Nina G interviewed her parents, Kathy and Jerry G on September 11, 2014, at StoryCorps San Francisco for the Disability Visibility Project.
This is the first of two blog posts about their conversation. Below are approximate excerpts from their recording.
Growing up with a hearing loss in the 1940s and 50s
Nina: So, Dad, can you tell me a bit about your disability experience before you met mom?
Jerry: Okay. I have had hearing loss since birth. So, all through, you know, [my] formative years…I couldn’t hear and we used to go to specialists, my parents were trying to find the magic cure, and I’ve gone through radiation treatment. I’ve gone through people looking inside my ear to see if there’s anything wrong and it’s basically a nerve damage.
Nina: You had radiation? That sounds unusual. Can you talk more about that and where that came from?
Jerry: Yeah, my parents took me to a specialist in Walnut Creek and he suggested radiation treatments. So at Alameda Hospital, they were gonna shrink my adenoids. And so I would go there, and lay on a table, and they’d zap me. And I don’t know how many times I did it. But an interesting thing with it was that in the 60s I was watching 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes had a piece on people that had radiation treatment in the 50s had a high degree of cancer…So I immediately went to Alameda Hospital and told them that I had been zapped and you know, so they said okay we’re gonna test you. And they did a test and then they looked at my records. And they found out that I had twice the radiation that the people that were having cancer had and the bell curve comes back down to normal when you had twice the radiation. So they told me.
Nina: Yeah, so…that sounds a bit unusual that you had so much radiation that it was fine.
Jerry: Yeah, that’s exactly what they told me. [LAUGH]
Nina: Might wanna check up on that. [LAUGH]
On family history of hearing loss and other disabilities
Jerry: Yea my grandmother had a hearing loss and that was my dad’s mother. My dad had a hearing loss. His brother had a hearing loss that, of course, was denied.
Nina: Why was that?
Jerry: Well he wouldn’t want to recognize that he couldn’t hear either. So…
Nina: What do you make of that? Would that maybe be an Italian thing, because we’re Italian and or like a guy thing, what exactly was that about?
Jerry: I think it was a guy thing, cuz my uncle, my Dad’s brother was what would you say…
he was very exact in how he thought things were and…his opinion was that’s the way it is and Joe [was like] “No so I don’t have any hearing loss I just need the tv louder you know?”…So now my grandmother was the first one that I ever saw wear a hearing aid and in those days there was a little box that you put on your belt and then you have the cork going up to your ear. And she would sit there and constantly fiddle with the box and we would hear the feedback and the ringing, and of course, we would all laugh.
On growing up with hearing loss and dyslexia
Nina: And what was it like for you in school, or, or when you first got, got a hearing aid?
Jerry: First of all, you know, because kids can be mean, alright? I have to say that everybody that I played with in my developing years, nobody made fun of my hearing that I can remember…Eh, they just accepted it and then you know, of course, the story of first grade, they decided that they would try a hearing device. Oh, and I always sat in the front seat…in the classroom. So in the first grade or second grade they decided they try a hearing device so they put me in the back of the room and they put this black box in front of me and a set of head phones and you know, it was kinda like, high like, the deaf kid in the class you know, so I wasn’t comfortable with it….Yeah, there were days that you know, growing up that I sat on the curb and I would wonder you know, why did I have a hearing loss you know, and being Catholic I would also wonder would I have a hearing loss when I died, you know?I always sat in the front row, and I don’t think I ever had a problem but I had a really bad problem with spelling. So I’m not surprised that you have a dyslexic problem because we happen to have that thread in the family.
Jerry: You know, I mean, I was the kid that counted ahead on the reading out loud to see what paragraph I would get and did I know every word in that paragraph, you know?
Nina: And that’s very much the dyslexic thing.
On being in a family with generations of disabled people
Nina: Dad, what was your reaction to having a kid who was having a difficult time with the background that you had? Cuz I tell people that I’m fourth-generation disabled American because as long as your side of the family’s been here, we’ve been disabled.
Jerry: Well, I think mom was such a strong advocate of you know, let’s do everything we can to get her whatever help we can…I’ll tell ya, if I was married to somebody else and had the same thing it probably would have been like… I would only go by my experiences.
Jerry: Which was, okay, let’s, you know, get her tested. Find out what we can do and you know, if the guy said radiation treatment I’d have said radiation treatment, okay? But mom was such an advocate there wasn’t any questions involved. I mean it was a you know, all the help that you needed, you know?
Kathy and Jerry G live in Pleasanton with their Yorki Connie (named after Connie Corleone in the Godfather). Kathy and Jerry met while attending Oakland City College in the 60s and have been married for nearly 50 years. They have two adult children and one grandchild. Jerry and Kathy spend most of their time organizing their storage unit contemplating what they should throw away or sell (but never do). They gave birth and raised Nina G who is a comedian in the San Francisco Bay Area and who wrote this bio.