Alone in the
Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School|
Gina A. Oliva
Like most of the kids who lived on my small town street circa 1955, I was destined to attend Cos Cob School, which was just up the street from our house on Mead Avenue. It was probably the third week of my kindergarten career, and Miss Voight’s class was having a regular Monday morning. Our days always started with some playtime. We would play with the big blocks, the child-sized log cabin, and other toys as everyone arrived, hung up their jackets, and put their freshly washed naptime blankets in their cubbyholes. At some point, Miss Voight would start to plunk out a little tune on her piano.
By now, all the children knew that this little tune was a call to put down their toys and come sit near the piano. “Come and sit down, come and sit down, come and sit down right now,” she would play and sing. Once they were assembled around the piano, Miss Voight greeted the children, and told them they were going to play a new game.
They would sit in a circle in the middle of the room, on the floor. They would close their eyes and sit quietly. When the piano music started again, they were to open their eyes, stand up, and begin walking in the circle that they had been sitting in. So over to the middle of the room they went, as Miss Voight instructed them to sit on the floor in a circle, cross-legged. “All right now everyone close your eyes, and when you hear the music, stand up and begin to walk in a circle this way (she gestured clockwise).” The twenty four- and five-year-olds did as they were told and patiently waited for the music to begin.
One little girl waited very patiently indeed. She waited and waited. Her eyes were closed; her chin was on her little fists, her elbows on her knees. She waited. And waited. It seemed like an awfully long time. She wondered if she should peek. She wondered for a minute or so. Finally she decided to peek. Much to her dismay, every child was standing up and walking in a circle! Only she was still seated, waiting for the music to start. She looked over to the piano and saw Miss Voight playing it. The embarrassment that the little girl felt was deep and lasting.
That little girl was me. This was the first time I realized there was something different about me. I don’t remember thinking “I didn’t hear the music.” I just remember feeling embarrassed.
From the time I entered school, I had a serious problem. The worst part was that I was the only child in school with such a problem, and the adults around me did not know how to help me. No one knew what to do to help this solitary young girl, the only one in the school with a hearing loss. This quandary plagued me until I took matters into my own hands at age twenty.