I think the issue of remaining in your truth in memoirs applies to more than just language. Every family has a secret language; a code of what is understood and said / hidden. The author lives in that context intrinsically but there is fear in conveying to a reader the sublime and the gross, knowing that you cannot affect how they internalize your portrait. This is exactly why certain stories I’d like to tell remain still unfinished. Writers must overcome their fear, and I’m still battling it.
In the grocery stores, dime stores, department stores of the New Orleans East neighborhood where I grew up, my grandmother stole and I lied. It became part of the rhythm of our days: Lala brought us into the English-speaking world, where the Americans talked like chirping, or was it squawking birds—I can’t pin down the analogous word, but I knew she didn’t like the sound of it, ese maldito ingles—and she spoke only Spanish, so I served as translator.
Very quickly I learned I must lie. Because at TG&Y off Michoud Boulevard, Lala deigned to purchase household items like toilet paper or detergent, but stole whatever tchotchke it was I wanted. In the check-out line the cashier might ask how we were doing, to which Lala would reply in Spanish, “I’m fantastic, you dummy, because I’m stealing from you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” All those…
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