Vacations from school usually mean trips to see close family members and friends who live far away. For example, many people go to places like Florida or Israel in order to visit their grandparents. I have never been lucky enough to take a big trip in order to visit my grandparents; I have been even luckier.
My grandfather, whom I call Saba, lives with my family so I have the privilege of spending time with him every day regardless of my schedule. In fact, my Saba’s bed is less than one foot away from me as I type this article. Since my Saba lives with my family instead of going on vacation to visit him he often joins us on our trips. These vacations serve as wonderful memories especially since as my Saba ages it gets harder and harder to create these memories. However, I am very lucky because I know that I have been granted the opportunity to create memories with my Saba on a daily basis.
My grandfather isn’t always well. He needs help throughout the day. My family hired a home health aide who takes care of my grandfather from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. At night, when my family is available we take care of Saba. Although we must help my Saba by getting him food and drinks we remind ourselves that, Baruch Hashem, Saba can still communicate his needs. There is only one problem.
Regardless of the fact that he can speak excellent English and Hebrew, he often chooses Hungarian which is a surprising choice because my Saba spoke German at home in Europe. My family suspects that Saba learned Hungarian from the Hungarian nanny who took care of him when he was very young. Saba’s choice of language sometimes makes communication a little tough, but on the bright side Saba provides free tutoring in Hungarian — which is really cool.
Even during breaks from school I am getting language lessons right at home at a very reasonable price. Actually these lessons are priceless. Though I am by no means fluent in Hungarian I know how to say some basic expressions. For example I know how to say yes, no, I want, come here, good, bad, food, drink, sit, bed, how are you?, where are you?, what is it?, what are you doing?, where are you going?, and most important (for my relationship with Saba), “I love you.”
Thanks to my knowledge of Saba’s most frequently used phrases I usually have to translate my grandfather’s Hungarian into English for my siblings and parents. At times it can be tough being “on call” as a translator but the occupation actually does run in my family. My maternal great-grandmother was a paid court interpreter. Don’t worry Saba; I am not trying to get money from you. Even if I’m not paid monetarily, translating for you is 100 percent worthwhile.
I get paid differently. My payment does not take the form of gifts and bribes. I get paid through my love towards my grandfather. That’s right. By helping my grandfather I’ve gotten to love him so much more. I love talking to my Saba about whatever pops into my head. Sometimes I talk to him in English or Hebrew about very random and trivial topics like what he ate for supper. Other times, I ask my grandfather about how he grew up. No matter what, I generally feel much closer to Saba after talking to him even if all I say is Szeretlek, Saba!
“Szeretlek” means “I love you” in Hungarian.
This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009. sneakers