| TOKYO, March 1
TOKYO, March 1 The young girl clings to
her deaf mother's hip in a crowded bowling alley, watching as a
deaf man with hooks for hands talks using sign language,
scraping the curved metal claws together as if demonstrating
The image opens "Burn Down the Ground," a memoir by debut
U.S. author Kambri Crews about growing up as the hearing child
of two deaf parents, a life that she credits with giving her
both an aptitude and love of storytelling that have helped make
her the successful comedian she is today.
"The Deaf community is very much a story-telling community.
It's hard to translate into print how a deaf person telling a
story is, but it's watching poetry in motion. Because you're
fully engaged," she said in a telephone interview.
"When my husband first started dating me, he thought 'she
can't be this into me,' but it's because I'm from a Deaf
community where you maintain eye contact and you turn your body
into the storytelling. There's a lot of hugging and touching and
pushing and pulling, it's a very physical community."
For Kambri, now 40, it was a nurturing community as well,
with the sign language that she almost considers her native
tongue helping her learn to express herself at an unusually
early age, while helping her parents cope with the hearing world
taught her independence and self-reliance.
But her family was at times so short on funds that they were
once forced to live in a shed on their rural Texas property, and
her charismatic father was prone to rages that prompted him to
attack her mother when Kambri was a teen and eventually landed
him in prison for 20 years after he stabbed his girlfriend.
Much of the book is an exploration of Kambri's complicated
relationship with him, how the adoration of her early years was
transformed to anger and fear, and finally a saddened, but
His charm is on display early on, where he grins and holds
court amid deaf friends, telling an obscene joke in sign
language before introducing Kambri proudly to the group and
giving her five dollars for a treat.
But the isolation of his deafness in an era where he was
simply dropped off at a school for the deaf without explanation
by his hearing family, and the texting and email of today didn't
exist, led to frustration that fed rages and violence.
"The confusion, the feeling of abandonment. The longing to
be like the rest of his family, that definitely created some
issues," Crews said.
"But if he had been born in this decade, besides text
messaging -- oh my goodness, the technology... The technology
that exists today would serve him very well."
After a terrifying attempt on her mother's life, the teenage
Kambri distances herself from her father and, through a brief,
early marriage and job with a lawyer, eventually builds a life
as owner of a production company and a comedian, developing a
life-long love of theatre and performance.
But gradually, through the correspondence forced on them by
his deafness, the two rebuild a relationship eventually even
strong enough to survive his imprisonment, which goes on today.
"I'd get these letters from my dad, and I realized that
we're extraordinarily alike. We're both storytellers, we like
being the center of attention, on stage," she said. "It made me
understand him a lot more."
Asked if she now feels she lost anything by growing up with
deaf parents, she says she didn't -- at least, not directly.
"I would love for my dad to be able to hear music," she
said. "I wish he could hear me talk and tell stories and see how
much like him I am in some ways. And be able to share music with
him, because he's such an avid Elvis Presley fan, and he's never
heard a single note."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)