Letters 12-05-2016

Trump going back on promises I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve been conned by our new president. He’s backpedaling on nearly every campaign promise he made to us...

This Christmas, think before you speak Now that Trump has won the election, a lot of folks who call themselves Christians seem to believe they have a mandate to force their beliefs on the rest of us. Think about doing this before you start yelling about people saying “happy holidays,” whining about Starbucks coffee cup image(s), complaining about other’s lifestyles…

First Amendment protects prayer (Re: Atheist Gary Singer’s contribution to the Crossed column titled “What will it take to make America great again?” in the Nov. 21 edition of Northern Express.) Mr. Singer, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

Evidence of global warming Two basic facts underlay climate science: first, carbon dioxide was known to be a heat-trapping gas as early as 1850; and second, humans are significantly increasing the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. We are in fact well on our way to doubling the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere...

Other community backpack programs I just read your article in the Nov. 28 issue titled “Beneficial backpacks: Two local programs help children.” It is a good article, but there are at least two other such programs in the Traverse City area that I am aware of...

A ‘fox’ in the schoolhouse Trump’s proposed secretary of education, Betsy DeVos (“the fox” in Dutch), is a right-wing billionaire; relentless promoter of unlimited, unregulated charter schools and vouchers; and enemy of public schooling...

Home · Articles · News · Features · Growing up quietly/ the Hoxie...
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Growing up quietly/ the Hoxie family

Anne Stanton - December 14th, 2009
Growing Up Quietly
How one family met the challenge of deafness
By Anne Stanton
Christmas was a wonderful time in the Hoxsie family; the three Hoxsie
kids would get up early to shake their presents thinking their
parents, who were deaf, couldn’t hear them. But somehow they knew.
“They would wrap the gifts and label them with one of the other
sibling’s names. So just when we thought we were getting one gift,
they would ask us to trade,” said Tom Hoxsie, the oldest of the three
But Christmas was really like every other day of the year—not a whole
lot different than any other family. Tom, Sr., and Ruth Hoxsie
couldn’t hear Christmas carolers or gift-opening squeals, but they
could read their children’s faces. On one early Christmas morning,
they watched Tom freak out when he got up and saw Kermit the Frog
sitting on the TV. “He thought Kermit had somehow escaped out of the
television set,” Keith said, laughing.

Perhaps the toughest time for Ruth and Tom, Sr., was at the baby
phase. Tom was just one year old, when twins Keith and Barb were born.
The couple had no idea that twins were on the way and had to scramble
for an extra set of clothing and supplies.
How did Ruth and Tom, Sr., hear the babies cry?
Barb said her mom told her she’d sometimes sleep with her hand inside
the bassinette. If she felt a vibration or a strong movement, she’d
wake up. Ruth wrote in her email that she also had an alarm
device that would flicker light if one of the babies cried.
“When we were little, they were tired all the time,” said Barb, adding
that they rarely, if ever, hired babysitters. “She barely got any
sleep. They had to keep their eyes on us all the time.”
Ruth and Tom, Sr., used sign language with the infants, enabling them
to communicate. Barb, who later ran a daycare, also taught sign
language to her young charges and their parents. The trend is catching
on with parents since babies can sign before they can talk.

Although their parents relied almost wholly on sign language, the
three Hoxsie kids speak clearly since they heard the spoken word at an
early age—from their grandparents and Head Start teachers.
Ruth e-mailed that she and her husband had to diligently watch their
children 24/7, since they couldn’t hear them yell from a hurt or for
“When we had hearing family members around, we were able to relax a
little more, and we could depend on them to hear what the kids were
doing and if there was anything wrong.”
If the kids needed their parents, they’d stomp the floor with their
foot. A parent would peek their head around the corner, and sign,
“What do you need?” Ruth and Tom, Sr., developed a keen sense of touch
and sight. For example, they knew someone had come into the house from
the feel of
the door whooshing closed. They often checked mirrors or windows for
reflections of people coming in or out of the house or nearby rooms.
And despite the fact they couldn’t raise their voices or use stern
inflections, they ran a very tight ship. The kids knew they meant
business by their facial expressions and how furiously they signed.

Tom, as the oldest, had the main duty of interpreting for his parents
at doctor’s visits or during phone calls. He remembers starting from
the age of three or four, interpreting answers about insurance
policies, phone bills, and bank accounts. But all the kids remember
taking a turn.
“My dad went to a class reunion (at Michigan School for the Deaf in
Flint) and all the people in the room were deaf. The waitress wanted
to know what my dad wanted to drink,” Barb said. “He said, ‘A
screwdriver.’ So I told him again, ‘She wants to know what you want to
drink. She doesn’t want to know what kind of tool you want.’ ‘Tell her
a screwdriver.’ I’m really embarrassed. I looked at the lady and
said, ‘He wants a screwdriver,’ and she started writing it down, and
my dad said to me, ‘I’m not dumb, it’s the name of a drink.’ But I was
seven years old. I was seven!”
All three kids filtered out the swear words for their parents. And
there was always a strange curiosity about how to sign swear words,
Tom said.
One German teacher offered to exchange swear words in German for swear
words in sign language, he recalled.
All three kids spent their childhood dealing with the occasional rude
remark or strange behavior. Tom remembers once thrashing a friend for
saying something mean. Telemarketers often offered to call back after
learning their parents were deaf. “Go ahead, but not much point.
They’ll still be deaf,” Keith would tell them. People tend to speak
loudly, even knowing their parents are profoundly deaf, as if it could
help them hear better, he said.

The background
Both parents lost their hearing at a very young age due to illness.
Ruth was mainstreamed in Traverse City’s public schools, while Tom,
Sr., went to the Michigan School for the Deaf at the age of 4.
Tom, Sr., studied tool and die making at Northwestern Michigan College
with no interpreter. He’d take notes of everything written on the
chalkboard and memorize them. If he had questions, he’d write them out
for his instructor. Tom left a trimester before he was supposed to
graduate; he had a new family to care for, and fortuitously found a
full-time job. He spent most of his successful career at United
Technologies. Ruth worked second and third shifts at Chef Pierre, so
she could be home with the kids.
Tom, Sr., and Ruth didn’t want their kids to think of their deafness
as a handicap. Tom said his dad would have the kids cross out the
definitions for deaf and mute in all of their dictionaries. In his
email to the Express, Tom, Sr., expressed the same philosophy.
“We are very proud to be deaf and don’t wish to be any different.  We
enjoy our culture, friends and family.  And they would not want us to
be any different.”
Wrote Ruth:  “I am okay with being deaf and the only time it was
really difficult for me was when my children would sing or perform.  I
wanted to be able to hear what the audience was hearing.  We did have
interpreters, and so it helped us see what words they were singing and
we could also see them dance and act.”

And singing was a big part of the children’s lives, as they grew
older. As it turns out, a little ironically, all three children have
amazing voices. Tom and Keith still regularly perform with the
Overtones, a men’s a capella group, which evolved from Men of Note.
The advantage of deaf parents, Keith and Tom said, was that they could
endlessly practice scales or a difficult piece of a song without
bothering anyone. “Our parents never told us to shut up unless we were
bothering one of our siblings,” Tom said.
“There was singing around the house all the time—until 11 at night,”
Barb said. “Keith and Tom would be sitting in the bathroom, it had the
best acoustics, and they’d work on whatever Mr. Larimer , their old
instructor said. ‘Work on these keys.’ Mom wanted us in bed, and, of
course, we snuck around. We never abused it, but if they wanted to
practice late at night, they’d turn out the light.
“I felt really bad for our neighbors.  Keith used to have trouble
sleeping—he’d stay up really late. I remember talking and talking
through the heat vent with him in the summertime, ‘What kind of car
will you own, what do you think you’ll do?’ …. And finally, at 1 am, I
had a neighbor who yelled, ‘Could you guys please shut up?’”
The entire family spent a lot of time outdoors, tent camping,
fly-fishing and deer hunting.
“The only thing I didn’t like is being my dad’s ears when he went deer
hunting,” Barb said. “My brothers told me if dad shot his deer, he’d
have to gut the deer right there.  So as soon as my dad’s head would
turn, I’d cough, I’d make all these obscene noises.
“Finally my dad wouldn’t take me anymore. He said, ‘Every time I take
Barb hunting, I never see anything.’ You can print that—I told him.”
Before the age of texting and TDD phones in Traverse City (where an
operator serves as interpreter), communicating by phone was—well,
impossible. If an after-school practice were canceled, the kids would
just have to wait out the two hours at school.
“My mom would finally pull up listening to hip hop music at full
blast, and it was so embarrassing. She liked to feel the beat of it,”
Tom said.
Keith said that the TDD device is a little odd—when he was 16, he
dated a girl and they’d talk with the TDD interpreter; one was a black
woman with a strong southern accent. “She said, ‘Honey, I love you,
too,” and it was just too weird. I don’t like it when I get a man for
my mom: ‘Keith, are you feeling any better? I heard you were sick.’
And the guy’s voice is really deep, asking these personal things.”

 All three kids have remained in the Traverse City area, with
children and careers of their own. Tom and Barb are certified
educational sign interpreters, while Keith, a subcontractor, works in
the building trades.
Keith admits that signing for him feels like work. In contrast to his
brother, Tom, who loves to interpret an entire conversation with all
of its nuances, Keith listens for several minutes and sums up the
message in a few words.
Their dogs knew sign language. Special friends and spouses quickly
learned sign language so they could hang with the family. But people
rarely would play charades with the Hoxsies—they’d never win.
And some of the Hoxsie legacy is a little odd. The family never talked
at dinner—it was considered rude. If you were signing rather than
eating, the food would get cold. Tom Hoxsie still doesn’t like
chatting at meals, which his family members view as ungracious. Barb
is extremely reluctant to hire babysitters, having heard during her
entire childhood: “I care for my children. My children are my
And for several years after Keith and Tom moved out of the home, they
both signed in their sleep. “Jenny (my wife) would wake me up and say,
‘Keith, you’re signing again!’”
Yet each of the Hoxsie kids said they were much closer as a family.
Keith said you grow up with a larger heart having parents who can’t
hear—they weren’t perfect kids, they gave their parents a hard time
just like any teenager (Tom remembers play-acting a scream in the
grocery store, really angering his mom). But his parents modeled grace
and strength through it all.
“For my 31st birthday, I had a friend come over, a local performer. We
sat around the campfire, and my mom and dad were there. He was
performing for everybody. So as not to leave my dad out, he grabbed my
dad by the hand, and had my dad hold his guitar while he was playing
so he could feel the rhythm through the guitar, and the different
beats and stuff. It was the coolest thing; I’d never thought to do
that. While he was playing, my dad was getting a piece of what he was

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