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May 12 2016

My grandmother, a daughter of pre-turn of the century German immigrants, lived with our family for the first 13 years of my childhood.  It was from her that our family came to use about 50 non-English words.  They weren't necessarily German words though; more like the-best -she- could -recall-Brooklynized-German words with a few Gaelic and pseudo-Gaelic words she learned from her Irish husband tossed in.  These words were as much a part of our daily vocabulary as "cat" or "dog".  Occasionally, I've met people from Germany, and I'd ask them about these words.  Some, like shlobberhund, they recognized right away.  While in our household this was used for any of us five boys when we wiped our dirty hands on our shirts or sneezed without covering our mouths, the literal translation,  is "drooling dog".  Others, like "kookoloochens"  no German I've ever met has been able to identify.  Our grandmother taught us that it meant "wide-eyes", as in,"the scared little boy stared with huge kookoloochens."  But of all the pseudo-German words we grew up using, none was uttered more in our household than one that is pronounced, "PEE-sock."

Peasock got a lot of use in our household of five brothers because it means to annoy or one who annoys.  "Stop peasocking me!" was yelled among our siblings often, and, as the youngest, it was a multiple time a day occurrence to run to a parent shrieking that one older brother or another was "peasocking me."  Interestingly, I've met some German citizens who insisted no such word exists in their language, and others who recognized it immediately.  One 14 year old exchange student told me, "Yeah, it means like, if I stood next to you and kept poking you over and over."  That is a perfect example of peasocking someone.  My Aunt Pat even told me once that she saw a calendar with "Pesach Day" on one of the squares.  Of course, as the youngest of five brothers, every day was peasock day for me.

Then, with the arrival of the internet, I discovered Google Translate.  On this site you are able to translate words from almost any language into almost any other.  It took a while, but eventually I happened upon "piesacken", a German word meaning "to badger."  I'm assuming that this is a regional word since, as I said earlier, several German people knew it and others didn't, but nonetheless, there it was, in black and white.  It wasn't exactly Alex Haley's "Roots", but it was a marvelous connection to my heritage nonetheless.

After sharing my research with my brothers, I didn't think too much more about the etymology of this or any other homemade word, as we called them, until recently. For the last couple weeks, I have been doing a study on the Passover written by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.  On one of the first days, I learned that the Hebrew word for "Passover" is "Pesach".  I plugged this spelling into Google Pronounciation, and sure enough, Pesach is pronounced "PEE-sock".  Don't get me wrong, I understand we grew up with the German form of this cross-cultural homophone.  Clearly, we used it to mean "to badger", not "the Passover". Furthermore, my grandmother was German, not Jewish. Nevertheless, I found this coincidence fascinating, and it explains what Aunt Pat saw on that calendar she had told me about years ago.

But the truth is,' peasock' describes the Passover very well.  God sure peasocked the Egyptians with those plagues.  He badgered them with frogs, locusts and darkness.  The Passover was also a peasock for the Jews.  They had to pack up everything on short notice and leave home.  There wasn't even time for their bread to rise. The multitudes peasocked Moses with the most classic peasock-line of all time as they whined, "Are we almost there yet?" over and over again. When they whined about being hungry, God peasocked them with so much quail thousands of these birds died and rotted within the camp.   Miriam peasocked her brother Moses because he chose to marry a Black (Cushite) woman. The Passover was, with the possible exception of the Donner Party, the worst camping trip ever.  

And let's face it, camping trips have their share of peasocks.  Every summer our family went to a Vermont state park for a week of camping, and every year my father would decree, "Never again."  After 51 weeks of dormancy, the lights on our popup camper don't work: what a peasock! One son after another pleads, "When will we be there?":  stop peasocking me!  It took three tries to get the dining canopy set up securely: that was a huge peasock of a job!  But then, the week of camping would begin, and the joys began to outweigh the annoyances, and inevitably our family vacation would be the highlight of our entire year. 

That's the thing about life, it seems for every peasock there are more precious moments, and soon the peasocks are long forgotten.  Not  once do I remember my father threaten to "never again" go camping after the trip was over, the pictures were developed, the sleeping bags aired out, and the stories told and retold countless times.  I suppose my dad forgot how his sons woke him from his sleeping bag at the crack of dawn because that's when 'the fish are biting'.  Just as surely, once they moved into the Promised Land, the Jews forgot being jolted awake with the sound of the shofar just to pack up camp and wander in the desert for another day.  Instead, we prefer to remember heavenly manna or a perfectly toasted marshmallow; Miriam dancing with her tambourine, or the sight of my parents waltzing under the dining canopy to Lawrence Welk  on the tape player; God as a pillar of fire by night, or the coziness of a late night campfire in the Vermont woods.  Our journeys through this world are full of complex highs and lows, joy and mourning, and plenty of moments that are a combination of the two.  But the beauty of Pesach, and life's peasocks, is that there is a Promised Land waiting at the end of both.



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