Sounds Like Home
Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South
Publication Year: 1999
Published by: Gallaudet University Press
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Memories of my yesteryears are not dusty, and don't seem at all aged. I don't dwell in the past, but memories of my childhood are like beautiful jewels to be taken out every so often, played with, enjoyed, and packed away again. Those were years when sound had meaning, when I could hear. Now it's just vibrations...
Part One: A Bouquet of Roses
1. The Beginning
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My life began in a farmhouse on the back roads of a community called Iron Mine, located eight miles west of Wallace, a small rural town in southeastern North Carolina. Ours was a farming community with mostly tobacco and strawberries. Wallace had no industry and the business district consisted of Front Street...
2. Iron Mine School Days
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Iron Mine had a two-room wooden schoolhouse out on the highway beside our church. First and second grades were taught in one room, third to seventh in the other. After that, the children were either through school or had to find someone in town to live with in order to be able go to school in town and graduate from...
3. More Childhood Memories
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I remember waking up to beautiful summer mornings, listening to the birds singing in the peach trees outside my window. I'd get up and sit in the window in my nightgown, looking out at the fields, the chicken yard, and the crib. Seems I can still feel the gentle morning breeze and smell the freshly plowed dirt...
4. Scary Times
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Life was a mixture of happy times, sad times, busy days, and some idle days, but not many of the latter. Life would be scary at times, then peaceful and tranquil. One of the scary times was one Sunday evening when we'd all been to BYPU at our church...
5. Make Me a Child Again
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The first time my brother Frank came home high (our word for "drunk" in those days) was a winter night when he was about seventeen. Mama sat by the fire with her younger ones and the teachers. The door opened suddenly and he came through the door and headed straight for his room, not looking at...
Part Two: A New Kind of Life
6. The Nightmare Begins
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The happy years of my childhood and many of the pleasant sounds I took for granted were about to change. School had started again, as usual, in late summer. The teachers had arrived, and I'd helped Miss Staten unpack her trunks and bags, sniffing the lovely perfume (I can still smell it) and folding piles of dainty...
7. The Train Ride to a New World
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In 1935 my family decided to send me off to the state school for the deaf and blind in Raleigh. Mama broke the news to me, telling me that Norman Hayes, my cousin who was blind, went there. She talked about all the things he knew how to do and what a good time he had. I took the news in silence, not even imagining...
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It was now April and we started counting the weeks and days until the middle of May when we would go home. I couldn't wait to show off all the things I had learned to do: sign language, handicrafts, and rug weaving. Finally our housemothers saw that all the small children on the first floor had their suitcases packed. We had...
9. Queen of the Fairies
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I was assigned to a different bed, closer to Mrs. Mallette's room and near a window. This was much better. On Friday, after breakfast and morning devotion in chapel, we were told to report to the nurse's room in each dorm for something new. A whole bunch of doctors had come out from town to give us physicals. The...
10. The Old and the New
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Back at school there were changes. Our housemother, Mrs. Mallette, did not return; she had either retired or quit. We had Mrs. Holbrook from New Jersey, the very opposite of Mrs. Mallette. Mrs. Holbrook was young and slim with a short, boyish haircut and she wore bright red lipstick. She didn't know how old I was...
11. Changes, Worries, and Adventures
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Being at home this summer was about the same as usual, except Bennie and Mable had moved to Pender County near her family. Being home felt odd without Bennie. He'd always been there except for one summer he had spent in Norfolk. I'd look at his place at the table that now seemed lonely and empty. I hadn't...
12. Coming of Age
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I'd never be able to face the time of year when school started without a feeling of great loneliness and loss at being separated from my family and home. Once back on campus, it was a little easier since I had friends and could communicate with them. We went about getting settled in, seeing who was new, showing off...
13. Boys and Other Trouble
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January passed slowly. I still had my periods of despair in Mrs. Mask's room but not as often as before. Two new boys had been enrolled since Christmas. One, husky and happy-go-lucky like a friendly puppy, was Lorenzo Brandon (Brandy for short). The other was sort of short for a boy, very light-skinned with...
14. More Changes and a Difficult Decision
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This summer at home started out like the rest, but now Frank was married. My new sister's name was Lattice and she came from Cross Road. I'd seen her a couple of times but only knew her as Mr. Jim Marshburn's daughter. It was fun having another sister in the house, but I often mistook her for Eunice. They were both...
15. Accepted at Last
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I wasn't in any mood to explain anything to them. Not being put off, they went on to inform me that several other students were also late returning to school this year. I soon would learn that that, to say the least, was an understatement...
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It was time for school, and I was soon back in Raleigh and my other life. In a few days it was almost like I'd not even been home, that I'd dreamed the summer. Miss Watford and the rest had come back, except Miss Chisolm and Nurse Wright. Our new secretary was Miss Hortense Jones; her sister, Henrietta, had joined the...
17. From Student to Teacher
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In August, the letter from Raleigh came with the opening date for school and what bus for me to be on. And although I knew I'd cry and feel sad at leaving my family and home, I did feel more than a little excitement to be going back as a teacher. What would it be like? Would we be given teachers' quarters like Thomasina...
18. Good-bye, School Days! Hello, World!
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There were only a few more weeks of school and none of us had decided definitely what we'd do the next year. I think we were afraid to talk about our plans for fear of what the others would say. We weren't quite ready to face up to really cutting loose from everything familiar and dear, and this place was a second home...
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The campus changed over the years. A new chapel was built, as well as a gym, a campus store run by students, and a special home ec building that was named in honor of Miss Watford. Best of all, the dorms for the deaf and blind students were connected and the addition was converted into recreation rooms with a stove and...
Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 10 photos
Publication Year: 1999