Photos retrieved via Bing Images and credited to The Audubon Society
After a slight diversion yesterday–sorry, a lot of things all came together all at once that needed dealing with–we’re back, as promised, to one of the stories from my book:
Chicken Hawk Down (Part 2)
If you remember from our last segment, Grandpa grabbed this old gun and hollered something at Mom that made her kick that old truck into gears not typically seen blazing across a gopher hole riddled cattle pasture. I missed all the details of what got said exactly, not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because it got spoken in a language no one wanted me learning back then. Being from my part of Texas–namely South Texas–most people generally assume that such conversations would only involve one language, the one spoken a few miles south in Mexico. But, as you’ll read today, that’s not always the case. Not in an immigrant family like mine, anyway. In fact, there were probably lots of things said about me in words I didn’t understand, then, which only made me want to learn it that much more. And we pick back up where we left it:
There’s no telling what was said about whom when they got chattering that gibberish to one another. I hated not understanding things. Conjured many a bad memory I would rather not had. And while they never let me do lots of things–as good parents should–chief among them was learn too much of this thing they called Czech.
Never mind they spoke it nearly all the time themselves, or that they used that language to be sneaky around me. How do I mean?
I remember with my own children, me and my ex-wife not having a common shared language (like English, most days, or at least that’s how it ultimately turned out), or the Czech language my folks used, or French, for instance, German, Laotian, most anything would do. But since we didn’t have one of those, as it were, we came up with other options for those ultra-secret parental talks:
We spelled things out (like I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M, for example).
There’s just one problem with that sort of thing, though: It doesn’t last long. Wanna have kids grow to be national spelling bee winners? Try it sometime. By second grade, they won’t be just picking up on stray words Mom and Dad toss about as intended surprises, they’ll be crafting multi-sentence, multi-paragraphed compositions, complete with snarky commentary hidden in the edits and eggplant emojis they prattle back and forth
That’s precisely how I learned what I did of that language: A phrase or two at a time, and all on my own. But never with their blessing. Never with their help
My grandparents still spoke it with several neighbors and coworkers and what not. My folks, on the other hand—Mom a teacher and Dad in grocery stores—they might talk it a bit every once in a while, but for most part, the only people my folks spoke Czech with was my grandparents.
And nine times out of ten, it seemed to me anyway, they kept it in Czech to keep it over my head.
My mother always told me they kept Czech away from me because it dredged up bad memories for her of her grade school days, when she and her classmates would get beaten for speaking a foreign tongue in the hallowed halls of her school house. And God bless her, I doubt she went out of her way to come up with lies to tell me.
Still, I tend to think it had more to do with the fact they had this whole other language they could use to exclude me from their grown-up talk. Important little phrases, when you’re growing up. What kid wouldn’t appreciate a heads up on any of these: Want to stop for ice cream when we get to town? Where did you hide his gifts? I’m about ready to yank his pants down right here and beat him, bare-assed, in front of the whole school!
FYI: Should you ever need to know, here’s what those look like in Czech:
- Ice Cream: Chceš zastavit na zmrzlinu, až se dostaneme do města?
- Gifts: Kde jsi schovala jeho dary?
- And that last one: Jsem připraven vytrhnout mu kalhoty a porazit ho, Holého, před celou školou!
Still mighty good things to know about in advance, if you ask me. Better to be safe than sorry, I always say…
Most of the folks from my generation never learned any of our parents’ or grandparents’ native tongues, I don’t care if they came from Mexico, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France, or like my family: Moravia. Wait, what? When my family left the Old World, almost all of Europe was considered part of Austria (if you remember your history of world wars, the immediate cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife of Austria-Hungary, led by a Serbian-nationalist terrorist group called the Black Hand in June 1914 ).
I remember as a boy hearing Czech spoken almost everywhere we went. There were Czech language radio stations that no longer exist. Hallettsville had a full bakers’ dozen newspapers published there just a hundred years ago. More than half of those published in a language other than English.
Of course, the fact was I couldn’t discern Czech from Spanish from Botswanan, back then. All languages I couldn’t make out became Czech. The fact remains, I spent most of my time around areas that were heavily Czech. It was where we shopped, where we worked, where we called home. Most social functions I knew growing up were reunions and weddings and funerals. I was hearing lots of Czech.
But with no one really learning that languages anymore, and with most who knew it either already dead or they will be within the next couple of decades, I doubt there will be many true Czechs left in places like Hallettsville, Shiner, Schulenburg, Yoakum—traditionally, all heavily Czech-influenced communities–but can you really call yourself a nationality if you can even count to ten in its language?
In fact, I bet more Czech kids, today, know more Spanish words from television and public school lessons than their family’s own native language—the primary language (or first language learned, as was the case for my parents), or in some cases, the only language people spoke (my mom’s grandfather, who died just a couple years before I was born, refused to speak anything but Czech) as close as two and three generations away, some kids (my own, who now live with their mother someplace near Dallas, are a prime example) wouldn’t know a Czech word if it sprang up and bit them. For people in my generation—what sociologists call the X generation, or more popularly, the Gen Xers—it seems impossible to believe that an entire culture could vanish like that in the span of just one lifetime.
One thing’s certain: all of us in the Sixty-Five Chevy were doing our part to keep Czech culture alive and well. My two elders, both native Czech speakers and both musicians in actual Czech language bands; I, dutifully disobeying my elders to latch onto everything I still could (especially when it came to words of bluer nature–thanks so much, Grandpa!).
But Czech or otherwise, we had business, this day.
It seems what grandpa spotted earlier, what set this whole story in motion, and got Grandpa reaching inside the cab of the truck to latch onto that beat up, shabby-looking Ferncamp gun, was his sighting of what a bunch of layman farmers like us would call your common chicken hawk.
Thing is, however, technically there’s no such thing. Oh, hawks will kill a chicken in a heartbeat. So that part’s real. But the name, that designation, chicken hawk, there’s no such thing. Rather, it’s an unofficial designation for three species of North American hawks in the family Accipitridae: Cooper’s hawk, also called a quail hawk; the sharp-shinned hawk, and the red-tailed hawk. Although Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks may attack other birds, chickens do not make up a significant part of their diets; red-tailed hawks have varied diets, but may opportunistically hunt free-range poultry.
If memory serves, I have to say this was red-tailed, a pterodactyl of one, actually. It’s wingspan the span of the pickup bed, as I recall.
My wingspan didn’t do that. Not then.
And just to make sure we’re all still on the same page, we’re all following along: Mom’s driving at warp speed (or twenty, it’s kind of hard to tell, kind of bumpy as hell), and Grandpa just hollered up some new directions in his Czech gibberish, so we’re rolling along at a pretty good clip.
Photo retrieved via Bing Images and credited to The Audubon Society.
And I’ve finally spotted what he’s after in the sky: Some crummy old bird I couldn’t hardly see much less give half a shit about. I would’ve probably took it for a buzzard and called it a day, back then. Birds weren’t near as fascinating to me then. Not when I was just a boy.
But Grandpa would forever change that for me, right then and there…
Check back later this week for the third and final installment of “Chicken Hawk Down,” one of 21 stories you’ll find in my newest work
Long Gone & Lost