May 9, 2009

Wishing Mom a Happy Day!

My mom is one of the funniest people I know, but her humor isn’t always intentional. Sometimes she says the wrong thing at the wrong time, and though she’s lived in the states for the last 50 years, she speaks with a Japanese accent that makes her sound like one of the computer-generated characters out of a Star Wars movie. When I was a kid, my friends loved her and would drop by the house just to say, “Hey, Mrs. Bahr,” because they knew she didn’t like to be greeted with a “hey” and would always reply, “Hay? Hay da fo hos!” (which, in her Jar Jar Binks manner of speaking meant: Hay is for horses).

I could go on and on about her various misadventures using the English language, but perhaps I can give you an example. This happened one evening when my brothers and I were home for the holidays, shooting the breeze. Suddenly the phone rang and mom stood to answer it. We heard her say hello, after which confusion clouded her expression. The caller, apparently, had misdialed and was asking for Bill or Tom or someone else who wasn’t a member of our family. So mom replied in a way that she must have considered direct, but helpful.

“No,” she said. “Dis a bar.”

Now, we all knew what she was trying to say—that the caller had mistakenly reached the Bahr residence—but her execution was lacking. My brothers and I started to laugh, imagining what the person on the other end of the line was thinking. Did I just call Bob’s House of Ale and reach someone who’d had more than her share to drink? My mom heard us snickering and started to laugh, too, but she quickly composed herself and said, “Solly bout dat,” before hanging up the phone.

It wasn’t until I relearned Japanese that I got to know my mom in a way that her second language had kept hidden. When speaking in her childhood tongue, she conveys a kind of authority and grace that is surprising and causes me to wonder how difficult it must have been for her to grope for words most of her adult life. Then I realize she doesn’t think that way. She isn’t bothered by a misplaced article, or an improperly conjugated verb. You might say that, to her, perfection is overrated—especially when quirky is an option.

And guess what? I believe that, too.

My mom used to be passionate about football. When the 49ers played, she’d be super-glued to the TV and shame on you if you tried to pry her away. Then, a few years ago she was suddenly bemoaning the fact that she didn’t like the sport anymore. The reason? She didn’t have a team to root for! You see, her favorite player, Steve Young, had retired and because my brothers and I were out of school, there were no college teams that interested her, either. Hearing that, I reminded her that she had a grandson (my boy, Matt) who was attending UC Berkley and I suggested she could root for the Golden Bears of Cal.

Mom replied matter-of-factly, “That’s not good. I can’t say Cal.”

And she was right. The way she pronounced “Cal” sounded more like “Cow.” That’s when a picture entered my head. It was of my mom at a college game flinging tortillas and yelling, “Go cow. Go cow,” while those around her wondered what pasture she was minding.

So I offered an alternative. “Just refer to the team as Berkley.”

Mom thought for a moment and replied, “Bukwee? I can’t say that either.”

The point I’m trying to make is that mom had to find something endearing about the game to make it interesting to her, which certainly serves as a lesson to me. When I’m bored by life, the first thing I have to do is find something about it to like. Everything falls into place after that. (By the way, since mom and I had that chat, the Seattle Mariners drafted Ichiro Suzuki—the man I consider to be the finest lead-off hitter since Ricky Henderson—and now baseball is her great fascination).

Happy Mothers' Day, Mom.

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