Monday, April 21, 2008
BEING HARD OF HEARING
Because of my age, I am frequently the target of salespeople who want me to have my hearing checked. My mail is full of offers to give me a great deal on a hearing aid. I actually have had my hearing checked from time to time. So far, no one has found a problem.
My mother was deaf. We found salespeople at our door on many occasions, carrying their small black boxes for Mom to try. She would always comply. They had her put on the device, then sit with her back to the salesman, and he would say, "Can you hear me now?" (just like the current day TV commercial) Inevitably, she would say, "No, I don't hear a thing," and he would swear that she was answering him.
When I was quite small, my then teenage brother rigged up an earphone to the old Atwater Kent radio. It let Mom listen to her soap operas - not by ear, but by holding it under her chin. She heard by bone conduction. That's the way she listened to The Romance of Helen Trent and Stella Dallas. I'm not sure when or why she found that this no longer worked for her. Back in those days I could sometimes talk to her if she held an empty paper towel roll to her ear, and I held the other end tightly against my mouth. She didn't hear my natural voice, but could make out most of the words. Some days that didn't work at all.
Mother had a good friend who was associated with a school for the deaf in Philadelphia. I was so young, I have no clear knowledge of this, but I have the impression that she was the founder of the school. I do know that her money supported it. Mother and I would travel to this woman's huge, beautiful home regularly, for lip reading lessons. While they were busy with that, I was allowed to play outside on the grounds of the estate. I often met boys from the school, gardening or mowing lawns. These boys were deaf and mute, and I thought it was great fun to try to communicate with them. They were very patient with me.
Mom learned lip reading so well that many people never knew that she was deaf. I have no idea why she did not learn to sign. I wish she had, and that I had. What I would do was form letters with my fingers to spell words for her - much like this logo from my sidebar. It took time, but it worked for us, and I learned to be a very good speller.
Many years later, my brother, who worked for Bell Telephone, invented a new type of hearing aid. He was pretty excited about it. He and his wife and daughters carried it down to Delaware where Mom was keeping house for her brother at the time. They spent the afternoon talking with our mother. Talking with her! Carrying on a conversation. She was able to hear them clearly. My brother was on top of the world. He had accomplished his life's goal, to let his mother hear again. He left the prototype with her that day. But when they left, she put it on a shelf in the closet and never used it again. At that stage in her life, she simply did not want to hear. She said it was too confusing to her.
I have heard of this kind of thing - people who are deaf or blind for many years, suddenly given back this sense - and being overwhelmed by it. I wonder how I would react in such a situation?