Saturday afternoon I had the chance to relax by putting up my feet, having a cup of Honey Lemon Ginseng Green tea, and finishing a book titled, Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love by Myron Uhlberg. Embarrassing to admit, but this book has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a while. However, this book was a great find! On a trip to the town library, I just so happened to walk-in on a day that they were having a book sale! I am most serious when I say this–some of my greatest reads come from library or campus bookstore book sales! 🙂 On that particular day, it just so happened too that I found $2 in my wallet (it’s rare for me to have petty cash.) The books were 50 cents each unless otherwise marked.
I am glad that I got to browsing the tables when I did. I picked up a Penguin Classic of Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, and found Henry David Thoreau’s, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. I didn’t think much of Thoreau’s book, so I set it down and continued browsing through the autobiographies, in which I found the book, Hands of My Father. I can take a long time shopping, whether for books or groceries or clothes. I think, contemplate; I read the inlet book descriptions, compare prices or flavors of coffee creamers, and fashionably brainstorm new outfits. I even noted that while buying acrylic paint last week that I took more than what is probably considered a standard paint shopping time frame.
In books, I cannot impulse buy; so as I continue to read the back covers, I see a lady come in on the other side of the room and start a mass wave of book consumption, reserving the load of stacked titles in a small empty spot on a table next to the door. I just stood there for a moment to realize that if I didn’t make impulse decisions of two more books–completing my $2 worth–then there would be nothing left to make a decision on! Impulsively, I grab Thoreau’s book (still uncertain it is what I want, but since it was not marked in and unabridged, I figured if anything it could make a nice present…no library codes attached on the cover either!) Skimming the rest of the titles on the far side of the room, I find a sign language textbook and secured it with my other three titles. Just in time. The lady’s swiftness of book snatching had already found the table next to me.
Regardless, I left the library with four new books and the few that I had first come to the library to check out anyway. Jane Austen and Thoreau’s novels, I actually put to good use as it was the time when I first started experimenting with mixed media on my paintings. A friend borrowed the sign language dictionary, so her family can learn basic signs to communicate with me when lip-reading fails. They caught on finger spelling fast! The Hands of My Father, though the sincerest efforts to read the memoir were made often, got set on the shelf until a few weeks ago.
As I started Uhlberg’s memoir, I found the format unique. Instead of the typical “childhood to adulthood” format–in which most others are written, Uhlberg used his chapters almost like that of blog posts. Separate memories, unrelated to each other, yet having a flow…I found myself fascinated by the vast differences we are to each other, besides one common denominator: deafness in a family. Uhlberg’s childhood started during the Depression, then WWII and in the 1950’s. An 80’s baby, I lived THE 1990’s and saw a new millennium. He grew up in Brooklyn and got box seats with his father to see Jackie Robinson play for the Dodgers; I grew up in a small farm town in Colorado and went with my family to the “car races” that were held in a potato field with hay bails as the race track boundary lines. You get the picture…
The main difference (obviously) is that Uhlberg had Deaf parents. In his childhood, deafness was considered dumbness–you were deaf? You were considered dumb, unruly, unable to be and live normal like the hearing world; you were ignored or stared at when speaking in signs. Sign language was not even considered a language–there was no such thing as an interpreter. Deaf kids were not allowed to play the games or sports at school, because they had to make up for what hearing teachers considered “never being able to understand and learn” like the other kids. How could they when, even in the schools for the Deaf, sign language was prohibited?
In Uhlberg’s stories, he not only incorporated his own feelings and burdens of this living, but also what he learned from his parents experiences of joys, pains, communication voids and what it means to take pride in yourself without regard for those who think ill of your differences. His father was a great example of the latter in the list, although personally for Uhlberg, the transitions of going from being his father’s kid to having to be the adult in situations where interpreting was needed put a heavy burden on his shoulders. In my own instances, I am not in Uhlberg’s shoes, but like his father. I depend on my family for when I am in communication voids.
In the reading, it was his father’s questions that made me ponder. Born hearing, yet losing it at a small age, his father knew a few sounds. After full deafness before the age of four, he now wanted to remember those sounds. So he asked questions such as, What do waves sound like? And Uhlberg would try to explain, in adjectives, the sound of waves. I finished the book and thought of sounds that I hadn’t heard since high school: frogs croaking, birds chirping or crickets singing, the pitch of my flute, Muffy purring, a person speaking to me while standing behind me, soundtracks on a movie. Sounds just started to disappear and now when I “remember” them…it is just a memory, not a sound. Unlike Uhlberg’s father, deafness came slowly for me; I am thankful for this, even though complete silence is difficult; it’s lonely.
So I wait with anticipation. Deafness will fade away, like waves on the shore when the Sound of Jesus return is proclaimed for all eternity.