My almost 22-month-old son, Julian, has started learning to talk in recent months, and the two of us often have astonishing conversations. For example, one day when I showed him this pair of action figures which I have kept for many years, he held it lovingly and said with an affirmative tone, “Uncles!”
“Oh, you think they are uncles? You should call them ‘twin uncles’ then.” I jokingly responded, and was amused to find him thinking hard about this for a few seconds, his eyes suddenly brightened. He then shouted with a big smile, “Twin uncles!!”
From then on, this pair of twins, originally well-known as Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is now called “twin uncles” in our home. The truth is, I kind of feel proud about coming up with this weird nickname, since I always like to invent names for various things. So when I was reading To Embrace, or to Pour Salt on the Rice, a novel written by Kaori Ekuni, I was delighted to find that the Yanagishima family in the story loves creating their own family jargon.
One snippet of the story goes like this: The Yanagishima family has Russian lineage among their ancestors, and from generation to generation they have always passed along a story about two cousins, Nijinsky and Alekseyev, who decided to have a duel due to an arguement; one of them died, and the other one committed suicide after becoming an alcoholic. Three siblings of one generation are particularly fascinated by this story, and they often discuss about its authenticity. Later, they even come up with two lines to express sadness – “Poor Alekseyev.” and “Miserable Nijinsky.” – which then become their own family’s secret code in daily conversations.
In the second half of the novel, this secret code has appeared in one sorrowful scene: the brother suddenly becomes very ill; before he dies, he says to one of his sisters, “Let me go first and see what’s on the other side.” Sadly, the sister replies, “Poor Alekseyev.” By then, even though the brother already has difficulty in breathing, he still manages to say in return, “Miserable Nijinsky.” I felt very sad upon reading this part, but I also was glad that Julian and I have started creating our very first family jargon. Many years from now, whenever we mention “twin uncles”, even if the other people find it ridiculous, it will still be the most intimate secret code of our own.