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Maunderings of an Octogenarian (11/21/07)
Posted Nov 21, 2007
Last Updated Apr 12, 2008
Maunderings? According to my dictionary, to maunder is to wander aimlessly. Could be it derives from meander, but friend dictionary doesn't say, and I don't have the BIG dictionary, the OED, in my computer.
Writers are often in love with language. I don't know what it would be like to lack facility with words. While growing up in Michigan, I worked seasonally for a farmer, an immigrant from a Swedish-language district of Finland. A taciturn man, after 45 years in America he could get by in English. but was far from fluent. And apparently he'd forgotten most of his Swedish; when he got letters from kinfolk in Finland, his articulate Danish wife had to read them to him, translating into English as she went. They were the only Scandinavian family for miles, and Danish and Swedish, while mutally intelligible when written, are spoken quite differently. Their son Julius (YOOL-yoos), born and raised on the farm, spoke English easily, though with a definite Swedish accent that had rubbed off on him from his father. But he understood neither his mother's nor his father's native tongue.
I've wondered what it would be like to be John Englund, seemingly unable to express himself well in any language. What sticks with me was him shaking his head and muttering "Oh lort! Oh lort!" (oh lord! oh lord!) while watching a crew of hired adolescents at work. His doleful features were as expressive as words. He'd been born about 1870, maybe 1875, and at age 13, his confirmation and farewell gift (he went off to sea then) was an old, water-stained, broken-backed bible in Gothic print, that had been re-covered with black oilcloth. I felt privileged and honored to receive it. His had been a family and culture to whom life was hard and serious. Goofy, sometimes rowdy American adolescents, even country boys, lived in a 1940s world utterly beyond his comprehension. He kept only two of us beyond the first day.
We carried our lunches, but in season, Mrs. Englund gave us dessert. It was over watermelon she told me what I know about the old man.
About her: I don't even know her given name. "Mrs. Englund" was all the name I knew for her (though "Jensina" comes to mind). Even though, years later, I was invited to her funeral and took the Greyhound home from college to attend. It was a privilege.
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