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Hands of My Father

Cover of Hands of My Father

Hands of My Father

A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
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By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he...More
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he...More
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Description-
  • By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.

    "Does sound have rhythm?" my father asked. "Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does it come and go like the wind?"

    Such were the kinds of questions that Myron Uhlberg's deaf father asked him from earliest childhood, in his eternal quest to decipher, and to understand, the elusive nature of sound. Quite a challenge for a young boy, and one of many he would face.

    Uhlberg's first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: "I love you." But his second language was spoken English--and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father's ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.

    Resentful as he sometimes was of the heavy burdens heaped on his small shoulders, he nonetheless adored his parents, who passed on to him their own passionate engagement with life. These two remarkable people married and had children at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression--an expression of extraordinary optimism, and typical of the joy and resilience they were able to summon at even the darkest of times.

    From the beaches of Coney Island to Ebbets Field, where he watches his father's hero Jackie Robinson play ball, from the branch library above the local Chinese restaurant where the odor of chow mein rose from the pages of the books he devoured to the hospital ward where he visits his polio-afflicted friend, this is a memoir filled with stories about growing up not just as the child of two deaf people but as a book-loving, mischief-making, tree-climbing kid during the remarkably eventful period that spanned the Depression, the War, and the early fifties.

    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One The Sound of Silence My first language was sign.

    I was born shortly after midnight, July 1, 1933, my parents' first child. Thus I had one tiny reluctant foot in the first half of that historically fateful year, and the other firmly planted in the second half. In a way my birth date, squarely astride the calendar year, was a metaphor for my subsequent life, one foot always being dragged back to the deaf world, the silent world of my father and of my mother, from whose womb I had just emerged, and the other trying to stride forward into the greater world of the hearing, to escape into the world destined to be my own.

    Many years later I realized what a great expression of optimism it was for my father and mother, two deaf people, to decide to have a child at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression.

    We lived in Brooklyn, near Coney Island, where on certain summer days, when the wind was blowing just right and our kitchen window was open and the shade drawn up on its roller, I could smell the briny odor of the ocean, layered with just the barest hint of mustard and grilled hot dogs (although that could have been my imagination).

    Our apartment was four rooms on the third floor of a new red-brick building encrusted with bright orange fire escapes, which my father and mother had found by walking the neighborhood, and then negotiated for with the impatient hearing landlord all by themselves despite their respective parents' objections that they "could not manage alone" as they were "deaf and handicapped" and "helpless" and would surely "be cheated." They had just returned from their honeymoon, spent blissfully in Washington, D.C., planned to coincide with the silent, colorful explosion of the blossoming cherry trees, which my mother considered a propitious omen for the successful marriage of two deaf people.

    Apartment 3A was the only home my father ever knew as a married man. Its four rooms were the place he lived with and loved his deaf wife, and raised his two hearing sons, and then left by ambulance one day forty-four years after arriving there, never to return.

    One day my father's hands signed in sorrow and regret the story of how he had become deaf. This was a story he had pieced together from facts he had learned later in life from his younger sister, Rose, who in turn had heard it from their mother. (The fact that he had to learn the details of his own deafness from his younger hearing sister was a source of enduring resentment.)

    My father told me he had been born in 1902, a normal hearing child, but at an early age had contracted spinal meningitis. His parents, David and Rebecca, newly arrived in America from Russia, living in an apartment in the Bronx, thought their baby would die.

    My father's fever ravaged his little body for over a week. Cold baths during the day and wet sheet-shrouded nights kept him alive. When his fever at last abated, he was deaf. My father would never again hear a sound in all the remaining years of his life. As an adult, he often questioned why it was that he had been singled out as the only member of his family to become deaf.

    I, his hearing son, watched his hands sign his anguish: "Not fair!"

    My father and his father could barely communicate with each other. Their entire shared vocabulary consisted of a few mimed signs: eat, be quiet, sleep. These were all command signs. They had no sign for love between them, and his father died without ever having had a single meaningful conversation with his firstborn child.

    My father's mother did have a sign for love. It was a homemade sign, and she would use it often. My father told me that his language with his mother...

About the Author-
  • Myron Uhlberg is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of a number of children's books. He lives with his wife in Santa Monica and Palm Springs.

    From the Hardcover...

Reviews-
  • Lou Ann Walker, author of A Loss for Words

    "In his moving memoir, Hands of my Father, Myron Uhlberg captures the essence of one exceptional family's life in Brooklyn in the 30's, 40's and 50's. Uhlberg is a compassionate writer of truths. His book is full of surprises, written with a generous, loving spirit. In vivid scenes--sometimes wrenching, sometimes mischievous and sometimes hilarious--he takes us inside the singular world of his childhood. And there the reader discovers the profound, everyday courage exemplified by each member of the Uhlberg family."

  • Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Run "In telling the story of his very unique childhood, Myron Uhlberg has created a book that is universal. His feelings of love and responsibility, of shame and enormous pride, can teach us all something about being a member of a family. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love this book."
  • Wall Street Journal "Fascinating.... [Uhlberg's] circumstance made his childhood exceptional and well worth recalling, which he does in an unpretentious but vividly evocative style."
  • Publishers Weekly "A well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding.... [Uhlberg] effortlessly weaves his way through a childhood of trying to interpret the speaking world for his parents while trying to learn the lessons of life from the richly executed "Technicolor language" of his father's hands"
  • Booklist, starred review "Heartfelt...[Uhlberg] describes significant episodes of his early life with artful economy and sincere emotion."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Fresh and engaging.... In Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love, Myron Uhlberg ... documents a family life severed from the mainstream."
  • OK! magazine "A fascinating look at an uncommon childhood."
  • Christian Science Monitor "A warm family chronicle as instructive as it is inspiring ... opens a window into a world of isolation and "eternal silence" unimaginable to most people."
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A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
Myron Uhlberg
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