Half term is over and Theo has gone back to school fully recovered from his bout of measles. I am reflecting on how important was his contribution to this household. Before his stay I was Mrs. Zakary, the housekeeper. Now I am Miriam, and the man I have till now addressed as 'Sir' I am now invited to address as Jack. Somehow we have moved to an understanding that as soon as we can legally assert that the man I had married in Poland before the war is actually dead, and I am therefore a widow and free to marry, that Jack and I will become man and wife. Given that I have looked after both Jack and his son for a decade, this will not be such a huge change. Jack is already calling me by my given name, Miriam, and I look forward to the day when Theo will call me Mum. Till now he has called me by the only name he could get his tongue round as a small child just learning to talk: Mrs. Zakary had become Mystery.
Jack and I communicate by signals as well as words. He never formally asked me whether I would accept him as my husband. He simply asked me whether I would prefer a church wedding or a civil ceremony, once we could legally get married. We are waiting for the answer to his solicitor's letter to the Polish Embassy, in which we asked for official confirmation of the death of my husband. He had insisted that I leave Poland in August 1939, when we discovered that I was expecting our first child. He was determined to remain behind and fight the Nazis, if they invaded our country. Within days of my departure they had invaded, and after that I had heard nothing more from him. Then came the tragedy that my baby miscarried. I had been certain for many years now that my husband had also not survived those times, but I had taken no further action to seek official confirmation. Now the letter has been written.
My signal was to stop wearing my wedding ring. When Jack noticed this he said nothing, but simply took my left hand in his and kissed my empty ring finger. Jack has always been like this: actions rather than words, and it takes a little getting used to. Theo is just the same. As they say, heredity comes out a lot in the children.
I had said that I would prefer a church wedding, and so we have started going to the church that Jack likes best. Jack either has not realised from my name that I am Jewish by birth, or has chosen not to say anything about it. Getting used to church services that are a complete novelty to me has not been all that difficult. The one big surprise, at the very first visit, was the seating: men and women were sitting together. That took some getting used to, but the lesson that in the sight of the Almighty we were somehow equal was very welcome. Some of the scriptures I was used to from my childhood are part of the service, and I am finding out more and more about the teaching of the man whom we Jews had counted as a self-styling prophet.
After a decade of very little personal conversation, Jack and I are beginning to talk more directly. This has proved not as necessary as you might suppose. Having communicated more by signals all this time we are still relying on signals more than anything. But I did ask Jack about his work. This was very revealing. I had up till now simply known that he was a professor at Cambridge. But I had no idea what he was professor of, or even what being a professor at this ancient university meant. He explained that his professorship was the result of a gift to the university of an endowment by a well-wisher. This provides the stipend he receives, and how he conducts himself, whether by giving lectures or engaging in research, or both, is entirely up to him. His formal title is Professor of the Philosophy of Language, and he is the first holder of this professorship. He is perhaps too modest to claim this, but I suspect that the post was created specifically for him to occupy.
Jack is deeply thoughtful about communication. I am beginning to understand why he prefers signals to words. It is all part of his take on the philosophy of language. How can we humans best communicate with each other? Words are so ambiguous, and so potentially misleading. We use entirely truthful statements to deceive each other, but actions are more trustworthy and somehow more real. I remember vividly how Jack determined how his son should be educated. We learn to speak as a child, I remember him saying, with no conscious effort. We just pick it up. Very young children in any bilingual community can even learn both languages they hear, and manage to understand and use both. So he applied these principles to Theo. He wrote the first books Theo used to learn to read for him. Everything was phonetically consistent. All the words used in Theo's early books had letters that never had more than one sound. So there was 'get' and 'gate' in his first book, but never 'giant'. There was 'cat' and 'cub' but never 'cell' or 'cello'. After lots of books with simple stories using only these sorts of words, more complex words were included, until eventually all the possible sounds of any letter had been presented.
His mantra was always that learning was more useful than teaching. His son would learn how to learn. So young Theo had not been sent to school. He had simply been provided with books to read, and paper to write on. Jack's view on learning a dead language followed the same basic principle. Theo was given an ancient Latin text, a dictionary and a grammar book and left to get on with translating the whole text (it was the Latin translation made by Jerome of the Gospel of St. John) into English. I gather that at his school now Theo is doing much the same thing to learn Greek, except with a different gospel, that of St. Mark. This is what happens when your father spends all his time thinking about the philosophy of language. For living languages the answer is simple enough: every summer Jack and Theo go to France, to stay with a friend at the Sorbonne. Theo reads only French books when there, and speaks French all the time too.
Eventually, of course, Theo had to go off to school. He needs to learn how to be a social animal as well as a thinker. So boarding school at the age of eleven, and Theo is getting lots from this experience, as far as we can tell.
And now we are waiting for the letter from the Polish Embassy that will open the door to the united family we three hope to become.