Ing and Ting

Cousin Charlie and I were born twelve years apart, he in 1954 in New York and I in 1966 in California. The last time we’d been at the same family gatherings it was the late ’60s. (Snapshots: the Bronx Zoo; a Brooklyn backyard, long and skinny.) In the fall of 2006, when Charlie came out to the West Coast to visit me—I’d been doing genealogy, and he was one of the living relatives I’d dug up—he had lots of questions about the family and about the Norwegian neighborhood in Brooklyn and about my grandparents’ house on 56th Street, where Charlie had lived for a while after his own father took off. Most of this was information I knew from research. It gave me a weird feeling, knowing more than someone who’d lived through those years himself. Out of the blue—we were driving around Bellingham, Washington, on a cold night, with enough drizzle to fog up the view but not quite enough for the wipers—Charlie asked about something his father used to say. It sounded like Chinese, said Charlie, like two Chinese names, like the Siamese twins Chang and Eng. When he said it out loud—“Ing and Ting”—I knew right away what it was his father had said, which was ingenting, or nothing in Norwegian. So then Charlie knew that Ing and Ting weren’t two things or two people but rather one thing that meant nothing, although it was still something that his father used to say.

Erica Olsen divides her time between Blanding, UT, and Dolores, CO. Her writing has appeared in ZYZZYVA, High Country News, and other magazines.