Recently at work, I got into an elevator. Two other women were already in there. My ears immediately pricked up as I heard one of them speaking in a muffled, guttural voice, combined with hand motions. She was obviously hearing impaired.
It was oddly familiar & comforting to me -- transporting me in a flash back to my grandparents' farm, 30. 40 years ago.
My dad is the youngest of four sons, & second-youngest child of six. Actually, seven. My uncle, his next oldest sibling, is about two years older -- and he had a twin sister. I don't know very much about her, except that her name was Olga. The aunt I never knew.
As I understand it, they both got very sick when they were still babies -- scarlet fever, I think. She died. My uncle survived, but lost most of his hearing. And because his speech had not fully developed yet, he was & is difficult to understand & to communicate with, particularly if you didn't spend a lot of time around him. (Add in the fact that my father & his sibilings didn't speak English until they went to school.) Family members communicated with him by speaking very loudly & slowly, with lots of gestures & exaggerated facial expressions. He would respond with nods, gestures and some words & sounds.
Needless to say, there wasn't much in the way of special education or speech therapy or accommodations available in rural Manitoba in the 1940s. Doctors recommended he be institutionalized. My grandmother would not hear of it, & kept him at home on the farm, where he lived until after my grandfather died, when Grandpa was 96 & my uncle in his 50s. He finally got a hearing aid in middle age.
It only just hit me now, when I started thinking about my uncle, and the aunt I never knew, and my grandmother's loss, that my father was her "rainbow baby," her subsequent pregnancy, two years later. (Her last child, my youngest aunt, arrived eight years later, when Baba had reached the advanced maternal age of 40.)
My mother says my dad spent a lot time with his mother growing up, helping her around the house. (He's a fabulous cook -- makes borscht using vegetables from his own garden.) Knowing what I know now about infant loss & subsequent pregnancies, I can see why she probably wanted to keep him close.
Baba died at the far-too-young age of 68, when I was 14. I blogged about her here, last year, 35 years after her death. I wish I had had more time with her. There is so much more I'd like to know about her. But I feel like I've begun to understand her a little better, these past 13 years.