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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir

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Although my parents had moved sixty miles from Toledo, they managed not only to maintain their friendships with their group in Toledo but also to link up with Deaf friends all around northwestern Ohio and beyond. Deaf people tend to concentrate in urban areas where opportunities for employment are better and where a strong Deaf community already exists. To my knowledge, my parents were the only Deaf couple living in Defiance County. Keeping up their contacts with their circle of friends required regular visiting that involved a constant round of travel to and from the houses and towns as well as interminable amounts of driving. The expense was considerable, in gasoline, cars, and car repairs, and Momís junketing, as it appeared to others, was a source of friction between my parents and my grandparents.

Grandma Amy complained constantly, and Grandpa Lloyd was always nonplussed if Dad had to go somewhere because Grandpaís notion of farming involved a seven-day-a-week, twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment to the land, the cattle, the hogs, the chickens, the sheep, the garden, and whatever. But then, if Grandpa needed any social contact, all he had to do was visit the neighbor down the road or, perhaps, make a few phone calls, although he never used the phone, letting Grandma make all the calls. He and Grandma were in constant contact with friends; people were dropping in to visit them almost daily. And, in the tradition of country hospitality that assumed that oneís door was always open to company, they were always stopping to visit friends.

At first, I tended to take my grandparentsí part on these issues. After all, they had control of the forum, which they expressed in my language, and I heard their side almost daily. Besides, I could see how the cost of this socializing cut into our already small income. Today, from a vantage point of years and maturity, I understand that my parents absolutely needed this activity in their lives and that my grandparents were blind to their needs. My parents were aliens in an alien culture, isolated for weeks at a time from social contact with the Deaf community. They were desperate to talk with friends of their own, much in the same way that immigrants seek out their own culture and depend on it for support, banding together in tightly knit communities.

Whenever this conflict over my parentsí need to link up with their Deaf friends broke out, I was its push-pull victim. My attitude was pretty much controlled by self-interest. If the family we were visiting had kids to play with, I was ready to go. I liked visiting Deaf people. They were not dour, they did not work incessantly, they did not live frugal, stinted lives, and their kids thought and acted just like me. They joked, they laughed, and they teased. In a word, they had fun, and they were very much my people. As a CODA, I had standing in the Deaf community. I wasnít Deaf, but I was the next best thing, a CODA. This status has always stood me in good stead whenever I have been in a situation where a Deaf person needed my help, usually with interpreting. Once at my university, I came up on a maintenance crew, and the boss was trying to explain something to an electrician who was Deaf. I asked whether I could help, and then I interpreted. The electrician asked me how I knew ASL, and I signed the familiar phrase, Mother-Father Deaf, and he beamed knowingly at me. I was accepted. Much as I was immersed in Hearing culture, my home was also with my parents and the Deaf community.

Even though Dad was much more of a loner and didnít really crave the social life as much as Mom did, Mom insisted on it, especially after she went to work because work empowered her and diminished my dadís control over family decisions. She was determined to have life on her terms, finally, and she did.

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