Sunday, November 22, 2020

Family Sayings

For many reasons I have been thinking of my parents and the things they used to say.  More and more have come back to me while our movements have been severely restricted.  My parents were from Germany and I was born during World War II so my parents did not want me speaking German at school so only spoke English with me.  Of course, when they spoke to each other they spoke in their native German.  I used to say jokingly, that I learned German in self-defense so I could know what they were saying about me.  Though my German is severely limited by a lack of vocabulary, and a whole lot else, maybe someone can explain to me why so much of the language has come back to me lately.  They do say that you remember more from your youth as you get older.

 “I wake up in the morning with nothing to do and by the end of the day, I have finished half of it” is a comment I have read about the shutdown.   That is my state of mind too!  However, I am reminded of what my father used to say to me when I complained about having too much schoolwork: “The more you do, the more you can get done.”  So true. Though these days  really have to push myself, I sometimes amaze myself with what gets accomplished. 

As a corollary to that my father said in German, “Wennshon denn schon” (If you are going to do it, give it your all). That is my translation, but I like what I found online, “You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” or “Go whole hog”

My parents were born in 1911 and 1913 when Germany still had an Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-1918).  One of their favorite sayings was, “Wo der Kaiser zu Fuss geht” (where the Kaiser goes on foot). That should be obvious, -- to the privy. I can imagine my grandparents saying that to my father when he was a little boy… and it stuck.

My family art dealership was founded in Frankfurt am Mein where they had a client who could never find his hat upon departure. He would run through the gallery saying over and over again, “Meine hut meine hut, wo ist meine hut” (My hat, my hat, where is my hat).  Whenever, I am missing something, I walk around repeating that.  It is kind of soothing, especially these days, to remember that you are neither the first, nor alone, in this predicament!

If my mother was really angry with me, she would say, “Mach disch nicht dummer wie du bist”. (Don’t make yourself dumber than you are).  That one really hurt.  I tried it once on my wife ... Never Again!

To end on a lighter note, at breakfast every morning my parents and I had fresh orange juice which my father squeezed.  To this day I continue to have the fresh orange juice but the shop down the street squeezes it for me.  Anyway, my parents always said “Prost” (Cheers) and we clicked glasses before drinking up.  Their Frankfurt accent, which I always equate with a southern drawl in this country, made it sound like “Brost”.

Fast forward some 50 years and my wife is doing an exhibition of the art from the collection of Moritz, Landgraf von Hesse for the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.  When we had a dinner with the Landgraf and raised our wine glasses I said, “Prost”.  Mistake, big mistake.  The Landgraf understood me just fine but gently corrected me: “Prost is something you say in the beer hall. In fine company you say, “Zum Wohl” (To health).  Now Penelope and I say Prost at breakfast and Zum Wohl with wine at dinner. 

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