Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen

 “It Might Have Been”

          A Cook Book is simply a cook book and unless you want to find a new recipe or check up on old one, it just sits on your shelf.

But I saw how a cook book restored an entire language to a man. A language long forgotten for it had not been spoken by or to him, since he had been a child of nine, and there he was in his 80’s.

That man was my father, Carl Ohlin, who came from Sweden with his parents, Peter and Maria as a 9 year old, and from that day forward, never heard Swedish spoken. The adult family worked hard to change their speech, and even in the  home, tried to speak nothing but English, and swiftly. Swedish  became a foreign language.

It wasn’t difficult for people coming here from other countries. because everyone, the church speakers, in stores, work places and the kids playing in the streets, all spoke English and so there was no use, time or interest, to continue with Swedish language.

To aid him, within just a year or two of his arriving here, Carl found a used, torn book in a gutter. Though he couldn’t read it, the book was obviously a discard, so he picked it up.   It was the adventure book of   “SHE”, written by Henry Rider Haggard, and with the help of an older friend, he learned to read and understand English from that book..

Dad, eventually became an avid reader of books of any and all genre, and one day, sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying the national drink of Sweden, a cuppa coffee, he told me of that book “SHE”. and how he had learned to read it.  And I laughed for that book has lasted through the years and I had read it not too long before.

Anyway, it was at this time that Dad told me that he had forgotten Swedish, the language of his childhood, and try as he might, could not remember even one word.

I was a young woman at that time, and Dad, who married late in life, was decades older than most parents, and was like a Grandfather to me.  I heard his words, but what he said seemed so remote that I couldn’t see what they really had to do with me. It took  years for me to realize of what value his words had been, and now  I would give much if I could spend a day with him at my kitchen table and a filled Coffee pot nearby.

But then, one day as I prowled the used books in Deseret Industry, I came upon, of all things, a Cook Book, written in Swedish. and bought it. thinking Dad might get a kick out of it. Which he did, and far more too, for it wasn’t more than a week or so later that he, again at my table, told me the Cook Book had given him back his native language

See, food is food and a cake cooked in Sweden, France, Italy or any other country is a cake and made in the same way,  So, if it says 1 cup of something or other, it wasn’t hard for Dad to figure it out when it meant flour, sugar or milk. And the same going on with the entire recipe.

He said it was easy to translate, oven, stove, stir, bake, the heat of the oven. Those words, in any kitchen are universal, and Dad found other words of that language coming swiftly to his mind. Once the door was open, he was able to step through and then, the way of reading and speaking Swedish came easily. Though long buried, once started, it came flooding back to him.

Yes, a cook book returned the language of Dad’s youth to him. Sadly, there was no one to speak it with, and I was too young, heedless. (stupid?) to bother. But now I wish I had asked him questions and had him respond in his first language. How I regret that I didn’t explore the miracle that happened at my own kitchen table.  And to my own father.

John Greenleaf Whittier said it best, “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are, ‘It might have been’ “.

One thought on “Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen

  1. I can relate to this. Back when I was a kid,letters would come to my mom from “the old country” as she called it. They were written in dutch from the relatives who stayed behind in the Netherlands. How I wished I would have paid more attention but like you I was too young, too busy and if the truth be known, too stupid. Thanks for sharing your story.

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