Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Mamma Lushon

Every family has their own language, and that unique vocabulary can live on. 

In my family's case, cutely mispronounced baby words can cling for decades. For instance, as a toddler, Luke said "dahngess" (which is actually Yiddish for "worries") instead of "downstairs," and to this day, we say "dahngess." Then the next generation of kinfauna left their mark, and in short order. Luke's now 6-year-old son used to say "chapach" instead of "garbage," and I seem to be stuck saying the same. 

Then there are the European pronunciations from my parents' backgrounds. "Interasant" for "interesting"; "stoordy" for "sturdy"; "banant" for "banana." 

Then, when one marries, the spouse introduces their own family language. One of the reasons why I feel like I can be completely myself with Han is his ready acceptance of my verbal quirks, as this vocabulary is so much a part of me that it's unthinkable that I can let it go. 

"Shoin nisht the vaaser," Babi would say when washing hands. "Frozen meat doesn't rot," Zeidy would say regarding the health benefits of frigid weather. Quoting my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, the kinfauna—it's comfort, it's continuity. 

I thought of this while reading Deborah Tannen's "My Mother Speaks Through Me." Her mother died nearly 15 years ago.
I was grateful to be reminded that whenever I open my mouth to speak and my ears to hear, my mother is still with me.
Luke is a scientist; he told his kids that Babi will always be with them because they carry her DNA, she is literally in them. DNA can be seen in action, I have noted. I look like my father's side of the family, but Luke constantly says my mannerisms are like Ma's. When I echo her words, when she quoted her parents' Yiddish and Hungarian, I feel as though she is not gone, but with me. 


Altie said...

My mother passed away on Thanksgiving. She was sick with cancer for 3 and a half years. We knew this was a possibility, but still not expected. I wasn't sure how I would feel. Now that I'm experiencing it, I'm honestly still not sure.

We never had a family language. Or rather, I never noticed it. My mother would say "put the thing in the thingy" while motioning towards something leaving us to decipher what she was referring to.

She would also forget all our names, and say "whatsyourface".

I remember her mannerisms more than I remember her words.

I guess most of my language comes from my father. We have a family motto, "you snooze you lose". That, my father came up with.

I doubt I'll ever find myself talking like my mother or doing things she did. But I do hope I'll find things that remind me of her.

Princess Lea said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Altie. I can truly say I know how it feels—which is very much also not knowing how it feels. It's been a year and a half for me, and my grieving process vastly differs from my sister's. She was crying throughout the final diagnosis and onward; I released tears after her yartzheit. There is no right or wrong way, luckily.

Mannerisms are very much a part of it. Luke says I have my mother's mannerisms; when he sees me make faces like she did or motion with my hands like she did, it gives him comfort.

Reminders come in all sorts of shapes and forms. My grandfather died when I was 9; oddly enough, I see a lot of him in my niece, who was born six years later.

Language isn't the only way to remember someone. People connect to different things—food, for instance (and paprikash is certainly a reminder, as well as matte, spotted Golden Delicious apples. She was obsessed with those).

May we have comfort.

Altie said...

It's funny because the other day my sister mentioned, Mommy didn't leave us with any recipes, she never really used recipes. She would throw in a little of this and a little of that and I don't think I ever saw her measuring something, and she was always pleasantly surprised when it came out good. She made good food but she also did experiments that she ended up throwing out.

She had these yummy crumbly drop biscuits she used to make, and none of us quite knew how she made them. And then, we were going through stuff- we're moving soon so we're trying to throw stuff out and go through old boxes- I found a "cookbook" that my sister made in grade school and each kid had to put in a recipe, and in my mother's neat beautiful handwriting was the drop biscuit recipe (of course, she always did the work on our projects for us.)

I thought it was funny, like here's our one family recipe we'll all remember.

I can't imagine it's any less fresh for you after this time. I can't say that "I understand you now", because I was shocked and saddened to hear that your mother passed away. But unfortunately, as my sister pointed out, it feels like we're part of some exclusive club now. One that we haven't chosen.

I love how you talk about your mother so seamlessly, like she is still very much a part of your life.

Princess Lea said...

A daring willingness to try new things! I'm so impressed with people who cook successfully without recipes. Experimentation is always a risk, and that is a quality to be admired.

My mother had beautiful penmanship too. What a lovely echo from the past. My brother did my projects for me. (My teacher knew but his poster of the circulatory system was so good she didn't care.)

It's still fresh, in many ways. She left a vast vacuum which is still gaping. At first, all I could remember of her was how she was before she died; now I'm able to remember her as she was, bright, vivacious, opinionated, lipsticked.

She is still very much a part of my life. I hear her voice in my head, what she would have expected from me, the things she would say in response to a situation. To share things that happened with her. I hope she stays with me.

Well put: We are part of an exclusive club. Our eyes meet, another one whose parent has passed, and there is a knowingness, that we get it while others don't.