“First of all, you have too much wax in there, and then there’s the hair. You got a lot of hair down in there.” So said the otolaryngologist.

Now, just try this on anyone standing nearby.

“I have an appointment with an otolaryngologist tomorrow.”

“What?” is the next word you’re going to hear. “What the hell is that?”

Answer: An otolaryngologist (oh-toe-lair-in-GAH-luh-jist) is a physician who provides medical and surgical care, diagnosis and treatment of the ear or hearing.

Hearing difficulties. But I’ve always had those. Now I have an age-related hearing problem — in fact, I have age-related everything now: age-related knee problems, age-related bladder control, arthritis, what to have for dinner, what show to watch tonight.

What. It’s the most commonly used word in our house.

We used to shout it. From upstairs, the basement, the garage, the bathroom or the car, we shouted.

It went like this, “WHAT?”

No. It’s more like “WHHAAAAAAT?”

Then it was from kitchen to dining room, then across the kitchen to the butcher block. “What?” Then it got worse.

Deaf is a frightening word, not as bad as blind, but scary. OK, here’s a story I’ve told before, but now it’s become salient.

At age 10, I learned my grandmother was deaf, stone deaf, in fact, since childhood as a result of some weird childhood disease. And this is how I found out.

One day at the end of the Great Depression, a homeless fella came into the yard, looking for a piece of bread or pie, whatever was cooling in the window. There were many in those days, but this guy was different. He smiled at Mom and started wiggling his fingers.

That was weird enough for a 10-year-old, until I saw my mother wiggle her fingers back at him. A big smile cracked his lips. My mother wiggled again then she went into the kitchen and came back with three big potatoes and a loaf of bread. They both wiggled at one another and off he went. No way I was going to let that slide.

So Mom sat me down and told me about my grandmother’s deafness, and how she had been taught signing by an elderly nun in Ireland, and how Grandma had passed the art onto my mother. I worried for weeks if deafness was inherited like Mom’s hammer toe.

Picture a kid of 10 focusing on hearing the radio while watching his feet for signs of hammer toe.

My youngest daughter, at 54, is now wearing expensive hearing aids. Is it possible that Grandma’s deafness skipped a generation?

So I called her on Facetime and asked her if she had a hammer toe.

She frowned and said, “What?” It never ends.

Back to me. Skip ahead a few decades and the feeling of relief I felt when the otolaryngologist told me that I wasn’t deaf like Grandma, that I just had too much wax and hair in my ears. The relief was short lived.

“You’re suffering from a problem with initial consonants.”

“Initial continents?” I joked.

He wasn’t amused.

Seriously, this condition can be very annoying to younger by-sitters, especially while watching an intense scene on television.

“What did she say?”

“She asked, ‘Why didn’t you tell the police that?’”

“Tell the police what?”

“That he had a gun.”

“Run? Run where?”

“No, gun. GUN!”

See what I mean? Actually, She, the smartest one in the house, had gotten early training in interpreting to the hearing-impaired, in our early days on the stage when we were working with much older actors.

I remember how, often, one of them would slide up to her in a party scene and whisper to her, “What’s my next line?”

So her hearing is better than mine. So what? She has a hammer toe and I don’t.

So here we are today, two octogenarians, sorting through one age-related thing after another. Jimmy Stewart was right when he said, “After 75, everything is patch, patch, patch.”

I’m left thinking today: Did Grandma have a hammer toe, and did her otolaryngologist check for hair?

I asked She — who is reading John Bolton’s new book, “The Room Where it Happened” — about both questions. She looked up from the page and, after a long moment, asked: “What?”

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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