My mother learned to speak Spanish in her youth and fell in love with the language and the people. She became so fluent in it that the courts would call her to help them when their regular translator was gone. But we never spoke Spanish in our home, and those of my siblings who learned it did so after they went to college.

My mother was ninety-six and was a resident of an assisted living center. I visited her often, but one day, she was particularly upset.

“Why didn’t you tell me you could speak Spanish?” she asked me.

“I can’t,” I replied.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “I watched a program on TV where you were speaking, and you were talking in Spanish. And your Spanish was superb.”

“I’m sure they must have dubbed it,” I replied.

“Why should they have dubbed it when you were speaking it so well on your own?” she asked.

“It wasn’t me speaking it,” I replied.

“Now, now, son, I know your voice,” she said. “I know very well it was you. Oh, you sounded like you had a bit of a cold, but you often do this time of year.”

“But, Mom, it wasn’t me speaking.”

“Sure it was. They announced your name and everything. And, of course, I could see you.”

“Seriously, Mom, I don’t speak Spanish,” I said.

“Well, you should. As good as your Spanish is, you really should speak it more.”

I decided to try another approach. “Mom, tell me what I was speaking about?”

She told me all about it in great detail. When she finished, she said, “It was a wonderful talk.”

“Thanks, Mom. But I gave that talk a year and a half ago. Do you remember when we came and got you and took you up to the big auditorium at the university? Then, afterward, we all went to the student center to eat. That was when I gave that talk.”

Mom thought a moment and then said, “I do remember that.”

I smiled, thinking I was finally making some headway.

“So why didn’t you invite me when you gave the talk in Spanish?” she asked.

“Because I never gave the talk in Spanish,” I replied.

“So, where did you learn to speak Spanish?” she asked. “I learned when I was in Texas. Did you learn when you were away in New York?”

I sighed. “I never learned Spanish.”

“So, have you learned any other languages besides Spanish since you left home?”

I decided to try an attempt at humor. “Well, when I went to college to become a computer scientist, I learned the Fortran programming language. Since then, I’ve learned Pascal, C, C++, Java, Java Script, and a dozen or so others.”

“Wow!” she said. “I didn’t know you were so fluent. I haven’t even heard of most of those. I know Java is what they speak on an Indonesian island, and Fortran is what they speak in France, right?”

I realized that my attempt at humor had fallen worse than flat, and I didn’t know what to say. Just then, one of the aides came in.

My mom turned to her. “Do you want to hear something crazy? I’m ninety-six, my son is sixty, and I only now learned that he speaks fluent Spanish.”

“Oh, how nice,” the aide said. “I know how much you love speaking Spanish to everyone you can.”

The aide was there to help Mom go to bed, so I decided I should leave.

Mom smiled as she said goodbye. “And next time you come back, let’s speak some Spanish together.”

So, on my way home, I decided I better go to the bookstore and get a Spanish-English dictionary.