Hands of My Father (2009) by Myron Uhlberg, a successful author of children’s/juvenile fiction, is a nicely written memoir of growing up at the tail end of the depression and through WWII as the child of deaf parents. Uhlberg does not romanticize the experience, it is painfully honest at times, funny at times, and always filled with love for his parents. This book is really about his relationship with his father. He was a remarkable man that required Myron to be his ears and his voice one minute and then a child the next.
Myron translated his Father's words, emotions, and being to an ignorant uncaring world. Uhlberg took me into his world as a child and into his Father's world as much as that is possible.
This memoir is well written. It does not follow a strict timeline but moves from year to year to further the story and make the appropriate impact. Pictures are reproduced as part of the text and interspersed throughout the book at the appropriate times. I like that as opposed to the usual block of glossy pictures in the middle of a biography, you don't have to flip back and forth to the pictures as you read the text.
Two passages stood out for me. First: "Hearing people talk only with the mouth. Hearing words tumble from the mouth, one word after another word, like a long word train. the meaning is not clear until the caboose word comes out of the mouth tunnel. These are only dry words, like dead insects. Mouth-talk is like a painting with no color. You can see shape. Understand an idea. But it's flat, like a black and white picture. There is no life in a black and white picture.
"My language is not a black and white language. The language of my hands and face and body is a Technicolor language. When I am angry, my language is red hot like the sun. When I am happy my language is blue like the ocean, and green like a meadow, and yellow like pretty flowers.
"My language is God's language. He put His language in my hands for all my time on earth. In heaven I will have no need for sign. I will talk directly to God." (pg. 131)
The second: Uhlberg describes a weekly gathering of deaf people on Coney Island beach, they would come from all over that part of the city to stay in touch with others of their own world. Sitting in a circle, as someone arrived they would widen their circle of lawn/beach chairs without breaking their conversations. The kids were always in the middle of the circle playing, so their parents could watch them. Uhlberg describes the language as a "...wild diversity of language on display, the different styles reflecting a wide variety of personalities and geographic origins, as well as differences between the sexes. The men tended to sign more aggressively, more assertively than the women. the outgoing personalities signed expansively, while the shy tended to make smaller, more guarded signs. Some were so reserved that they made only the most tentative gestures in the air, constipated strings of small, stunted signs. Some signed with abandon, even boisterously, while others signed demurely. Some signed loudly, some softly. Some signed with comic exaggeration, while the signing of others was more controlled, more thoughtful. A couple who had moved to the Bronx from a small town in Georgia signed with an accent I didn't recognize. My father told me they signed with a drawl, and it was true that their signs did seem to flow from their hands like syrup, thick and slow." (pg. 113)
If you decide to read this wonderful memoir you will laugh at the antics of Myron acting out the Joe Louis fights for his father while listening to them on the radio and you will be moved by his Father's passion for Jackie Robinson. Both are men that he relates to in a way that would not have occurred to me. It is a wonderful book of a son's love for his father.