My mom’s mother and father were Hungarian immigrants, so as a kid I heard a lot of Hungarian. My mom spoke Hungarian till she was 6 and spoke only Hungarian with her parents till I was 9. Hungarian got deep into me. Not nearly enough attention is being paid to the influence of language on the brain.
This particular day, I had shot a 72 at my golf course in New Jersey and was in one of the best moods I’d ever been in in my entire life.
On the way home, I stopped off to visit my grandparents. My grandfather was an old man in frail health. He was thin as a rail because he couldn’t eat. He was sitting by the window not eating.
“Papa, Papa!” called the great golfer as she came in. That was me. I was the great golfer. “Look what I’ve brought you!” I held out a bag of cherries I had bought on Broadway. Papa turned from the window and smiled at the bag of cherries. “Yes, granddaughter, yes.”
I heard another smear about Julian Assange this morning on television that barely rises to the level of comedy. As a 5-year old, he wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance in school. Actually he didn’t go to school, so the 5-year old would not have been able to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance. He was home-schooled, because his mother thought that schools instill an unhealthy respect for authority.
Back to the cherries. Papa smiled and looked out the window at the plane taking off from LaGuardia airport.
“Cherries, Papa! Cherries!”
I took one from the bag and ate it in front of him, like you do to get a baby to eat, with a big happy grin on my face. I thought of the nine-iron I had hit stiff to the pin on the 18th hole.
I felt a momentary pang of guilt, knowing my carrying on this way had nothing to do with Papa, but was all about me and my happiness. But I had barely time to be ashamed and to think “I’m taking advantage of an old man’s difficult ending days,” before Papa’s green eyes looked into mine. He smiled with those eyes as if he understood the tricks I was up to.
“Aren’t they good, Papa?”
He said, “Yes, my dear grandchild, you live……. or did I?………. in a paradise.”
Papa said those three words long before the United States had become a military empire with 700 bases around the world, and occupying forces in three countries and a Camp Bondsteel with 955 acres and the best hospital in Kosovo and three gyms, 2 recreation buildings, iTunes, iPhones, iPads, iPods, the best in internet connections and WiFi, its very own fire station and military police station, 2 cappuccino bars, 2 massage parlors regulated by military police, and schools and correspondence courses, and local vendors who sell Kosovo souvenirs, and softball and football fields, and more. AND MORE!
He said it long before the US government talked about democracy all the time and propped up dictators, and talked about making itself safe while destroying others’ safety, and talked about liberty and tortured people and denied torturing them and admitted torturing them and went after people who crossed it and went after people who investigated it for going after people.
So Papa knew something even then that I didn’t. . . . . . Or did I?