When, in 1968, 19-year-old Tressa Bowers took her baby daughter to an expert on deaf children, he pronounced that Alandra was “stone deaf,” she most likely would never be able to talk, and she probably would not get much of an education because of her communication limitations. Tressa refused to accept this stark assessment of Alandra’s prospects. Instead, she began the arduous process of starting her daughter’s education.
Economic need forced Tressa to move several times, and as a result, she and Alandra experienced a variety of learning environments: a pure oralist approach, which discouraged signing; Total Communication, in which the teachers spoke and signed simultaneously; a residential school for deaf children, where Signed English was employed; and a mainstream public school that relied upon interpreters. Changes at home added more demands, from Tressa’s divorce to her remarriage, her long work hours, and the ongoing challenge of complete communication within their family. Through it all, Tressa and Alandra never lost sight of their love for each other, and their affection rippled through the entire family. Today, Tressa can triumphantly point to her confident, educated daughter and also speak with pride of her wonderful relationship with her deaf grandchildren. Alandra’s Lilacs is a marvelous story about the resiliency and achievements of determined, loving people no matter what their circumstances might be.
When her daughter (called "Landy") was five months old, Bowers began to suspect that her baby could not hear. Her fear was soon confirmed by an unsympathetic physician who told her that Landy was "stone deaf." Despite some awkward writing, Bowers honestly and successfully conveys the difficulties and joys of bringing up a deaf child and her determination to give Landy a good life. Unfortunately, educators for the deaf in the 1970s were still divided into traditionalists, who espoused oralism (teaching the deaf to speak) and forbade the use of sign language, and the emerging movement of those who advocated total communication. Relying on the advice of so-called experts, Bowers enrolled Landy in a strict oral program at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. However, when the state stopped paying Landy's school fees, Bowers placed her daughter in a residential school where sign language was taught and its use encouraged. Eventually, she was able to negotiate a place for her daughter in a supportive public school nearby. By the time Landy became a teenager, she socialized almost entirely with other deaf teens. Though Bowers learned sign language, she has never become proficient in it and now feels that she and the rest of her family missed an opportunity to enter Landy's world more fully. It is nonetheless clear that she raised her daughter to be a sensitive and self-sufficient adult: Landy is now married to a deaf husband and is the mother of three healthy deaf children. This is an involving look at deaf culture and the alienation that can arise between the deaf and the hearing. B&w photos.