My great aunt, Addie Mae Brown, was an English and Latin teacher in Torrington, Connecticut. She spent her summers with her sister and brother-in-law, my grandparents, in Calais, Maine, as did I and my siblings. Auntie was utterly dependent on the generosity of others. She didn’t know how to cook, shop, drive, or any other basic life-sustaining skills. She could brew a pot of tea and peel an orange. She suffered from brutal migraine headaches that frequently sent her to bed in a darkened room.
But Auntie knew her words. In Calais, we would go on walks to the St. Croix River. Along the way, she identified weeds, flowers, bushes, trees using both the Latin and the more familiar common names. We boldly crossed the golf course—oblivious to the hazards, and at the edge of the golf course, we would spread our lunch out on a flat rock overlooking the river. Or we would walk away from the river and up the hill to the cemetery to roam among the graves of dead people who had been important to her and about whom I was innocently disinterested. The cemetery was usually still and often smelled of new-mown grass. The turf was soft and spongy. We would sit on an old grave mound and eat our lunch, listening to the sounds of the wind in the trees.
These walks and talks and teachings were the foundation of my lifelong interest in language.
When I was in high school, I scoffed at the notion that my study of Latin
would ever be useful. They were right. I was wrong—and I’m o.k. with it. On
my desk are one English dictionary (Yes, I still use a paper dictionary.),
three French-English dictionaries, one Italian-English dictionary, one
Spanish-English dictionary, three French grammar books, one book of Spanish
verbs and phrase books in French, Italian (two) and Portuguese. You might ask why. I am fascinated with language. Not in a scholarly way, mind you, but in a
|Just a sampling.|
I have traveled on three continents and lived on two. I make an effort to speak in the language of the country wherever I go. Some languages have come more easily than others. I’m fluent enough in Spanish and comfortable, but not anywhere near fluent in French. Italian, I believe, is the most lyrical of the three. And Portuguese is a total challenge.
Communication through the spoken word is a way to connect with others whose cultures and habits and history are different from mine. Imagine the adventures foregone without that connection. I never hesitate to ask, “How do you say. . .?” And I will persist.