Defying words

Father and son communicate on another level

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Eddie Willison can't speak. Nor can he hear. But he and his father have devised a way of communicating that defies words.

"We've got to where I can almost look at him, and he knows what I want him to do," Charlie Willison said.

Charlie and his son have been on their own for nearly 15 of his son's 35 years, sometimes struggling, but mostly working to create a bond that words can't describe.

Eddie was born as a United States resident in the Philippines. Although Charlie was a U.S. resident serving in the Navy at the time, the amount of paperwork that had to be completed to ensure his son had citizenships was daunting.

Charlie had met his then wife on his second attempt at military service. He served in the Marines for five years as an aircraft mechanic. After being discharged, he worked as a civilian for two years for Kenworth Trucking Company when a friend asked for help re-enlisting in the Navy.

"He wanted help, and I went down and they signed me up," Charlie said.

The timing was good. He was in the middle of a labor-dispute strike that stretched for twelve months.

He continued as an aircraft mechanic in the Navy.

"It was pretty good except for the time I served off the coast of Vietnam," he said.

Charlie served on a ship that loaded planes with bombs and sent them into Vietnam. Only one time did the ships come under attack, but Charlie said their ship's escort was the target.

Stints at sea stretched to 60 days, and Charlie said those days were filled with 12-hour shifts and drills that pulled him from bed.

"You got used to it," he said.

He met Simplicia three years before he married her during his frequent docks in the Philippines. They were married after he was stationed there. Simplicia became pregnant in the year and a half the couple spent on the islands, and that's where their son was born. He was born deaf for reasons doctors today still can't identify.

Charlie said he enjoyed his time in the Philippines.

"Everything is green, and it's not like here where there's two seasons," he said. "We used to refer to it as three seasons -- rainy, hot and nasty."

The three returned to the states to spend a year in Washington. From there, they were transferred to Texas.

"They had us moving all around," Charlie said.

After being transferred to Florida, Charlie decided to retire from the Navy.

"You couldn't ad------vance in rank, there were too many people," he said. "There were 5,000 people in the Navy trying to go up, and there were 500 promotions given. It was a no-win."

He returned to the Philippines for nearly two years before coming back to Washington to enroll in a school for auto mechanics.

In the early 1990s, Charlie -- feeling as if he had the entire responsibility of caring for Eddie while providing for a family financially -- filed for divorce.

He was awarded guardianship of Eddie -- who, by then, was 21 -- and the two moved to Craig, where much of Charlie's family lived.

"At that time, Craig was real reasonable as far as prices," he said.

He had to return to Washington within the year because his wife re-opened the divorce after accusing him of kidnapping their adult son.

She had been awarded all the couple's holdings in the Philippines, and she fought for -- and won -- the additional half of the couple's assets in the United States.

And she wanted Eddie.

Charlie accused her of only wanting Eddie's disability check and child support.

Although she wrote a blistering note to the judge, she did not attend the guardianship hearing, and Charlie's future with his son was sealed.

Life was hard on Charlie when he first arrived in Craig. He lived with his brother, and he was not able to get a job because Eddie couldn't be left alone.

Eventually, the two found Horizons Specialized Services, where Eddie participates in programs four days a week.

His nights always are spent with his father.

"We're buddies," his father said.

Eddie was tested when he was 10 and was found to be functioning at a 4- to 5-year-old level.

He started learning sign language when he was 18, but his deafness prevented him from learning to speak. Charlie and Eddie took sign language classes together and the teacher worked extensively with Eddie.

Eddie doesn't demonstrate fluency in sign language, sometimes, his father thinks, because he's shy. But he is more proficient with those he's comfortable with.

Those who see Eddie and his father together hear little conversation and see few gestures. It might make them wonder about the cause of Charlie's smile or Eddie's delighted laugh.

Charlie said it's because the two often can communicate without words. Or, because he told his son to look up while he stole one of his French fries.

"He teases me a lot," Charlie said. "What helps, or at least makes things easier, is his disposition. He's always happy and smiling. We're probably a lot better off than most. There's never a dull moment."

Eddie loves to watch TV, pick on his father or go for long rides in the car.

The two travel to Baggs, Wyo., once a week to have lunch and fill up on gasoline.

Evenings are quiet, Charlie said. Eddie has a TV that runs without volume.

Every now and then, laughter will burst from Eddie's room, and Charlie will sneak back to see what amused his son into laughing out loud.

Generally, it's the antics of the three stooges or wrestling.

Sometimes, it's what Charlie calls Eddie's "ghost buddies."

"He'll stare at the wall or into a corner and just giggle," he said. "I tell people those are his "ghost buddies."

Charlie said he his son will stay together.

"He's not going to leave unless someone feeds him," he said, laughing. "Horizons asks if I want him on a list to get into a group home. I said 'No, I'm still walking."

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