“Over the years, she and I have evolved a bilingual departure ceremony: as I kiss her goodbye, I say, ‘Juice’ (an anglicized variation on the German Tschüs or ‘bye’), and she says, ‘Luba du,’ or, ‘Lova du’ (anglicized forms of ‘Ich liebe dich,’ or, ‘I love you’). I then say ‘See-ox’ (because the German Sioux is pronounced ‘see-ox’ which sounds a wee bit like ‘see you’), and she goes to the window to wave as I back out of the driveway flashing my ‘light horns.’ Elements of this routine come and go, but in one form or another, it has worked nicely for over 40 years. Recently, we’ve added a two-handed heart gesture to the routine.” —Dr. Skip Eisiminger
Skip the B.S.
By Dr. Skip Eisiminger
I. “The plural of ‘grass’ is lea,
for ‘rain’ it’s sea,
for ‘God’ it’s three,
but the plural of thee is me.”—The Wordspinner
CLEMSON South Carolina—(Hubris)—1 May 2023—On our first date in the spring of 1961, I wore a suit of 14th-century armor; Ingrid carried a magnet. Sitting in a carnival tent eating ox-tail soup, she told me she’d played Snow White in a her fourth-grade class play. I asked her who had kissed her, for I was already jealous. On our second date, Bob Di Bernardino, my best friend and eventual best man, advised me to shave my knuckles and wear white socks to impress her. The knuckles went unnoticed, and Ingrid told me white socks meant you were a “warm brother,” or gay. On our third date, I declined Bob’s offer of some Old Spice, but I did shower and borrow his Banlon shirt. She said my “cow eyes” sealed the deal, but I suspect it was that stretchy shirt. At any rate, she stamped me “Luftpost” and delivered me from evil. Heart, mind, soul, and Mr. Wiggly, we’ve oscillated on the same frequency (despite the occasional frenzy) ever since.
II. “She unlaced the girdle and scattered the stays—
she gathered her self and gave it away.”—The Wordspinner
Among the items my lovely bride has scattered were the sweet solecisms and Latin gems that fell from her lips. These have included:
- Moonar eclipse
- Crap grass
- Dr. Zeus (for “Dr. Seuss”)
- Two pods in a pea
- A Baltimore Oreo (for one of baseball’s Orioles)
- Snot gutter (for my nasal philtrum)
- Kimono dragon (for the Indonesian reptile)
- Larry King Alive
- Pinkelatorium (for “urinal”)
- And per pedes apostolorum (After I asked how we were to travel to town, she replied, “On the feet of the apostles.”)
Beyond my impressionable ears, her talented tongue has excited horses on two continents when she whinnies, neighs, or whickers. One lonely American stallion galloped 50 yards across its pasture to check out Ingrid’s reproductive potential when he heard her seductive call. A German stallion in stalled traffic began kicking his trailer’s walls when I asked my “witchy woman” to say something to him.
Outbursts like these, as I’ve learned, are unpredictable. After an ice capades show in Greenville, Ingrid stood, whistled, and shouted, “Way to go, Wictor!” at the Ukrainian gold medalist Victor Petrenko. At a minor-league baseball game in Greenville, when she noted that Bob Plumb (“lead” in Greek), our team’s catcher, was not hustling, she yelled, “Hey, Plumb; get the lead out!” I may have been the only one in the stands who understood the levels on which she spoke. Finally, people, she occasionally says, don’t look sad; they’re victims of “sabishi,” (sad loneliness), a Japanese word she’d acquired from an American film dubbed in German. The confusion and profusion of her tongues has made me a sesqui-linguist.
When she gets excited and her English begins to resemble an alien tongue, confusion is understandable. Once she asked a clerk at Publix where the Mars Bars, her favorite candy, were shelved, and he replied, “The moth balls are on aisle twelve.”
To prevent some costly financial mistakes when she moved from a German bank to an American one, she stopped flagging her ones and crossing her sevens as she’d been taught. Today, the numerals and vocabulary of this proud naturalized American have been thoroughly Americanized, but on the telephone with a German friend, her musical laughter is pitched higher than when she laughs at Colbert or Fallon. As for me, German humor is an oxymoron.
Despite being an American three times longer than she carried a German passport, she still converts Fahrenheit to Celsius, counts and calculates in German, and has set her bedside clock to German or military time. As my Zeitgeber, or timer, she has cued my circadian rhythms for six decades with the result being that German is our alternate universe. As mein Führer, she still strings my bow, walks my mattress to remove the hillocks, waxes the no-wax linoleum, and shampoos her imported horse-hair kitchen brooms. She once refused to turn on her heated car seat because she was wearing creased pants. She seldom uses her napkin primarily because she doesn’t need one. She’s my Wookie chef who cooks by ear as I set and clear the table. She serves several friends and me as a technical specialist who has not missed a Microsoft critical update in 20 years. She has an unfailing Augenmass (eye-scale/ruler) when it comes to putting away the leftovers in her unmatched collection of Rubbermaid and Tupperware.
Finally, she’s the chocolate chip in my trail mix; my rose and thorn.
Despite her age, her memory is unflagging: when a classmate sent her a picture of their high-school class, she reeled off the first and last names of her 30 classmates as well as the two teachers in that photograph. Though her eyesight has been surgically enhanced, her unenhanced hearing, unlike mine, is superb. Ten seconds before I hear the city’s bug-spray truck approaching, her Vulcan ears locate it, and she rushes to open the garage to kill any mosquitoes foolish enough to be hiding there.
Over the years, she and I have evolved a bilingual departure ceremony: as I kiss her goodbye, I say, “Juice” (an anglicized variation on the German Tschüs or “bye”), and she says, “Luba du,” or, “Lova du” (anglicized forms of “Ich liebe dich,” or, “I love you”). I then say “See-ox” (because the German Sioux is pronounced “see-ox” which sounds a wee bit like “see you”), and she goes to the window to wave as I back out of the driveway flashing my “light horns.” Elements of this routine come and go, but in one form or another, it has worked nicely for over 40 years. Recently, we’ve added a two-handed heart gesture to the routine.
III. “The frog in the prince grows greener each spring
but not beyond help Flora’s kisses bring.
Sometimes heaven’s love descends in small hugs
like the six-armed embrace of the ladybug.”—The Wordspinner
Hit on by five men, and proposed to by six, three of whom were military officers, she cast her lot with me, an Army specialist 5th class, electronic intercept analyst (P-2), who’d dropped out of Georgia Tech in his freshman year with a “D” average. Fortunately for me, this former bank teller and mistress of our exchequer secretly paid off our 30-year mortgage in 20 years. Believe me, this put a twinkle in my wrinkles because, on retiring from teaching after 42 years, I figured I still had ten more years to pay off our debt. As I like to tell friends, if she were a shoe, she’d be a Birkenstock, those pricy German sandals with a long shelf life. Which reminds me: the sourdough she started in 1964 is still the source of the best bread my tongue has tasted. Salman Rushdie may have had Ingrid’s bread in mind when he said, “A regime of bread and water has never sounded like a hardship to me.” Smear some real butter on a slice of Ingrid’s bread, toast it slightly, change the water to beer, and you’ll understand why I’m spouse-broken.
Whether you call her Ingrid, Maudie, Omileinchen, Hollyhock, or Piepmaus, her only weakness is caring too much. Once, when I told her I was going for a winter jog, I found her warming my running shoes with her hair dryer when I went to put them on. When I returned, she asked if I wanted some water. I said yes, but no ice. When she handed me the water, I noticed an ice cube in my glass. When I asked her why she’d added the ice, she said the glass was still hot from the dishwasher.
Over the years, for birthdays and anniversaries, I have described her with a host of metaphors:
- She is my Gladys; I am her Pip.
- She is my stylus; I am her LP.
- She is my kennel; I am her rescue.
- She is my Kraut; I am her cracker.
- She is my ballast; I am her balloon.
- She is my wind; I am her wings.
- She is my blood bank; I am her donor.
- She is my answer; I am the question.
The result is we are two individuals with a shared center of self, two voices casting the same shadow. In the physical world, we are quantumly entangled. In chemical terms, we are dissolved in each other like sugar and salt in water.
Like William Butler Yeats “looped in the loops” of Maud Gonne’s hair, only an octopus could cuddle with her more. Like so many good wives, she has made me more than I could be alone—often wrong but never in doubt.
IV. “Where God is a dream with sterling appeal,
love is the specie in my commonweal.”—The Wordspinner
Somerset Maugham observed that we’re not the same this year as last; thus, we’re fortunate if we’re able to love a person who’s changing. (Indeed, Ingrid is more evolved. To wit, I have two of Darwin’s auricular nodules; she has none.) Seriously, the key is giving more than we take.
One of the required readings in an English class I took as a freshman after Ingrid and I married was Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. I recall typing out a passage from that book, cutting out what may have been my first schnippel, and placing it in my wallet as an occasional reminder of what love is and how I should direct it.
“Love is an activity,” Fromm wrote, slightly condensed here, “not a passive effect; love is primarily giving, not receiving . . . . What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life . . . of that which is alive in him; he gives of his joy, his interest, his understanding, his knowledge, his humor, his sadness, of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him.” Not that our marriage was off to a shaky start, but that observation firmed up our foundation as I vowed to bring something interesting, something to share, to every breakfast bar and supper table.
In time, we both drifted from the churches we were raised in as we realized that if heaven’s an aspiration, love, like the sun, is real, and in the unlikely event that I turn out to be another Montaigne, it’s what will survive.
To order copies of Skip Eisiminger’s Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Digital Press), click on the book cover below or contact: Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing, Strode Tower, Box 340522, Clemson SC 29634-0522. For Wordspinner: Mind-Boggling Games for Word Lovers, click on the book cover.