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The Silents

Charlotte Abrams

Publication Year: 1996

“The morning would come and I’d know that Adelaide, her face a mirror image of mine with her straight black hair and dark eyes, belonged to me, and that we belonged to this family who walked down Washtenaw Avenue, listening to people say about us and our parents, ‘Here come the Silents.’” --from The Silents Author Charlotte Abrams presents this proud family sketch early on in her memoir of life in Chicago with her sister and her deaf parents. Hers is a loving portrayal of how a close Jewish family survived the Depression and the home front hardships of World War II with the added complications of communication for her mother and father. Rich episodes detail history from a particularly acute point of view that entertain as they subtly inform. Her father, a former prizefighter, considered the gift of a radio an intrusion until he found that he could have his hearing daughters pantomime the Joe Louis - Billy Conn fight as it occurred. The Silents departs from other narratives about deaf parents and hearing children when the family discovers that Abrams’ mother is becoming blind. With resiliency, the family turned the secret, terrifying sorrow their mother felt at losing her only contact with the world into a quest for the best way to bring it back. Should she learn Braille? Should she use a cane? All of the old communication and day-to-day living routines had to be relearned. And through it all, the family and their neighbors, hearing and deaf, worked together to ensure that Abrams’ parents remained the close, vital members of the community that they had always been.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page

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Copyright

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PREFACE

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pp. v-vii

IN 1962, when I was thirty-three years old, my husband AI drove alone to Los Angeles to start a new job with Hughes Aircraft Company. Some months later, my three children and I boarded the Super Chief train to join him. My father had suggested we go first class, just as he used to. At that time, every aerospace company in the...

Part 1

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1

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pp. 3-11

WHEN I was seven, when I had learned to read and write in school, I finally got into my father's head. Until then, he poked me to get my attention, then pointed to things and moved his arms to convey his meanings in signs, leaving me to wonder whether I'd understood all he wanted to tell me...

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2

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pp. 12-20

SOMETIMES, WHEN my parents' fingerspelling and lipreading made me feel too different, I pretended I belonged to someone else. Lying sleepless in my bed next to Adelaide, I willed the bed to rise and lift me into the air, through the ceiling and out the hard brick of our apartment building and across the dark sky, like a magic...

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3

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pp. 21-29

MAMA's NERVES could be shaken by the slightest display of disobedience or the breakdown of her ordered days. If she expected to cook trout for Thursday's dinner and Mr. Solomon, who owned the fish store on Division Street, told her he had no trout...

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4

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pp. 30-34

MAMA DID not get nervous again until I was eleven. This time it had nothing to do with me; it happened because Adelaide got locked in the basement. Mama, after getting the spring clothing from our storage bin, had locked the door behind her, thinking Adelaide was with me...

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5

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pp. 35-42

MAMA ASKED the crazy janitor to bring up the Passover dishes from the basement. She wrote her request on a piece of paper in her dainty penmanship, crossing her t's perfectly and writing "Mrs. Herzberg" so ornately that the H curled under the rest of her name in a big swirl. The janitor lugged the dishes...

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6

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pp. 43-53

WE PASSED the big Catholic church on Washtenaw and Hirsch. It was scary, although I didn't let on to Adelaide. Mama had cautioned us a dozen times never to go into the church. It was all right to smile at the nuns, she informed us, because they were people just like us under their fancy wimples....

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7

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pp. 54-63

FOR YEARS I had aggravated Bubbi by pulling chicken livers and hard-boiled eggs out of the wooden bowl in her lap while she chopped and diced them into a fine pate, bouncing on her bed and begging for stories while she lay pale under the covers, creating a small inferno on her kitchen table when I got too close to the Sabbath candles and knocked them over. On every occasion, Aunt Selma and Mama had asked in exasperation, "Why must you...

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8

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pp. 64-69

TIMMY WOULDN'T leave it alone. He was gone by the time we came back from Charlie's, but the next morning when I walked to school with Shirley, Hannah, and Adelaide, he showed up behind us. There wasn't enough room for all four of us to walk together, so Adelaide sprinted ahead. Timmy hung back for a while, then moved...

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9

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pp. 70-77

MAMA WAS taking a nap when I let myself in. Adelaide wasn't home, but her dolls were all lined up on the living room sofa; she'd even taken some of mine and mixed them in with hers. I didn't care. Dolls didn't excite me anymore. Mrs. Goldberg must have heard me come in because she knocked on the door and told me that Mama had...

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10

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pp. 78-83

WHILE MY mother sat in her burgundy chair and read her books, I read my comics, which she hated, calling them trashy reading. In 1941, when I was twelve, she became determined to turn Adelaide and me into ladies, to expose us to the finer things in print, so she persuaded my father...

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11

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pp. 84-92

According to Mama, Uncle Eddie was paying Papa a decent wage, but Papa still scrunched papers at night. If he was worried about his finances, he didn't tell Zadie when he came to visit. He just nodded his head--fine-- and Zadie left satisfied. And when I took...

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12

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pp. 93-102

CHARLIE MANDEL sent one of the boys who hung around the candy store to our apartment with a message. Mama read it and handed me the note. "Marian is coming at three o'clock," it said. Mama seemed excited,...

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13

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pp. 103-114

ON DECEMBER 7 that year, the radio blared dreadful news, and I ran to my father to tell him. The Tribune was spread before him on the kitchen table, his eyes busy with reading. "Papa, Papa,"1 poked him, insisting he turn to face me. "What?" he demanded impatiently, throwing his hands in the air. "The Japanese bombed...

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14

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pp. 117-126

IT SEEMED logical that those a generation older than me would begin to show signs of aging. Mama was sprouting a few gray hairs, and Papa had developed arthritis in his knees. He rubbed them on cold winter nights with a mixture of alcohol and witch hazel that he had made special at the...

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15

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pp. 127-132

"ARE YOU serious about this boy?" asked Mama. I laid the bag of groceries down on the table and handed her the cans. "I'd like to marry him. As soon as he graduates from college." "Which ones are the green beans?" I put the green beans in...

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16

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pp. 133-143

I NEVER saw my father cry. The blue eyes that misted at the slightest emotion-the smile of a baby or the death of someone's pet-stayed dry. In June, 1949, just before my twentieth birthday, he stood proudly in the reception line at my wedding, my mother's arm wrapped around his, pumping hands and patting guests on the back...

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17

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pp. 144-153

My FATHER did not watch Steve Allen. There was too much talking, he explained, and the few magic or dancing acts on the show weren't enough to keep them up late at night. Talking on TV-like talking in the movies-was a waste of their time....

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18

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pp. 154-161

THIS TIME Mama couldn't run to the Rubensteins. She couldn't leave the safety of her apartment and walk down Washtenaw Avenue to get help. Even if she could, I didn't know what she would have asked for. Papa hadn't lost his job; he had lost his courage, weary from the burden, afraid of the future, angry at those who hadn't supported Mama. I believed it...

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19

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pp. 162-173

WHEN I was about eleven, I heard one of the neighbors say to Mrs. Goldberg, "You can't have two women in the same household. They're sure to kill each other." I pulled three four o'clocks out of the flower bed that day, sat on the front stoop, and listened with great interest as Mrs. Goldberg debated her position with the neighbors...

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20

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pp. 174-178

IN TWO years' time, the garden fulfilled its promise. Tulips and crocus pushed through the snow in early spring. In the summer, green onion and carrot tops waved at the side of the house. The old shed that hugged the alley had been painted shiny white and gleamed in the sun. Because it was only a lean-to, propped up by rotting boards, it seemed wasteful...

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21

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pp. 179-190

"RUTHIE, THIS is going to be a big party. The biggest one of the year," my father said, as I retrieved Andy from their sofa one night. "I haven't seen my New York friends in years. Tell Sha to take you shopping for a new dress." My mother took his hand and waved it...

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22

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pp. 191-199

My FATHER had made a brave attempt to make my mother belong. I thought it had gone well, but deep inside, I suspected her loneliness, and the thought of it hung over me like a black cloud. I began to wonder how she perceived things-little things like the latest styles in clothes, the shape and design of new cars, changes in street corners, a new deli, or the disappearance of a gas station. Little things I didn't...

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23

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pp. 200-209

A SMALL window to our worlds had opened since Zadie's death. Mama seemed more willing to talk of Papa's moods, and I, in turn, told her of my petty annoyances with Al. When Adelaide sat in our kitchen, our two boys off in Andy's room, playing with their trucks, we gossiped. We talked women talk. Rosie had died of cancer the year before, freeing...

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24

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pp. 210-213

THE STRIKE lasted six weeks. During that time, Papa carried a placard when asked, leaving early in the morning without his lunch box and coming home as tired as if he'd spent a full day on the line. On his free days, they visited Sarah or went downtown. They spent time with Adelaide and...

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25

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pp. 214-224

SETTLED IN the new place, Mama ran her hands over her new furniture again and again to familiarize herself with its fabric. She smoothed her hands over the new refrigerator and felt the knobs on her stove. Throughout the rooms she marked her way with the measurement of her feet and...

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26

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pp. 225-228

FIRST THERE were potholders in a range of colors that Mama and Eleanor could only imagine. In the beginning, they were a garish mixture of colors-Eleanor's choice. As nicely as she was put together herself, her taste in potholders was sadly lacking. Papa recoiled when he saw them....

Part 3

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27

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pp. 231-235

THEY CAME by train, first class, as they had done on their honeymoon. She spread her braille on the small table in their drawing room and read to pass the time. He studied the railroad guide, informing her of their progress and the reasons for their delays. They played solitaire, she with her...

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28

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pp. 236-243

IT WAS a week after their arrival. They had unpacked, set up Mama's braille on the small table in their room, taken their walks to familiarize themselves again with our neighborhood, and picked our oranges to keep in their room. They said hello again to the dogs and cats and scooped up the...

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29

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pp. 244-253

WE CAME every week as I had promised and as Papa had agreed to. But soon they had no time for us. One Sunday the van was taking the group to Lawry's factory to see how spices were made. Another Sunday they were going to Lake Arrowhead. The following month was the Valentine's Day party in the rec room. At the Deaf-Blind club...

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Endings

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pp. 254-260

THREE YEARS later, Mama talked of going to the Panama Canal, that elusive place of her daydreams, but Papa wasn't up to it. He had developed congestive heart failure. The doctor said medication would help, and Papa, although thinner than he'd been in years, moved about unusually...

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. 261-

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9781563681868
E-ISBN-10: 1563681862
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563680557
Print-ISBN-10: 1563680556

Page Count: 270
Illustrations: 18 photographs
Publication Year: 1996

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Chicago (Ill.) -- Biography.
  • Deaf -- Family relationships -- Illinois -- Chicago.
  • Abrams, Charlotte, 1929-.
  • Children of deaf parents -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Biography.
  • Deaf parents -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Biography.
  • Deaf -- Illinois -- Chicago -- Biography.
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