Both of my kids are very interested in learning different languages. They are tired of me bragging on them, so I will just say that they know several languages and have been fortunate to study abroad several times. My daughter was even employed by both Japan and France to teach English in their countries. Sure, I’m proud of them, but enough about them. Let’s talk about me. I was the one who got the ball rolling. And I’ll tell ya how.
When I was little, I was in Campfire Girls. All the girls in my neighborhood were Campfire Girls. It was a great part of my childhood. We went to weekly meetings and camp in the summer. But, someone went and messed with success and it is now called Campfire USA. They had to go and let boys into the mix. Why, Oh, why, Campfire people, would you do that? To begin with, the boys have the Boy Scouts. They don’t need to go and join Camp Fire Girls. Secondly, although camp would be a bit more interesting, I still can’t see boys attending our weekly meeting. It’s just wrong. But, when I was young, it was just for girls.
We had several huge ceremonies/meetings for all the Campfire girls in the Upper Appalachian region at our very own community center. I think we even had sleep overs there. But, there was one meeting where people were getting awards for being great Campfire girls, etc. We had a preacher give a little prayer to get things rolling, speakers, and for some reason, one time, me. I don’t know why in the hell I did this, but I was asked to sing Frere Jacques in front of the whole auditorium. I was just a bluebird. Maybe third grade. I don’t remember. I stood up there and sang in French, Frère Jacques, then interpreted it for those who did not have a grasp on the French language like I did.
Ok, first of all, I don’t know how in the hell I was asked to do this..in front of all the Campfire girls in the whole world…(slightly exaggerating) And secondly, who the hell knew in the Campfire organization that my mom made me sing this stupid song when company came to our house? So, it has to go back to my stage mother. She somehow got them to let me sing that song. I mean, she was able to get Mr. Softee to not come around the neighborhood at a certain time in the afternoon because the Mendenhall kids were taking a nap. She had some kind of power behind the rolling pin she normally kept in the house.
Unless I was THAT good. I sounded French. A little french campfire girl. In a beanie.
So, that’s one way I was a little cosmopolitan. Let’s move on. When I was a sophomore in high school, our family and my bestest friend, Ramaine, and her family, traveled all the way down to Acapulco, Mexico. Can’t really do that nowadays if you want to return with your head intact. But, it was around 1972, and the only thing we had to worry about was drinking the water.
At our resort, we were told to stay on the beach in front of the resort. I guess there was a “Mexican” beach, and we were not allowed to walk further down on the beach. We HAD to stay in front of the resort. So, of course, we walked down to the Mexican beach. We were approached by a lot of Mexican boys our age, so we decided that Ramaine and I would make up a different language, and my younger sister, would just keep her mouth shut and act retarded. We didn’t know Spanish very well. I knew, ” Yo quiero un hamburgesa con ketchup y leche malteada” which in my world meant, “I’d like a hamburger with ketchup and a vanilla milkshake.” Oh, yeah, I was cosmo all the way.
It was a little overwhelming because we were really getting hit on. It was fun, but we decided to just confuse them with a made up language. The stuff coming out of my mouth sounded German, gibberish, with just a touch of Swedish chef. I had sun-kissed blonde hair (dyed almost white), so the Swedish accent made oh so much sense. My sister played great as a retard (politically incorrect word these days, but used in every other sentence back then.) It came so natural to her.
So, I went to Mexico and talked a new language. There’s yet more proof that I passed the love of languages on to my children.
When I was in college, I decided to take my Acapulco accent with me to a bar one night. We would sometimes drive 2 hours to go to a club. They wouldn’t know us there, and we could be pretty goofy if we wanted to. Usually, we would just make up occupations. I am sure guys did the same thing. I remember talking with excitement to a guy for a long time about my being a marine biologist….in Nebraska. Told him how much I loved dolphins..made up dolphin stories. But, one night I decided to be Hilda, the German, gibberish, Swedish chef delight I invented in Mexico. I also let the guy teach me some English..so sad…
Only because a month later, we drove to another bar and I was talking English, when the same guy came over and just stared at me, and then left. Uh oh. I was caught. I really felt bad and decided never to take my Hilda act on the road again.
But, there was an inner drive to learn languages. A thirst to become multi-cultural. I took Spanish in high school and two years of German in college. I also took a year of sign language.
So, sure, my kids have been all over the world and can speak 3 or 4 languages each, but they were given that talent…that yearning to learn about the world.
And that comes from their momma. And a Frere Jacques to you too.