Monday, September 6, 2010

A Word from my Grandmother Jessie

An undated excerpt from a speech or letter by my grandmother and typed by my mother, Janet Chapman Beavis. My grandfather did most of the letter-writing and, based on later examples, my grandmother did the speeches which is why I guessed that this might have been a speech. (Copied from something in Mother’s [Grandmother Jessie Chapman] handwriting)
At the age of 4 Tad, an exceptionally fine boy physically, had spinal Meningitis which left him after months in the hospital both deaf and blind.  By the time he was well enough to be up and about he had lost all memory of speech. Even those most familiar words “Mother” and “Daddy”.  Our problem then was to re-adjust this little boy to his new world – dark and silent.  At first he couldn’t bear to be left alone.  He must feel some one of us near him. He would play contentedly with his toy with is foot touching one of ours. We made a great effort to keep his thoughts happy and active and to include him in all the family interests – preparing vegetables, new pets, fishing, even hunting. One of my most vivid pictures is that of his father rabbit hunting with him. He would shoot with Tad near enough to feel the report of the gun and smell the powder and then trudge down the furrows to get their game which Tad would tug at, feeling he was doing his part in this great adventure that all boys love.  Then they would bring home their game and dress it – Tad’s inquisitive little fingers following every move. Then he would follow it to the stove and see it thru every step until it was served. Never a mighty hunter sat himself down to a feast with greater satisfaction. I am telling you this to show how we kept him interested and happy, for Tad’s happy sweet disposition is unusual.
When he grew strong enough we were faced with the problem of his education. We read and corresponded with people on the subject of the deaf-blind and found there were no schools, nor any given method of educating this type of child. There are schools for the deaf and schools for the blind, but on visiting these institutions found them almost unwilling to assume the responsibility of so great a task. There are, or were then, two methods of educating the deaf, over which educators of the deaf were at war – the oral and the manual methods of teaching.
This divide between the oral and manual methods of communication and teaching still remains.  There are arguments over the advantages and disadvantages of each.  Those who prefer signing argue it is a more natural method of communication for those who are completely deaf. Those who argue that the oral method is preferable say that this method makes it possible to participate in conversations with hearing people. It doesn't seem to be a simple choice such as whether an immigrant family should talk only in English around the children or also use their native language. I am not an expert in these questions and it seems to me each family should consider the natural preferences and experiences of the child.
On another topic I'm still trying to read my grandfather's mind based on the books and other material he had obtained that are dated 1900 or 1904 which I'm guessing were materials he used to convince the state legislature of South Dakota that Tad was entitled to an education paid for by the State.  Some of this material has notes in his handwriting in the margins.  In my opinion the fact that the State took this action was a clear precedent for the Americans With Disabilities Act which came many years later.  But I need to pull together the information and it is taking me awhile. I'm not a historian. I dropped out of college - yes, it was a top-notch college - but nonetheless I did not graduate. In my senior year I would have had to do a thesis. The work I'm doing here may be my way of mending that bad choice.  I thought at the time I needed to take care of my mother because my step-dad had been put into a coma by a drunk driver and my mother had a long history of deep depression. It was the biggest mistake I ever made and remains my deepest regret (and that covers a lot of territory). I am determined but frequently get overwhelmed - plus working full time does not often find me with a lot of energy in the evenings. If you're one of my friends from Facebook I will continue to post there when I update here.