A new group in town has come to my attention: the Deaf Ladies of Pleasanton. Its seven members have known each other for years but recently coalesced.
Julie Baer explained in an email that when sheltering began, the friends created a group phone text and stay in daily contact, sharing thoughts, advice and tips, as well as discussing topics from climate change to politics. They chose their name "just for the fun of it."
Baer noted Pleasanton has a sizable number of deaf residents and that American Sign Language (ASL) is offered at Amador Valley and Foothill high schools as well as Las Positas College.
"It's always nice bumping into someone at the store or in a restaurant who knows some ASL," Baer said.
Two years ago member Julie Rems-Smario's son Joshua, a 2013 Village High grad who is now a Cal Fire firefighter, and his young family stayed with her, her husband David and daughter Jessica in Pleasanton after they lost their house in Paradise. Her in-laws' home also burned down so they moved in, too, with her brother-in-law, resulting in a very full house.
"The deaf community gave us so much -- donations and support, and they cooked food for us," Rems-Smario told me on the phone using a sign language interpreter.
Then they discovered her father-in-law had stage 4 cancer. It was a time of loss, grief and shock, she recalled, but also a blessing as they were all together when he died in her home.
"If the fire had never happened, they would not have been here and it would have been difficult to give support," Rems-Smario said. "It was beautiful to be here with him."
As her deaf friends rallied around, they gave her cuttings from their succulents, and the gardening became a type of meditation. In quarantine the women devote even more time to their thriving plants.
When California caught fire this summer, Joshua Smario again was called to battle the blazes.
"We saw how he was fighting the fire, sleeping on the ground, and getting up and fighting fires again, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Rems-Smario said. "Several firefighters lost their own homes this year, too."
The Deaf Ladies decided to raise money by selling their succulents, and a one-day sale earned more than $900 for the California Fire Foundation to support firefighters' families. They are collecting money through Dec. 1, through CashApp, Venmo or by contacting Julie Baer at [email protected]
Most of the Deaf Ladies of Pleasanton are teachers, Rems-Smario said. She works at the Department of Education in Sacramento, and is soon receiving her Ph.D. in education leadership and social justice from CSU East Bay.
She recommended I watch "CODA Pride" on YouTube, which was produced by Jacob Baer, narrated by Rachel Baer and includes her daughter Jessica. CODA stands for Children of Deaf Adults. She also directed me to "Deaf U" on Netflix, a reality show set at Gallaudet University.
Both opened a new world to me, as did the two deaf Julies.
"We're normal -- we are happy as we are," Rems-Smario wants everyone to know.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears in the paper on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.