Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir
Four years as the poor relation of the family finally forced Mom and Dad to come to a decision. For months, the debate had gone back and forth between them. Mom was determined to go back to work. Dad was adamantly opposed. The battles raged, and the four kids watched in awe as these two stubborn, emotional partners duked it out in ASL. In the end, Mom got her way as Dad became convinced by the simple arithmetic of our situation. In no way could we survive as a family on the farm income. Mom would go to work. Eventually, she got a job as a shirt presser in Defiance at the DeLuxe Cleaners. At first, Dad continued the farming, and we kids took on various household chores in addition to our farm chores to make the situation work.
Mom’s decision never went down well with Grandma Amy, who was of the old school, but I can’t imagine how she could have proposed an alternative, given the financial bind we were in. Our farms (the main farm in Defiance County and the smaller farm in Paulding County) totaled about 140 acres, and we were milking about fourteen cows. Anyone with a sense of the economics of farming can judge that, even in the 1950s, that agricultural base could barely have supported one family, let alone two.
With milk prices spiraling downward, Dad finally had to find other work to supplement his farm income, which caused a great strain between my grandparents and us. For a long time, Grandpa Lloyd, who suffered from severe lameness in his knees, had not been able to do any work, and then, he had two serious strokes that, for a time, rendered him almost immobile. By 1953, Dad was working full-time at Johns-Manville Corporation in Defiance and farming full-time. I was being asked to bear more of the work, and the strain was beginning to show on all of us.
The farming life depended on the family’s careful hoarding of resources, its making do with the goods the farm produced, and its saving cash to purchase more land. My grandparents looked backward while my parents looked ahead to the consumerist life being promoted by a burgeoning postwar economy that was bent on providing all the goods and services we had done without during the war. My parents—even my father, who was born on a farm—had not been brought up on the farm and were unacquainted with its demands. Mom and Dad had experienced strenuous upbringings but within an institutional context, at the School for the Deaf, where most of the children came from larger towns and cities and to which most of them were destined to return.
My grandfather, who was the key to upcoming changes, had no real interest in developing and adding to the farm. He had already deeded more than half of it to his wife to settle pressing debts. He had no family of his own to whom he could pass on his share. He was a childless widower, remarried late in life. Basically, the farm and Social Security provided him with an income sufficient to allow him to continue his somewhat manorial life of the past, dealing with hired men and spending most of his time hunting and fishing, which he loved passionately.
Late summer, sometime in 1952 or 1953, and the weather is hot. Grandma is canning tomatoes in her kitchen, with both the back and side doors open. A dilapidated truck pulls into the drive, carrying what appears to be a family of Mexicans or Indians on board. The driver gets out, comes to the side door, and knocks.
Grandma answers. He asks, “Excuse, we paint your roof? Aluminum paint, very cheap. We see your barn roof needs paint?” I can tell from their accent and the Oklahoma plates on the truck that they are Indians.