ST. MICHAEL'S FALL: Dialogue I: May 1975

For the sake of narrative's simplicity, ST. MICHAEL'S FALL omits a huge fact: Because there was no oral program for deaf students in Ironwood, I had to travel northeast two hours on Sunday night to stay with a foster family in Houghton, right up in the sliver of Upper Peninsula. I'd stay with my foster family from Sunday night to Thursday night while I attended school with seven other deaf students my age, and ride back to Ironwood on Friday afternoons so I would spend weekends with my own family. Then the cycle would begin again.

I did this for six years. Apparently my success being mainstreamed was such that I was able to spend the next five years in the Ironwood Catholic School system. Those five years form the bulk of ST. MICHAEL'S FALL. In 1981, I would return to Houghton High School, where the same program had converted to Total Communication, which used Signing Exact English (SEE), a very bastardized system derived from ASL. I graduated from Houghton High School in 1984.

One of the foster families I stayed with in the 1970s were the Chambers, who had a daughter and two sons. Debbie was attending college in Fargo, Marc was attending Michigan Technological University right there in Houghton, and Tim was going to high school six blocks away. They had a wonderful cocker spaniel named Ace, whom I adored madly. He followed me everywhere.

For years I had a darkened Polaroid of myself and Mrs. Chambers on my tenth birthday. I couldn't always make out its details. Thanks to the precision of my scanner, I was able to see things I'd forgotten about that yellow-themed kitchen.

For instance: I'd forgotten that I asked for an angel food cake for my birthday (look at the size of that thing!); that I wore my favorite T-shirt, which had Popeye harumphing; that on my right was the front window looking out and up toward Houghton Avenue; that I'd liked those yellow tall-backed chairs (no one I knew had them); that behind me was where I'd spread grape jelly on Saltine crackers as my after-school snack. And on and on and on . . . .

I didn't see Mrs. Chambers for a great many years until May 1996. I was giving a reading for ST. MICHAEL'S FALL in Minneapolis, where she and Debbie--who I hadn't seen for at least twenty-five years--showed up and sat with my family. I didn't recognize her at all, so you can imagine my complete embarrassment at having her come up to me for an autograph. In turn, I turned to page 18 and showed her the first line of this poem: "Mrs. Chambers, what is a Jew?" She was thrilled that she and their dog Ace would be forever immortalized.

Copyright © 2001 by Raymond Luczak. All rights reserved.