1960’s SODA

We’re going on a trip through the time tunnel…..back to the 1960’s.  JFK was in The White House and The British Invasion was on the way. TV shows were in black and white and nobody had heard of closed-captioning.  My older sister was living most of the year at the Indiana School for the Deaf.  I was about 8 years old and vaguely remember her visits over the Christmas holidays and summer vacations. Our parents sought advice from the experts – – the ones who knew best how to raise deaf children. It was imperative that deaf kids learned to speak clearly and read lips. How else would they ever function in a hearing world?  This made so much sense in the land of ago. We broke the rules slightly by attending sign language classes offered by our church. We learned how to fingerspell…….sort of.  I remember watching the face-to-face conversations between my sister and my parents when she visited us. “How are you?”  “How is School?” “Are you hungry?” spoken slowly so that she could read their lips. I personally don’t remember much communication with my sister . I was a kid, running around and playing with my friends. She was often in a chair reading something and she always smiled when she looked at me. The most beautiful smile……she must be happy. So none of us learned her language. The six of us would sit around the table at meal times and she would finish first and return to her reading chair. This seemed normal to me at the time. Sometimes she would glance from face to face trying to catch what was going on in our conversation. Sometimes when she actually inquired, she would get a slow face-to-face summary. By then we had moved on to other things. Again, this seemed normal to me at the time.  We watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ every year on TV and she would have her face stuck in a book. Why would she rather READ than watch this awesome movie? It made no sense to me. Parts of it were even in color!

Sometimes, we would make the drive to her School. It felt like landing on another planet. Kids were signing and laughing and I had no idea what was going on. My sister seemed to be talking to and laughing with everybody and I had never seen her so animated!  What were they talking about?  What was so funny?  I didn’t like it. I felt completely left out. The irony never occurred to me at the age of eight.  Deafness was definitely a disability. Something was horribly broken….needed to be fixed at any cost. So why were these kids laughing and seemingly happy.  In this land of ago, it still wasn’t unusual to hear the term “deaf and dumb”.. This was confusing as I could tell my sister wasn’t ‘dumb’.  Maybe my little brother, but not my sister.

How times have changed. For the most part, families are now encouraged  to learn sign language to facilitate ‘total communication’.  The Deaf have made their voices heard as to what works best for them individually and as a community.  “Deaf and Dumb”  morphed into “Deaf-Mute” morphing again into simply “Deaf”……..able to do absolutely anything ~~ except hear.  It’s easy to envy these families today. I know very little about my sister’s life growing up in the 60’s.  To this day, she continues to learn new stories about things that were said or transpired in our family throughout the years.  I was shocked the first time she communicated with me that she envied the friends who came from families where everybody was deaf.  She wished we were ALL deaf??  ALL broken?? ALL disabled??  Over time, this became easier and easier to understand.   How comforting it must be to journey through this life with those who come from ‘the same planet’.

In the end, isn’t it about the basic desire for communication and the feeling of being connected?  These fundamental needs are often too easily taken for granted. Wishing to connect on a deeper level with our sister, some in our family did learn sign language.  What a gift it is to finally get to know somebody you’ve known all your life. She is smart and funny and adventurous and kind and still has a beautiful smile!  It runs in the family.

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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2 Responses to “1960’s SODA”

  1. Patty Zeitz Says:

    Awesome article Evelyn!!!

    So interesting to see it from your sister’s point of view.



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