Monday, September 13, 2010


I'm on the phone with my aged inlaws. I love my inlaws. She's your typical no-nonsense Yankee with a Middlebury degree in American lit. He's an eccentric Czech French professor emeritus. Despite wildly different upbringings, they have many things in common.

DEAFNESS, in particular.

One entire page of FIL's Czech-language skiing article has gone missing overnight. Mysteriously. Poof, it has disappeared from the document, which is now only 3 paragraphs long. I am trying to help them through the "Find" process.

They are each on a phone. As we open, she's in the upstairs study, he's in the kitchen downstairs. The computer is upstairs. The computer is ca. 1886.

To try to locate the missing file, I ask FIL for a word that would appear in the article and not too many other places. He comes up with the word "vemenek"(which seems to mean "udders," and what in the world that has to do with Alpine skiing is currently and I hope always will be mysterious to me) (it's also possible that I have misheard the Czech word) (which is not unheard of, as you will see).

So what MIL hears is vemek.
Then vememek.
Then vefememek.
Then--and at this point the two of them are shouting at each other on the phone while standing about 18 inches apart--benemek.

They are both breathing hard and a sharp tone has possibly a little bit crept into their loving back-and-forth.

Try Kanada, FIL suggests, when the vemenek/bemenek/shmemenek routine has proven fruitless.

I try to interject something about how the computer isn't simply refusing to tell them about a word that is in fact in its hard drive somewhere, and that it's not a matter of taste. (No one's listening.)

Kanada, with a K, he says.

I know how to spell Kanada, she says.

With a K.

Yes, in Czech it's with a K. I KNOW.

Maybe I would have written KanadU. Czech is an inflected language.


Or JD Southam. Try that. You left out the JD.

I think Southam will be enough.

Oh, certainly, I interject. (No one's listening.)

Southam's not in there either. You must have deleted your work somehow.

Why would I have done that? This machine has deleted my work before. I am going to go back to writing on a piece of paper with a pen, which has served me well for nearly 90 years. I remember when I wrote my novel in 1933....

I'm not saying you did it on purpose, just that by mistake you might have.....

Try Belgika. Or Belgiku, or (I'm just riffing here) Belgi-roni. Czech is an inflected language, and this would have been the dative of absolute derision.

At some point, MIL's phone is turned off, but I can hear her asking me questions because FIL's phone is still on and he's standing beside her. I try to get him to tell her that her phone isn't on but he mistakes this for a request to turn his phone off.

And abruptly there is silence. As though 11 tons of snow fell on the small town of my life and there would be no snow plough for at least a week.

And at this point, I burst--unexpectedly--into tears. Isn't this just the way it will happen, and every day it's coming closer to happening: raucous familiar life in all its loud and confusing--even annoying--small details, and then: nothing.

I tried to call them back but they were trying to call me back and for 10 minutes there was only busy signals and answering machines.

When I finally got through, we were quiet and calm, maybe a little embarrassed. At least I was: I wondered if my desperation was obvious.

Don't hang up. Don't go.

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