If I could turn back time… I would go back to the time just before I was born. Those couple of months just before the birth of their first, and ultimately only, child when my parents were presumably discussing how they would bring me up. I would try to infiltrate their discussions to encourage each of them to speak to me in their familial language, instead of only in English. I would love to have grown up as trilingual.
Now it is almost too late for me. I am surrounded by documents, correspondence and family history which is written in German, Russian and even French. I cannot read any of them. There are literally tubs of paper which I gathered from my parent’s house and brought with me after the death of my father. If only I could read them. If only I did not have to pay to have them translated.
I wish my father had spoken to me in German. Oh, he used to swear in German whenever he was angry! But even then, not only did I not understand what he was saying, but later in life I could not pronounce it well enough for my German speaking friends to comprehend, so I still do not know what words he used to curse. When I was younger, I must have had some interest in learning German as it was one of the subjects I took in high school. What I do remember is my father laughing at my accent and suggesting I could never learn the language. I was a constant source of amusement for him.
I wish my mother had spoken to me more in Russian. To be fair, she did try but I believe my father frustrated her attempts as he could never be certain of what she was saying to me. He had learned Russian as a boy but had forgotten most of it as an adult. My grandmother began to teach me Russian when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Then my grandfather died, and she lost interest in everything.
Over the years I have struggled to learn German. I have taken lessons, read German children’s books, watched German television series. I now have German conversation partners who I regularly meet, and I still find it difficult to commit vocabulary to memory. I am determined though to prove my father wrong.
Until this year I have not contemplated learning Russian. But I just signed up for a course which I hope will give me enough knowledge of the language for my trip to Russia later this year.
I am not giving up. Before I depart from this earth I want to be able to read the documents, letters and family history which I have inherited. I want to be able to pass the knowledge to my children and my grandchildren. I want to be able to read the stories of my family and share them with the world.