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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 explain to Dad. He simply nods, and the years of servitude come to an end. For my grandfather, it is the end of a dynasty, the end of a farming tradition that stretched back to 1863 when the Newtons first acquired the farm.

We walk out the door and around the corner to our side of the house, and Dad delivers the news to Mom, who begins immediately to plan what she will do with the money.

In 1953, the sale took place, and my parents came into a fair chunk of money, which got spent almost immediately to cover bills. Even in the best of times, my parents never were able to stick to any kind of savings plan. What came in went out. In hard times, we skimped; in good times, we splurged. It was a pattern of bingeing and starving that I have found difficult to break in my own life. My parents considered the act of saving a luxury, something you did only after youíd bought all the things you needed and had paid all your bills. What they seemed not to realize was that you never run out of needs and, most likely, will always carry some debt, no matter how much money you make.

Over the course of my adult years, I have spent more than my share of genuine angst trying to reconcile my conflicted feelings about my grandparents. Taken separately, they had their individual reasons for their share of guilt in the way they treated my parents. My grandfather had no parental feelings for my father whatever. He never treated him as a son, even a stepson. His sole interest in him was as a worker on the farm, someone he tolerated but whom, deep down, he regarded as inferior, even though my dad proved day after day that he was a bright, insightful, innovative, and clever farmer. I have often commented to my students that I believe, in his own sphere, my father was a more learned person than I with my PhD because the farm made so many demands on his thinking processes and because he had to be versed in so much lore that he needed to deal with all the problems he had to face. My grandfather had almost no respect for my fatherís skills and less of an inclination to place any faith in his abilities. As this disparagement became clearer to me, a rift developed between the two of us, and eventually, from about the age of fifteen on, I was barely on speaking terms with my grandfather. I think he chalked it up to teenage rebelliousness, but it went deeper than that. I hated him for what I believed heíd done to my dad and to our family. In my late age, I hold a more charitable view of him, particularly because I know he cared for me and did so much for me.

My grandmotherís situation was more complex because this man, my dad, was her son. In her character, I could detect the source of my dadís shyness and his reticence, and being his son, I could also trace the source of my own. She was a well-meaning, careful, repressed woman who was steeped in misunderstanding and prejudice about Deaf people, and the fact that she had a son with whom she was barely able to communicate didnít help her overcome that prejudice. Nevertheless, in all fairness, I have to admit that my parents could be difficult and often did exhibit poor judgment. Yet, in spite of every indication my parents gave of being mature adults, Grandma Amy never could quite treat them as grown-ups. Her admiration always seemed reserved for her older Hearing son, my uncle Lester whom she loved and admired, and for his family, whom she saw as respectable, judicious, and self-reliant, whereas she maintained for us only a judgment that we were the trashy, irresponsible poor relation who always had to survive on the charity of relatives. Ironically, years later when she began to show signs of senility, her younger son (my dad) and his wife were the ones who offered to make arrangements in their lives to care for her, but they were rebuffed by Hearing relatives who felt my parents were not up to the task, and consequently, she languished in nursing homes for seven years before she died, plenty of time in which to consider the irony as best she could.

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