LOST IN TRANSLATION
By Katherine Stickroth
A friend invited me to her church service and then to the luncheon to follow. I am familiar with the congregants there, yet a man about my age I’d not seen before caught my attention. His dress, hairstyle and deportment were not usually seen in Wallowa County.
With our plates full from a run through the buffet, my friend sat to the right of me; the minister sat across from me, and the object of my curiosity sat next to her, across from my friend.
I observed the following conversation:
FRIEND (who never meets a stranger): “Where are you from?”
MAN: “Hollywood, California.”
“What do you do?”
“I work in the film industry.”
“I’m from Lincoln, California.”
The man seemed more interested in the food than my friend’s inquiries.
Seeing chit-chat wasn’t getting her anywhere, she nearly boasted by saying, “My 13 year old granddaughter got a buck deer yesterday. It was her first.”
His face lit up with a smile as he lay down his fork. With genuine interest he replied, “I’m so glad this is the first time she got her butt in gear.”
The ease with which he said this made it appear that discussions of whether someone’s butt was in gear or not was a common topic in Hollywood.
I nearly choked on my food to refrain from laughing. I looked at my friend for her reaction, then looked at him. He smiled at me to share my friend’s good news. I looked at her again.
My friend didn’t “get” that he had misunderstood.
I slowly enunciated, with a firm yet friendly tone, “She said HER-GRANDDAUGHTER-GOT-A-BUCK-DEER, not SHE-GOT-HER-BUTT-IN-GEAR.”
Perhaps it was the background noise of chatter in the small basement which kept him from hearing me correctly, for he only nodded in appreciation that I repeated her good news. I wanted to climb over the table, hold his face so I would have his sole attention, and clarify that “IN-WALLOWA-COUNTY-WE-DON’T-CONVERSE-ABOUT-BUTTS-IN-GEAR, WE-TALK-ABOUT-HUNTING-AND-BUCK-DEER!”
But I was a guest, after all, and restrained myself to not embarrass my friend. “Let it go, Katherine,” I repeated in my mind. “Just let it go.”
This episode became a gift to me. On restless nights when I am trying to go to sleep, this comes to mind, and I have to bury my face in a pillow to prevent my neighbors from awakening in the dead of night to hysterical laughter.
Originally published December 2, 2015 in the La Grande Observer newspaper. Reprinted with permission.