Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hands of My Father--an Author Inadvertently Teaches me About my Own Father

I'm thinking a bit about Myron Uhlberg's memoir Hands of My Father, newly released from the now-folded-into-Random-division-but-still-exists-as-an-imprint Bantam Books. It's his story of growing up the hearing child of deaf parents.

As Uhlberg, best known for his children's books, says, his parents were "deaf", not "Deaf." The culture was ill-formed and the neighbors treated Mom and Dad as if they were developmentally disabled. Nobody in his dad's family learned to sign.

Still, his dad had a career in the presses of the New York Daily News, not unheard of because the presses were so loud that not having hearing was hardly a disadvantage.

It's a charming book of life in an earlier time of New York. There are some interesting New York touches, though I was a little surprised that his Brooklyn dad went suit shopping at Bloomingdale's and Macy's in New York, but not the closer but equally grand Abraham and Straus of Brooklyn.

If you jump to the A&S site (and you should, just come back), note that the author showed an A&S in Trumbull, Connecticut, that he or she states was originally a Jordan Marsh location. It was likely first a branch of D. M. Read of Bridgeport, which was folded into Jordan's (as the locals used to say). Love it or hate it, I can't help but go off on department store tangents.

What really confused me was that Uhlberg said he passed up going to NYU in the Bronx to attend the brand new Brandeis campus in Massachusetts. NYU in the Bronx? NYU is in Greenwich Village. I've been there a hundred times. Plus my dad went there. I was always a bit surprised that he did, as the family lived off the Bronx's Grand Concourse and it seemed quite out of the way.

Because I'd already been a bit confused about the wandering on-sale date for Hands of My Father, I was ready to write in with a correction. I do that a lot, and every so often I'm actually correct. Really, I fixed a math formula in an upcoming math novel, at least for the second printing.

Before I wrote in, I did some internet research. Oops! NYU actually moved its undergraduate schools to the Bronx in the 1800's and only moved back to Manhattan when a fiscal crisis forced them to sell there land in 1973 and merge with Washington Square College. It's left out of the short version of their official history.

My dad had actually gone to college in the Bronx. It had never made sense that my Bronx-bred dad had travelled halfway across the city for his VA schooling. I called both my sisters. It was news to them, and both were delighted to glean a new tidbit about my late father, who'd never actually described the more-pastoral-than-urban campus.

Now that I've read Hands of My Father, I have two reasons to thank Uhlberg, for telling me about his father's past, and a little about my own too.

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