Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg

My family is an iceberg. There are the generations within memory, the ones I can still assign faces and personal stories to. And then there's the endless mass of ancestors beneath them who I don't know, whose individual stories in more cases than not have been lost to earthly memory and can be read now only out of the angels' books.

For their sake, I remember my cultures.

In the absence of a Mehtab Singh who might be my great-grandfather's great grandfather, I remember the Sikh traditions he would have grown up with. In the absence of a Rivka Gottlieb or Esther Kantor who might be my great-grandmother's grandmother, I reach for the lost world of the Ashkenzim, that people who were once Eastern Europe's Jews.

My family is an iceberg, and their religious cultures take me down below the cold waters. I close my eyes and feel with numb hands for what might have been and what they might have hoped to leave for me.

When I come up for air, do I see the world differently? Have I changed by feeling, even hopelessly, toward what lies below me?

I know this: while I don't learn to speak the languages of the dead, I now speak a richer language to the living.

This is how I wrote "Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Strange Dream

In the middle of a long and strange dream last night, someone used the term FOB, which in the Chinese-American community refers to new immigrants who are "fresh off the boat." And in my dream, I told that person that the term doesn't make sense, because in America, you never get off the boat. In America, you're always moving, always in transition, and the past you stand on isn't solid: it's always swaying back and forth under you as the currents change.

I love America. A (cultural) pirate's life for me!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monkey Oatmeal (part one)

For the past week and a half, my daughter has requested nothing but oatmeal when I make breakfast.

Usually, she wants bananas in it. Bananas magically transform regular oatmeal into "monkey oatmeal" which is obviously desirable, because it includes the word "monkey." She'll also request apples, dates, etc--frozen berries, mangoes, and pomegranate seeds are probably next.

Wondering about her eccentricity today, I remembered an extended period on my mission when I ate oatmeal almost every day (usually with honey, since German stores don't sell brown sugar). My companion started to worry about me. A family we were teaching were disgusted when I told them: oatmeal is something you're forced to eat when you're sick, the father said. It's not something you should do to yourself voluntarily, let alone every day.

Remembering that month, for some reason, made me remember how much Kira's oatmeal kick is also reminiscent of the oatmeal my dad used to make for us, oatmeal with all kinds of different fruits in it. I can't recall exactly whether my mother made us oatmeal with any regularity; it seems more like something rooted into our relationship with our dad, a sort of twentieth-century bonding ritual. I remember him praising bananas, actually, for their high potassium content, healthfulness, and taste. He taught us to love them, and now I watch my daughter finish the unsliced half of her banana even when she's tired and having trouble feeling hungry as we rush her off to school.

And it's interesting the way that thinking about monkey oatmeal reveals the way in which time is better described as having layers than working in a line. Mornings with my father aren't somewhere behind me, they're under me, inside me, layers added in a continuing axis of intergenerational relationships. Kira's current oatmeal fixation isn't an event that will simply pass a way; it's a layer that's being added to our relationship, enriching and reaching down toward other layers and up toward a future when (God willing) Kira will have children and they will do something which will remind her, on a level which perhaps does not fully reach consciousness, that her father once sliced the banana just so with those long fingers of his and he stirred the oatmeal like this and he also waited for her to touch the first spoonful with the tip of her tongue before adding the milk to cool it.
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