by Holly Wogan
A fictional account of one womans life surrounded by languages and culture
|My Linguistic Life
Mama called to me, "Bist du bereit zu?"
I called back to "ja, ich komme"
When she dropped me off at school, she would call out, "ich liebe dich, haben sie essen guten tag!" I spoke English at school.
After school, my grandmother Celeste would watch me, so I walked to her house which wasn't very far. When I got there, she would ask how my day was, "Bonjour cherie, Comment etait ta journee?"
I would tell her about my day as we sat boire du the avec du miel et manger du gateau. As I sipped my tea and ate my cake, she would teach me to sewing, cooking, and painting. When I needed help, she would show me the right way to do it, praising my efforts. I miss the sound of her low, musical voice cheerfully saying, "essayez comme ca", and I would try it like that.
She understood and spoke English perfectly well but preferred French, especially in her later years when dementia took her most recent memories and left her childhood ones intact. She grew up in France, and after my father married my mother, we took her with us to the United States. Near the end, it was hard to know if she was forgetting English or chose not to speak it.
After school, mom would pick me up, and before she was even out of the car, I was flying down the drive way to meet her. She would scoop me up and I would whisper in her ear, "Was gibt es zum abendessen?".
She would laugh, and tell me what she planned on making for dinner. I loved it when she answered huhn, reis, gemuse, und brot. I loved it even more when she said pizza. What I meant was I love you but at 6 o clock, my belly was doing the talking.
My mother was a wonderfully warm, caring, and sometimes serious woman. She was always very funny. Before bed every night, we would read, taking turns reading in English and German. She also spoke English perfectly well, but almost never spoke it at home.
When I started learning Spanish in school, my grandmother would look at my homework and point out what words were similar, what words were different, and studied alongside me. She loved speaking it, and it sounded delightfully odd with her thick accent. Learning Spanish was easier because I also knew French, but in some ways it was harder because I got words mixed up. Sometimes I got the right word in Spanish and said it with a french accent or visa versa.
I knew why Grandmother spoke only French, she had spoken it exclusively for most of her life and was set in her ways. She never said so, but I also think that she was self conscious of her English. I asked my mother why she only spoke German at home. She said that her and my father made that decision when I was born. Speaking of my father always made her feel a little sad, and also happy. He had been a wonderful man, sweet, strong, centered, and amusing. I'd hug her tight and whisper in her ear, "ich vermisse ihn auch"
Looking back, I loved my upbringing and it gave me a strong foundation on which I built a wonderful and flavorful life. My cultural and linguistic experience gave me an edge that my peers didn't have. It also helped that I also had my grandmothers beautiful eyes and long dark hair, my fathers sense of humor and centeredness, and was very much my mothers daughter.
When I was in my late 20's, we flew to France to bury my Grandmother in the village that she had been born in. There, I met a fine man and we were married in that same village 2 years later. I had duel citizenship and we agreed to raise the children in the US but summer in France. We wasted no time in filling the nursery. My youngest was born in France, in the same village as her father and Grandmother were. We named her Celeste and in many ways, she is very much like her namesake.
On week days, we spoke German in the morning and in the evening we spoke French. Weekends were wild cards. My mother insists on speaking only German to them, ever.
When we went to France, we brought her with us. My father had been born in that village. My Grandmother had been both born and buried there, so it felt like the whole family as together again. Sometimes I hear her voice in the wind, whispering bonjour cherie, j'adore. When I don't know what to do, I can still hear her low, musical voice cheerfully saying, "essayez comme ca", and I try it just like that.
As I reread this for the final time, I think to myself il est la presue termine, then I read it again and declare it Finie!