REMEMBERING GRANDMA KRAUS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

My mother died 7 years ago this month. It’s always fresh in my mind. I was sub teaching at our local High School. I kept thinking I should continue the history class after being informed of Mom’s passing. I was numb. Seven years later, I still really haven’t cried.

We received word a short time ago that Grandma Kraus died today. She wasn’t my grandmother but I called her Grandma as did many others. Muriel, as family and close friends called her, would have been 104 tomorrow. Just last night, Marilyn and I were talking about family and how Grandma Kraus might outlive all of us.

Kraus Family, Machias 2004

Kraus Family, Machias 2004

Her grandson, Owen, received the news by phone just as he was getting ready to go to work. His biggest concern before taking the call was coping with yet more falling snow on our already hazardous roads. Owen and his family live downstairs in our house so I saw his face when I stomped in from the snow. He repeated the message because I’m practically deaf. I heard him the first time but didn’t believe the news.  Sandy, Owen’s Wife, came in and hugged him. I waited a moment and also hugged him. He didn’t pull away. He just cried softly. I think Sandy called Owen’s boss to explain what had happened and that Owen might not be in for work.

I didn’t know Grandma Kraus as well as other family members and close friends. I hadn’t seen her in years. But every year of our marriage, Marilyn and I have been remembered with cards and very thoughtful gifts from Grandma Kraus.

“You can call me Muriel”,  the elegant lady told me during my first visit to her home more than 50 years ago. She could have been that elegant character actress Gladys Cooper. Matter of fact, she WAS the real life version of the legendary actress. Muriel was my best friend,  Jeff’s mom. She made me feel comfortable. No small task back in those days. She approved of what she called my good manners and seemed very pleased that I was her son’s best friend. She confided that she didn’t think highly of many of Jeff’s friends. It’s a good thing Muriel didn’t know about some of the social habits that forged my friendship with her son. I was invited back to the Kraus home several times with Muriel apparently telling Jeff to make sure I knew I was very welcome. Jeff always seemed surprised his mother liked me. So did I.

Over the years, Muriel stayed in touch with Mother, sending her elegant, hand written letters. I found one or two of the letters after Mom died. Muriel had followed my career and told Mother how proud she was of me. I was surprised. I’m not sure Muriel shared those same sentiments with Jeff who mentored many people including me.

My last visit with Muriel is a bit hazy. It was years ago after Muriel and her daughter, Gail, had moved to a very small town in northern Maine. Muriel must’ve been in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She was still very, very spry and busy in the kitchen. Her hearing was on the wane which made for great conversation as I tweaked my hearing aids to chat with her. Muriel asked about my family, remembering almost all of them. I helped set the table for one meal and caught Muriel smiling at me. “You still have good manners, Garry”. I blushed and Muriel’s smile grew bigger.

LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. “That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.

Many people don’t think of hearing loss as a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them. “You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough out there in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. When so many people talking at once , it becomes impossible for him to hear a single voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than it was. But I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms and while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech is gone.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow

The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing entirely fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said or notice I was speaking. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was critical.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing or a cry for help from down the hall. Garry can’t hear any of that. Once upon a time, he could and he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes that means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator. All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

– – – – –

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU, LA, LA, LA

Cee’s Photography

Share Your World – 2014 Week 7

What is your favorite couch potato activity: readings, watching movies, watching sports, napping, anything on TV, computer games, play cards, or other?

I watch television while using the laptop. I often write when what’s on TV isn’t especially enticing, always with a lot of canine company.

75-Reclining-CR-69

What is your favorite toppings on pizza?

Pepperoni or just a lot of cheese.

What is your favorite genre of movie or book?

Books? Fantasy. Unreality works for me as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Movies? Comedy and thrillers that … you guessed it … don’t take themselves too seriously. I’ll watch or read anything that has a good story, sharp script and wit. I value cleverness.

Do you prefer eating the frosting or the cake first?

I scrape off the frosting and eat the cake plain. Sorry. Don’t like frosting.