When my brother and I were small children, we spent our days with Grandpa and Grandma Springer. Mom and Dad both worked in factories– Mom as an administrative assistant and Dad as a union electrician. Back then, there were no day care centers because most Moms stayed home with the kids. If mom worked, grandma became the designated babysitter.
I learned a lot from the years I spent with Grandma and Grandpa. They were kind, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working German immigrants. I remember helping Grandpa harvest the cherries from the tree in the backyard, taking them in to the kitchen for Grandma, and helping her make pies. I remember walking downtown with Grandma and going from shop to shop in Amherst, talking with the cobbler, the butcher, and the grocer in German. We would stop at the dime store to buy a new babushka for the season or fabric for aprons. I remember picking out colors and painting furniture with her. If Grandma wasn’t doing housework, she was doing something crafty. I learned many of my home skills from her.
One thing I never did with Grandma was read a book. My grandparents were smart people, but they also were uneducated people. Grandpa had to quit school in the sixth grade to go to work in the sandstone quarry and learn to become a blacksmith. Grandma quit school in the eighth grade to go to work as a live-in maid for rich people in Lorain. Although they both spoke English, their everyday conversations were sprinkled with German words. I grew up hearing and speaking a German version of Spanglish, without knowing it.
Only recently did I realize that growing up in a family where no one read to us as children and where multiple languages flowed back and forth most likely impacted my reading proficiency in elementary school.