Four Hits From Døves Tidsskrift
From Triple Canopy:
I was in my early twenties when my aunt handed me a VHS cassette with my mother’s name written on the label. My aunt and mom worked at a school for hearing-impaired children in Oslo, Norway, and at some point in the 1980s the school introduced video technology as a training aid for sign-language teachers. Unbeknownst to my family, my mother had sat for a recording session. Many years later, while cleaning out a storage room, a coworker who must have known my mom came across the cassette, which was then presented to my aunt and in turn given to me.
The video is a little over nine minutes long and consists of two scenes of roughly the same duration. In both sequences my mother is seen from the waist up, seated before a curtain, translating recorded speech into sign language. In the first scene she interprets several male voices, acting out a fairy tale about a bear, a fox, and a man named Knut. In the second scene she translates a female voice, which narrates what seems to be the story of a girl named Nora, but here the sound is muffled and barely audible. My mother mouths the words, emitting faint whispers. When I was younger I probably could have understood what she was saying in the video solely by way of her signing, since I spent some years attending a nursery school for deaf children. This arrangement—unusual for a hearing kid—came about for practical reasons, as the nursery school was connected to my mother’s workplace. I picked up sign language without effort, but forgot it just as easily after I was transferred to a regular kindergarten.
My mother is dressed differently in the last scene of the video, which must have been taped on a separate occasion. Her first outfit is a yellow-white blouse, while the second is a blue button-down shirt with a reddish scarf. (Since the image quality has deteriorated, I can’t identify the colors exactly.) Between the two takes there is a short close-up of her face, lasting only a second, shot seemingly by accident from an alternate angle. I find this frame, in which she is caught off-guard, to be the most captivating moment in the video. She looks beautiful.
On January 8, 1987, my mother died.
I’m conflicted about putting my mother out there. She is, after all, defenseless, and part of me feels, in an almost parental manner, the need to protect her. I know that publicizing her name will generate a new hit in the search engine, maybe the top entry, and that people looking for information about her in the future might encounter these scribblings by her son, who knew her only for six and a half childhood years. Recently, when I googled my mother, I got four hits, all from digitized back issues of Døves Tidsskrift, a periodical of the Norwegian deaf community. On page 12 in the issue dated February 6, 1987, there are two obituaries: One is by the principal at the school where she worked, the other by a close colleague and friend. Among a stack of old family documents that have been entrusted to me, I found no fewer than twenty-one xeroxed copies of the obituaries from Døves Tidsskrift. I’m clueless as to why so many were produced, and when Internet users from any corner of the planet can read the texts at the click of a button, the A4 duplicates come to seem redundant.