A Life Shaped by Mrs. Beebe
By Marjorie (Mardie) Crannell Younglof
I was the first child that Helen Beebe worked with, and she was truly a pivotal person in my life.
When I was about a year old, my parents learned I was deaf. As they pondered what to do about this “problem,” the solution serendipitously fell into their laps. By pure chance, they lived across the street from Mrs. Beebe after she moved back to Easton, Penn., to start a speech therapy practice. Mrs. Beebe had the then revolutionary idea that deaf children could learn to acquire spoken language skills by utilizing their residual hearing. I presented her with a golden opportunity to test the theory that had been posited by Dr. Emil Froeschels. It was a considerable gamble for everyone, because there was no way to predict the outcome of this “test.”
My earliest auditory life as what I lovingly call “Beebe’s guinea pig” was very primitive, because suitable hearing aids were nonexistent. My parents, under her guidance, used a rubber hose that had an ear olive at one end and a kitchen funnel at the other to stimulate the tiny amount of residual hearing I had. One might say sound was hosed into me!
By contrast, many decades later, I hear with two hi-tech cochlear implants – better than I have ever heard in my life. It gives me a sense of gratification that today children with hearing loss can benefit from the wonderfully advanced hearing aids and cochlear implants to the point of being able, with appropriate training, to function much like their peers with typical hearing and be educated alongside them.
Mrs. Beebe was as influential in my life as my parents were. Virtually a second “mother,” she signed her birthday and Christmas cards to me “Mama Beebe.” Along with my parents, she was there every step of the way, from the “speech therapy” years and high school graduation to my wedding and adult life.
In her pioneering work with me, she was creative in her efforts to get me familiar with expressing the components of sounds (such as fricatives and plosives). A humble lipstick tube cap, upside down, was held to her lips and mine to help me feel the air being forced across it as she ssss’d, shhh’d, and ch’d over and over. My hands were placed on her throat to feel the different vibrations caused by various sounds. Drawings of faces showed the positions of lips, tongue and teeth in such sounds as eeee, oooo, ffff, thhh. Even cookies (not the computer kind!) were pressed into service as I chewed them and vocalized simultaneously, the objective being to help me modulate my voice; this was the famous Chewing Approach.
Friends from my class often came with me to my lunchtime sessions with Mrs. Beebe, whose office was just a few blocks from my elementary school. Two of them, decades later, told me I had influenced their career choice as a speech-language pathologist and an educational therapist.
I have vivid memories of Mrs. Beebe’s waiting room filled with visitors from afar wanting to see her “method” in action and learn more about it. I was repeatedly asked to demonstrate my speech and listening “skills.” I cooperated very reluctantly, as I hated being “exhibit #1.” All I wanted was to be just another “hearing” child.
I wore a body aid throughout childhood until I was a young adult, when I decided to switch to a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid in order to have more clothing flexibility. However, the BTE was not quite powerful enough for my very profound hearing loss, and Mrs. Beebe knew it. She was furious! She stamped the floor with irritation and growled, “Mardie Crannell, how could you?”
Mrs. Beebe not only nurtured my hearing, but also my intellectual development. I was truly fortunate to be at the nexus of alert, caring parents, a book-loving grandfather and uncle, a branch of the public library just up the street from our house, and Mrs. Beebe! Amid these surroundings, I scarfed down books like there was no tomorrow. After I had gone through all the books in the small library branch, my mother would drive me to the main library downtown.
I mention this because all that time spent reading contributed greatly to the development of my vocabulary, knowledge of slang and idioms, and general English-language skills – all of which further aided my ability to function in the mainstream alongside my peers and also provided me with a career path in adult life.
Mrs. Beebe was, in so many ways, larger than life, and she was certainly a person with a mission, 100% dedicated to her work with children like me. It was always a pleasure in later years to visit her office in Easton and see the children she was currently working with doing so well.