Apples & Acorns
We are swimming in apples. The trees in the neighbourhood are all groaning with rosy fruit, including the tree that straddles our neighbour’s garden and ours. Apparently, years ago, they planted it under the impression it was a mini apple tree and, surprise, there is nothing mini about it. It is huge and beautiful and drapes onto our side and we have been shamelessly picking and eating for the past few weeks. On the weekend, it got a proper harvesting and we received an enormous bucket of fruit which has been sitting in our living room since, like a giant fruit bowl the kids take from at their leisure. I have been emptying it as best I can, baking apple cakes after apple cake and slicing them up to eat with cheese plate. I pressed four apples upon die Lüdde’s Kindergarten teacher and she could barely muster up any enthusiasm. ‘Oh. Wir haben so viele Äpfel …’ I left the fifth apple in my bag.
We’re also coming into Kastanien season, with the first of the big, shiny mahogany chestnuts winking from the pavements. Oma came over the other day with a little bag of chestnuts and acorns to make Kastanienmännchen with the kids. It’s a crafting project that seems to be an integral part of the German childhood, and as we sat around the table in the garden, enjoying the spätsommer afternoon, I entered one of those conversational vortexes with my mother-in-law, which are an inescapable symptom of a linguistically mixed life.
She held up an acorn and asked me what it was called in English. I obligingly told her it was an acorn. ‘No,’ she said, alarmingly confidently, ‘you’re thinking of Ahorn, the sticky stuff.’
‘No, no,’ I replied, ‘that’s a maple tree. That is an acorn.’ I asked her what it was in German because I realised I didn’t actually know.
‘Eichel, weil es von der Eiche kommt.‘ Pause. Then a laboured, ‘oak tree’ auf Englisch. The implication was clear: ‘acorn’ couldn’t possibly be right because, as a word, it bore no relation to the word ‘oak’.
Now, at this point, I also had a terrible brain snap and forgot (or only half knew/cared) that an acorn comes from an oak tree. As a result of this, I was beginning to lose my confidence with ‘acorn’. Perhaps there is a similar nut to the acorn that comes from the oak tree. Perhaps this was a northern hemisphere thing I had simply always been wrong about. I put Eichel into Google and up came a number of entries concerning penises.
As I scanned the entries, wondering if I had misspelt Eichel, because how else could I have found so many entries mentioning a penis, my mother-in-law’s voice continued, ‘of course, an Eichel is also the head of a penis.’
I looked up from Google to see her indicating the little cap of the acorn, from which the head of the penis apparently draws its name.
‘Right. Goodness.’ I momentarily forgot my translation mission.
‘What is the penis head called in English?’
‘Definitely not ‘acorn’.’
I became, as one does in these situations somewhat stultified by our conversation. It was a lot of input. I was mentally reaching for the English term for ‘penis head’ at the same time as being desperate to confirm I wasn’t wrong about an acorn being an acorn. I found myself unable to complete either task and instead became fixated on my daughter’s painstaking gluing of a matchstick to a chestnut.
At this point my mother-in-law began telling me of how SG’s childhood best friend (who also shares his name) used to be called Eichel because he got given a bowl cut and it looked like the little cap of an acorn. SG interrupted and said he didn’t get his name from the acorn, they were deliberately calling him a penis head.
As SG and his mother discussed this, I managed to break from my stupor and find confirmation that Eichel is, indeed, acorn. I left ‘penis head’ well alone and triumphantly confirmed, ‘Eiche is oak, Eichel is acorn, Ahorn is maple. Done. End of.’
My mother-in-law raised her eyebrows and did the typically north German mouth shrug. ‘Well I texted your mother and said we were making people from oak nuts.’
It could have been worse.