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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World

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She laughed with delight at my anticipation.

“Too early, go back to sleep. Open later, we go at ten o’clock.”

I washed and dressed myself. I carefully pulled my red dotted Swiss dress over my head. I buckled my black patent leather shoes. And I sat on my bed waiting for the hours to pass.

We walked together, my mother and I, past the open fields enclosed with barbed wire, away from Dawson Street, past Kelly Street and Beck Street filled with Saturday-morning shoppers whom I ignored. I was elated. I was going to the library and I would bring home a book.

When we arrived at the imposing site, I ran up the pitted concrete steps into the librarian’s feet. “We’re not open yet, just a moment.”

I could not wait. I blurted, “I want a book, a book I can take home.”

This tight-bunned librarian relaxed her face as she peered down over her glasses at me. She invited us in to see her magnificent library before the scheduled opening hour. After she issued me a temporary card, which I clutched as a passport to life, she directed me to the children’s section. On my knees, I moved up and down the two-tiered rows of shelves not quite knowing where to put my hands. I stroked the thick hardcover bindings, sensing the gold letters that named each book, I ran my hands over the odd-shaped books, some thick, others slim, all filled with treasure. I reached for a thin horizontal book and sat down flat on the floor. The title page read, The Coconut Man. I flipped the pages quickly. There was no color to distract me from the continuing flow of big black words printed in a single line under each drawing.

It was a simple story. A lonely little boy wanted to make a man to be his friend. He constructed a large rag body, but his man had no head. So the boy scoured the beach on his tropical island and found a coconut that had been washed ashore. He perched it on his man. The coconut man had no eyes, no ears, no mouth, no nose, but he could feel with his well-made hands. He could sign with his hands. His signs made him human. He left the boy, his creator, and went in search of someone who could carve out the rest of his senses.

I wanted to finish this book at home, in secret. Holding the book tightly under my arm, I approached the librarian with a timorous question: “May I take this book home?”

“Yes, and you may keep it for two weeks.”

I read the book again and again, before lunch and after lunch. As my brother napped, I read the book to my mother, signing each word for her. When he awakened, I asked my mother to take me back to the library to get another book. My mother, with good humor, agreed. We set out again. This time Fred came with us.

The same librarian was there when I returned the book. With her yellow pencil fitted with a dated rubber stamp, she checked in my first borrowed book.

“I want another book please.”

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