Last updated on January 12, 2024
Today as my 96-year-old mother
sinks into dementia,
her Yiddish sayings bounce
around in my head.
It is as if I am suddenly bewitched,
With her Yiddishness.
And I don’t even know if that is a word
All I know is that with every step,
she takes away from her life,
another Yiddish phrase sticks in my head.
My mother would say plotz a lot.
I thought it meant to die,
as she was often screaming at me
at us and saying we should just plotz
I was wrong plotz,
has nothing to do with death.
It means to split, crack, burst, or explode but not die.
It further connotes to be overcome with emotion,
give way to excitement, anger, or delight.
I wonder now –
How did I come to that deadly conclusion?
She would often say we were farshtunkener.
That word speaks for itself – it means stinky.
She would call us shtunks which was even worse –
we were stinkers and nasty and smelly.
When things were untenable for her
She would burst out that we were fakakta –
That is lousy, messed up, and or ridiculous.
When we were getting too big for our britches
She would exclaim!
“Who do you think you are Chaim Yankel?”
I had no idea who Chaim Yankel was or is.
I just knew I did not want to be like him.
It wasn’t till I was fifty years old
that I discovered
there was no such person.
Chaim was a figment of my mother’s,
and every mother’s imagination
Chaim was a nonentity, a nobody.
He was just another poor Joe.
However, there was another guy,
whose name sprung to her lips,
and to whom we were often compared.
His name will go down in our personal infamy,
the strangest and most notorious of them all
– this was the renown Ish Kabibble
a comedian of moderate fame
and to his credit he also played the cornet
rather well I am told.
I guess she was concerned about us,
as Ish Kabibble derived from a mock-Yiddish
expression, Ische ga bibble meaning don’t worry.
And lest I forget there was yet another gentleman
airing on our family’s airwaves, none other
than the irresistible Moishe Kapoyr
who despite his fictional origins
loomed large in our childish minds.
Mom proclaimed this garish title
upon us when we were too set in our ways.
The Moishe demeanor was full of contrary
and stubborn oppositeness.
We were doomed forever to a fate
we never understood.
One of her more stranger phrases
Involved a teapot as she shrieked
when we were bothering her
“Stop hocking me a chainik.”
What did banging on a teapot,
have to do with anything.
This I did not know
and just resolved to leave her be.
When the weather got too hot
in the house she kept spotless
she would be schvitzing,
a word that speaks sweating
When all else failed the final
disapprobation she called us
the self-defined word meshuggeneh
we were all at the same time
nuts – crazy – insane,
which perfectly defined our existence.
My mother had tragedy written on her face,
when pronouncing these Yiddish expletives.
But in reality, to her we were her yingele her boys.
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