Thursday, July 13, 2006

French and Grandpa

Everyone was opposed to me taking French as my foreign language option in high school. Most of my friends opted into Spanish or German, the other two choices. I wanted to take French. The day we were registering for freshman classes, I found out that the French classes were full. Saddened, I turned to sign up for a different elective. Not far away, a shorter and very much grey-haired woman looked at me and smiled. She took me by the hand, literally pulled me down to the registrar's office, and demanded I be allowed to join her class even if it meant standing room only. It took me three years to complete four years of French classes, doubling up my junior year. While I've had limited use of my monstrously tiny French vocabulary, I find myself thinking in it quite often. I'm no "Frenchie," a person who took the language to avoid learning another... nor am I opposed to learning another language now--I much welcome the opportunity should it arise. My Latin isn't bad, nouns mostly, and I'd really like to work on both Spanish and German.

Not too long after my grandfather passed away, Grandma gave me a book of his. I probably wasn't but twelve years old, and the book seemed like a nice, if not small, token by which to remember him. She handed me the dusty dark blue volume and told me it was special. The book's edges were well-worn, the engraved lettering on the cover almost unreadable. I opened the book to an arbitrarily chosen page, yellowed and dingy with time. I realized the words were not in English and asked if this was some weird language. Grandma explained that the book was my grandfather's high school French textbook when he learned French. Inside the cover was his name--he was the first and only owner--and part of a love poem he'd penned when he was young. Grandma, knowing my passion for books, gave me a perfect gift by which to remember Grandpa.

I took the book home, sat down with a French/English dictionary, and began the task of translating the first short story. What I did not yet understand about languages were important things like verb conjugations and tenses. I'd get stuck on words so easily. Frustrated, eventually, I gave up. But I never really put the book away for good... and when the chance came to learn the language, I took the chance.

My French isn't great, but with the help of a dictionary to look up an occasional word, I can passably understand most of the text in the book. I wouldn't trade that knowledge for anything... Grandpa passed away before I got a chance to know him, or at least know him as a teenager or adult. Perhaps learning French is a way I am able to connect. I don't strive to be just like him, even though I've heard we're quite a bit alike... The book is one of my most prized possessions, and I will treasure it always with the memory of him.


A bit more about Grandpa, not that you care, but because I feel the need to write this out. Not every kid reaches the age of 22 and has many grandparents still alive. I'm doing pretty darn good with three mostly-healthy grandparents; my dad's dad being the only one to have left this world. I've heard a lot of stuff about my grandpa, both good and bad from several different sources. Some say he was a drunk, some say he was a magnificent dancer. He was a good farmer, I know that much... and he lived a long life. He was quiet, ingenuitive, thoughtful, neighborly, outdoorsy, a baseball fan, and probably a lot more I will never know. He was a good hunter, a decent shot from what I've heard. Just about everyone that remembers my grandpa to me says they picked beans for him... they also say Grandma was a tough boss. I believe it! (you can read more about her throughout my blog) I really wish I had the chance to know him now, to dance with him, to speak French (though I doubt he'd remember any), to learn from him... Even though I never really got a chance to know him and barely remember interacting with him, good or bad as he might have been, I miss my grandpa.

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