Mom Talks Gaga

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?

Yuh, 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.

 

For the Love of Words

As my mom likes to say, after 40 years of being in the country, “I don’t know English and I forgot how to speak Polish.” My parents’ first language is Polish but they also speak English at home.  As with most immigrants, my parents eventually spliced both languages to create a third.  So I grew up translating both.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that I developed a love for words.

 One time I was sitting with my mother watching a TV show about a blind man who summited Mount Everest.  His tragic and triumphant story unfolded before us.  My mother and I both had tears trailing down our faces. She turned to me, dabbed her runny nose with the balled up paper towel from her finished apple and said, “Can you amazing?”

 I laughed and said, “You mean, imagine.”

 My mother had already turned her attention back to the TV. Since then, I’ve often tossed that phrase around in my mind. I got the feeling that my mother had somehow captured a deeper understanding. Of course, I thought she meant to say imagine, but perhaps in her back and forth of searching for the right word to translate, she came up with a better one.  Could I amazing? I could. I really could, because if you are thinking about a blind man summiting Everest you’ve got to do more than imagine.

 Translating words back and forth from Polish to English has always offered me a way to peek in to a richer world.  When something is lost in translation, I think it’s because the value of a word cannot be calculated to its fullest to a non-native speaker. Too many nuances of tone and meaning are lost when the translation is direct. Bouncing between two languages is like being able to see a canvas instead of a thread.

Take for example the phrase, ‘of course’ in English. It’s not a particularly exciting phrase. In Polish, oczywiście means ‘of course or obviously’. When I say the Polish word, I associate other Polish words with it. It’s like they are all holding hands. The sounds or roots of other words float in my mind and paint a more colorful and layered patchwork of meaning for me. Anyone who speaks another language will know exactly what I am talking about. (I want to hear about your favorite words that sound beautiful in your head when you translate them. Please leave me a comment if you have one.) For me, Oczywiście conjures up the words eyes (oczy) and to see (widzieć)- as if to say, “eye’s view”. For me it’s like saying I see it, therefore it must be true.  In other words, obviously.

 I like layered meanings, more poetic.