Mama’s Word Game

I didn’t see Mama very often when she got older.  There was very little she could say when I asked her, “Mama what have you been doing?” She would speak in Yiddish and I invariably answered in English.

Finally there reached a time that she had nothing new to say.  It was then that she made up this word game.  I never asked her how or why she did it, but it became a routine with her whenever I visited.  It was almost like she spent her time thinking up what to ask me.  It was as if she did not want to have to say “Ikh hob gornisht geton” (I did nothing.)

The word game was a series of words that either rhymed or had some commonality to them.  Most of them have long since been forgotten, but a few remain.

She would say, “Fishele, gedenskst a bisl Yiddish?” (Do you remember a little Yiddish?)

My response was always the same, “Yes, Mama, a little.” Then the game started.  At this point she became more alert and there was a twinkle in her eye and a lilt in her voice.

“Fishele, vos iz der untersheyd tsvishn, vish, vash un vesh?” (What is the difference among; wipe, wash and laundry?)

In this case, all three words start with the same letter and the last two letters are the same.  As a child I had played word games.  It was called Rounders.  The idea was to use all of the five vowels between the same two consonants.  I remember P and T.  You can place a, e, i, o and u between P and T and have a real word.  Maybe this was where Mama got the idea to play Yiddish word games with me. 

On another occasion it was hant, hent, hint and hunt.  (hand, hands, dogs, dog)

Then there was the other type of hun, hiner, hon and hener (hen, hens, rooster and roosters.) Having had a chicken farm in our younger years made this one more meaningful.  Now out here in California there is no one with whom to play this game.