In first person…Moms Yinglish letters stymie two generations

My mother's English was one-third Yiddish. Her Yiddish was one-third English.

Her letters to her four children were written in Yiddish. However, as you sounded out some words in the Yiddish alphabet, you realized that they were English, written phonetically in Yiddish letters.

When she came to visit from San Jose, we always did grocery shopping for her before driving her home. She would make out a list of items she wanted in Yiddish. Reading the list was a challenge. Usually on the list were such items as "2 or 3 tomatoes, 2 pears — not hard, bananas — not too many." My daughter, Shelley, always tried to read Mom's letters and lists to practice her Yiddish.

One night, after Mom had gone to bed, Shelley and I sat down to go over the grocery list. We managed all, including cottage cheese and a few other transliterations. The last item had us stumped. I read it as "flour, if." In the morning, I found I was right. What she meant was "flour, if it's the same price as last week."

My mother babysat for my niece Tuddi, when my sister worked. Tuddi, at 2, also had a language of her own. She constantly asked, "dye, dye" for "why." One day, exasperated, Mom said, "Don't say `dye' mit a dee; say, `vhy' mit a vee." And so it went.