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A Stone's Throw: Give them a hand


Betty Stone



Along with my Mothers' Day gift, my daughter Nora Frances gave me a card that spelled out "I Love You" in sign language, the kind where the hand shapes the signs for letters. I knew immediately that it was not an idle choice, but one that had special meaning among our family stories. 


She knew -- and I knew she knew -- that my father grew up in Maben, Mississippi. It was probably a little bigger then than now. At least it seemed so to me when I was a child. Yet at its biggest you could not call it an urban center. 


It did have one extraordinary music teacher who apparently taught most of the young folks to play some kind of instrument, so Maben had a little orchestra. 


It also had a few men who ambitiously decided they were going to teach themselves Latin or Greek (or maybe both). I do not know how that played out, but it seemed Maben residents were determined to "bloom where they were planted." 


It was still small enough during those early years of the last century for there not to be a big group of teenagers. All the boys tended to run around in just one crowd. Most of their activities were with just one bunch of fellows. That did not matter. They all, including my father and his younger brother by two years, his only sibling, were part of the group. All of them were apparently a pretty tight group of friends. 


There was one fly in the ointment. One of the boys was a deaf-mute. It would not be surprising if that one boy were pretty much left out of most of their activities. 


Not so. He learned sign language, the kind that you had to spell out words with your hands, each letter having a different hand signal. Remarkably, all the boys learned it, too, so that he need never be excluded. I think that was pretty special. 


Many years later, when I was a young child, my father taught me that hand language. I did not have much occasion to use it, and I could never -- still cannot -- remember my ps and qs and maybe a couple of other letters; but I remember most of it and could look up the rest, I guess, if I needed to. 


When I was in college, I dated someone who was deaf a few times, probably simply because I could communicate. 


These days we have high-powered hearing aids that make it possible for severely hearing-impaired people to hear. Sam Ford is one audiologist who has severe hearing problems himself, and his job is like a mission to him. 


The help he and others in his field can provide is amazing. I do not see many people talking with their hands anymore. At least, not in that sense. 


Nevertheless, it is still heartwarming for me to think of those boys a century ago who went to a lot of trouble to see that someone else would not be excluded. It makes me proud of my father and his friends.


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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