Silent Sounds

by Will Rogers


Deaf culture has audible power. Even sign language has its own audible power.

Bob Panara tells two baseball stories in this StoryCorps piece. If you’re not familiar with the format, StoryCorps gets people into a booth for a 40 minute interview, and then they edit the material into a brief radio story. This one is very brief: two minutes.

In the first minute, Panara tells of when his father took him to meet Babe Ruth (“The Bambino”), and in the second minute, Panara tells of taking his own son to meet Brooks Robinson, another baseball Hall-of-Famer.

Panara’s voice is the voice of a deaf man. You hear it in every word, like a foreign accent. This accent works to the story’s advantage; for example, when you listen to an Australian talk about Australia, the accent transports you across the world. Panara’s voice will transport you into deaf culture in this story.

Especially for the last 30 seconds. [spoiler alert] For the last half-minute of the story, Panara signs with his hands while he speaks, because the people in his story are signing. Although you can’t see him, you can tell: he paces his words differently, making sure his hands can keep up with his mouth. It’s a subtle shift, and not everybody will notice it.

I did not even notice that I was noticing it, the first time I listened to the piece. It’s subtle.

But you can hear it, nonetheless, and it helps you to get a better image of what’s going on. When you hear Panara signing, you see him signing. It’s a tiny difference, as far as the ear is concerned, but that difference animates the listener’s mental image, bringing it to life with a visual language.

Sign language has audible power. By the time I noticed it, I was already reeling from the effect. It struck me in the heart, before my mind could have any say in the matter. As soon as I imagined him signing with his hands, I shifted into a different emotional space. I was instantly present with the storyteller.

The power of this piece is that it transports you into deaf culture. Equally significant, it does it so quickly you’ll be there before you even realize it.

Two Baseball Stories by Bob Panara
Produced in 2010 by StoryCorps
2 minutes
recommended by Jeremy Helton


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