I didn’t catch that


As folks in my family approach old age, their hearing begins to go.
By the time my Grandmother reached her 60s she was pretty much deaf as a post.  She had one of those hearing aids with a battery big as a paperback novel, which she carried in a pouch that hung around her neck.  It helped her hear if you were up close and she could watch your mouth move, but communication with someone at a distance was well nigh impossible.  When I was a tot, she could keep up with where I was in the house by the vibrations of the floor – her brother-in-law was a carpenter but solid floors were not his specialty.
Her husband, my grandfather, took advantage of his wife’s handicap. His idea of a good joke was to sit with her in the front porch swing and, with his head turned toward people on the sidewalk so she could not read his lips, he would make off-color remarks to passersby. When they laughed, Grandma would smile and nod.  He loved it when people around town asked how such a sweet woman could put up with such a randy old coot.
My parents’ hearing held up better, so I assumed mine would as well.
Then my wife told me otherwise.
Shortly after our second child was born, my helpmate began to complain about having to repeat things she had said to me.
Since I was dedicated to giving my lovely little of which to complain, this was disturbing.  So I decided to address the complaint by simply not asking her to repeat. Instead I would go on as if I heard what was said and hope that eventually hints in the conversation would tell me what it was all about.
This proved successful in most cases. Unfortunately, when it didn’t I was forced to ask her to repeat not only what was originally said, but what followed as well.
So she suggested I have my hearing tested.
I, pardon the expression, turned a deaf ear.
Now I know that for many, hearing aids are a necessity at work or at home.  For many they are also a God-send, for they allow them to live full and complete lives.
Not considering myself in either category, I accepted the fact that vanity was at the root of my resistance
Most of the signs of my rapid physical decline could be covered up or ignored.  If my knees hurt I would walk less. If my vision faded I got new lens put in the old frames.  But no matter how small the commercials say they are, there is no way to hide a hearing aid.
Nevertheless, after weeks of not-so-gentle prodding, I agreed to get tested.
As I left the house my helpmate told me to go by the lumber yard.
“Why?” I asked.
“To get a two-by-four,” she replied.
“Why?” I asked, eager to get to the bottom of this.
“So I can hit you up side your head if you don’t return with a hearing aid.”
I was getting the feeling she was serious.
So I was tested.
They put me in a booth, piped in all sorts of sounds, and asked me what I heard.  It was all so soothing that I think I dozed off once or twice.
When we were finished they gave me the results.
Hearing was fine except in the higher ranges.  Up there among the treble registers I was less than I ought to be.
Fine, I thought, I’d just not listen to Boys’ Choirs and Wagnerian sopranos.
At home I proudly presented the mother of my children with the results and waited for her to confirm my prescription for the future.
Instead she asked, “Where is the two-by-four?”
Taken aback, I reminded her that all I was missing were the high registers and so everything was OK.
Unmoved, she pointed out that I was living in a house with an 11-year-old boy whose voice had not changed, a 6-year old girl whose voice was not going to change and a wife who was going to whop him upside the head if he did not get that artificial listening device.
Then the better angel of her nature took over and she relented. If I would listen more carefully, she would complain less (which made sense because she would have less to complain about).
That arrangement worked pretty well.
Until recently.
Recently those children whose sweet little voices I could barely hear have grown up. Now they too are complaining about what I don’t hear, what I think I hear and what they have to repeat to make me hear.
So I am faced with a decision – will it be a hearing aid or a knot on the head?
If I delay much longer, it will probably be both.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


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