Monday, April 21, 2008


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 sc
hool, 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?


kenju said...

My father had hearing aids in his 50's and as he got older, he kept them turned off. I wonder if that is what I will do when I get them (which will hopefully be soon)!

Dianne said...

I love when you tell stories from your life, especially childhood. You're such a great storyteller.

I wonder how I would react as well.

Did you brother continue to invent things?

bobbie said...

I hope you don't turn them off, Judy.

I don't think he invented anything else of note. He continued to work for Bell, and they got his hearing aid.

Minnesotablue said...

Bobbie: As ususal, another great story! I have been told often that people who have been unable to hear for many years do not want to change their hearing status. I wonder if it's because they are comfortable in not hearing and prefer to remain that way. My uncle used to take his out when my Aunt started arguing with him.

Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hello! I would think that if I was born unable to hear or see then later was given the opportunity to see or hear, I think this would be overwhelming. I think that if I lost my sight or hearing later in life then given the opportunity to see or hear again, I would want to. I would want to able to see a sunrise, sunset, clouds, animals, etc. again. I would want to be able to hear a cat purr or birds singing because I would know what I was missing. Lisa

bobbie said...

Minnesotablue, my mom would even turn away if we were having an argument, so she couldn't read my lips. I guess that's human nature.

Yes, Lisa, I think I would too, but we never really know until we're in that position.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Great post! My brother is also deaf, & went to the School for the Deaf in West Hartford. As a child, he wore a hearing aid, but hated it. He signed, but also learned to speak. The family was discouraged from signing because they wanted to encourage his language skills. It worked. When he left school, he refused to wear a hearing aid for many years because the background sounds and the whistling in his ears was so annoying. Later, when hearing aids improved, he began wearing one and he does all the time now - except when somebody is talking too much. Then we will give me a sly smile and turn it off sneakily. He has a great sense of humor.

me ann my camera said...

This is a most amazing story about your Mom and so heart-touching. Your stories are wonderful and I always enjoy reading them.

bobbie said...

Sandpiper - It's quite an experience living with someone who is deaf. I'm glad your brother is now using an aid

Me and my camera - Thanks very much.