Having an intellectual love affair with another dead white guy these days: Kurt Vonngut.
I just read this, from his autobiographical Fates Worse than Death:
‘‘the hatred for all things German…in this country during ww1…was so virulent that there were virtually no proudly German institutions still operating….when it came time for ww2.
German Americans had become in self defense and in embarrassment the least tribal and most acculturated segment of our white population..”
Perhaps this is a clue to my family’s awful history. My dad was the son of a German immigrant. He was born in 1922, grew up in the 1930’s, and went to war as an American in 1942. His dad was an elf of a man, barely over 5 ft, a gentle incomprehensible presence to me. He’d fled Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. I remember almost zip about him, the man. He was a master engraver, worked for Dow.
Vonnegut was German. I get him totally. I wonder if it is an ethnic thing?
Dad never read Vonnegut, or any fiction, til he started to fade away mentally, needing stimulation beyond his ‘’house arrest’’ after his retirement from the local high school , where he became principal for 10 terrible years, in the 1970’s. He took up drinking. He was known to be a problem drinker. He retired under pressure at age 56 from the job. Later, he went back as a sub and a tutor, but it all ended disastrously for him in 1992, age 70, when the drinking & dementia made him unfit .
I got him mystery novels from the library. He’d send me out to get some wine and “maybe a really good book , you sure know how to choose them.’’ He read some fine mysteries from the masters of the genre, and we discussed them. I loved to watch him read. Silent, still, utter concentration. I fed his fading mind with fun, I hope. Yes, I know I did.
“Ha, what an ending ! I suspected that fella all along, didn’t you, Jim!?” he’d say, and admonish me to return the book immediately to the library , for Dad was done with it. “Can you get me another one like that?” he would ask.
“I shall get you sixteen more like that, if you want, Dad, “ I would say. “This author is prolific!”
“Excellent! And good word, ‘prolific’.”
“What is it in German?”
A change would come over him. A delight. He would search his decaying brain for just the right word, or words, from the language he’d used for the first five years of his life, 1922-1927, until he’d had to pick up English in school. On his own.
He’d spit and sprech and gutterally give me the word, and make me pronounce it, with his deadly serious corrections over umlauts or vowels. I had to sprechen sie deutsch perfectly. I enjoyed it. it made me feel as if I was making up nonsense languages, as I used to do for a hobby.
“Auf Wiedersehen “was his favorite.Ach.
I never got it right.