|Karen Swensen documents a deaf couple evacuated in the Danvers plant explosion. (George M. Martell/file 2006)|
Journalists tend to look at the world through the prism of the story, always wondering if some small detail in a news report could represent a larger tale to tell. Nearly a year ago, New England Cable News anchor Karen Swensen, scanning through newspaper coverage of the chemical plant explosion in Danvers, spotted the story of an elderly deaf-mute couple and decided she needed to know more.
The result is "To Have and to Hold," a short and sweet documentary that premieres tonight at 8 and replays throughout the week. It's the story of Lois and Henry Finnochiaro, two residents of the New England Home for the Deaf, who met late in life and found a satisfying love.
This isn't groundbreaking TV - it has the feel of a well-done segment on a newsmagazine - but it's not really meant to be. It's just a tidy, half-hour-long glimpse into an oft-unnoticed segment of society. And it's chastening stuff for this time of year, a story of two people who seem remarkably happy despite some serious obstacles.
Lois was born deaf - she studied at Allston's Horace Mann School for the Deaf in the 1940s - and lost her sight at 52. When her first husband died, she moved to the Danvers home. There, she met Henry, who also was deaf from the start and lost his sight as an adult. They communicated through "tactile signing," the same process Annie Sullivan famously used to communicate with Helen Keller. It amounts to a sort of active hand-holding, letters and words communicated through the movement of fingers. Their hands first clasped in friendship, then in love.
They tell their story with the help of four interpreters, all of whom deserve great credit: The most fascinating part of this piece is the interview process itself. For each of the Finnochiaros, a hearing interpreter translates Swensen's queries into American Sign Language, while a deaf one signs the results into a waiting hand. Responses come back with vigor and emotion, which makes sense: You can see from their eyes and facial expressions that both Lois and Henry are full of spirit. They have a lot to say, and it takes a lot of words - spoken with fitting warmth by the translators - to get their points across.
The messages themselves are fairly simple; the Finnochiaros have overcome a remarkable amount to live a sweetly ordinary life. Lois has figured out a system for cross-stitching, and plays bingo at the home with a special Braille card. Henry makes wood carvings and reads the newspaper in Braille to his wife every morning. They keep each other company, and supported each other when they were evacuated for months after the chemical explosion.
It's a tale of resilience that's all the more poignant because of the way it ends. This may be just a little story, but it's a nice one to know.