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Behind the scenes on the Backroads beat: Learning Spanish

I just got back from an interview for my next Backroads story, due out Monday. This will be the third Backroads in a row to profile a local veteran — the series is a lead-in to Memorial Day at the end of the month.

Earl Vining in his military daysI interviewed Earl Vining, a 78-year-old veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Earl is a talker, and reporters love talkers. The problem, though, is that you wind up with more material than you can possibly fit into the column inches allotted to your story.

I guess that’s why the journalism gods created blogs.

Anyway, here’s a story that Earl told me during our interview today.

Back in the 1970s, Earl was in the Air Force. He was a civil engineer of sorts and had been sent to Spain to help the military build and maintain a 500-mile-long fuel pipeline.

One day, the office received word that there was a crack in the pipeline. Earl and his crew were send to clean up the leak and get the site ready for welders to come in and fix things.

Earl headed out to the site with another G.I. and a crew of Spaniards. The crack was about 150 miles from Madrid, out in the country. Nobody in the villages spoke English, and Earl didn’t speak Spanish. Naturally, Earl figured that the other G.I. spoke Spanish; otherwise, why would the Air Force send him too?

After a while, Earl noticed that the hole the workers were digging wasn’t deep enough, so he told the other American to go over there and tell them to dig it deeper. The G.I. wanders over to the hole, peers down inside and calls to the Spaniard in charge:

“Oye, Jose!” he called. Jose came over. The G.I. leans down to him and says, “Diggio el holio mas deepio.”

Lo and behold, the Spaniards dig a deeper hole. The G.I. walks back up to Earl and says, “Spanish is the easiest thing in the world. Just put an ‘O’ or an ‘A’ at the end of whatever you say, and you’ve got Spanish.”

Back at the inn that night, with the G.I.’s language lesson in mind, Earl calls room service to get some soap to get cleaned up. A maid comes to the door, “Si, senor?”

“Necessary-o soap-a, por favor.”

“Si, senor!”

Earl figures that he has cracked the language barrier, but is somewhat confused when the maid reappears at his door a few minutes later with a big, old bowl of chicken soup.

Needless to say, Earl told the other G.I. what he could do with his Spanish lessons.