Today in Monica’s school, I read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to the fourth forms. After the third graders rolled around on the floor and talked to friends as I tried to tell them about making bricks in Kenya and how it related to their current unit on teamwork, I had my doubts about reading a story with such a somber tone. I had downloaded it off the internet, so I didn’t even have pictures to keep their attention. However, I went for it, read the story with my best “tree” and “boy” voices, and had thirty attentive eyes fixated on me throughout the entire story in both fourth grade classes. At the end, I answered their English vocabulary questions, then tentatively, simply, asked them what they thought to be the message of the story. “We need to take care of the environment,” one little boy said. “That trees can give us many things,” said another. “That the tree was happy when she shared with the boy because the boy was happy, even though she gave everything away,” came my favorite answer. They talked about harmony, their current unit, and generally hit dead-on the messages of the story, even though it’s not easy for them to understand a story like that and then summarize the message in English. At the end, we had some fun talking about the United States (did you go to disney? do you know justin bieber?), my trip to Argentina, and even Visionquest – which Monica had told the teacher about, who in turn told her students. I found myself explaining the rock pile buddy system to a classroom of Spanish-speaking fourth graders, who again, understood perfectly!
The “Historia de la Familia en la Patagonia” project is going wonderfully. I said before that I would start posting interview snippets on the blog, so here two stories that I have discovered, the first that Monica told me and the second from Irene:
Sometimes, my aunts would go to El Fortín in the winter as well as the summer, and Mamtschi (their grandmother) would greet them with the same “Yoohoo!” as they disembarked from the train at the station. Snow covered El Fortín, yet the girls would still go out riding on horseback or spend hours outside. When they walked inside with their clothes soaking wet, Mamtschi would hang them up to dry by the fire. And in the winter, there were entire rooms full of apples: crates and crates, from floor to ceiling. Animal fat also existed in plenty on El Fortín, stored in glass jars in the pantry. So, after everyone got warm and dry, Mamtschi would cut the apples into rings and fry them in the animal fat for a winter belly-warming snack. One winter, Monica, Claudia, and Baboush were outside “skating” on a frozen-over area; that is, running around and sliding on it in their shoes. They looked inside to see Mamtschi sitting in the kitchen, dying of laughter. Mamtschi often was dying of laughter, reaching the point of crying from laughing so hard, and this day, she had tears streaming down her face. The girls ran inside to see that Mamtschi had found a rat spoiling at the bottom of the jar of fat that they had been using the entire winter to fry their apple rings!
Then today, I traced back yet another of our family traits to our Patagonian family: the obsession with game-playing. On the first estancia, El Verdín, my grandmother’s two sisters grew up and my grandmother lived the first years of her life. At night, to pass the time, the entire family would get together and play games. The games included from the youngest member of the family to the oldest, and united the entire family. “En ese sentido quizás éramos una familia excepcional”, Irene told me. Maybe we were an exceptional or an unusual family in that sense. In one of their games, one person would pose a question – a creative, fictional question, with an open answer. For example, someone could ask, “What did the old man say to the insolent teenager?” or “What did Pepe do with the three goats that were in the barn?” Everyone would write down their answer on a piece of paper, and at the end, they would share their answers to a number of questions, laughing hysterically at the different creative answers given by the players of different generations. They never got tired of it, and the German governess even used it to help them learn academically. She wasn’t exactly sure about the details of the game, but we will see what I can find out next time, and my guess is my family will be playing it at some point when I get back to California.
Finally, I am gathering information about my grandmother’s grandparents. I have a book that talks about one, a bio on another, and the diary of the engineer’s adventure to discover the borders between Argentina and Chile through boat! I haven’t read much of the diary yet, but from the pieces of the adventure I have read so far, I’m beginning to be able to draw a direct line from this great-great-grandfather, through Mamtschi, through Meiti, to me…