Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dusty work and translation services

Whew! I just came in from mowing the prairie areas that I've been leaving alone all summer. Dusty work - there was a lot of ground up dried grass and weeds flying around. Even my tractor won't mow twenty-four inch tall growth neatly the first time or the second time through, at least not now, late in the season, when the blades are dull and all dinged up from me using the mower deck like it was a brush hog out in the woods. So I mowed the prairie about ten inches high last week, and then took it down to about six inches high the other day. Today I finally took it down to match the four inch or so height of the grass around the house.

While I was mowing I had my best guess at Mom's old recipe for string bean and little meat ball stew simmering on the stove. I'll give you the recipe for that tomorrow after I see what what it tastes like.

While I was mowing I was also thinking about why I started to mow the grass the way I do. And it came to me that the original reason was the rug Dory and John Hamano had in their living room back in the 1970's. The rug was all they had in the living room that first time when we went over to their house, but what a rug it was. It was a Chinese made oval carpet about ten or twelve feet long, very colorful and very neatly textured. The pattern of the colors and the varying depths of the pile made it fantastic, like a picture in three dimensions.

We lost touch with John and Dory decades ago but I still remember their rug, and I still texture the lawn to be like that rug. Or rather every spring I have a vision of texturing it, cutting it to various depths in patterns, to be like that rug. And then I hate so much to mess up the luxuriant growth of the areas where the grass and the wildflowers are getting tall, that I never cut the high growing areas until I absolutely have to in late summer. Linda, of course, has an opinion or two about all this, so I cut the area within about a hundred feet of the house like a regular lawn. But I let the farther away areas grow tall so the grass can sway in the wind, except for mown paths that lead here and there.

John and Dory were interesting folks. I met Dory at work where she was a salesperson briefly. He was a salesman with IBM. Their living room was bare of furniture because their idea was to fill the house piece by piece with really fine furniture. If that rug was an indicator they must have a house full of some really great furniture by now. Thinking of them I'm reminded that they were somewhat unusual. She was Jewish American, but she spoke Japanese fluently from college and then some time in Japan, teaching English I think on a sort of work study basis. He was Japanese American, but he spoke almost no Japanese. She interpreted when he talked to his grandmother. She could interpret in real time, as though she was a machine and not even involved in the conversation if she wanted to.

Mom used to interpret when I talked to Grandmom L, but she was a terrible translator because she was never not involved in the conversation. It used to make me crazy. I would ask Grandmom a question. And Mom would answer for Grandmom without even interpreting what I asked. Or Grandmom would say something long and obviously interesting and Mom would have a little conversation with her in Italian and then tell me something very short in English. Or I would ask a question and they would have a conversation with lots of grinning, and then Mom would tell me Grandmom said something not funny at all.

It was obvious my access to important information was being restricted. So I would try to talk to Grandmom on the sly, but we could never really communicate across the language barrier. Trying to talk to her as she was cooking or whatever would get you some great treats because she and Aunt Mary R always, always!, had something good either baking or else in the refrigerator, but talking to Grandmom seldom yielded information. And Aunt Mary was as bad as Mom as a translator, although Aunt Mary could tell you some pretty good stories on her own if Mom wasn't there to inhibit her.

With Aunt Mary you could always get a great piece of cake and hear something very interesting about who did what to whom and when. Sometimes even why and where. And with names too. One time a person Aunt Mary had just said was a horse's ass happened to visit, and she offered him a piece of cake, and had a nice smiling little conversation with him. Then, after he left, she said, "See, like I said, a real shtunad; but whataya gonna do, you can't pick your relatives."

But it was Grandmom who I wanted to communicate with. So I would try to get Pop to translate, but he would claim not to be able to speak Italian well enough, even though I knew from observation that he could understand it perfectly well. He very rarely said anything in Italian, but he would get the jokes just as fast as everybody else did when he listened in to Grandmom L and Aunt Mary R and Julia, Mom's Goomah, and Sia Gigette, Pop's aunt from the other side of the family, when they were sitting around the kitchen table talking.

The really old ladies, Mom's Goomah and Sia Gigette, were already like a hundred years old then, at least, and they knew a lot. Mom's Goomah, Julia, was usually pretty quiet, but when Sia Gigette was around she would get rocking and rolling just as well as the others.

Sia Gigette was a special and interesting case. One time when they didn't know I was listening I heard Mom tell Aunt Carmella and Aunt Tavia that Sia Gigette would never die. "She's too nasty to die," Mom said. And Aunt Carmella and Aunt Tavia laughed and agreed, even though Sia Gigette was their aunt, just like she was Pop's aunt. "She's a bitch on wheels all right," Aunt Carmella said. And Aunt Tavia said, "You can say that again." And then they laughed about the time Mom asked Sia Gigette, "How's she different from your daughter?" or something like that right in front of Grandmom A after Sia Gigette made some remark about, uh, one of my relatives on Mom's side.

Anyway, when Mom and Aunt Mary and Julia and Sia Gigette were together in the kitchen down on Walnut Street they said the best stuff, stuff that made Mom look around to see who was listening; but they said it all in Italian. They said stuff that sometimes made her and Aunt Mary laugh so hard they would be like they were crying. Sometimes one of them would say something that would even make Mom break briefly from Italian into English.

"No!" She would say, and then "Goomah! Be good," or "Sia Gigette! He did not!" Or she would make that shh gesture and say "Mom! Little pitchers have big ears." Then they all would turn to where me and Matty were looking in the door and they would laugh and laugh. And if they were really loud in there Grandpop would mumble that phrase that Pop later told me meant "chickens in the barnyard," or something like that. Me and Matty would see that Grandpop was shaking his head with a little smile on his face in the living room, and Pop would have a big broad smile.

But Pop would never translate, or he would tell us something that was a little funny, but not something funny enough to have made Aunt Mary scream, "Stop! You're makin' me wet my pants."

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