Note to the reader: Some of you have asked. Yes, I can speak Polish. I would venture to say though that I understand it better than I can speak it. Unless I’m in language boot camp mode like when I’ve visited Poland and I snap right into shape. Immersion is good for things like that. I usually talk to my parents and aunt in a mixture of Polish and English. My parents used to speak only in Polish to me but over the years it has also become a mix. Not to mention the third Polonia language they’ve created. Ciocia Felicia only speaks Polish. I can also read relatively easy things- like letters from Mom or my relatives. I can’t write very well though. But when I push myself for small batches of sentences I can do it. I think understanding, speaking, reading, writing is the line up of how many first generation children learn language- comprehension can be stronger than any other facet.
…and now to the musing.
I was sitting on the couch with Mom over Christmas. I half heard something she was saying ‘blah blah blah Gaga.’
Did you just say Gaga? Lady Gaga?
You know who Lady Gaga is?
She shot me a look. Same one I get when I swear.
Jak bym ja to niewiedziałm, kto Gaga jest? Ona miała suknię z mięsem. Nawet Ciocia wie kto Gaga jest.
Translation: How would I not know who Gaga is? She had a meat dress. Even your Aunt knows who Gaga is.
Ciocia, a blessed 84 years old, sat on the love seat next to us. She looked up at me and said “Gaga.”
My mom said Gaga like they are on a first name basis with each other. When I told her to say the words Lady Gaga again, she waved me off like a house fly.
“Say it again! I like the way you say her name.”
Maybe this insistence was where I picked up one of my many nicknames, Pest and Piła (Saw) just to name two endearments. As a kid If I wanted to sleep over my friend Holly or Julie’s house, and she said no, I would pout and repeat “I wanna go. Iwannago. Iwannago.” I mentally chained myself to her leg.
I usually got what I wanted by wearing her down.
There are certain things that my mom says in English that I want her to repeat. I like hearing the flow of Polish come to a flying halt of English. Like when some years ago she stopped by the liquor store near Market Basket to buy scratch tickets and said to me, “Kupiłem Cash Blizzard.” I bought Cash Blizzard.
Not two words I have ever heard her put together. So I hear them. It’s the English words that become foreign and stand out to me. The figurative is distilled. The sounds and meaning seem new.
For a split second my Polish mother becomes a pop culture American and the two worlds we both live in bump out of orbit.