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  • This is a story my mother told to me, that her father and/or mother told to her. It has resonated with me for years - because my Grandpa and I only saw each other infrequently, because in the end he felt he really didn't know me, and I think he was right. I don't think I really knew him either, although I loved him. I feel great sorrow for that.

    In any case, before he retired, my grandfather owned and ran a florist. The old-fashioned kind with the attached greenhouse, growing their own flowers.

    One day, he was working in the store, and two women came in and looked at the flowers. And they began to talk between themselves, in German, about how to bargain the price down by pointing out miniscule flaws or the like.

    My grandfather, who understood them just fine but did not wish to eavesdrop, gave them a smile and greeted them in German. At which point they were somewhat flustered, but if I remember right they had a nice enough conversation and bought flowers.

    I'm not sure how I got from that simple, charming story, to "I do not speak German" as a touchstone for how little we knew one another - after all, we shared a native tongue, just not our foreign languages - but somehow that simple sentence sums up some of the distance between us.
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