Illustration by Jean-Pierre Weill, from the Well of Being, Macmillan Publishers, 2016; reprinted with permission of the artist-author.STORY077

Family Portrait:

MIRIAM ZADEK grew up in a non-hearing family.  Her older sister was deaf, her younger sister was deaf, and their father was hearing impaired. 

“As for my sisters,” says Miriam, “I saw them as sisters who just couldn’t hear, but they were seen differently by the world in which we lived.

“My family’s stories have sat on my desk or in drawers for years, written over time, shared with my immediate family and my deaf relatives, who all encouraged me to write them down and let others read them. The insights one gets in reviewing life stories from the perspective of advancing years has determined me to share them. …Hopefully, these stories will be the basis for a book.

Enjoy Miriam’s Family Portrait below, apropos of Mother’s Day, and check out her stories of growing up in a non-hearing family. Her blog has attracted nearly 1,000 readers.



 “Ma’s Hats,” from Miriam Hearing Sister

by Miriam Zadek

THE MOST FLAMBOYANT of Ma’s hats was shaped like an improbable bird, perched and ready to take flight. Made of a dull gold felt with a band around the crown, it was colored by fantastic feathers and adorned with two gold feathered wings.

The purchase of a new hat was the signal that Ma was going through a personal crisis or an acute worry attack.  Her favorite hat shop was on Madison Avenue in New York City. The shop had few hats for trying on and buying, but was one where hats were custom-designed according to the customer’s wishes.  Ma was a valued customer.

Some years, more often, some years, less, she’d walk into the store to inquire about a new hat. Picking up one sample and then another, she’d place a chapeau upon her head and closely look at her image in the standing mirror. First she’d turn her head to one side and then to the other while smiling her artificial, hat-trying-on smile.  It was a smile she also put to use when trying on new dresses and coats.

Taking off the one hat, before trying on another, she’d take the comb from her purse and run it through her short, gray hair. Then she’d reach for the next sample hat, commenting on its shape, the depth of its crown, the curve of its brim, criticizing and approving in turns. Meanwhile, the milliner would stand by, attentively listening, then moving about, occasionally going into the back room, which served as the workshop, to bring out other samples to Ma.

Once Ma had decided the shape of the hat, she and the milliner moved to its decorations—for there was never a hat for Ma that went unadorned. They hovered over boxes of beads, feathers, ribbons, and fancy pins.  A plain felt hat with a brim subtly encircled with colored ribbon was not Ma’s style. As Ma picked out one ornament after another, the proprietress held each in place, then moved each around the hat to determine its most promising location. Flowers, birds, buckles were perched to nestle against the crown. Some feathers were arranged to graze the edge of the brim, others neatly tucked into a contrasting ribbon temporarily tied to the brim’s base.

Decisions made, deposit paid, and a date agreed upon for the completed hat to be ready, Ma combed her hair one more time, put the soon-to-be-replaced, old hat back on her head and went out the door.

3 thoughts on “FAMILY PORTRAIT: “Ma’s Hats” by Miriam Zadek, from MIRIAM HEARING SISTER

  1. This excerpt makes me want to check out her blog, especially since I grew up with a mother who had lost most of her hearing by age 40.


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