Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Language has always fascinated me. I guess growing up around my grandparents with their mixed languages made me conscious of language both spoken and written.
When I entered the USAF my testing indicated that I had an aptitude for learning foreign language. For a kid from the Tennessee hills I was impressed with myself.
Studying from the bible God started all this at the tower of Babel when He "confused" the current language and gave each little group a separate language so they would spread out about the earth. Those folks must have had an "aptitude" for language also?
As a young teen I remember listening to a World War II vet from the Normandy campaign telling stories at the "liars" bench at the local gas station regarding his confusion with how to communicate with the French people in the area. This line of talk really appealed to me since I knew it was possible that he could have had contact with some of my relatives. At that time we had not made contact with our people there but I was aware of them.
Anyway, this guy in all seriousness, was telling about his fondness for the French people and how smart and imaginative they were. He said, "Even their children are super intelligent - even the very small ones speak perfect French." I was waiting for him to laugh but he never did????
Hyppoliet and Leonie both spoke with a combination of English, French, Flemish, and German. In fact Grandpa used the more gutteral German language for his occasional swear words.
I was constantly in trouble with my mom because she did not know what the words I was repeating meant but she knew that they were probably bad.
My grandpa had to be my favorite person in my life. Even though he died in the early 1960's I still miss him.
I remember sitting in his home-made porch swing (grandpa was a craftsman with wood) and looking down on the valley while grandpa puffed his pipe Sometimes we might sit for over an hour without talking. He always used Grainger pipe tobacco that he ordered by the case from Chicago I think. None of that sweet smelling tobacco for him. Grainger had a great masculine aroma but it was not sweet by any account. It was hard for me to be quiet but that's what he liked to do and I respected his peace. I think that's why he enjoyed my company because I never bothered him with unnecessary small talk. He had a great sense of humor but most of the time he appeared serious even though you could still see the gleam in those blue eyes.
Now I sometimes wonder what was on his mind back then? Was he thinking of his youth back home in Belgium/France? I will now never know but I will always wonder what stories he could have related to me if I had just pressed him?
Anyway, more next time regarding life growing up in an immigrant family.

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