Last week, I told a tale about a trilingual conversation my dad witnessed between guitar immortal Andres Sergovia and luthier Mario Maccaferri. Much of that conversation would have been unintelligible to my dad – whose familiarity with other languages was limited to Yiddish (the native language of his immigrant parents) and high school French and Latin – but for the gestures and body language that accompanied the discussion in Italian, Spanish and English.
Here’s another language story involving my dad. It happened when he, my mom and I traveled to Mexico at Christmastime 1960, during my junior year in high school, when I was taking my second year of Spanish. Since I’d started learning Spanish, my dad, for fun, would sometimes help me build my vocabulary, quizzing me at home in the evening about words I was trying to memorize. So he was picking up a bit of Spanish himself. He learned lots of new (to both of us) words – fuego (fire), hermoso (beautiful), porque (because) and many more.
So there we all were in Mexico, surrounded by Spanish in both spoken and written form. We first visited Mexico City and then flew to beautiful Acapulco, on the Pacific coast. One day, after we’d been in the country nearly a week, Dad remarked to me about many of the signs – clearly referring to business owners – that we’d been seeing on shops of every kind since Day One, things like Garcia y Hermanos, Lopez y Hermanos, Alvarez y Hermanos. And lots more.
“You know, Howard, this guy Hermanos is amazing. He’s got his fingers in so many businesses, not only here in Acapulco but in Mexico City too.”
Clearly, hermanos was one of many vocabulary words that Dad had not committed to memory. He laughed when I told him that despite its resemblance to a surname, it’s just the word for “brothers.”