My baby sister, of whom I am inordinately fond, is getting married on Sunday. I’ve been out to Richmond for Maid of Honor duties more in the last eight months than I had in the three years prior. It’s been interesting, but this last week has been the most interesting.
I’ve always known my grandparents would get excited about a wedding, but I never realized the different ways that excitement would manifest. Pappa, who’s had Nannie and doctors telling him to lose weight as long as I’ve been alive, actually has – because he wants to look good for the wedding. The counter in their kitchen that does double-duty as Nannie’s standing desk and Pappa’s repository for whatever is in his pockets when he gets home is empty. I’ve never seen that counter bare, but it is. The paneling between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling which, for forty years has always had a gap where Pappa never finished installing it, is finished. There’s actual grass growing in their yard, and potted plants on the steps. These are all little things, but they’re changes in the fundamental details of what makes that house what I expect when I go to see them. It’s subtle, but weird.
I think the highlights of this week, one of the stories told in years to come about the crazy days leading up to the big day, will be about my bridal shower gift to my sister. I gave her a two day trip to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, complete with overnight hotel stay. Her weekends are Sunday and Monday, so I told her we’d go the Sunday and Monday before her wedding, to get her out of the house and give her a chance to de-stress. My logistical planning skills were at their best: I checked to make sure Busch Gardens is open on weekdays, but didn’t check that specific Monday.
As it turns out, Busch Gardens was open during the week at the beginning of April (for Spring break, I guess?) but on our specific Monday, was quite closed. We found this out on Sunday, before heading down there. Woops. That’s me, brilliant at details.
This turned into one of those secret blessing scenarios, because it was cool and cloudy on Sunday, which meant that we managed to ride everything in about four hours, and spent the rest of the day going back for seconds. A whole extra day would have been dull, methinks. Sis agrees, so accidental victory.
My favorite part of the trip was when we got to the hotel. There was a very tall, largish man at the desk talking to the desk clerk. She looked flustered, was apologizing, and saying that she’d take care of it just as soon as she could get a translator to help. Tall-guy didn’t look happy, but he wasn’t yelling or otherwise being grumpy, so I decided to pry a bit after he left. It turned out that the desk clerk needed to talk to her head of housekeeping for some reason, but said housekeeper really only speaks Spanish. “Where is she from?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the desk clerk said. “El Salvadore?”
“Oh. I have no idea whether or not I can understand an El Salvadoran accent.”
I’m okay at Colombian accents, or at least the ones I’ve been exposed to, but really I wanted to get to my room, make sure there were no down pillows in the room (my sister is violently allergic and there’s been past hilarity wherein my hotel preferences tried to kill her). Of course the room was full of down pillows. I call the front desk because I am not going to treat my sister to misery and sinus congestion a week before her wedding and get no answer. So I go downstairs.
I didn’t get an answer because the desk clerk was trying to call me, desperate for somebody who can translate for her housekeeper. I’m about to make a big stink about them screwing up the “Feather-free room,” portion of my reservation, so I figure I’ll see if I can do a favor for the desk clerk.
Pause a moment for background. About ten years ago I was very, very good at Spanish. My accent was great, my conversational skills fluid, my ability to deconstruct and analyze literature satisfyingly mediocre. I am not that good anymore. By a long shot. But I still have plans for going to Argentina (and failing that, Mexico), this year, so I’ve been brushing up and trying to get back into shape. This is the only reason I said anything – the last few years attempts to communicate in Spanish mostly succeed in embarrassing me.
The desk clerk hands me a phone without any introduction or preamble. So I stutter into the phone and say something meant to be, “Hi, I’m Anaea, and Raschonda wants me to translate for her,” and actually came out as, “Hi, I’m Anaea, and Raschonda wants me to oh look this sentence is now making an ass of me.” Translate? Not a cognate in Spanish. Didn’t stop me from treating it like one! My brain knows better. My tongue is a moron.
The poor housekeeper must have been through this before, because she rolled with it. The next sentence was supposed to be, “That twelve-pack of diet coke and bottle of rum you found in that room? You need to bring them back.” This got turned into, “That…thing…and the rum…need to return.”
I have no idea what the housekeeper said in response. There were words. I’m sure they were grammatical. They were not parsed. Which led to, “Er…¿qué?” When I still didn’t follow I confessed, rather guiltily, “I have no idea what she’s talking about.” Raschonda thought that was a translation. “We talked about this before she left. Tell her the guest is here and he’s angry. She needs to bring back those things.”
“The guy is angry and wants his things. Can you bring them?” Except I mixed my you’s all over the place. My inner language editor? Murdering me after every phrase. At least I’ve brushed up well enough to be actively aware of how much I suck?
Magically, the housekeeper either figured out I was a moron, or switched to gringo-friendly vocabulary by happenstance, because she was fabulously comprehensible for the rest of the conversation. She complained that she was already home and in the middle of something. I told her Raschonda was getting desperate. She said she’d be there in half an hour. Communication achieved! Problem solved! Give me foam pillows!
I got back to the room and my sister had no idea what an ordeal, a challenge, a veritable triumph I’d been through. “There was a guy here. He opened every individual pillow to see if they had feathers,” she said.
Whatever was going on in the room while I was gone, probably just as epic. Less triumphant, though.