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?