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Moon on the
Meadow: Collected Poems|
It all started in the crib. My father, leaning over me with his large frame and wild, wavy, blond hair like Einstein’s, pointed to the decoupage lamb on my wooden crib; this lamb was dancing happily in a meadow full of daisies waving in the wind. My father used sign language to show me the word “lamb;” then he fingerspelled “l-a-m-b.” I must have imitated him, learning to sign as a baby, for he smiled, signed “Good! ” and continued by showing me the daisies, their yellow centers, their green, slender leaves, the act of waving, the wind itself, carefully showing me each letter and how to form it with my fingers.
This continued with my mother. Curled up in her lap, admiring her black hair and dark Irish eyes, I looked to where she pointed in my ABC book. “A” is for apple, “B” is for bear. . . . She would sign and fingerspell each word, then show me the worm in the apple, the bow around the bear’s neck, taking my hands into her own and shaping them to the correct letters and signs.
My mother and father were both born hearing, and became deaf through calamity. My mother contracted scarlet fever at about the age of two-and-a-half; my father fell from a tree at eleven years of age and hit his head in just such a way as to cause him to lose his hearing. Both were educated at the elementary and middle school levels in oral methods of communication while secretly signing with their friends and classmates. They were of Irish and Norwegian/Dutch backgrounds, respectively, and had been raised with religious training as well, but back in the 1920s and 1930s, deaf education left a lot to be desired. My mother attended the Detroit Day School for the Deaf run at that time by he Lutheran Church; when she was in high school, her father insisted on a Catholic education, so she attended St. Mary’s in Buffalo, New York, and then St. Rita’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.
During her junior year, her mother died, necessitating my mother’s return to the family. She never graduated from high school, yet held some jobs that she enjoyed, such as working as a seamstress and drape maker at Hudson’s department store in Detroit; I remember vividly the drapes in our living room on Burgess Avenue as having an ivory background against which palm trees with ruffled fronds unfurled in an imaginary breeze. While my mother hemmed those drapes, I watched a cartoon show on our new TV, featuring cigar-smoking magpies, Heckle and Jeckle. I remember wondering about the fact that one of them spoke with a Brooklyn accent, the other with a British inflection. How could it be that they didn’t sound alike? My mother later worked in the very social world of the Fort Street Post Office in downtown Detroit, visiting old friends there for lunch even long after her retirement.