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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

English as a Second Language

My mother came to this country from Austria when she was 21. She wasn't planning to stay here forever, but as fate would have it, she has. She has assimilated to American culture pretty well although she stubbornly refuses to become a citizen. When my dad was alive, he'd joke that she would be deported to Austria if we ever went to war with them. Every few years, she has to have her green card renewed.

After 40+ years in the U.S., she speaks English very well. Her accent is thick, though, and she can switch into speaking German in an instant (this was very confusing when my sister and I traveled with her to Austria and she would start speaking to us in English, switch to German, and then back to English without batting an eye).

She probably sums up the feelings of many foreigners (and small children) when she insists, "English is a stupid language" when faced with yet another irregular spelling or pronunciation.

My father was born in the states and had a wicked sense of humor, so we learned that many of my mother's speech foibles were quite hilarious. She would 'wacuum' our house with the 'wacuum' cleaner; my first boyfriend was "Powl", not Paul; and she could not make a 'th' sound to save her life. We tried to teach her, "Mom it is thumb, not tongue"! They both sounded the same coming from her mouth. It always amazed me how she just couldn't make a 'th' sound---it looked so hard when she did it and yet was so effortless for me. Then, I took a second language (French) and learned some humility.

We did not live on a diet of Wiener Schnitzel and Bratwurst; my mom learned how to "cook American" and did a good job of it. My favorite dessert in the world is her amazing lemon-chiffon pie that is so light and fluffy, it melts in your mouth. I begged her to share the recipe until, one day, she did. I'm sure she regrets this because my sister and I got to her handwritten line, "Beat egg jokes until dick", fell onto the ground in peals of laughter, and never got through the rest of the recipe.

Another favorite dish from my mom was something she made with Rice-a-roni. I grew up believing it was an Italian dish (sorry, I didn't make the connection that Rice-a-Roni is definitely NOT an Italian ingredient). It was called Porcupini and was made like meatballs (see, the Italian thing makes sense now, huh?) When we knew she was making them, our house would ring out in our faux-Italian accents, "Porcupini! Yay for Porcupinis!"

After I had moved out of the house for college, I came home for a visit and raided the food pantry. I lovingly pulled out the box of Beef Rice-A-Roni and was prepared to ask my mom to use her magic on them, when---what is this?---there was a photo of my beloved dish on the back of the box. Bringing the box closer, I read the name of the recipe: "Porcupines".

As in:

If I could bottle up a feeling from my youth to savor now as I get older, it would be from this moment. There was something so funny, so ridiculous, that it is hard to put a finger on it now. But, one thing I remember is that my mom was laughing with us. And, that is how she was with most of our ribbing. Yes, there were times she got angry at us, but often she laughed too.

I'm sure she never saw this as a lesson she taught me, but it was. The lesson was, 'never take yourself so seriously that you can't laugh at your mistakes'.

Oh, and 'English is a stupid language'.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing we ever learned to cook at all...

And 'dunder and lightning' was always a favorite.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Whirlwind said...

As Einey is learning how to read and write, we constantly have to remind her that "English" is a silly language. We really make it hard for our kids :)

4:15 PM  

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