Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir
As a thirteen-year-old, I didn’t have much appreciation for my parents, didn’t really understand how hard their lives had been. Generally, I considered them to be fundamentally “normal” people who happened not to be able to hear. And then, when things didn’t go my way, or when I saw them in a Hearing context, I perceived how different we were from each other. But as soon as I had those feelings, I was awash in guilt for what I had done; I had abandoned my parents. Most days, however, I did not think of them as “Deaf,” with all the cultural implications that word has come to hold for me. My view could be stated as “Well, sure, there are some things you can’t do, but other than that, you’re like all my friends’ parents.” My parents said almost nothing about their Deafness, other than from time to time to belabor us kids with the truth that we were lucky to be able to hear or, more frequently, to talk about how lucky we were not to have gone to the deaf school. At other times, they would use their school as a model of good education and a place in which to learn correct behavior and proper respect. We were admonished, “We were never allowed to do that at the Deaf school.” It really wasn’t until years later when I began reading the literature pertaining to Deafness that I had even the beginning of an understanding of who my parents were culturally and what kind of world they came from.
No matter how I viewed their Deafness, however, one aspect of our family life was clear and consistent: Money was very scarce. True, living on a subsistence family farm gave us many benefits such as ample food, free housing, and a certain security, but times were changing the general farming community. Dad and Grandpa Lloyd were running the farm on a fifty-fifty basis. For Grandpa and Grandma, their share of the small profits from the farm, when added to their Social Security benefits, provided them with a comfortable income. At the time, I never questioned this financial arrangement because it was traditional and seemed businesslike and fair, but as I look back on it as a parent who has given unstintingly to his own kids to see them through bad times, I am disturbed by how unfair it was to put business before family.
I am sure many folks in and around Defiance talked about what fine people the Newtons were to take in Richard and Elizabeth Miller, especially with Richard not even being Mr. Newton’s son, and give them a job and a place to live. My grandparents were living in relative security with substantial savings in the bank while we were scraping by. My grandparents’ view was that my parents were profligate, keeping up their city ways, buying all that store-bought stuff, driving miles and miles every week to visit their Deaf friends, squandering their money on gas and car expenses as well as entertainment. In fact, the money was simply not enough, and it did not compare to the incomes being enjoyed by many of their Deaf friends who had stuck it out in the city and weathered the postwar recession.
I had made a little money while I’d been staying at my grandparents’ during those previous summers by raising broilers, or chickens for the table. At that time, Grandma Amy had thought it would be a good idea for me to open a savings account, and by now, I have a respectable amount in it, which becomes a thorn in my flesh and, in the end, comes near to destroying the bond between me and my Mom and Dad.
Any money that goes into that account comes from me and not my grandparents, but the rule is that, once the money is in the bank, it stays there. My parents have never asked me to draw money out to help them, and in any case, I am powerless because my grandparents set the account up so two signatures are required to make withdrawals, Grandma’s and mine. Eventually, a time comes when Mom and Dad are desperately in need of a $90 loan, a substantial amount of money in the ’50s.