“Cómo está usted?”
“Muy bien, gracias. Y usted? Cómo está usted?”
“Estoy bien, también. Gracias.”
“You planning a trip to Mexico?” asked Alice as she refilled Pastor Mitty’s cup. “You’ve been working on that phrase book for half an hour now.”
“Not so lucky,” Pastor Walt replied. “I’m taking a Spanish class over at Morton, and I have to study for the first test.”
“I wish those Mexicans in the dish room would work as hard at learning English,” Alice said as she set the coffee pot down on the table so she could use her hands for added emphasis.
“Manuel, there,” she said pointing to the wall that separated the dining room from the dish room, “He’s been working here for a month already, and he still can’t understand a thing I say to him.”
Eric Anderson came in from the chilly February air, hung his coat on the rack, and sat opposite his pastor. “You going off on Manuel again, Alice?”
“You don’t have to work with him,” Alice retorted as she filled Eric’s cup just a little too full. “You liberals are all alike. You have these bleeding heart ideas that have nothing to do with how the real world works.”
Alice had set her coffee pot down again, and was stabbing her finger at Eric with every point she made.
“If it was up to you, Spanish would become an official language in this country, along with English,” she said.
“Soooo, I guess I better not order the breakfast burrito today,” Eric said smiling. He was used to calling Alice’s bluff.
“That’s another thing I don’t like about liberals like you,” Alice said as she grabbed her coffee pot. “You’re so polite, I can’t stay mad at you.”
“Mornin’ Pastor, Eric” said Dominique as he slid in next to Mitty and Ash sat next to Eric. “Alice in a preachin’ mood?”
“Just ragging about Manuel again,” answered Eric.
Dominique and Ash found themselves rolling their eyes at the same time.
“Speaking of Manuel,” said Dominique, “I ran into Carla Hernandez at the Shell gas station”remember when she came to the council meeting?”anyway, we got talking and she mentioned that the INS is coming out with a new program. It’s supposed to make it easier for immigrants to become citizens.”
“Interesting,” thought Ash out loud. “My Grandfather Aschenbrenner came over from Germany … I think it was in the 1880s … and he didn’t know a word of English. Lived near Lawrence and Lincoln on the North Side. Had a hard time learning the language ’cause he would always hang out with guys from the old country. The story my dad told me was that he was real proud when he became an American citizen, but when he got back to the neighborhood, he told all the neighbors about it in German.”
“Did he ever learn to speak English?” Alice asked.
“Oh, good morning Alice,” Ash said as the Main Cafe
waitress filled his cup. “Well, a little bit, I guess. I was only six when he died, so I don’t remember a lot. But one memory I have is being at a family reunion down by the lake and the old timers were playing Schaff’s Kopf and every time my Aunt Anna would play a card he didn’t like, grandpa would pound the table with his fist and reprimand her with ‘ach, Annie, warum machst du das schlechte spiel’ or something like that. I guess he did learn enough English to get by, but when he would get excited, he’d go back to his German.”
“Well, at least he tried to learn English,” Alice replied as she hustled over to another booth.
The story Ash told about his grandfather made Pastor Walt feel nostalgic as he walked back to the office. He unlocked the door, threw his coat on a chair by the coffee table and dialed the number of his brother’s phone in Manitowoc.
“Hello. Susan? This is Walt. I’m glad one of you is still at home. Say, Susan, one of the guys at the Wednesday morning men’s fellowship was telling stories about his German grandfather. And, well, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a good bratwurst and a beer.
And I was thinking about coming up next Sunday evening, staying over night at your place and picking up some home made brats at Rudy’s market on Monday morning,” he said.
“That would be great,” replied Mitty’s sister-in-law, “but I have some bad news. Rudy’s Market closed about a week ago.”
There was a moment of silence as Pastor Walt tried to digest the disappointing news. “But, but Rudy’s was the last place in Manitowoc that still made home made brats,” he stammered.
“I know,” Mitty heard Susan say, “and we all feel bad about it. But we also feel a little guilty.”
“Guilty?” Walt questioned.
“Yeh, see, well … Herman and I have really gotten into Mexican food. And now that the La Victoria Market is on Washington Street and Tres Amigos grocery story in on Tenth we’ve been bringing home tortillas and queso fresco and tortillas and Corona beer when it’s on sale,” Susan said.
“So you’ve abandoned brats and sauerkraut and gone over to tacos and refried beans?!” Mitty exclaimed. “Don’t tell me that you and Herman are taking Spanish lessons like I am.”
“No Spanish lessons, Walt,” Susan replied, “but I did take a beginners’ course at the Hmong Community Center … you know … the one across the street from the old Mirro factory. I really didn’t learn many words, but our neighbor … you met him last fall, Mr. Komin … well, he invited us and he was so excited about it that I just couldn’t say no. And besides, after the class he and I would walk over to Cherva’s Oriental Market next door to the Hmong Center, and he would help me pick out ingredients for some wonderful noodle dishes.”
“Tres Amigos and Cherva’s Oriental Market!” thought Pastor Mitty as he ended his conversation with his sister-in-law. “In Manitowoc! What an amazing time to be alive! And what an interesting country to live in! I wonder what Ash’s grandfather would say. I wonder if Alice will be able to handle it.”
He thought about all of the changes going on in this country and pondered the challenge this nation has always faced: of continually having to become one out of many.
Pastor snapped out of his musing with the realization that he had better get back to his Spanish phrase book. His first test would be the next day. More importantly, if Spanish was going to become one of this country’s official languages, he was not going to be a mono-lingual gringo.