Little Oma was nearly as wide as she was short. Her feet ached all the time, so she wore my old, super-sized Nikes which she had fished out of the trash can.
It was 1998 and to Omas’ dismay, I was still thin and strong, climbing mountains in my pregnancy whenever I could. She was determined to keep me at home and fatten me up with her delicious cooking. If I locked the door to the flat, she jimmied it open with some tools from the workshop. She simply walked in, knowing damn well that we couldn’t be annoyed if she was bearing food. The meal offerings weren’t because she particularly liked me, they were a direct food chute to the baby that she was eagerly waiting to feed and cuddle. She was so short and I am so tall, it felt like she was always talking to my belly anyway.
I couldn’t understand her Schwabian German dialect. We got through our days communicating but not comprehending each other. She would cook and I would eat.
There was no talking around a word. If I didn’t know the word for spoon, I would describe it as “the thing you eat soup with”. That really annoyed her. "Löffel!” she’d snap at me.
Oma was very proud that she could outdo my German skills with her English. She could count from "von, two tree"….all the way past "tventy-two". Her sister, after a visit to relatives in America, taught Oma to politely ask "Vill you kiss my Arsch?"
One day Oma confronted me with a small, wilted plant I had thrown out that morning. She said, "Du muss giessen". I had never heard the verb giessen before. In my mind it could have meant anything but it certainly didn’t sound to me like "water the plant." Instead, I formed my own sentence that sounded, to my ear at least, a lot more correct. I told her that I had indeed "irrigated" the wilted plant. Ich habe bewässert. She stared at me silently. I knew that I had said something wrong. I repeated my sentence trying out all the verbs that sounded like water in German: Wassern? Wasser geben? Gewässert? Wasser on the Pflanze? She looked at me, disgusted. "GIESSEN!" she snapped.
I was desperate to know what she wanted. Prune it? Plant it? Fertilize it? All I needed to do was water it but she stood there demanding that I excercise some brutal German verb upon it.
So, I did what every language beginner does, I used my hands and feet. With great theater, I enacted a cascade of water over the plant. With wiggling fingers, I simulated droplets of water dripping from an imaginary canister. I finished my performance with a confident German sentence; "Mich schon bewässert!" Now she must certainly know what I am talking about!
Oma rewarded my performance with a blank stare. She slowly turned around and shuffled away, shaking her head and grumbling about what I can imagine was a growing list of my verbal shortcomings. I stood on the doorstep alone for a moment, insecure about my language skills and my failed attempt to speak with my hands and feet. I knew it would be a long road to improve my German in the future, but for now, I would just have to hide my trash better.
© Marie Motil 2019-11-14