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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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After the war, with the increase in agricultural mechanization, the patchwork farms soon got swallowed up by large conglomerates of farms, usually worked by one farmer on share with several landowners. With a little imagination, one can bring to life those countless thousands of mini-dramas played out by farm husbands and wives, looking over the accounts late at night at kitchen tables and tearfully deciding to pack it in. This upheaval is precisely what happened to our farm. When Dad and Grandpa Lloyd gave up farming, their enterprise was taken over by a local high-production farmer.

My grandmother, the real owner of the larger share of the farm, was so steeped in tradition and possessed of a Depression mentality that she lived to hang on to what she had. But my parents had to look to the future. They had four boys to support, and so they did what many farm families did. They found jobs in the service industry in town or in the factories. Farmers joined the assembly line, and their wives became waitresses, checkout clerks, housemaids, or shirt pressers. My parents despised the life of denial. They were the products of a new age, of television and mass advertising, and they sought the vocations that, within their limits as Deaf people, would provide the “new life” of televisions, dishwashers, dryers, store-bought clothes, and dinners out.

The tragedy of our loss of the bucolic life was not merely a tragedy of the Deaf family unable to cope with the farm; it was a tragedy of the American landscape and was, in fact, happening all around us. The farm family, surviving on the produce of the land, relying on the labor of the members of the household, possessing skills in a variety of farming enterprises such as dairying and hog or chicken raising, has now passed from the American scene and is memorialized throughout the Midwest in the ever dwindling number of all-purpose red barns and outbuildings that still survive and in the creations of writers and artists.

One afternoon in late winter 1953, Grandma Amy calls out to me as I am making my way to the house from finishing chores, “Bobby, will you tell your Dad to come on over. Grandpa’s got something he needs to talk over with him.”

Dad is following not far behind me, so I turn to him and tell him something is up.

We enter the little back kitchen where a nice fire in the coal stove gives the room comfortable warmth. Grandpa is sitting at the kitchen table and turns to me. He kind of mumbles, “Bob, tell your dad I’ve decided to sell out. We just can’t manage anymore with things this way. The cows don’t get the attention they need. Your dad’s got more work than any of us can do. It’s time to call it quits.”

I turn to Dad and tell him what Grandpa has said. He doesn’t react at all.

Grandpa continues, “Tell him we’re keeping the farm, but I’ve called Yoder and Frey [the auctioneers], and we’ll sell off all the machinery and stock, and your dad’ll get fifty percent of everything we’ve bought since he came on back in ’50. The same applies to the livestock. Any cows and calves that came on since ’50 he’ll get half, less his half of the auctioneer’s commission. I’m gonna rent the farm out to John Webb. You folks can stay on in the house, and we’ll work out some kind of rent. Ask him if that settlement suits him.”

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