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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Amy Signs: A Mother, Her Deaf Daughter, and Their Stories
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When I was a child, sometimes Mother’s family gathered for Thanksgiving. One year when I was about ten, my mother hosted and cooked the turkey feast. Mother told me and my brother, “Set the table. Put on the place mats, dishes, glasses and silverware.”

Naturally, I could not hear any sounds I made with the dishes and silverware. While John and I were in the dining room setting the table, my Aunt Helen from Chicago came into the room and said something I did not understand. I frowned. She put her finger on her mouth and acted out, “Sshhhhh!”

I thought to myself, what? I did not yell or make any noise. I looked at John. He just shrugged. In a few minutes, Aunt Helen came back and told me the same thing. She even scolded my brother since he was doing the same thing I was. I did not know what was wrong. Then my Aunt Susan came into the room and told me, “You are making too much noise.” I did not know what noises I made, because I cannot hear myself.

Mother heard the discussion and came into the dining room. Of course my aunts knew I am deaf, but sometimes hearing people do not fully understand what that really means. Mother said, “Amy can’t hear the noise she makes like moving chairs, dropping silverware, or clinking glasses. She hears NOTHING!”

My aunts said something to Mother and I asked John what they were talking about. John interpreted the conversation for me. He said, “Aunt Helen and Aunt Susan said to Mother, ‘How can you bear all the noise that Amy makes?’” My Mother replied, “When I hear those noises, I know John and Amy are okay and nearby.” I bet all the noise I made would drive my aunts crazy! Mother never seemed to care.

Sometimes my aunts called me by name. Of course, I never replied. I remembered one time when my Aunt Margaret called to me several times and wondered why I did not answer. Within a few seconds, she realized that of course I couldn’t hear her because I’m deaf. Duh!

I know some deaf people can hear due to different degree of hearing loss. Well, that does not apply to me. I am “stone” Deaf, like a rock that can’t hear.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins, they don’t sign to me at all. Sometime, they will try to write something down on a paper or speak to me and I have to lipread, but most of the time I don’t understand them. Basically, I am left to myself at family gatherings or I ask my brother or mother what they are saying, but that does not tell me the whole conversation.

At a young age, I usually watched TV or read something when I was with them. Now that I am an adult, I either stay with them for a short time or do not go to family gatherings at all since I know I will be BORED when they are talking and talking.

Grandma Schmierer, my mother’s mother, was the one who would put in effort to learn signs, so she can communicate with me, her only granddaughter. I was named for her.

Every summer, when I was young, I spent one week with Grandma and Grandpa Schmierer without my brother. I asked Grandma why my brother could not come with me and she said Grandpa did not want too much noise in the house. Also, Grandma wanted to spend one to one time with each grandchild, so she could do what they want. My brother spent time with them on a different week either before or after I was with them.

What did I see in Grandma and Grandpa Schmierer? I always saw Grandma as lovely and funny. She walks and walks since she never learned how to drive. I had to walk with her to the food store and other places. We did four main things together.

We played many games together. I will never forget the one week I played the same game over and over, the Uncle Wriggly game. One day, Grandma told me to pick a different game but I proudly refused. All I wanted to play was Uncle Wriggly. One day, I decided, I was bored with it and picked a different game.

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