Sunday, January 8, 2012

Raised in a German household

All four of my grandparents emigrated from Prussia and Germany during the 1920's. My parents were born in the US, but in their households, German was spoken at home. The food, music, and even the newspaper on the coffee table were all German, and since the children went to US schools, they became bilingual. No ESL programs, no cultural sensitivity or diversity initiatives. I can't imagine what it was like for them during the WW II years, when as young adults they were literally fighting against their cousins in Germany.

When we were kids, my parents played German music on Sunday afternoons. My father banged at household chores and whistled while the German marches played, and my mother sang along as she cooked Sunday dinner. Once my grandmothers showed up, glasses were raised and the marches changed to beer-drinking songs, and 'ja-hoo!' seemed to end every song.

So the culture of Germany prevailed in our household, but not the language. Judy and I weren't bilingual - our parents and grandmothers only spoke German when they didn't want us to know what was going on. As kids do, we tried to sing along with the German songs anyway. The result? Jibberish that imitated the sounds we heard even though we had no idea what we were saying.

Last night, we celebrated my parents' 60th wedding anniversary with a family dinner at - no surprise here - a German restaurant. Amid the sauerbraten and Spaten, an accordion player entertained the clientele with songs, some American and some very German. Judy and I lifted our glasses and sang Ein Prosit as we had since childhood - even our children (third generation in America) know that one. When the other familiar tunes from our childhood Sundays flew out of the accordion, Judy and I sang our German-jibberish in near hysterics as only second-generation kids can.

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