My Aunt Mary was quite deaf from a young age. We loved the story she told of what happened early in her teaching career. A boy raised his hand and asked, “Is it all right if I go over to John and hit him on the head?” My aunt’s response, “Yes, if you do it quietly.”

She didn’t remain a classroom teacher for much longer, although she had a long career as a reading instructor to small groups and individuals. Mary was sweet and patient. Her son took advantage of that by moving his lips, saying nothing. Mary would madly increase the sound on her hearing aid. Finally, Charlie would speak in a normal voice that would rock his mother back on her feet. We thought that was so funny.

As a teacher myself I was proud of my ability to hear whispers in the back of the room. I was able to catch students making fun of others or, more often, me. But we all know the adage about pride and falling. Genetic hearing loss hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad thing that it hit my husband at about the same time. “What?” was, and still is, the most often heard word in our house. We each accuse the other of walking away when speaking or, of course, mumbling.

Prompted by our children’s comments on how loudly the TV was in our house and by our exasperated grandchildren having to repeat requests, we got hearing aids. Even with them, we often come out of a lecture asking each other, “How much of that did you get?” We wish every speech, play, even social interaction had closed captions. I confess, I have found myself doing what my Aunt Mary used to do, talking a lot and loudly. It’s much easier than straining to listen to other people whispering.

I admit I have acquiesced to things I’ve neither heard nor fully understood, much as Desmond Bates does in David Lodge’s “Deaf Sentence.” It’s about a retired professor who unwittingly agrees to take on a dodgy doctoral student who is unhappy with her adviser. My compliance has not led to the crazy complications Bates experiences, but I have found myself agreeing to do things because I nodded and said, “Hmm, yes,” so as to appear agreeable and supportive.

Both my husband and I have mishearings that are part of family lore because they rarely match in sound or sense what others are saying. Our daughter described someone as a “talented musician.” Cal thought she said he had “a passion for fishing.” When I opened a package from allbirds recently, he said, “Now you have some shoes for wearing around.” I thought he said, “Now you have something to give to Suzy.” And when I told him I was having a mild panic attack (having misplaced my credit card), he calmly wondered why I had picked up “sandwiches at Amatos.” It was “hot god” Saturday, after all.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: