Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)
TITLE: Like Father, Like Son
By Sonya Leigh
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He warned me of terrible consequences which would follow if I was not thankful for what I had in America.
Both my parents had it hard in their respective old countries but my dad’s was the only one I heard about.
Sometimes a bitter root would surface in him in the form of a contentious outburst.
For example, some years ago my father was in a car accident. He sideswiped a huge tree that had been growing very close to the edge of the road. The old man who lived on the property called 9-1-1. He reported an irate man standing in the middle of the road shouting at his tree. When the police arrived, my father insisted that the tree should be held responsible for the damage done to his car.
Adding to my father’s combative expressions was the fact that he spoke in mixed up proverbs to convey the stark contrast of his life in Czechoslovakia with the sweetness of life in the United States. He regularly quoted the medicinal locutions of “thee old contree”:
“Don’t eet too fast, or you vill die yung.”
“Don’t seet close to thee fire or it vill give you heartburn.”
“Eef you cross the road you may regret it.”
I was sure he muddled those proverbs just to mess with my mind. I never understood the profundity in them.
It wasn’t just my father who had proverbial challenges. My mother, an Irish woman, didn’t speak anything if it wasn’t a proverb in every sentence. Even though hers weren’t jumbled, I still felt like I was under constant scrutiny of the One-Liner Police.
When I took too long doing my chores, it was,
“Nodding the head doesn’t row the boat, Lad.”
When I didn’t have an appetite,
“The breath is only just in and out of ye, and the grass doesn't know that yer walking over it!”
When I got a bit cheeky and talked back to her, out would come the warning ticket.
“Y’er sufferin’ from a double dose of original sin, that ye are, Robert!”
Stuck between two worlds, I wasn’t forced to learn either of my parents’ native tongues. My mom was more interested in me learning the new language of America than her Irish Gaelic.
I was thankful that I never had to learn my father’s language because it never made any sense to me, not even when translated.
I thought it was developed by an extraordinary group of irrational thinkers who formulated their own fatuous speech and conduct. In fact, the language itself sounded a bit like words spoken backwards, which, in my mind, was a perfect fit for the logic it conveyed.
At times I was so frustrated at not being able to retaliate with the same mumbo jumbo that I resorted to mimicking my father using whatever backwards masking sounds I could produce.
Without fail and without a word, he would stop mid-action, remove his slipper and chase me around the house. It didn’t matter if I was twelve or twenty.
After a few years in the real world my father’s words began to come back to me and took on some meaning. Like when I loved and lost my first wife to divorce. “Een life you haff to suffer a little beet and take the bad vit good. You must know bitter before knowing vaat is tasting sveet. Like very good Czechoslovakian beer.”
Maybe it wasn’t the most profound proverb, but somehow those words reached in and touched my confusion and pain.
Most likely it had less to do with the words themselves, than with the man who gave them to me.
My father laid the foundation for the best collection of proverbs—the ones I found in the Good Book. As I quote them to my kids, I realize, “It is a wise child who knows his own Father.”
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