CNF: The Gift of the Acadians

by Paul Hostovsky


He was the only Deaf person in his family. And he mostly kept to himself. Because no one in his family bothered to learn how to sign. He didn’t learn it himself until they sent him away to the school for the Deaf. Where he lived during the week. And he only came home on the weekends. For years and years. And home began to feel less and less like home. Because the language of home wasn’t his language. Because sign language was his language. So home was the school for the Deaf where everyone signed. And that’s where he met his future Deaf wife. And she took his last name, a French name that went all the way back to the French Acadians, who fled Nova Scotia during Le Grand Derangement in the 1700s and settled in the American colonies. And the French Acadians kept to themselves mostly. Because the American colonists didn’t speak French. So there was a lot of inbreeding–cousins marrying cousins–which was probably how a recessive genetic quirk got passed all the way down to the little Deaf boy. Who thought he was the only one. But he wasn’t the only one. Because his wife was Deaf and pretty soon they had their first child, and that child was born Deaf. And he and his Deaf wife didn’t know what to think. They laughed and rejoiced. And two years later the twins were born Deaf. And they laughed and rejoiced again. And again. And home was sign language. And he and his wife and his children were home. And he was never so happy in his life. A life in which he had thought he was the only one. But he wasn’t the only one. Because the others were all on their way. And they’d been on their way all this time. They were a long time coming. But here they all were now. And he supported his Deaf family by working for the post office as a letter carrier. He delivered letters for over forty years. By the time he retired he was a grandfather. And his three grandchildren were Deaf. And their flying little hands and their beautiful animated little faces were a gift. And this was the gift of the Acadians. This quirky, genetic gift. And it was a precious gift in spite of what the doctors and the audiologists said. It was a hidden gift that took a long time to be found. But a short time to unwrap. The gift of a large Deaf family–Deaf children, Deaf grandchildren, Deaf sons- and daughters-in-law. All signing up a storm. All gathered around the old Deaf grandfather. Who was never so happy in his life.


Paul Hostovsky’s latest book of poems is Mostly (FutureCycle Press, 2021). He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, and has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. Website: paulhostovsky.com


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Gift of the Acadians”?

I make my living as an ASL interpreter. So I hang out a lot with Deaf people. A Deaf guy once told me a version of this story when we were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, waiting for his name to be called. He has a distinctly French-sounding name, and I originally used his name as the title for the piece, when I wrote it a few weeks later. I actually know his family, and his kids went to school with my daughter, who is also Deaf. But then I thought he might not appreciate my using his name without his permission. Especially if the piece gets published. So I changed the name to a different French-sounding name. Then I decided to get rid of the name altogether and not name any names, because it could be (and it is) the story of more than a few Deaf (and DeafBlind) people whom I have known over the years. By the way, it was the French who founded the first school for the Deaf in the world. And ASL is a linguistic offshoot of French Sign Language.


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