Dad grew up in a large German speaking family in North Dakota. It wasn’t until he started attending school that he was required to speak English.
Visiting my father’s family, when I was young, was interesting. Great food, lots of laughter, loud volume, couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. As we grew older, dad’s family shifted from speaking German to English except during times of distress. When a crisis arose the family would talk and yell in German. We were left wondering what in the world was going on and anxiously asking, “What? What?”
The German speaking tradition was not passed down to us. We often bothered dad about this, but for whatever reason (and I have a few ideas), German was not a second language in our household. Most of the time this does not pose a problem for me. But once in a while my lack of German gets in my way.
I have pictures, mementos and letters from my parent’s lives. Dad’s boxes contain hand written letters in German. I can’t read or understand German but I was taught to be resourceful. Using Google Translate (a free online service) I type the German words from the letters and watch them transform into English before my eyes. Google Translate is not infallible and while it helps me understand the general content of the letters it is not always completely accurate. But this does not discourage me. I enjoy the challenge and it’s fun trying to decipher these letters on my own.
The latest letter I am working on involves sincere greetings, a report of good health, a missing item found in a pocket, joy in finding it, and I believe tight pants. The suspense is building.