Radically Awesome Leaps of Language
WHEN you come right down to it, the generations do speak the same language. It's just that the words mean different things. I learned this when we took our family on a short vacation last summer. My first clue came in a restaurant as I desperately tried to get an important message to my sons and husband who were talking nonstop.
''King's X!'' I cried, at last.
Both my sons came to attention at once and looked at me as if I had gone berserk.
''What did you say?''
''I said 'King's X.' ''
''What does that mean?'' the younger one asked.
I looked at my older son. ''You know, don't you?''
He quickly stifled his laughter in the manner of one whose duty it is to humor those who have taken leave of their senses, and furtively glanced over his shoulder, hoping nobody at the next table was listening.
My gaze shifted to my husband, Jack. I've wordlessly checked with him to see whether we're dealing with a colloquialism ever since I found out that in Indiana they used to ''cut'' classes instead of ''sluffing'' school, the way we did in Idaho. Was this a generation-gap issue, or merely a matter of geography?
Jack came to my rescue. ''You two really don't know what 'King's X' means?'' His amazement equalled theirs. ''Why, it means time out.''
At this point, I ventured to guess that they'd never even played ''Auntie-I-over the house.''
''You mean 'Andy-over'?'' Jack asked.
By now our progeny was scrutinizing us with real alarm. We didn't have to ask whether they understood.
''Whatever you called it when you tried to toss a rubber ball over the roof,'' I answered. ''And if it didn't quite get over, you'd say, 'Auntie, come back.' ''
Jack leaned toward me, and in a confidential tone of voice said, ''I'll bet they've never played 'Red Rover' or 'No Bears Out Tonight,' or 'Kick the Can.' ''
''They probably don't know a thing about 'Too Late for Supper,' '' I countered.
One of my preteen granddaughters broke the lengthy silence.
''What's supper?'' she asked.
That's when we knew we could speak in code like this indefinitely -- and in their own language, yet.
If there is a generation gap between our children and us, the space that differentiates us from our grandchildren could only be called a chasm. This becomes evident whenever I am looking for the slot in the VCR in which to insert a video and have to be shown by a person on all fours, wearing a diaper.
It was no different on that trip in the mountains with our sons and granddaughters last summer. The girls couldn't believe we had actually left the TV behind, and wherever we went, they were constantly searching for nature's hidden replay button or trying to figure out a way to fast forward the boring parts.
We had just climbed halfway up a steep trail at the base of the Teton Peaks in Jackson Hole, Wyo. As we rounded a sharp curve, the vast valley suddenly unfolded before us. From our position on the mountainside, the scene was breathtaking, and I exclaimed, ''Isn't that awesome!''
My four granddaughters began to titter. I heard one of them whisper loudly to the others, ''Did you hear Grandma? She said 'awesome.' ''
Whenever the third generation speaks of me in the third person in my presence, I become slightly defensive.
''What's wrong with saying 'awesome'?'' I asked sharply.
They giggled again, and one of them replied, ''Grandmas aren't supposed to say 'awesome.' ''
The 10-year-old clarified the situation by adding, ''And if they do say 'awesome,' they're supposed to say 'totally'. 'Totally awesome.' ''
''Is that so?''
''What else do you say, Grandma?''
''I say lots of things.''
''I know. But I mean, what other things that you're not supposed to?''
They again reverted to the third-person stage whisper.
''I'll bet she says 'radical.' ''
''She has been known to say 'radical' on numerous occasions,'' I said of myself in the third-person voice.
''Do you say 'dude'?'' one of the girls asked.
''She probably doesn't know about 'dude,' '' said the oldest, her voice weighed down with worldly wisdom.
''The heck she doesn't!'' I objected. ''A dude is a person from New York City or Pittsburgh, Pa., who wears fringed leather chaps and a dust-free cowboy hat and gets saddle sores. We used to run into them in Yellowstone Park all the time when I was a kid. They always wanted to know if our cows had real milk in them.''
Violent laughter and more whispering.
''Will you say something for us, Grandma? Say 'radical, dude.' Please.''
This summer I'm going to teach my grandchildren how to play. First, of course, the video games will suddenly come up missing, and the electricity will go off, because although I have trouble inserting videos, I still know how to remove fuses. There will be no videos, no rock music, no talk shows. There will be no sounds except the tick of the clock, a dog barking across the field, the distant whistle of a train.
We'll go out into the sandy road and play ''Kick the Can'' and ''Simon Says'' and ''Too Late for Supper.'' We'll watch the sun go down and the sky fade to a pale line on the horizon. Frogs will croak in the ditches, and bats will flap through the summer twilight. We'll throw a rubber ball almost to the peak of the roof and softly call, ''Auntie-I-over, Auntie, come back.'' We'll listen for the ball to soar over the roof peak, bounce twice on the other side, and roll down into the silence, again and again, until it is too dark to see.
And it'll be totally awesome. Radical, dude.