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Her Babysitting Is Be-Nein

, , , , , , , | Related | October 24, 2018

My maternal grandmother, who I refer to as my Oma, left Germany in secret very shortly before the Berlin Wall went up. She came to the US, where she met and married my Opa and started her family.

Her mother, who my mom and I have always called Omi, spoke basically no English, but she still came to visit us when she could. The last time she visited, I was about four years old and didn’t really understand how different languages worked. I thought it was word-for-word substitution — that in another language “giraffe” means “breakfast,” and in another could mean “purple,” or any number of variations.

I was young and couldn’t talk with her, but I have one very fond — though somewhat embarrassing — memory of her that made an impression. I was running around the garden and using a wooden frame on a garden bed as a balance beam. I guess I was making her nervous, because she kept frantically shouting, “Nein! Nein!” at me. Since I didn’t understand that she was speaking to me in another language and thought she was shouting the number nine at me for some reason, I gleefully cried back to her, “Ten! Ten!” and went on with my playing. I didn’t understand until years later what had actually happened.

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