awards night, a celebratory occasion for interpreters and the deaf community. It was such a great vibe, lots of laughter, wine flowing, a funky photo booth resplendent with rocking props (why have I not thought of this before? Note to self: install one in the lounge) and of course, signing galore!
It was when I was onstage – with my beloved interpreting partner-in-crime Ruth Sullivan – and surveyed the audience to discover who’d been married for the longest that I “met” Percy. He and his wife were together for…get this: 70 years.
A new record! For my comedy surveys thus far, if not for marriage itself!
When I asked how they met, he began signing from the audience, only as it was difficult for him to be seen from there – and thus, understood – he was assisted to come up onto the stage, where he took a seat and proceeded to tell us all virtually the entire story of their life together!
While it took up a lot more stage time than I would normally ever want an audience member to take charge of, I truly felt this moment was something important. To have this gentleman at such an occasion open his heart up, in the spotlight, with an attentive audience, at the age of ninety-seven years old…he told of how as a young chap he’d been a total flirt, always having girls on each arm, in fact, he’d had no less than twenty-seven girlfriends (27!), never being serious about any of them. Then one night in South Brisbane, he went to a dance and there across the room, stood this beautiful girl. He was instantly besotted. Her name was Nelly.
It was around this point that my heart melted.
He then told the audience of how after seventy years of marriage, she very sadly passed away.
It was at this point he left the stage for me to make up a comedy song.
I called it “Number Twenty-Eight.”
He loved it.
Afterwards when we chatted – thanks to a very attentive interpreter who saw me struggling to try to understand Percy’s signs (given that the only ones I do know are “thank you”, “hello”, “f*** you”, my contributions to any conversation are limited, if not passionate), and ran to my rescue!
He told me that they had a very happy marriage, that they very rarely fought because they respected each other, and that he was very sad when she died and he misses her but they had a wonderful life together. He showed me a photo of her that was in his wallet. I felt truly, truly honoured and moved.
Then he said this: “No matter where we went, we went together. If we went to Adelaide, we went together. If we went to Melbourne, we went together. We were always together.”
I really felt like I was being prophesied to.
One thing Tim and I have been mulling over this year is how to do just that: to stay together.
And I think the answer for us lies in Percy’s words: to stay together. Physically.
Which is a huge challenge for us, when the hard reality of this business I’ve signed myself up for (which I LOVE), is that you have to travel to do the work.
So we’ve gotta work on either how to do the travelling together, or how to re-design the career stuff so that I can build my little comedy empire from home.
It sure is nice to think that Tim might speak of me one day with the same fondness, tenderness and love that Percy summoned up when speaking of his Nelly.
At this point it’s probably more likely he’d speak with exhaustion. Assuming of course, that I haven’t burned him out so badly he can barely talk.
We can always get him a bell.