Eulogy for a Deaf Mother

It has been one year since my mother passed. In celebration of her life I share her eulogy.

Those of you who know me understand that fringe caftans are not my thing. I think that only place that fringe belongs is in a Rodeo but last winter my mother was getting cabin fever so Dan Clark took us to the Mall. And what Jersey girl doesn’t love a mall? We wheeled mother around to pick things for me to try on. In the dressing room my mother gave me a wordless commentary.  Deaf style- which meant blunt But when she saw this- I would bought this even if it was a paper bag to make her happy so don’t judge.

I feel so honored to tell you about my Mother, Dorothy Clair Malinowski

My Mother loved her family. She met my father in North Jersey silent club. She told me Daddy wear navy suit an pink shirt-so much handsome but he was the one who fell hard- when he saw her smile. Their marriage was made stronger by the bond of silence & rejection. Both my parents gave us the gift of growing up with another culture and different language. When my sister and I were  born, the Deaf community rejoiced, the neighbors speculated and the extended families worried. All hearing people said “Don’t teach her sign language or else she’ll never learn how to talk.”.  But Mommy and Daddy trusted their instincts and the first sign we learned was milk.  How my mother would boast, “Nobody thinks that Deaf can raise a hearing child.  But my daughters can sign and understand perfect when she was nine months old.  You that know that hearing children don’t talk until they’re two years old.  You tell me.” 

When I picture Mommy I think of baby powder, and brillo pads, sheets that smelled of afternoons hanging on the line and a Thanksgiving dinner with ruined stuffing. I see her scraping crayons off the linoleum floor with a butter knife and looking for bobby pins while wearing pastel house coats. I think of Nonpareils and gummy bears and the sound of singer sewing machine making little girl dresses from her old bridesmaids gowns because you should “never waste.”

I hear Mommy singing her favorite song Silent Night sometimes on key- sometimes not- she was Deaf. And besides what did it matter anyway?

When I think about her I remember the Homemade Duncan Heinz birthday cakes on July 8 and I can still recall the all the dozens and dozens of Crucifixes, prayer books, pictures of heaven and hell-(all tastefully framed- of course) the pink and blue and crystal rosary beads that shimmered from bed posts, statues of Blessed Mary which were kissed every night and the memorabilia from 7 Popes that crowded every available surface in our old house until it looked like a religious garage sale. 

I have memorized, of my mothers hands flickering above the lights of the dashboard as she talked about the day and of me staring out at the night sky on the way home to keep an eye on the those three stars in a row which I still believe follow me for protection.   I remember all of us and these memories have become my Madeleine to to call back every happiness of my lucky life.  When I unwrap these memories one-by-one as I do right now, my fingers tingle, my heart palps and I sigh a happy sign at the slow-motion treasure of it all.

Growing up my mother had a strict rule- You could never go to bed mad- If something happen you feel “quilty" forever. Which meant some nights no one slept. She taught us that sometimes it took courage to stay vulnerable and loving in this world. In my house Education was valued because my parents wanted us to succeed, to get a good job, to do better than them so they worked really hard to send us to catholic school for 12 years. In the early 1960’s Saint Brendans cost  $25.00 year. That was a fortune back then.  But the 2nd kid only cost $20.00 which is why my parents loved my sister so much- she was the one who got them the discount. I loved going to Saint Brendans.  I couldn’t wait for the school day to start so I could say the Pledge of Allegiance, read out loud, and pray at my desk.  I was taught to work hard, pray hard and respect God, the teachers, and my parents, in that order.  I loved Sister Marion, Sister Daniels, Sister Maureen- and then there was Sister Mary Concepta, the meanest nun the whole school who looked like a raptor form Jurrasic park only with in a habit.  

Sister Mary Concepta was about hundred and ten years old and but everyone said that she would live forever because she was so mean that not even God wanted her.  Back when I was in 3rd grade I what you might call a high spirited girl in a catholic school uniform. I studied hard, got good grades but loved to talk, pass notes and laugh and laugh and laugh.  Somehow, I had gotten on  the bad side of Sister Mary Concepta. No matter what I did- nothing was right. My head caught flying erasers, rulers to the back of a hand, I was throttled regularly to shake the living daylights out of me and I got screamed at so much that after a while I could hardly lift my eyes from my penny loafers. But I never cried. I never cried. I would not let her have that.

One day sister Mary Concepta asked why I had not included my phone number on form. I explained to her Sister “we don’t have a phone.” She said “Once again-you’re as bold and brazen as brass.” I tried to explain-
”We don’t because my parents can’t hear and they don’t need one” The reply? “Miss Malinowski- you are the Devil’s lie box.  Kneel at the crucifix- and think about your sins”. That day something inside of me just broke- I HAD told the truth- for the first time I cried.  Cried all through school and all through detention.

In Deaf world my mother stood big within herself. She knew who she was. But the hearing world was a world she didn’t live in, that she didn’t understand and that didn’t understand her. So sometimes she walked through that hearing world shyly and timidly. 

When I got home, Mommy was on her hands and knees next to a pail of water, washing the linoleum .  I stamped on the floor so I cold get her attention. “Arlee, what’s the matter? Why you cry?”  I wouldn’t tell her. She continued, “I’m a mother. I help you. If you no tell me.  I go the school right now.” I panicked “No Ma! I’ll tell you.”- I told her about rulers, chattering too much, getting my desk dumped with me in it, the phone number, getting 8x6 wrong and the mean hollering and hollering and then I told her that I was the Devil Lie box.

She rocked my head and said “Put on your coat.” “No MA!  Just leave it.” I pleaded. But Mommy didn’t listen and it ain’t because she’s Deaf.  She marches the 4 blocks to the convent.  Her blue sweater flapping furiously in the wind like the wings of an angel and me dragging behind her.  When we get to the convent, I could smell dinner coming through the door, and I knew this is a bad idea. And for a shiver of a moment I saw her head pull back in hesitation before she rang the doorbell. 

My heart was pounding in my chest as the door slowly opened and there standing in all of her meanness, was Sister Mary Concepta.  And just as she starts to talk Mommy cut her off- “Sister, I no care you teacher.  I no care you big shot hearing nun.  This MY daughter.  You no touch her . You no talk fresh mouth or you be sorry.”  My mother paused took in a breath. “Sister, I think you little bit not smart because God no like mean nun- oh-nooo!”  And for the first time in my life Sister Mary Concepta was absolutely speechless.  And I never loved anyone as much as I loved MOMMY in that moment.

Graham Green wrote that “there is always one moment in childhood where the door opens and lets the future in”.  

To this day, I try to imagine what was going through Mommy’s head to give her the courage to stand up to everything she feared. Because after that day, the day that Mommy roared, and the angels sang, things were different for me at school. I felt like I had a mother, a Deaf mother that loved me, listened to me and protected me.

So to the marvelous Dorothy Clair Malinowski- we celebrate you.