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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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She replies, “Well, I’ll have to get my husband to talk to you.” She goes in, summons Grandpa, and brings out a large pitcher of water and a plate of molasses cookies for the woman, a teenage boy who is his dad’s helper, and three children, all who are jammed into the hot cab of the truck.

Grandpa comes out onto the side stoop. “What can I do for you?”

“We seen your barn roof needs paint. We do aluminum, waterproof, last forever, very cheap. Twenty-five dollars.”

He hesitates, “I don’t know, that’s too much for us. It’s only a shed and it ain’t much of a job. Do it myself for five bucks.” The man looks down at Grandpa’s crutches but says nothing. What Grandpa means is, I, not he, can do it, and not for five bucks but for nothing.

“We do very good job, better than brush, spray on, twenty dollars.”

Grandpa waits a few minutes. “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you ten bucks to do it and that’s my price.”

I can see the look of desperation in the man’s eyes. He answers, “Sir, we cannot do for ten dollars, cost that much for paint. We need gas to get to next town and have to find a job quick.”

“Well, tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you ten bucks and five gallons of gas, how about it?” We have a large store of gas on hand to run the farm machinery. Five gallons is worth about a dollar.

The man’s look is impassive but I can sense a deep well of resentment and desperation. “Okay, sir, deal. We do it for the gas. Paint cost ten dollars.”

They drive their truck out to the shed where the gasoline tank is also kept. I help them put some of the gas in the truck and some in a canister, and then they set to work.

Grandpa can’t see very well, so when he looks out it appears to him that the roof is being transformed into a gleaming wonder. To me it seems a little washed out, but I say nothing. I notice a strong smell of gasoline in the air. The man and boy soon finish, collect their money, and are on their way.

Grandpa remarks, “Guess I showed them damn Messkins.”

I correct him, “They weren’t Mexicans, they were Indian.”

He shoots back, “It’s all the same”—an anthropological judgment truer than he or I realize at the time.

Two days later, it rains. Grandma and I look out at the shed from Grandma’s kitchen window. The gleaming paint has begun to fade, and patches of the old rusty roof are showing through. Rivulets of aluminum liquid run down the corrugated roofing.

Grandma smiles, then says, “Oh, my!”

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