Sunday, January 8, 2012

Radio Gibberish

     I’m calling it gibberish because I can’t think of a better word for speech I couldn’t understand. But gibberish sounds too negative and judgmental, not at all what I have in mind. What I heard as a child was an actual language, mellifluous and soothing even though I couldn’t understand a word. The language was Portuguese.
     When my older brother and I were small we’d often spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house while Mom and Dad went out on Saturday nights. In an old part of town my grandparents had a small house. In the extra bedroom right off the kitchen there was a big iron bed where David and I would sleep.
     On Sunday mornings I’d wake to the sound of a kitchen radio. My grandparents were Portuguese, he from the Azores and she from Lisbon, and they could understand what was being said. But I couldn’t. I’d lay there while my brother slept, imagining what the words meant and wondering about the exotic places my grandparents came from. Whenever I’d ask about the sounds coming from the radio they never said the language was Portuguese, it was always described as talk from the “old country.” Odd, I thought at the age of eight; I knew precious little about the world but I assumed all countries were old.
     The radio had been turned on to wake David and me, the volume gently increased until we bounced out of the big bed and started dressing for church, which meant old Mission Santa Clara on the University of Santa Clara campus not far away. We’d reach the adobe mission at six in the morning. Before mass started Grandma would wave at other family members in distant pews. Sometimes I’d fall asleep during mass and Grandpa would carry me back to the car when it was over. I’d wake up back on the big iron bed, the radio blaring as Grandma and Grandpa bustled about preparing breakfast.
     Time with my grandparents figures prominently in my childhood memories, but it is the radio I think about when I close my eyes and drift away on waves of nostalgia. Even though I couldn’t understand a word, the strange language evoked feelings of warmth and love, feelings I continue to experience as an adult whenever I hear Portuguese being spoken.
     My grandparents are gone now and my mother has lost what Portuguese she once knew, but I can easily recall the language flowing from that little radio, the language of my grandparents, the language of my childhood, the language of my happy place….

     You can read about my incredible Sunday breakfasts here. Where is your Happy Place?


  1. Sounds are so evocative. How wonderful that hearing Portuguese takes you to a happy place.

  2. I don't think I've ever heard Portuguese before, though I imagine it sounds a lot like Spanish.

  3. I feel the same way about Spanish. For the life of me it sounds like one constant vowel! However, my maternal grandparents were from Mexico, pronounced Mejico.

    heh heh

    Now THAT I can hear and understand. *smile*

  4. I love the way foreign languages sound to my ears. French in particular sounds so beautiful, especially when men speak it. That could be because I'm gay. I have no idea, really.

  5. As a teen, my best friends/next door neighbours were 2 Portuguese sisters. The family was Lisbon-born and that wondeful language filled their home as not all memebers had learned English fluently. I remember them all so fondly. And the food.. oh my.. their meals were all feasts. I wanted their parents to adopt me.

  6. What a great post. I can so relate.

    My happy place is the here and now. My childhood would be the last place that I would search for happy.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  7. That was a really nice post. My happy place is also my grandparents' house - it was such a lovely and gracious home. I liked wandering around it. My other happy place is the cozy beach cottage I dream of having ...

  8. I also had a radio in my childhood. A black plastic FM radio on the kitchen counter played programs from our "old country," England. My parents laughed at the comedians and i never understood the jokes. I still, however, feel connected to my homeland even though I haven't lived there for over 50 years.

  9. I remember hearing the radio at my Grandmother's house. "Nanny," a widow, lived with her sisters and their husbands as well as another widowed sister in a big house, very much an English boarding house. They had all come from the UK as young women. Life there was very much British. Tea every afternoon, dinner at noon and supper in the evening, following tea by a couple of hours. My brother and I were always put upstairs in Aunt Mat's (Martha) room, after Uncle Pete passed. She would share a room with my Nanny on those nights we'd stay over as my parents were out for the night or traveling. They had the TV downstairs but none of them thought the "box" was good for my brother and I, so we had the radio to ourselves upstairs.

    At the time, we didn't know what we were missing because we did not yet have a TV at home. One of the uncles however thought we should get
    used to the box so we got to watch Burn's and Allen and Alfred Hitchcock presents. Go figure.

  10. Oh how I love reading your works! It brought back so many memories of my own when visitng my grandparents for the weekend.... hmmmmm, maybe a new blog! haha THANK YOU for sharing this! What a way to wake up! :)

  11. The place I loved most growing up was on Cape Cod. A very close friend and neighbor would regularly take us up to her large 8 bedroom house in South Wellfleet. I always slept in one of the two small morning rooms situated off the living room. I remember smells more than sounds -- the smell of the sea and hot sunny days full of seaside promise. Sometimes the place would be bulding with family and friends and other times just me and the elderly neighbor. I was there when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and watched on the portable television I brought from home through terrible snowy reception!

    Lovely post, Chubby -- can picture it all!

  12. Your posts go straight to my happy place. You visit many of the same sorts of places of memory that I visit in my writing.

    (I mean that as a compliment, but I know it comes off a bit full of myself. Oh, well.)

    Many of my "happy places" no longer exist. I think you might find the following a nice read, as you find yourself with nothing better to do.

  13. Whenever my wife and I spend time on Maui we only listen to the Hawaiian music stations. While the definition of what is Hawaiian music has changed radically over the years (now closer to hip hop and top 40 pop), hearing songs sung in a different language instantly relaxes us and cuts our ties to home.

    We have no idea what the words mean, but the combination of different instruments and different words creates our happy place.