Every year my mom can be counted on for at least one Yogi-Berra-caliber unintentional quote. It’s not her fault, really. English isn’t her first language. She was born in Austria, raised in Germany, and was never properly taught English. She just learned it through living in America (on and off) for the past fifty-five years.
Her quotes usually fall into four categories.
#1: Direct translations of untranslatable German sayings.
(“Don’t paint the devil on the wall”, “You have a bird in your head”)
#2: Extreme efforts at avoiding profanity while angry
(“You know what she is…she’s a…a…she’s a word that rhymes with witch.”
#3: Chicago-Deutsch (Combining German and English into unintentionally funny phrases)
(“Whatever you do, don’t sh** the gravy aus”)
And my favorite
#4: Unawareness of colloquialisms
(For instance, she couldn’t understand why kids were making fun of my nickname “Dick” when I was a boy. And she never quite noticed the importance of which finger you use when you’re trying to say “We’re #1!”)
Well this Christmas season, Mom gave us one for the ages. I was driving her over to my sister’s house on Christmas Eve (Mom doesn’t drive in the dark anymore). Mom sighed, and said to me: “Richard, my balls hurt.”
“Excuse me?” I responded, trying not laugh.
“My balls. Both of them are really sore.”
We drove in silence for a few seconds as I tried to figure out what in the world she was trying to say.
“Your eyeballs?” I guessed.
“No,” she said. “The ones down there. My balls.”
We were in a dark car and I was watching the road, so I couldn’t see where she was pointing, but I knew at that moment we were going to have a great running joke for the entire Christmas season. All I needed was an explanation of what she really meant.
“Mom, I have no idea what you’re trying to say,” I said.
“My feet,” she explained. “The balls of my feet.”
For the next week or so our family spent a lot of time together. We saw cousins and siblings and aunts and nephews, and the story spread like wildfire. I’d like to think we were the only family in America that asked this question a single time—let alone the many many many times we asked it.
“Hey Mom—How are your balls?”
Just for the record, they’re still a little sore.