Thursday, May 19, 2022

by Lou Ann Walker. Copyrighted in 1986, is actually a memoir about the author growing up as the eldest of three children whose parents were deafened in their early infancy and attended a school for the deaf that restricted their mode of communication to speaking---the oral method. She details her personal experiences that led her to feel like a robot who looked after her parents’ every need until the day in her thirties when she stopped feeling sad and sorry for herself for “carrying the burden of deafness on my back.”

Thinking back to my blog about the book, Mother-Father-Deaf by Paul Preston and to his research and stated premise, I believe Lou Ann’s life story exemplifies his claim that “the dreams and shadows of childhood become part of the fabric of our adult lives” and affect how we learn and perceive our identity. It also characterizes my own CODA experiences for that matter.

While I admired the way Lou Ann explained deafness and educated the public about deafness and signing, I confess that I was puzzled about her sadness, misery, and the frustration she described in vivid and emphatic terms.

As I read her life story, it was natural for me to compare my life with hers. Yes, we both felt pressured to interpret, but, while she became sad, ashamed and angry, I felt happy, proud, and honored to interpret for my parents and for their friends. "What had caused the difference?" I wondered. So, I began to search my mind for a possible answer.

Lou Ann's mother was deafened early, before the age of one. Thus, she never had the opportunity to hear and speak English. No one in the family learned to sign communicate with her causing her to be isolated in her silence. Her family treated her parents as incapable of living apart from them; her father refused to let them move to another town. This behavior apparently influenced her folks to adopt that same view of themselves. They believed they were incapable of taking care of themselves, became ashamed of their deafness and of signing, and tried to hide their disability when they were out in the hearing world. On the other hand, my mother became deaf from an illness when she was ten, after she had heard and spoken for years. Thus, she was well-read and self-educated about life and world events. Being deafened after acquiring speech seems to have made the difference in attitude and in self-image.

My father, like Lou Ann’s father, was early-deafened, but, unlike Mr. Walker, my dad strived to improve his lot by working hard to enlarge his English vocabulary such that he became an expert in Parliamentary Law, something that few hearing people have mastered. Still, his speech remained unintelligible to most, and he relied on paper and pencil his entire life. In addition, my folks had late-deafened and well-educated deaf friends who worked proactively to improve the lives of all deaf people. These friends were my role models. Mr. and Mrs. Walker's role models, however, implanted in them a lack of confidence and doubt in their own capability of managing their lives. They found solace by clinging to the safety of their own deaf culture.

I recognized another fact that helps me better understand Lou Ann's fury and anger. In addition to interpreting for her folks, she conducted all her parents' business transactions, something I seldom had to do. In the process, she lost sight of who she, herself, was. At that point, I came to understand her sadness and her frustration. If I had been in her shoes, I might easily have felt the same way. We cannot judge a person unless we walk in his or her shoes. I celebrate that her story ends on an upbeat note, and I admire her for revealing the personal details of her life journey. Every CODA'S story is different because every situation is unique.

Both of our memoirs could easily be included in Mr. Preston's study. After you read the cases he cites, you would do well to read Lou Ann's writings.