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Orchid of the Bayou

A Deaf Woman Faces Blindess, The Kitty Fischer Story

Cathryn Carroll and Catherine Hoffpauir Fischer

Publication Year: 2002

In graduating from Gallaudet University, finding a job in Washington, D.C., and starting a family with her college sweetheart, Kitty Fischer tacitly abandoned the Louisiana Cajun culture that had exposed her to little more than prejudice and misery as a child. Upon discovering that she suffered from Usher syndrome (a genetic condition that causes both deafness and blindness), however, Fischer began an unlikely journey toward reclaiming her heritage. She and Cathryn Carroll tell the story of her heroic struggle and cultural odyssey in Orchid of the Bayou: A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness. “By this time Mama knew I was ‘not right,’” Fischer says of her early childhood. “She knew the real words for ‘not right,’ too, though she never said those words. I was deaf and dumb.” Initially Fischer’s parents turned to folk healers to try and “cure” their daughter’s deafness, but an aunt’s fortunate discovery of the Louisiana School for the Deaf would rescue Fischer from misunderstanding and introduce her to sign language and Deaf culture. She weathered the school’s experiments with oralism and soon rose to the top of her class, ultimately leaving Louisiana for the academic promise of Gallaudet. While in college, Fischer met and married her future husband, Lance, a Jewish Deaf man from Brooklyn, New York, and each landed jobs close to their alma mater. After the birth of their first child, however, Fischer could no longer ignore her increasing tunnel vision. Doctors quickly confirmed that Fischer had Usher syndrome. While Fischer struggled to come to terms with her condition, the high incidence of Usher syndrome among Cajun people led her to re-examine her cultural roots. “Could I still be me, Catherine Hoffpauir Fischer, had I not been born of a mix that codes for Usher syndrome?” she asks. “To some extent, the history of my people explains the constitution of my genes and the way my life has unfolded.” Today Fischer prospers, enjoying her time with family and friends and celebrating the Deaf, Cajun, Blind, and Jewish cultures that populate her life. Her lively story will resonate with anyone who recognizes the arduous journey toward claiming an identity.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

We need to thank so many people for helping us get this material together. Thanks to Luther B. Prickett for allowing overnight visits to the Louisiana School for the Deaf: Diane Stuckey for making the visits so pleasant, and Mary Smith and Sylvia Bradford for their enormous help with the Louisiana School's archives. Thanks...

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pp. ix-xiii

I watched over Lance's shoulder as the letters formed one at a time on our TTY screen. My brother was teasing my husband about his fiftieth birthday. Out in California, he talked into the phone, while a TTY relay operator transferred his voice into successive TTY beeps, and the printed version of what he said was spelled...

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1. Devil Child

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pp. 1-11

Brother chased Skeet around the yard while Skeet held the gun high in the air, shooting at the bushes. It wasn't a real gun, of course, just one of those tiny toys that were so popular back in the fifties. My brother didn't have a gun. He aimed and shot with his forefinger. I watched from the doorway. Skeet and Brother didn't...

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2. A School for Kitty

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pp. 12-21

I was five when I attacked Nana's mouth. I had wiggled loose a few of my own baby teeth-a side tooth first and later one of my big front teeth. In both instances, a little blood and pain turned quickly into a stroke of good fortune. First, I would have my own tooth in the palm of my hand, an event in itself Then I would take the tooth...

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3. “I Don’t Think She’s Retarded”

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pp. 22-29

I don't remember that first visit to the Louisiana School for the Deaf even though it had repercussions that would resonate throughout my life. I was still five years old when Daddy, Mama, and Aunt Happy packed me into the car, and we left for the all-important interview. In those days, the Louisiana School was adamant about accepting deaf...

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4. A Seasoned Student

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pp. 30-47

In this day when people believe asylums are so bad even for people who are mentally ill or dangerous, it shocks hearing people to learn how much deaf children loved their deaf schools. There may have been many reasons not to love the school. Many of the personnel may have been untrained. The premise that deaf students were...

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5. Home and School: Ever the Twain

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pp. 48-65

The focus of deaf education, especially in the first grades, has never wavered. The goal is to get us to understand and be able to use the spoken language of our parents at least in its printed form. Thus in class my classmates and I worked on English, which we approached primarily through the mysteries of the...

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6. Mama

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pp. 66-77

During my elementary years, the focus of my life was increasingly my friends and school, though my family remained my security. Then I was yanked back forcefully to my family in a terrible cloudburst, a storm of sadness, when I hadn't realized that there was a cloud in the sky. I was thirteen...

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7. Life After Mama

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pp. 78-87

The five of us-Aunt Happy, Uncle Speedy, Daddy, Nana, and I-went home first so Nana and I could pack some clothes. As we crossed into the living room, I realized that Aunt Happy and Daddy were arguing. Their faces, weary and tear-stained from the funeral, suddenly flushed with anger, and Nana stared at one, then...

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8. Two Revolutions: My School, My Soul

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pp. 88-101

School felt like a foreign place. Its buildings rose up ominously, manmade mountains against the flat landscape. But even mountains erupt from time to time. Transfixed with grief: I hardly noticed the eruption under way at the Louisiana School. I felt like it was happening to a school in a distance city. Still, not even I could...

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9. At Home At School

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pp. 102-113

We may have been too young to explore the mysteries that sparkled like firecrackers around and inside us, but we sure knew they were there. David Oglethorpe called the enclosed sliding board on the playground "the kissing hall." To this day, he claims to have been a kind of elementary schoolyard masher. I never met him-or anyone else-on the...

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10. Jeanette and David

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pp. 114-126

"See?" demanded David. His finger slid along the lines of tiny type of the September issue of the Silent Worker, the nation's magazine for deaf people published by the National Association of the Deaf It was a story on the Louisiana School track-and-field squad by Art Kruger, a graduate of Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and Gallaudet...

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11. “You Should Be Proud”

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pp. 127-140

But Daddy wouldn't pay attention. Daddy couldn't believe the world was different from the way he saw it, and as he saw it, Aunt Mae was a well-meaning if misguided family member who could fill in for an absent mother for his two young teens. She might be a little over dramatic with men. She might be a little overstrict with...

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12. Gallaudet: McDonald’s In Thailand

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pp. 141-153

When it came time to leave home for college, Daddy and Irene took me to the bus station. I would take the bus to New Orleans, and in New Orleans catch the train for Washington, D.C. Nana, off I knew not where, didn't come. I was so excited, I was hardly even afraid. I hugged Daddy and even Irene and climbed aboard the...

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13. The Race to Who We Are

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pp. 154-164

I felt awkward and embarrassed as the signs fell off the hands before me. I tried to keep my face open, and not show any astonishment or fear. Even looking back, I am surprised by my own discomfort. I had been on campus for weeks already, one person among many going about my business in the nation's capital, one student...

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14. Summer of ’67

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pp. 165-179

They say the longest stretch for new college students is the time before Thanksgiving. I had no such stretch. Hours, days, weeks whizzed by. It was Thanksgiving and then it was Christmas. I'd looked forward to going home, but like so many college students, my arrival there quickly destroyed my expectations...

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15. An End to All That

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pp. 180-191

Except for weekends with my friends, my life took on a colorless pattern. I rode to work in a carpool with five women who ignored me. I took my place in the sewing row at eight o'clock and, except for specified and regimented breaks, stitched steadily until five o'clock. My life was devoted to creating cotton pants...

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16. The Reentry of a Coed

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pp. 192-203

Back at Gallaudet for two weeks, I felt like I had never been gone. I was a freshman taking the prescribed curriculum-English, biology, and for a short time, three foreign languages. I dropped Russian after the first semester, and Latin after the first year, but I kept pursuing French, feeling through it a connection to my Acadian...

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17. Kitty and Lance: An Item

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pp. 204-216

When Lance left, I was startled to find that the sense I had of my own completeness evaporated. I walked around feeling like someone had taken away half of my person. I had no idea such a feeling would strike me on his departure. When it did, I thought it would pass. It didn't. I lived missing Lance. When I went to work, my feet whisked...

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18. Why Me?

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pp. 217-227

He nodded and disappeared, leaving the library empty. My final years at Gallaudet had passed with remarkable calm. Graduation came and went quickly. Lance's family was there, though my own family didn't come. Neither Daddy nor Aunt Happy were feeling up to it. Nana was pregnant, and Grady stayed busy with his job...

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19. “Yes, I have Usher Syndrome”

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pp. 228-233

More than half the individuals who are deaf and blind in the United States have Usher syndrome. This is about ten thousand people, three percent of those who are born deaf Fortunately, RP usually descends slowly and spares children. Even at my oId school, those students who groped for the walls of hallways and felt for the table...

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20. Catherine: Acadian and Cajun

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pp. 234-244

As my vision dissolved into the darkness that closed in from all around, I went through a period of introspection. The irksome recessive genes that caused Usher syndrome made me look at my parents with new eyes. Who were these people? And who were the people who had borne them? And why was this disorder...

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21. On with the Party

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pp. 245-253

MJ Bienvenu, several years behind me at the Louisiana School and later a professor at Gallaudet University, says that her father dragged her regularly to the statue that serves as a monument to the Acadian experience. The statue sits demurely in the tiny courtyard behind the church in St. Martinsville, managing to combine the sad...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682377
E-ISBN-10: 1563682370
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563681042
Print-ISBN-10: 1563681048

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2002