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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir

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I go to my grandparents’ side of the house. Grandma is in her kitchen, rolling out dough to make the noodles that are her signal culinary achievement in the neighborhood. Instead of slicing them in great strips, she rolls the dough out until it is paper thin, rolls the flattened disk into a tight cylinder, and then slices the noodles into hairlike thin strands. She explained to me once that she began making them that way because my grandfather Miller, who had a stomach ailment, could digest them more easily. They rise in a heap of buttery splendor on the white floured rolling surface.

I begin, “Grandma, Mom and Dad are in a real pinch and they need to borrow $90 from me. Do you think I could let them have some money from my savings account?”

A long silence follows, which signals Grandma’s deep disapproval. She begins, “Well, I expect so, but I’ll have to talk it over with your grandpa.” She walks into the front parlor where Grandpa is glued to the console radio that stands next to his old armchair. I can hear him grumbling his disapproval, although I can’t make out the words.

She returns to the kitchen and announces, “Yes, I expect you can, but we think you ought to have them sign a note for the money. You need to protect yourself, or you might not get your money back.”

I reply, “But what would be the point? I’d never be able to get my money back just because I have a note. I couldn’t call it in and I couldn’t sell it, so what’s the point? And it’ll just embarrass Mom and Dad.”

She replies calmly, “Don’t make any difference. You got to have a note. You can’t loan money to people without a note; that’s what you got to understand. Your grandpa and I don’t feel we can go along with this if you don’t have a note.”

I know this request will be deeply humiliating to my parents, who are very proud people despite suffering the slights and outright abuse that Deaf people are subject to and, now, find themselves beholden to this smug little son of theirs.

I return to our side of the house. I explain things to my parents. As I expect, they are embarrassed, but they have no options. Mercifully, Dad draws up the note, it is signed, the money is lent and eventually repaid, and my relationship to my parents is deeply damaged.

My parents were proud of their ability to make it on their own, and they tried always to take care of their own business. For example, they requested my interpreting help only sparingly. Contrary to what seems to have been the case with many CODAs, my parents did not ask me to accompany them to doctor’s appointments and the like. They set definite limits on what they thought I could and could not do, and they protected their privacy. Even now that my parents are both in their eighties, they are reluctant when my brother Art and my sister-in-law Dixie who live next door to them regularly help out with matters that require interpreting. Designing a world in which they could function independently was a serious priority for them.

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