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Deaf Hearing Boy

A Memoir

R.H. Miller

Publication Year: 2004

Born in 1938, R. H. Miller was the oldest of four hearing boys with deaf parents in Defiance, Ohio, a small agricultural community. Deaf Hearing Boy is Miller’s compelling account of the complex dynamics at work in his family, including the inter-generational conflicts in which he found himself, the oldest child of deaf adults (CODA), caught in the middle. In 1942, Miller’s family moved to Toledo so that his father could find work. There, they fared well during World War II because his father worked in manufacturing as a member of Roosevelt’s “civilian army.” Miller’s mother loved urban life, where she and the family could immerse themselves in the Toledo Deaf community, especially at the Toledo Silent Club. The end of the war marked the end of prosperity for the Miller family. Returning soldiers displaced all of the deaf workers, who then had to scrape for a living. The Millers, close to destitution, returned to the family farm in Defiance. Miller depicts the return to farm life as one of tremendous hardship, both economically and psychologically. They lived off the land from hand to mouth. He also describes his grandparents’ distrust of his parents because they were deaf, and he writes candidly of his role as an unwilling agent in the misunderstandings between them. Miller also portrays the bias he endured in school and town. Parents of girlfriends would force their daughters to stop dating him for fear that his family’s deafness would be passed down. In the early 1950s, Miller’s grandparents sold the farm and his parents returned to industrial work. Miller excelled at school, and eventually left home for college and life in academia. His later reflections reveal a deep, abiding respect for his parents, despite his early difficulties. Deaf Hearing Boy presents an intimate depiction of a changing time for hearing and deaf Americans alike, when the family farm disappeared and the isolation of Deaf people also began to fade. In witnessing this transformation of society through his family’s life, Miller adds an important chapter to the collective narrative of Deaf people, one made all the more poignant and vivid as told by their Deaf Hearing Boy.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Series: Deaf Lives Series


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

BOB MILLER AND I have never met. Yet I know Bob Miller as if he were a lifelong friend. Twenty pages into his memoir, I am looking into the mirror. It is amazing to me that this can be true. His life is my life. Not in all the details but in the general life experiences. It is in our shared life experiences that the rubber hits the road for CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults). Our experiences train us to be ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I am deeply grateful to Robert Hoffmeister for his heartfelt and authoritative commentary on my book. I particularly value his insights into my experience as it relates to Deaf people today. It is a great compliment to my family for us to know that our lives together have contributed toward an understanding of the complex interplay between Deaf parents and Hearing children, and those families’ ...

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pp. 1-10

This story follows my years with my Deaf parents from my birth in 1938 until my departure for college in 1956, with a final chapter by way of bringing to a close my long association with them over their eighty-plus years of life. I hope it will help my daughters understand what my early life was like as they come to know better the unusual relationship that existed between me and my parents, my parents and ...

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1. Early Life (1938–1942)

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pp. 11-28

I AM BORN in a small hospital in Defiance, Ohio, at 11:45 in the morning on Wednesday, August 10, 1938, on the day between the birthdays of my mother and her mother. But I am really not to be the hero of my story. Instead, like Adam and Eve in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, my parents would become the heroes, as they, “hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,” made their solitary way through ...

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2. Toledo (1942–1949)

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pp. 29-51

IN SEPTEMBER 1942, we arrived in Toledo, two innocent parents and their two boys, unprepared for the life they were about to face. Sheltered by a rigid institutional upbringing, from the farm and from the small town, my young parents, with their sons in tow, presented themselves in all their na

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3. Summer Idylls (1943–1948)

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pp. 52-62

For several summers during this Toledo period, I stayed with my Grandpa and Grandma Newton at the Other Place, their little farm in Paulding County that they retired to during the summer months. At the time, it was an arrangement that seemed to benefit everyone, but ultimately, it did me more harm than good because it separated me from my parents and caused the breach between us to widen. Every ...

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4. Hard Times (1944–1949)

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pp. 63-71

In 1944, a few years after our move to Toledo, the seemingly idyllic marriage of Richard and Elizabeth Miller came apart. Even during the peaceful times, my parents were daily wrapped in one argument or another, but now they took the conflicts to another level, to animated, emotional, violent confrontations at the kitchen table. My way of coping was to grab Dick and beat it for the dining room. We would ...

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5. Back on the Farm (1950–1953)

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pp. 72-90

CHRISTMAS 1949 was the worst—the bleakest Christmas of my life. Dick and I had grown used to big Christmases while Dad was bringing home a good paycheck. During the fat years, my parents, indulging their childlike infatuation with all the goodies that Christmas brings, gladly went into hock to shower presents on their two little boys, on relatives and friends, and on themselves. Now, with ...

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6. Sherry School (1950)

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pp. 91-100

When we moved back to the farm, I had no idea what kind of school I would be attending. I had been coddled by an urban education that included field trips to museums, concerts, firehouses, and police stations and that also included structured playtime, educational assemblies, and one of the best physical facilities in the city. What a surprise was in store for me when I stepped off the bus to see Sherry ...

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7. A New Life (1951–1953)

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pp. 101-115

My education at Sherry School had lasted only that one term of the spring of 1950 because the school board had already made plans to close all the one-room schools and consolidate the students in the district into one elementary school (Grades 1–8, still no kindergarten). This new school was built just south of town on Route 111 and was initially named the Defiance Township School. ...

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8. High School (1952–1956)

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pp. 116-138

In the fall of 1952, I was bused off to an even more elegant school building, Defiance High School (now the middle school), where, for the first time in a long while, I was rubbing shoulders with kids very much like the ones I had grown up with in Toledo. As a consequence, I fared a little better than my classmates from Defiance Township School, yet I was still very much out of my element. As I mentioned earlier, my ...

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9. Closure (1999–2002)

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pp. 139-149

Defiance has developed into a typical growth-oriented, boosterish, midwestern small city of more than 20,000 inhabitants, with the usual dying downtown area, filled with craft shops and a martial arts parlor. What was a charming shopping area shows the beginnings of seediness and decay. It has been replaced on the north side of town by a conglomerate of mall and franchise stores, an area where you ...

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pp. 150-155

Long before Lionel Trilling dubbed Robert Frost the “Poet of Terror,” Frost himself is said to have described childhood as the “Age of Terror.” The point behind Frost’s remarkable insight is that what he said is true of all our childhoods regardless of whether they are happy, troubled, or victimized by abuse. In fact, for most of us, “happy childhood” may be something of an oxymoron. As children, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682803
E-ISBN-10: 156368280X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563683053
Print-ISBN-10: 1563683059

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 1 figure, 15 photographs
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Deaf Lives Series