Long Ago Thoughts From My Father

Marian's ParentsI recently found the following document while going through some papers written by one of my parents, I think by my father from the writing style. I don’t recall seeing this before and I have no idea why it was written. Here it is for you to read if you desire to do so. I will follow up in another blog with my own impression of some matters discussed below. ~ Marian


The old doctor slouched on his stool as he looked in Marian’s ears, nose and throat.

“Hmmmmmm, adenoids look better.”

I felt annoyed with him. He kept us coming back every month – for what? The school nurse had recommended that we see him after she had repeated low audiometer readings on Marian. And now he seemed to have nothing better to offer than to continue the nose drops.

“But I think she is getting worse.” I finally let my irritation come through. He looked at us both and sighed.

“Yes, I am sure she is. I will tell you now that I think her hearing loss is nerve damage and will be progressive. She will probably become deaf. You can go to all kinds of doctors and spend all kinds of money, but it will all be wasted, for there is no remedy for this hearing loss.”

Then he proceeded to tell us the story of a young deaf woman of his acquaintance who managed to become successful, lead a satisfying life, and find happiness. This abrupt statement seemed like harsh treatment for a little girl and her mother, but I realize now that the old doctor was being forthright and honest, if not tactful. He suggested that to learn speechreading and have auditory training with a therapist would be invaluable and that an evaluation at the Pennsylvania State University clinic would be in order.

And so began weekly sessions with a whole series of speech and hearing therapists, and yearly trips to Penn State or other clinics for evaluation. Testing by the county school psychologist showed Marian to be intelligent but lacking in a great deal of general knowledge ­– things that most children pick up by everyday auditory exposure. For two or three years the audiological readings were discouraging, but then they seemed to level off and remain fairly constant. By this time, Marian appeared to be adjusting fairly well in school with preferential seating and consideration on the part of some teachers. This seemed to lull us all into thinking that things would probably remain this way in spite of the fact that one audiologist told us that her hearing would probably stay at this level until she was in her twenties, and then suddenly drop.

What a helpless feeling it is to be dealing with a physical condition that you can do absolutely nothing about but test and draw charts on a paper.

“There must be something you can do to repair damage or at least to avoid further deadening of the nerves,” I said to one audiologist.

He replied that there were some doctors working in this area but for this generation, you could forget it. In those days we were also cautioned against letting anyone sell us hearing aids. This was a time when unscrupulous hearing aid dealers were abundant.

No one was ever able to give us much of an answer as to the cause of this hearing loss. The only suggestion was that it resulted from high fever or serious illness in infancy. She did have measles before she was two and was quite sick. We feel that there must also have been a “deaf” gene in there somewhere. There is a long history of deafness and hearing loss with aging in her maternal grandmother’s family. Puzzling over this serves no constructive purpose, unless such a study might help someday to prevent deafness.

Never did anyone recommend that Marian attend a school for the deaf, nor did such a thought ever cross our minds. We would probably have considered it unthinkable if it had been suggested.

Fortunately for all of us, the first speech therapist who worked with Marian was a wonderful, caring woman. She called us in for a parent conference. Her words to us will never be forgotten as she said, “You must not treat this child as handicapped. You should require the same things of her as of your other children and not to think of treating her differently. Remember she is not handicapped. She is just a normal girl who does not hear well.”

This sounded like strong advice at the time. We have a child who may become deaf and we are not to favor her in any way or make allowances! Impossible! Only through the years have we come to realize the complete wisdom of that advice.

There was only one “favoritism” that we gave in to and that was to allow Marian to have a longed for dog of her own. We felt that she needed the special love, companionship, and comfort of a pet. The whole family loved Pepper, but there was no question whose dog this was.

Schoolwork was a worry for Marian. She fretted over assignments and had some reading problem. We used to say if her brother had some of her worry and she had some of his “devil-may-care” attitude, they would both be better off. In spite of this, she had many friends and seemed to enjoy school and church activities, especially music organizations. Some of her special friends would share their notes taken of films or tapes used in class. Most teachers were cooperative and caring. One even changed his method of using many tape recordings on her account. One or two forgot about the problem or failed to understand it, even with instructions from the school nurse and speech therapists.

High school days flew by and Marian became a senior. She took the SAT’s in her junior year resulting in respectable scores although not high enough to place in selective colleges. She was discouraged from trying to go to college for we felt she would have great frustrations in classes where profs dish out their lectures and tend to be indifferent to individual problems. She loved working on her French horns and Pennsylvania Department of Rehabilitation would finance her training at a school for musical instrument repair. Much to our dismay, but fortunately at about midpoint of her senior year, we learned that the school was not coeducational, so this door was closed.

In desperation, Marian sent applications to several colleges, thinking toward teaching home economics – possibly in a school for the deaf. Gallaudet College was known to us but never considered as a possibility. She had lived all her life in the hearing world and frankly, we did not think she was deaf enough to qualify. There is a higher power who knows better than we what is best. Marian’s acceptance at Salem College in West Virginia proved this to be true as it was a blessing.

Here in a smaller college there were at least faculty members who had real concerns for individual students. It happened that there was a hearing and speech specialist and teacher of audiology who took a special interest in Marian’s education. She guided Marian into working with some handicapped children, introduced her to her first course in sign language (poor as it may have been), and paved the way for her to do practice teaching at the West Virginia School for the Deaf.

It is so easy to look back and think what might have been or what you should have done, but that is futile and foolish. We live in the present and today is what counts. Two things we still regret. One was scolding Marian for not “listening” to the teacher’s assignment, so she would know what she was supposed to do. The other was refusing to buy a shirt she wanted. When she was about ninth grade level, they started the fad of printing things on sweatshirts. We saw one in a store one day that said: “I’m not deaf, I’m just ignoring you.” The shirt was gray and unattractive. We had little money to throw around. But how we wish we had bought that shirt. We continued looking for months but did not see another. If she was ready to poke at her deafness, she should have had that shirt.

One wonders how things might have turned out if Marian had been placed in a residential school for the deaf or a college for the deaf. There is one very positive reason that we are glad she attended public school and “hearing” college and that is the opportunity she had to participate in music which she so enjoyed: school band, chorus, district and state festivals, church choirs, band camp, South American and Caribbean tours with chorus and band, college band, chorus, and madrigals. We realize now how fantastic an accomplishment that this was with a severe hearing loss.

If we ever grieve over Marian’s deafness, it is that she cannot enjoy music as she once did. Or can she? When we heard that she was going to interpret “The Messiah” our hearts leaped up for joy. We know she has those lofty sounds still in her mind. Maybe she even remembers her parents singing the arias from that great work. It is our guess, in spite of deafness, she is still singing.


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2 Responses to Long Ago Thoughts From My Father

  1. Yvonne Bertolet Bentz says:

    What wonderful thoughts you have to hold onto. Your Dad had a way with words. I still have a letter he wrote to me the day I was born. He said everyone was congratulating my parents, but he wanted to be the first to congratulate me. It is one of my treasures!

    • Marian says:

      Wow, he wrote a letter to you the day you were born! I bet it’s in his beautiful scripted handwriting. He loved to write letters and I have saved many also. Even after his stroke and he couldn’t hand write his letters, he continued writing. He learned to type with one hand until he could no longer see.

      Vonnie, our parents were good friends. Thank you for sharing your memories of my father. ~ Marian

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