Memories of My Grandparents Or Why I Always Read Street Signs

8 May

I can be annoying when driving or sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Why? Because I read all the road signs…out loud…always: street signs, billboards, ads. If it is on the street or the highway, I read it.   And I read quickly. When you learn to read by reading street signs, you learn to recognize letters and words and read before the car passes the sign.

I did, in fact, learn to read, or at least enhance my reading through verbalizing what was written on signs.  Although we had plenty of books in our house, it was street signs that were important. My maternal grandmother started this habit. She read every street sign as my grandfather drove. When I was a child I did not know why, I just knew we had to read all the signs. As a teen, I realized the importance of reading signs when Grandpa was driving.

My maternal grandparents came to the US from Europe in the early 1920s. Although my grandmother went to night school and learned to read and write English, my grandfather never did. He was great in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. But English, he never really learned. So it was Grandma who read the papers, kept the books and read the street signs for him.

Grandpa did drive the car. I guess driver’s licenses were easier to get back then. No written tests I assume, because Grandpa could not read or write English well. He could read slowly and write his name. But overall not well enough to read the street signs. To make finding their destination easier, in the times of no GPS telling you what to do, my grandmother would always read the street signs to let him know exactly where we were: Stop, Yield, Merge were easy. I know he learned to recognize those signs over time.

But my Grandma did not stop there, she read all those street signs as to where you were and special billboards as we drove along. If there was a sign, she read it. Eventually, we just read along starting at a unusually early age. I think at times there was a race to see who could read the signs first, as my sister and my brother and my Mother also read the street signs.

My Grandpa needed it. My Dad never said anything about it. Perhaps he thought it was cute when we were children. In reality, it is a habit I cannot stop. I still do it. I read when I am driving, or when someone else is driving.   Lately the ones that really get my reading mind in gear are in Missouri. They have all these electronic billboards that say things like, “Buckle up, MODOT cares.” I read all of them out loud. I cannot read them silently. Part of reading a street sign is to read for everyone to hear. At one point while we were driving to St. Louis, my husband piped up and said, “Don’t get into an accident reading all those MODOT signs.”

My husband probably had no idea why I always read the signs. But he puts up with it and has not said anything about it in years. At one point early in our relationship, he did say something about being able to read for himself. But that stopped when our children were little. I think he thought I was reading for them. But I was not.   I was just continuing a childhood habit.

To be honest, I usually do not read the signs around our home and neighborhood. Those are not necessary to read. However, as soon as I get on a highway and, especially, if I am in a new place, I start reading those signs.  Last year we had a road trip to Minneapolis. It was a road sign Bonanza, especially after my GPS stopped working. (We accidentally popped out the little disk.)

I have a few friends who I know find it annoying when they are driving with me. I think they think I do it when I have nothing else to say, just to hear my own voice. But that is not the reason. Reading signs is second nature. I remember long car rides to the Catskills with my grandparents. I hear my Grandma’s voice as we drive along. And I know we will be safe. We know where we are going.

9 Responses to “Memories of My Grandparents Or Why I Always Read Street Signs”

  1. Protopian Pickle Jar May 8, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    I always read signs aloud, too!

    • zicharon May 8, 2016 at 11:17 am #

      A good habit! We never get lost that way. 🙂

  2. Amy May 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    Do you do this even when alone in the car? I’d imagine that it is very tiring! Did you speak Yiddish with your grandfather? Did he understand enough English to get along with the outside world?

    • zicharon May 8, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

      He spoke English wonderfully with an accent I never noticed. Till I was about 7 my grandparents spoke Yiddish to us. I have written about it in Speaking Yiddish brings holacaust Memories. My grandma would read the newspaper to him as well.

      • Amy May 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

        Do you still understand/speak/read it? I will have to find your earlier post. It’s such a shame that there are not more people who understand the language.

      • zicharon May 8, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

        I cannot really read it. Just make out a few words. However I can still understand everyday Yiddish. I speak basically words not sentences.

      • Amy May 8, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

        I know mostly the insulting nouns. 🙂

  3. thegenealogygirl May 9, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    I love this. Our family members should leave a lasting impact on our lives, you get a regular reminder of that impact.

    • zicharon May 9, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      I am very fortunate to have been raised with much love and wonderful memories.

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