In the late 1950s, Victory Povich, the Hearing daughter of a Deaf mother, is a young Jewish teenager floundering in school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Victory’s father, a Hearing man, has recently passed away, leaving Victory and her mother Esther almost destitute. To make matters worse, because Esther signs, she must now depend on Victory to translate. Victory translates for her own convenience and fails to tell her mother when she is in trouble at school. Some of Victory’s omissions lead to hilarious episodes, while others lead to her being the brunt of bullies, and a serious entanglement with the law occurs when Victory finds herself caught up in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Her father’s illness—and the persecution that Victory suffers, not only from being Jewish, but also from being the daughter of a Deaf woman—causes her to retreat into the world of books and imagination where she pretends she’s Nancy Drew, solving complex mysteries. Now Victory and her mother must find a way to survive when the whole world seems to be against them through no fault of their own.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Winged Victory by Sarah Levine Simon, Victory is the hearing daughter of a hearing father and a deaf mother in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. And if having a deaf mother wasn’t enough to get her bullied in school, she is also Jewish. Then when her father dies, she and her mother are on their own. Victory is also ostracized because her family doesn’t have much money, so life is hard. Then a new friend moves in across the street, and Victory starts getting into trouble, but she also learns to take responsibility for her actions, no matter the consequences—a hard lesson to learn and not without its adventures.
Simon tells a heartwarming tale of what it was like to be an unpopular minority in an industrial town in the middle of the twentieth century when people with disabilities were given no quarter. It’s a story that will open your eyes and stay with you a long time.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Winged Victory by Sarah Levine Simon is the story of a young Jewish girl growing up in Pittsburgh in the late nineteen fifties. Victory Povich is nine when the story opens, and even at that age, a lot is asked of her. Her mother is deaf, though both Victory and her father can hear. Being an only child, Victory is often called upon to translate for her mother, who can only use sign language. Since people often fear what they don’t understand, Victory’s family is shunned because of her mother. In those days, people with disabilities had few options and were often persecuted. Victory has few friends and is bullied at school. Then when she is thirteen or so, her father dies of cancer, and Victory and her mother are left all alone. Victory’s aunt and uncle try to take over and control their lives, but Victory and her mother have other ideas.
Winged Victory is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, and thought-provoking story of courage, strength, and the determination to succeed despite the obstacles disabled people and their families face. It gives us a glimpse into a world most of us can’t even imagine.
In my family we have two names for everyone–one name links the person to family, the other–the snapshot impression your mind takes of that person. My mother calls my father The Red Tie Artist because he was wearing a red tie the day he met my mother in the museum–too dressed up to carry a sketchbook, she thought. He says she reminded him of a stubborn flame. She was dressed like a beatnik, all in black. Her red hair flowing about her shoulders first caught his eye. According to my father, they almost didn’t meet. He had gone to the museum on his day off from the linoleum store to sketch the statue of the Winged Victory in the long marble hall.
It was my mother’s day off from the factory where she painted delicate flowers on porcelain. She was sketching the Winged Victory, too. My father was very impressed by her drawing and paid her a compliment. She can’t hear and didn’t turn to acknowledge it. So he repeated it. My mother still didn’t budge. Her eyes stayed fixed on the Winged Victory.
“Look, I didn’t mean to bother you. I’m sorry okay. Your drawing is really remarkable. That’s all I wanted to say.” He started to walk away but when he entered the periphery of her vision, she turned and fell immediately in love with his eyes–his version of the winged victory, too. My mother says my father should have tapped her on the shoulder. But he insists that it would have been rude.
My father had to learn to sign because my mother, born deaf, never learned to speak. I asked my mother if she ever worried that I would be born deaf and she signed. “No! Only the family worried, especially my mother.” When I was born, the first thing my grandmother did was strike a tuning fork on the side of my crib. My uncle Abe smashed the lids of metal pots together when they brought me home. I was too good-natured to cry. If these attacks didn’t bother my mother, there was no reason for them to bother me. That was the first of many misunderstandings in the Hearing part of my family about the Deaf part.
I am nine years old the summer of my father’s first illness.
“We think we caught it in time,” they tell me but not what it was they had caught.
In the beginning, I am part of that we–a co-conspirator, the brave triumvirate. I can hear the sound of Julie Kramer playing forty-fives through the wall that separates our houses. The Kramers live in number four and we live in four and a half. Our house is the mirror image of theirs. I descend our stairs to the sound of “Stella Dallas” blaring over Mrs. Kramer’s vacuum cleaner.
“Just a little test,” they tell me.
Our house begins to whisper with hints of my father’s illness. Whispers follow me outside on to the back stairs and hover over me like an ether. The Nancy Drew book I’ve been reading is in my hands, always secrets and clues, this one in the attic. Each book recaps how Nancy has lost her mother. A frisson of fear jets through my heart and into my arteries and travels into my capillaries. My fingers and toes grow numb with it. What if my father were to die. I know I don’t dare ask this question. I sense vague thoughts could turn into a new reality if I unleash them.
“It’s only indigestion,” my father says.
He has been complaining for the last three months and dragging to and from work. My mother has been begging him to call Dr. Frank. When he comes home from work, he stays in bed. They seem to have forgotten about me. I don’t tell them I haven’t been doing my arithmetic homework. In my satchel is a permission slip. Doctor Salk wants to test his new polio vaccine on the school children. I hide the slip.
My mother hands me the telephone. “Tell Doctor Frank to come over,” she signs.
I don’t want to call. The other children say Doctor Frank’s son, Henry, has polio and will have to wear a brace on his right leg. This past summer I wasn’t allowed to swim–polio season posters are displayed everywhere of children in braces, in iron lungs. The doctor’s wife answers. She’s amused to hear the voice of a child on the other end of the line.
“My mother says she wants the doctor to come over.”
“What’s the matter, Victory?”
“My father throws up everything.”
“Has he tried toast and broth?”
“He tells my mother he’s not hungry.”
The humidity and closeness of the air intensify. I hear a click on the line. My father has picked up the receiver on the upstairs extension. “It’s okay, Victory. Tell Doctor Frank it’s nothing,” he tells the wife. “I’ll call him in a few days if I don’t feel better.”
When he hangs up, he calls for me. “Victory, I can call the doctor myself.”
“Then why don’t you?” My eyes travel over the mahogany headboard that was my grandmother’s. Ivy tendrils scroll in every direction on the yellowing wallpaper. My mother would like to put up wallpaper with roses, but my father says they don’t have the money.
He sees that I am upset. “A little hug?”
Why always a hug, I want to say, because you smell like vomit. Instead, I burst into tears.
“Did you draw today?”
I nod in answer. I’m too choked up to talk.
I go to my room, return with my spiral sketchbook diary, and hand it to him. I begin to leave.
“Wait, you have to tell me what this is.” He has a page open to an elaborate tapestry of doodles, faces, animals, and plants all crammed onto the page over a long period. The pencil is smeared and the page is worn from erasing and redrawing. There are fish and birds larger than the people depicted. Buildings topple. “Can I show it to your mother?”
“It could be a bigger painting.”
“I don’t want to do a bigger painting.”
“Someday you might change your mind. Can I draw you?”
I open my sketch diary to a clean page and hand it to him.
My eyes glance downward with shyness.
“That’s what I would like to capture in you.”
I like it when my parents draw me. It is a way of touching another person, yet you are not touching the other person. The pencil pulled over the paper caresses the lines of my face and my energy begins to flow throughout my body. My hands and feet become warm as I emerge on his page.
“Can I keep it?” he asks.
I nod and he tears the page out of my sketchbook.
© 2017 BY Sarah Levine Simon