WRITING TO HONOR GOD
Rebecca Willman Gernon is the author of Amy Signs: A Mother, Her Deaf Daughter, and Their Stories, a joint memoir written with her daughter Amy Willman and published by Gallaudet University Press 2012. She has been published in Fiction365, ByLine Magazine, Thrivent, Over My Dead Body, The Weeder’s Digest and several anthologies including All My Good Habits I Learned from Grandma and Love is a Verb. Her plays have won awards in Virginia, Missouri and Louisiana. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska. For the past 13 years, she has called New Orleans home.
“Thirty-seven years ago, I vowed to write a truthful book about raising a deaf child,” Rebecca Willman Gernon promised. She followed through with her promise in an extraordinary new narrative with her deaf daughter Amy Willman. Many stories have been told about a parent’s struggle to help deaf children succeed in a mostly hearing world. Amy Signs marks a signature departure in that both Rebecca and Amy relate their journey’s perspectives.
When she learns of 11-month-old Amy’s deafness in 1969, Rebecca fully expresses her anguish and traces all of the difficulties she endured in trying to find the right educational environment for Amy. The sacrifices of the rest of her family weighed heavily on her. Though she resolved to place four-year-old Amy in Nebraska’s residential school for deaf students, the emotional toll seemed too much to bear.
Amy’s view acts as the perfect counterpoint. Interwoven with her mother’s story, Amy’s account confirms that signing served her best. She summarizes life in boarding school as “laughter and homesickness.” She laughed with all of her deaf friends but felt homesick at times. Amy thanks her mother for the gift of sign, asserting that a mainstream education would never have led her to earn a master’s degree and later teach American Sign Language at the University of Nebraska. Amy Signs is a positive but cautionary tale for parents of deaf children today whose only choice is a mainstream education.