Catherine Welch was 72 years old when interviewed by Patricia Littlefield in 1991.
I was born deaf, my sister too. My mother doesn’t know why I was born deaf. My brother wasn’t born deaf. My grandfather was losing his hearing as he got older but that’s all my mother knows.
My mother and father accepted that we were born deaf. I didn’t understand that there was a difference between deaf and hearing at all. When I was growing up, I saw the difference.
I don’t remember what I did up until I was five years old. I remember that my mother and my grandfather took me to visit a deaf school in Portland before I went to kindergarten in the fall. After that I started to remember things.
I didn’t know my name until I was in school. The teacher in school told me what my name was, and the teacher told the other children what their names were and the sign for your names. (Cathy’s name sign is made by forming a C with your hand and bringing it to your chest and then lowering it slightly. ) My name sign is from Catherine Carr. Carr is my maiden name.
When we used sign language in the classroom, the teacher would correct us. It wasn’t allowed in the classroom. One teacher always told stories. We would have to read lips and write what she told us. When I was in school, maybe 16 years old or so, the state was thinking about putting deaf people in institutions, but the bill didn’t pass. They thought that deaf people had to stay together and not mix with other people, like the blind people in one place in Portland.
I have been teaching sign language for almost 12 years. I started by teaching one class a week for beginners, now I teach three classes a week. I want to teach hearing people how to sign and talk to deaf people. I enjoy teaching very much. I have fun teaching. During the summer I teach hearing children sign language. They are very interested and learn faster.
I used to teach deaf children in Sunday School at Baxter School for the Deaf for ten years, but the Government stopped religion in public schools. The children went home for weekends so no one was in charge of teaching them religion and Bible stories. Religion and education don’t mix.
I have mixed with the hearing world for about forty years. I worked in one shoe factory for ten years and another shoe factory for more than twenty‑five years and always talked, no sign. When I meet a hearing person, it seems to me they took at me like I am also bearing because I voice and read lips. I got along fine with the ladies in the shoe factory. Hearing people accept. deaf people more now.
During and after the Depression I lived at school on the weekdays and went home sometimes on weekends, but very few children went home on weekends. Many children lived far away. The children who came from northern Maine in the fall would stay until June when school closed for the summer. It was during the Depression. A few of the children could go home for Christmas if they had the money. It’s the only deaf school in the state.
I missed my parents. I started school when I was five and I would go home on weekends. I’d go home on Friday and come back on Sunday and I’d always cry when they brought me back. My parents would visit me during special days or holidays at school. After the Depression, I would go home about every three weeks. I would stay in school longer and go home on holidays.
When I was a little girl, the school for the deaf closed on Thursday and I had one extra day to go to my brother Rubert’s school, Crowley Junction School, a hearing school. And the teacher always asked me to read. Every time I would read, I would improve. The teacher was proud of me because I improved my reading and could talk too. The teacher always remembered me on Christmas.
I was born on a farm in Webster, which is part of Sabattus, in 1919. My brother and I were born there. We moved to Lewiston when I was ten years old. My sister was born in Lewiston. My parents were hearing. I had a brother who was hearing. He was four years older than me and my sister and I would talk to him and it would help a lot. My parents didn’t sign but we read lips and my mother knew how to fingerspell the Canadian ABC’S. My father would read lips. I taught them the Canadian ABC’s.
My grandmother, my father’s mother, was very nice, gentle. My father was adopted when he was a baby. My grandparents were nice and always loved me. My grandfather loved me. One time he grew a mustache and then he shaved it off and teased me about it. When my mother and father would go away my grandparents would take care of me. We lived in the same house with my grandparents in South Lewiston.
When my grandmother died, they didn’t tell me until I came home from school at Christmas I noticed there was no grandmother. I asked my mother “Where’s Nanna? Gone away, died” I was mad. ” Why didn’t you tell me?” My grandfather felt bad. I was about ten years old.
Then we moved into Lewiston and my grandfather moved with his sister to Lisbon. When he died they didn’t tell me. They told my brother to take me and my sister to a movie when my parents went to the funeral. That’s how I knew they were gone. My parents thought I was too little to know.
When my brother was killed, I was in school and the school superintendent told me. He was on a bicycle and was hit by a drunk person driving a car. He was going on a bike to South Lewiston to visit a friend. He was fourteen years old. That was the first time I went to a funeral. When we went to the cemetery, I was screaming when I saw my brother go into the ground. It was hard to accept that. After my brother was killed, my parents wouldn’t let me drive a bike in the city.
My father worked in the post office as a mailman. At first he used a horse and buggy. Then he walked up and down Main Street in Lewiston. After the Depression, Roosevelt got work for people and there was a big parade. Every one was involved. My father was in the parade and carried an American flag. My father took his hat off , because it was too much work to keep saluting the flag. He got a cold and lost his voice. He didn’t have his voice back for several years. He would have to whisper to my mother. We had to move to Lisbon Falls to my father’s cousin’s house. They had no power, no bathroom, we had to go outside to the outhouse. When I finished deaf school, I was trying to get a job. My father wanted me to go further, get more education. I went to a hearing high school for one year. I took typing courses, I had to read lips. There were two girls in school who had deaf parents and they helped me. They would tell me in sign language what I had for courses and homework. After I was in school for one year, we got money from the Government and we moved to Unity where they didn’t have many courses for me to take, so I stayed home for one year.
My father liked to see our hair curled when I was growing up. He’d tell my sister to curl my hair and I curled my sister’s hair and made it nice and curly. We had no electricity at that time. I heated the curling iron with a kerosene lamp that had a fire underneath. I had to put the iron in a glass bulb until it got hot.
It was my father’s idea to go to hair dressing school in Lewiston. My sister went to hair dressing school too. I lived with my aunt and uncle in Auburn while I went to school. The first time I took the test to graduate from hairdressing school, I didn’t pass it and I had to go back and take it again. I passed the test the second time and then I went to work as a hairdresser for the summer in Plttsburg, New York, then I came home and went to work in Burlington, Vermont for the next summer. I worked as a hair dresser for a few years. My friend had her own shop and when there were too many people, I helped her at nights and on weekends when I was working in the shoe shop.
Before I went to hairdressing school in Lewiston, I met my husband, Henry. Henry lived on a farm in Unity. We went together for two and a half yean before we got married. Henry’s parents died the winter before we got married. When we got married we lived on a farm for one year. It was cold in the winter. We burned wood all the time. There was no running water. We got water from the well. We had no indoor bathroom. We had seven cows and he had to milk the cows. He sold the milk to Hood for $11 every two weeks.
My husband and I were married in 1940. He died one week before our thirty‑sixth wedding anniversary. My husband was not deaf. He didn’t sign but he knew the Canadian ABC’S. When I first met him we would write notes back and forth. I was afraid that we wouldn’t understand each other. After a while, before we got manied, I started to talk a little more. We had a daughter, Jane, who was not deaf and I used my voice a lot.
One time, my husband went to work and heard a man talk about me said that I was deaf and dumb. My husband said not to use the word dumb. He told the man,”My wife is deaf, but not dumb”. People don’t know the difference between deaf and dumb.
I met Henry when I was almost 20 years old. My father was sick and hurt his back and couldn’t do anything. My mother had to do all the work, bring the wood in the house. Henry used to come over and help split the wood. At that time I was crocheting baby outfits. I would get paid for these. I would be in the house. I would stop crocheting and look out the window because I wanted to see what he looked like. But by the time I stopped working, he was already gone.
One time it was time to renew his driver’s licence. He had to wait to renew his license so he had to walk to town. One day we were coming from town and my father gave him a lift home. I wondered who he was. Then I figured it out.
Henry would come and pick us all up and take us to a neighbor’s house where we would play cards. My father didn’t want to leave me home alone. My sister was still in school. Then I started to go with him to minstrel shows, movies, and to visit relatives in Pittsfield. We went together for two and a half years. One day Henry asked my father if he could have what my father had and my father said yes. Then he asked, “What is it?” And Henry said, “Your daughter Cathy.” My father said yes. My mother knew then we were going to get manied, but my father didn’t. So Henry thought he should ask my father first. We got married one week later.
At first my parents didn’t want me to marry a hearing man, they wanted me to marry a deaf man. But there were no deaf men in the area where we lived. I stayed home a lot because there was no way to get to Lewiston, so there was no way to meet deaf men.
In 1941 we moved to Norway. Henry got a job at C. B. Cummings. When I was 23, our daughter Jane was born. She lives in Norway. I have two grown granddaughters. They’re ten months apart. One granddaughter has two boys and the other has two girls.
I worked for 25 years in the shoe factory in Norway. My mother worked in the shoe factory with me. She came to live with us after my father died. My father died when he was fifty years old. My mother and I were very close, like sisters. When we went out, she would go with us. My mother was ’77 years old when she died. In 1971, I went to work at Baxter School for the Deaf in Portland when the shoe factory closed. I helped out in the kitchen and cleaned the dining room tables and served food. That was for ten years.
Henry died when he was 60 years old from heart trouble. One winter there was a big snow storm and he was shoveling snow in the driveway and the path and asked a neighbor to shovel on the roof for him and break the ice. He had trouble with his stomach. For two months he couldn’t steep well. The doctor told him he had a heart attack and didn’t know it. He was in the hospital for two weeks. When he came home, he couldn’t work until summertime when he worked part‑time for a while, then he worked full‑time again. I was home for the summer and I had to go after him when he tried to walk up the hill.
When I started to work in the fall, Henry came down with a bad cold. He had four different medicines. Every time he went to the doctor he would take off a different medicine. He was down to two left. At the last visit, the doctor told him to take off another one, but he took him off the wrong one. He was supposed to take it four times a day. Because he was off the medicine he became very weak. Monday, he came down with a bad cold. Tuesday morning I asked him if he wanted me to take him to the doctor and he said no, that he already saw him two or three weeks ago and he would wait for his next visit. So I went to work in Portland that day.
I didn’t come home that night. When I got home after work on Wednesday I found him asleep. I called my daughter and we took him to the hospital. He died about an hour later. That was in
September. I was alone in my house until the next June. My daughter decided to move in with me. The next fall Ed called and asked if he could come visit me. I knew Ed since I was a little girl. We went to the same deaf school, but he was in a different grade. When I went to beauty school, I would go out with Ed sometimes, because Henry lived too far away in Unity. It was a long drive for Henry to come to Lewiston. So I went out with Ed to restaurants and movies. But I liked my first husband. And then Ed married a hearing woman.
I was engaged to Ed for one month and the following June 24th, 1978, we got married. My father was gone for a long time, and there was no relative that could give me away. I was working in Baxter School and the cook was teasing me about giving me away. I decided after a while to have the cook give me away. He was very proud when he walked me down the aisle.
We had no ushers but we had usherettes, two of Ed’s granddaughters and two of my grand daughters. My sister made all the wedding dresses, one bridal gown, four usherettes dresses and one for the interpreter. Minister Grandholm has a good voice when he sings and we asked him if he could sing at the wedding with his sister playing the piano. Ed’s second daughter signed and interpreted what he was singing. After the wedding we went on a honeymoon in a boat to Nova Scotia, a round trip to Canada and we came back down to New York.
Ed’s best man was deaf. One time Ed was looking for a woman to go out with. Maxwell said, “Why don’t you ask Cathy?” Ed said, “No, she’s too religious”. After a while it was OK. Maxwell was the best man and his wife was the maid of honor. They live in Oregon now.
I told Ed that I didn’t get kissed at my first wedding with Henry because my father stood up quick to congratulate me before there was a chance to have a kiss. I told Ed and he gave me a long kiss at the altar. Everybody was laughing.
Ed lived in Auburn and worked in Knapp Shoe Factory in Lewiston. I was still working in the deaf School in Portland. I came home every night. Later, I’d go to work on Monday morning and come home Wednesday night and go to work on Thursday and come home Friday night for the weekends. In the fall of the same year we were married we decided to give up the apartment in Auburn and stay in Norway.
Ed and I have been married for thirteen years. Ed has eight children. We have 35 grandchildren and 38 great grandchildren and one more on the way.
I feet like I belong to two worlds, but they’re joined together. Sometimes I think that before I married Ed, I talked a lot. But since I married Ed I don’t feel I use my voice as much at home. It feels like my voice is different. I sign more with Ed.
After I resigned from the Baxter School for the Deaf, I taught sign language to the kitchen staff. I did that for about two years on Tuesdays when I came in to teach Sunday School. Then I worked at Hebron Academy for five months in the kitchen. It was hard work. I worked weekends and long days. Sometimes it was just me and one other man. I would have to serve two different kinds of meat and keep refilling the coffee. I would have to cut the cookies and the bread and get ready for supper. After lunch, the man left and I would be responsible for cleaning up and getting ready for dinner alone. Then I got sick. One night it was almost suppertime and the hot pies were not coot enough, so I had to cut them in front of an open window. It was winter and I caught a bad cold. I had to quit. The work at Hebron was real hard.
Ed and I belong to the Southern Maine Bible Church of the Deaf. The church is a part of the Assembly of God Church of the Deaf in Portland. I have been the secretary of the Board of Directors of the church for several years. Reverend Edward Granholm started the church in 1952. He’s not deaf but he signs. The church started in Lewiston, and was part‑time in Portland, and then it moved to Gray when we got a deaf minister. The people from the Portland and Lewiston area went together into the Gray area.
Before Ed and I got married, the church moved to Gray. Later on, the church decided to have Deaf minister. Raymond Olson started seven years ago and he’s a deaf minister. The church moved to Portland because there are more deaf people in Portland than in Lewiston. About twenty members belong to the Church. If the children of the family are hearing and the parents are deaf, the children will go to a hearing Sunday School while the parents stay in the Deaf church. In one family, the mother and two daughters moved to Ohio because they like the school for the deaf better there. The father stayed here. Rev. Granholm comes back to our church once in a while. But he has other churches to go to. He tells hearing people about what the deaf need.
I have been President of the Women Missionaries of the church. We collected dimes for the church district to give to other churches for their buildings. Way back, we would get old bed sheets and I would make bandages for lepers. We made Christmas gifts for old deaf people. And we made clothes for dolls. Someone gave us 80 dolls and we would make clothes and send the dolls to deaf Korean orphans. We collected Campbell’s Soup labels to send to Puerto Rico so the children could get school supplies.
When we go to church in Portland, we visit my sister Irene. She lives in New Gloucester. She married a hearing man, but she’s a widow now. She had four children, one set of twins, a boy and a girl. Only one daughter is living now, the other three are dead. One died from cancer, and one week later her son was killed in a car accident. Another son hung himself. We visit Irene about once a week.
Both Ed and I have always been involved in activities that help deaf people, such as the Division of Deafness in Augusta. I would have to drive him to all the meetings in Augusta. He doesn’t like to drive at night. Now, we’re trying not to do as much. It’s hard and we’re gettng older. Ed is 79and I’m72.
During World War II, Ed worked at Bath Iron Works. He was the first deaf person to ever work there. So he wrote a letter to the President of BIW and told him that he wanted to serve his country by going to work at BIW. The President wrote back to him and told him to take the letter over to the boss and they let him in. The boss put him at the beginning of the assembly line. He worked there for four years. During the war he had no days off. In 1942, the day he got married to his first wife, Emily, they got married in the afternoon and he had to go to work that night. There are twelve deaf people working there now and they have an interpreter to help them teach the hearing people to sign. Ed’s first wife was an interpreter. Her parents were deaf, so she learned how to sign. She was the first interpreter for the Lewiston/Auburn area. Ed taught sign language in Lewiston for a few years.
One time Ed and his first wife went somewhere to a meeting and the legislator said something about deaf parents always have deaf babies. Emily corrected him and said, ” If a man lost his arm, would the baby then have no arm? The same way with deaf parents, most deaf parents have hearing children”.
Several years ago the deaf didn’t have TDD’s (Telephone Devices for the De4) and TTY’s (Telephone Typewriters, an older version of the TDDI) and Closed Captioned TVs. We would meet and talk about legislation to set up money for them. We wanted the government to pay part of the money for these. We pay for half and the government pays the rest. But many people can’t afford TDD’s and Closed Captioned TVs. It’s expensive. If they don’t have the money, deaf people can borrow TDD’S.
When I was a little girl, I used to like to talk on the telephone. When my Aunt called my mother, I would always ask to talk back to her on the telephone. She would say “How are you?” and I would say “Fine.” Then my sister would want to do the same thing. I could hear little things when I was younger.
Now, when I call my daughter, I wait for her voice and I tell her what I want to say, but I can’t hear what she says back to me. I can understand hearing the difference between yes and no. When she says yes, she says it once. But when she says no, she says no, no. and I can hear the difference. I voice on the phone only with my daughter.
I used to be able to talk a little to my granddaughters, but I can’t now. They’re not loud enough for me to hear them. I can’t tell the difference between my granddaughter and her husband. One time I called my granddaughter but her husband answered. He called her at work and she came over and I asked her take me to the store.
Now I use the TDD when I talk to deaf people. And I use the Relay Service to talk to hearing people. The Relay Service just started last January. AT&T set it up. They get money from all their customers to help with the cost, maybe five or ten cents a month. It’s a big help. Before I used Ingraham Volunteers when I needed to talk to someone. Ingraham Volunteers doesn’t do anything with the deaf anymore because they don’t get any more money from the government.
In another state, I don’t know where, they have pay phones for the deaf. On the bottom is the TDD when you put in money, on the bottom, the TDD comes out so the deaf can talk. But there are a very few of these.
Not all the programs on TV are close‑captioned. They’re supposed to be. Sometimes the closed‑caption comes on before the person is speaking the words. They’re talking about closed‑captions already put in the TV so you don’t have to buy them separately. In 1993, all TV’s are supposed to be closed‑captioned. All programs need to be closed‑captioned on TV, but not all are.
The lights in our house are sensitive to noise, so we can tell when the telephone rings. Every time the dog barks, the light flashes. We thought it was the telephone. Every time the lights flash we took at the dog to see if he is barking or if the telephone is ringing.
We have a digital clock that is connected to the lamp. In the morning when the light shines in our face we know it’s time to get up. We have to hook up the clock to the light so we get up in time.
When we go to the doctor’s, we need to get an interpreter. When I was sick and needed to see a doctor in Massachusetts, I had a hard time finding an interpreter. Interpreters are difficult to find. You can’t take one from Maine and go to Massachusetts. Before, Ed always had his son meet him and interpret for him. But he was busy working in the Post Office. And another daughter came twice to interpret, but she started a new job and he didn’t want to take her out.
Ed went to see the doctor two weeks ago, he got an interpreter from New Hampshire. He didn’t have much experience. Sometimes an interpreter doesn’t have a certificate and isn’t certified. There are a lot of interpreters in Massachusetts but they’re all reserved. They’re very busy. There are not as many interpreters in Maine as there are in Massachusetts. Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable with a man interpreter.
If I pick an interpreter myself, I pay. If I get one through the doctor or the hospital, the hospital pays for the interpreter. But when we use Ed’s son or daughter, we don’t pay. The state doesn’t have the money to pay if we need an interpreter. We pay for it by ourselves.
I use my voice to tell the interpreter what to say. The interpreter doesn’t always understand what I say. Sometimes they understand on a different level. Deaf people can be on many different levels of understanding. Sometimes there is a low language level, sometimes high. So there are different levels to interpret for.
Doctors can call Pine Tree Society and get an interpreter for a client and Pine Tree Society pays for the interpreter. Pine Tree Society is about 30 years old and uses certified interpreters.
More deaf children are mainstreamed now. Most deaf people are against it, but new methods are being used now. Hearing children learn sign language and help the deaf child. Two deaf ladies went to Falmouth to teach sign language to hearing children so that they can communicate with deaf children when they come into the school.
Deaf people want to take deaf children out of the hearing schools and bring them back to the deaf school. They want to take the hearing Superintendent of Baxter School out and put a deaf person in her place. But it’s hard to get a qualified deaf person to do the job. The salaries are very low on all levels.
The Superintendent signs English (an exact replication of spoken English in signs) and not ASL (American Sign Language, the official language of the American Deaf population) People say she doesn’t pay enough attention to the children. She doesn’t come to class everyday and see how they are doing. The former Superintendent came to class and watched and talked to the children. When I worked in the kitchen, he would come in and talk to me and pick up a donut and leave. His parents were deaf so his signing was very good. Baxter School for the Deaf started in 1957. Before that, the school was in Portland when I went there. Governor Baxter knew that the school needed more room. He gave the school Mackworth Island so that the children would have more room. They named the school after Governor Baxter. Baxter School is losing a lot of children who are being mainstreamed. I feel depressed. When I started working there, there were 133 students, now there are only 70 children. During the weekdays many of them live there. The ones that live close can go home after school. Now they’re building new playground equipment. The little children come two or three times a week with their mother.
There is a family week at Baxter at the end of the year and the parents stay at the school with the children and study sign language and how to work with deaf children. This started about fifteen or
twenty years ago.
There are about two or three teachers who are deaf. The others are hearing and sign. We used to have about eight deaf teachers who moved out because of the low salaries. The teachers move to California or New Mexico where they get more pay. There are two or three resident advisors who work there now, including the pastor of our church.
Some parents of deaf children learn sign language, but there are still others who don’t want to learn. A lot of parents pay attention to hearing children and ignore the deaf children. When the deaf children play with hearing children they make “home signs” (Home‑made signs composed mostly of gestures and mime) when they play together.
The deaf still need to have help looking for a job. When they’re out of a job they don’t have anyone to interpret for them and help them look for a job. Many deaf are not working now. Some of them get Social Security Disability. Some deaf people get help from Portland Regional Vocational School. They can learn carpentry and keypunch. But still many deaf need help to find work.
Hearing people are starting to see more deaf people around now and want to know about them. More deaf people are on TV or on the news. People saw on TV when Gallaudet College (the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the world) students started a demonstration because they wanted to have a deaf president for the school, not a hearing one. But hearing people still need to understand that au deaf people are equal to hearing people, not to call them dumb.
One time, I went to a store in Lewiston. The clerk was very tired and I was talking and I asked her something and she said “I’m sorry but I don’t speak French”, and I said “I don’t speak French either, I’m deaf. ” Then I repeated what I wanted to tell her. Then she understood.