Lip reading inspired wonder

It was about 10 p.m. on a windy spring Saturday in 1946. I was 10 years old and home alone. I was in bed and had just turned off my radio and the light on my night stand.

What was that? I heard something in the attic! There it was again! It was a loud click or two and then a creaking sound. Added to this, Dad had installed some metal weather stripping on the back door, and the wind blew through it making a harmonica-like moaning sound. I had goose bumps.

There were more strange noises. That did it! I turned the light back on, got out of bed and crept my way to mom and dad’s bedroom where the second floor telephone was. Mom and dad were playing cards at Bill and Ida Thompson’s. I dialed their number using the brand new dial telephone. I liked it better when the operator would say, “Number please?”

When Dad came to the phone I told him about all the strange and creepy sounds I was hearing. In less than a half hour, mom and dad were home. Oddly, those scary sounds seemed to dissipate.

A week or so later, when I came home from Garfield Elementary, a strange woman was sitting in the living room with mom and dad. She was around 40 years old and had her hair severely pulled back into a bun like a much older woman would do. She had deep, penetrating, but kind brown eyes.

Mom introduced us. Her name was May Bloom. Nice. Like April showers.

When she spoke, her voice was strange with a very odd lilt and inflection to it.

Mom explained to me that May was totally deaf, and the only way she could tell what someone was saying was by reading their lips. Huh? Really? May was going to be living with us and would be our live-in housekeeper. I didn’t realize it at the time, but May’s real role was to be my baby sitter, even though I was too old for that. “Nanny” didn’t seem quite right, either. She was to be in charge of me.

We played cards and Chinese checkers together in the evenings, and I never had to vocalize my words, but just formed my words with lips, teeth and tongue. She understood perfectly … and I was learning to lip read!

She became deaf quite mysteriously. When she was 13 years old, she went to bed hearing normally. The next morning, she woke up completely deaf!

Dad was the kind of fellow who felt compelled to fix anything. May was no exception. He brought home an aircraft-type radio that could sound all sorts of different tones at different volumes. We tried it. Nothing. She could feel the vibrations, though, when she put her hand on the device.

Not to be defeated, dad and the aforementioned Bill Thompson got together with a plan. Bill was a highly skilled high-hour pilot who also had a plane of his own at the Vienna airport. It climbed too slowly to accomplish their scheme. Dad’s Luscombe was a much lighter two place plane that climbed well.

Bill agreed to take May up in that little plane to about 10,000 feet, and then place it in a very steep glide, not exceeding its structural limits of 120 miles per hour. The idea was the rapid change in air pressure would somehow pop May’s ears and restore her hearing.

A small group of us gathered on the hangar’s apron at Vienna. About an hour after takeoff, that little plane came whistling overhead, going faster than I had ever seen it. They landed. May’s hearing was not restored. It was a valiant effort.

May stayed with us for about three years as my guardian-sort-of person. By then, thankfully, I had matured past that scary stage and fear of being home alone.

Although I certainly didn’t deserve it, May really thought a lot of me and regarded me as a very nice young man.

May was a shining example of a person who could overcome adversity. She turned something that could have defeated her into an asset that inspired wonder in all those who ever met her and witnessed the miracle of her hearing us — by just watching our lips.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com

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