Friday, February 3, 2012

Tricks of the trade

My grandfather was a translator and interpreter, too.

He worked for the United Nations and the International War Crimes Tribunal (in this picture you can see him at the Nuremberg trials; he's the third interpreter from the left).

He used to be the most punctilious person I knew.

He penciled corrections into the margins of his books
and drove me crazy when he'd pause a conversation to go look something up in the dictionary.

Now, he suffers from senile dementia,
and the pauses in our conversations
are longer
than the conversations themselves.
He no longer looks things up,
and he can't remember how to hold a pencil.

A few months ago, my mother cleaned out his apartment and gave me some of those dictionaries he used to drive me crazy with,
including the Historical Dictionary of the French Language
in its bright red case.
(Now of course, in large part due to my grandfather, I have developed my own punctilious dictionary obsession.)
When I set it on my desk, beside my other reference books, I wondered why on earth my grandfather had put little plastic flaps at the bottom of each volume.

They looked ugly, and I planned to remove them.
Then I sat down to work and reached for the dictionary,
at which point I understood that the flaps made it easy to flip the volumes in and out of their case - something I do all the time when I'm working.

Every time I see those flaps, I am moved in a dozen different ways. My grandfather may seem lost to me when I sit with him in the nursing home, but even now, he's got a few tricks left up his sleeve. No matter how far gone the people you love may seem, there's usually something left to learn from them if you look.

(Nuremberg photo credit: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)


Barbara Gavin said...

Very affecting post, Miranda. I had no idea.

MaybeKathy said...

It's amazing how the little things can mean so much. I am sorry I never had a chance to meet your grandfather.