Well, I am happy to report that my wife’s surgery went very well and that she is safe at home after over a week’s stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The Neurosurgeon performed a Laminectomy, which is a surgical operation to remove one or more sides of the rear arches of a spinal vertebra to gain access to the spinal cord. Judy had developed a very large tumor on her spinal cord which had to be removed. The tumor had grown to occupy 85% of the space around the spinal cord and would eventually cause paralysis. The surgery lasted almost 9 hours, but was deemed successful by her surgeon.
During Judy’s stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital, dozens of technicians, nurses, and specialists visited her and all the Neurosurgical patients occupying the 8th and 9th floors of the Meyer Building throughout the week. One specialist in particular, the Pain Management Nurse, asked me a question while she was reviewing my wife’s medications. She asked if I was from the Baltimore area originally. I told her that I grew up in Duquesne, Pa., which was in the Pittsburgh area. She said that she knew that from the moment I began talking, and that I had a definite Pittsburgh accent. She recognized it immediately since she herself grew-up in the Forest Hills area.
Seriously? A Pittsburgh area accent? I never would have thought! Personally, I thought the only distinctive regional accents belonged to Southerners, people from Jersey and New York, Bostonians, Texans and perhaps, people from Maine. Apparently, many people think that those of us fortunate enough to be raised in the Pittsburgh area also have a distinctive sounding accent as well.
As a youngster from Duquesne, I, along with all of the residents, fell victim to the “Pittsburgese” dialect that is attributed to the area. In most cases, if the following phrases and/or words are uttered beyond the immediate Duquesne/Pittsburgh area, you will most likely get this quizzical look from whomever might be listening. If you were fortunate enough to grow up in Duquesne however, you would immediately know the true meaning behind the following gems.
I give to you:
As a young hunky from Duquesne, I came to understand and blush appropriately when some told me that “Kennywood was open.”
When Mom told me to “red up your room,” I would groan and begin to pick-up my clothes and toys.
Any kid would have been thrilled to find a large pop bottle that would be worth a nickel when returned to the store!
Another of Mom’s frequent demands was to stay away from the jagger bushes at the front of the house for fear that I’d get scratched.
When Mom would come home after shopping with an armful of packages, I’d always ask what she bought. She would always tell me to quit being so nebby!
One of the things my dad would always have to remind me to do, was to turn on my blinkers.
As a child, my favorite part of any wedding reception was being able to get my fill at the Cookie Table.
Undoubtedly, one of the delights that I miss most from my hometown is a chipped ham sandwich on white with mayo!
In Duquesne, the best was to describe a gloopy, messy and slimy handful of mud is to call it cucky!
I used to use a gumband to hold large piles of paper together.
Everyone from Duquesne knew what you meant when you said you were hungry for jumbo.
When I was a bit naughty when I was little, I’d sometimes get a lickin’ from my dad on my p’toot.
Most of my uncles preferred to work daylight as opposed to nighturn.
Now, if you grew up anywhere around the Pittsburgh area, it’s likely that you knew exactly what I meant by the statements above. However, as a Hunky from Duquesne, we also had the pleasure of having a few more idioms in our vocabulary that had their roots in one of the many eastern European dialects spoken around the town.
• Our next door neighbor on Thomas Street, Ann Yasko, sometime would ask my dad to give her a lift to a doctor’s appointment or somewhere else she had to be on time. My dad however, always seemed to be running late. I remember her always shouting out “Steve! Idemo! Idemo!” Idemo is Croatian for “Let’s go!”
• The large colorful cloth square that women wore on their head and tied under their chin was not a scarf, but rather a babushka. Of course we all knew that. If that babushka was being worn by an elderly women with gray hair and at least one oversized cardigan sweater, that woman was known as a bubba.
• Bubbas were grandmothers. They were the sweet little old ladies who always seemed to have freshly baked apple pies whenever you visited, lived in homes that always smelled like soup or cooked cabbage and always, always, always had the sweetest, kindest smile.
• Another local phrase that I recall was the “superlative” of the term bubba. If the woman described above was much, much older and perhaps walked with a cane. If she toddled down South First Street with tale-tale signs of untreated osteoporosis and carried a well-worn cloth tote bag containing fresh vegetables she just bought at Alexander’s Market. You can easily imagine her kneeling in the pew at Holy Name with her rosary beads clenched tightly as she silently mouthed her prayers. That sweet lady was best described as a studda bubba, an endearing term befitting her age.
There were some rather “expressive” words that became part of my vocabulary as well. Words that deal with body parts or bodily functions are not a subject I’ve really addressed before. However, since the theme of this post is idioms, perhaps I’ll earn your forgiveness for discussing them now. Who could ever forget being threatened with a swat on your dupa! That swat rarely happened, but it made me behave like a good little hunky.
• Căkă was a more polite hunky was a referring to what little babies left in their dirty diapers and dogs left behind to let you know they had visited your yard recently. I believe that căkă meant the same in both Slovak and Croatian since I heard it from both my mother’s and father’s side of the family.
• There was one word that would cause a very stern glare from my grandmother and a chuckle from my grandfather if I should every use it. Being naive to the true meaning when I was a little boy, I got away with saying it, but as I grew older and knew better, I would get into trouble if I dare utter the word hovno. Just in case you are unfamiliar, hovno was the adult form of the word căkă. As in “bull-hovno” or “He doesn’t know hovno from shinola!”
I leave you with just a couple of very localized translations to remember –
• Going to Elsie’s meant you were going to The Avenue News
• Going to Frank’s for a haircut mean that you were going to The Ideal Barber Shop
• A visit to Andy’s meant that you’d be shopping at Kennedy Meat Market
• And finally, going to Puskie’s meant that you’d be buying a treat at the little store at the corner of Mellon Street and Texas Avenue.
And so I say “Laku noć” for the evening and hope that you will continue to check back for posts. Things are slowly but surely getting back to normal after my wife’s surgery, and I hope to be posting again soon!