Original Composition Date: Friday, April 02, 2010
Experiences in my German grandmother’s house.
(mostly just ‘stream of consciousness’ writing)
Arizona buttes and mountain cliffs
Some days you can see forever into the distant mountains, where only striped layers show evidence of the eons gone by … There is a tug at the heart as we gaze down the mountain to the natural fortifications of rock built up like castle turrets; habitations for wildlife (not human houses).
The passing of an age, an ending of a generation of giants, and the faint beginnings of a new one, registers itself in a solitary blaze of red lines in the sky. Geese honking and calling as they pass overhead; a kind of sadness settles in, as if they never again will find their mates. A melancholy curtain of dim blues and greys settles down as the world turns into the night. Really it’s just turning it’s back against the sun.
Silence descends with the dusk, interspersed with birdcalls, spring peepers, the solitary whine of a single mosquito. The light fades into luminescence of silver reflected light- soon the moon will rise, large, lopsided, orange hanging low over the still bare black crowns of the maple woods. In the distance a lone robin sings out like a nightingale.
Patches of white, leftover snow in random shapes like seagulls, and s’s and twisted t’s, in 20 C weather. Warmth like in summer, beckons us in slippers, outside to bask in the sun. Soggy moss and lichens underfoot, with hard, icy under-carpet crispness soaks through slipper’s soles. Reminder that it’s cold spring in the ground, not summer yet.
On the lake, high calm water, with swirling water beetles zooming in circles; small typhoons of energy whirling for no apparent reason except to celebrate new life. Rising dampness in the air, humidity from a heating lake drives us indoors. Smell of wood smoke rising again perhaps one last time, to ward off the damp.
Regular metalic ping of the wood stove chimney tube, overheating the room with crackling wood firelight.
I searched yesterday for the spring flowers, starting up under the thick carpet of leaves: too soon, everything still asleep underneath. Crunching deep through bleached from snow, cold layers of leaf. One solitary bat greeted us outside the patio door, followed the sun down the wall, then flew away.
Spring peepers begin, faintly, their variegated song. Drifting – in sounds from the door open to the indigo dusk sky; dark woods over lake.
Suddenly a large pile of bear turds or cat scat directly in my path, up from the road. Taking a different route this time, through the forest from the road, towards the house. Ravine appears to the left. Hardly any broken trees this winter, must have been unusually mild.
Spring cleaning after breakfast, sweeping and mopping floor, pounding carpets on the deck railing with the broom. Satsifaction with the return to order, somewhat cleaner kitchen.
Windows opened to the air, breezes wafting through as I prepare dinner. Unusual connection with cousin in Europe through internet mail. Sense of far-reaching distance, half a planet away. And yet, a sense of relation-ship: a thread of yearning to meet up again.
A shared family, a shared past, a grandparent’s life works, intentions, labour, culture, detritus of daily habits.
Memories of First visit to grandparents:
Picking up goat’s milk from neighbour’s down the road: one litre aluminum milk canteen, with carrying handle, and lid. Returning with full, frothing, heavy, container full : trading off the carrying, sharing the load. Uphill, this time, up to the closed gate, standing on tippy toes to reach the bell, gate opening slowly (all by itself!) and clanging shut behind us. Hurrying to the front doors, up the stairs, Grandmother at the door. Impatient with us, we dilly- dallied too long on the road. Takes the canister of milk, dismisses us till breakfast!
Ascend to the guest bedrooms in the attic (3rd floor has the best views). Two flights of stairs, past closed door to uncle Josef’s second floor apartment. Cousin Markus lives there, (1/2 year old – we get to visit after breakfast!)
Breakfast of runny oatmeal with cooked fruit compote, or milk soup with lemon : a sour/sweet pudding flavour, and my favourite breakfast. Sit at table, no banging of legs or feet against table or chair legs, no talking while eating. Jam or marmalade in lovely tiny bowls with lids that have spoon openings in them. Silver tops, friligreed. Spoons, see-through, multi-coloured, lovely rounded shapes, like marbles. Wooden bread boards at each place setting, no plates for lunch. Soft boiled eggs, thick rye bread slices, butter. Cut from large ten pound loaf, Grandmother stored them on top of a ceiling high old walnut wood cabinet. (I watched her take it down, she climbed a three step stool to reach the top.)
Drawers, too heavy to open, but together we pull. Grandmother has gone down to city, down the path, through the burning nettle bushes, past the honey bees’ house, down the stone steps to the city graveyard. Through the graveyard, visit great-grandmother’s grave, red candle hanging “forever lighted”. planted flowers, yellow and blue.
Race back up the stone path to the house, drawers have fascinating objects inside: cloth serviettes, serving utensils, candles, in one, flutes, and a lap harp in the other. Must remember to ask Oma if we can “play” that when she gets back.
Look out kitchen/great room window: down below, river valley, castle Stolzenfels on the far bank, yellow stone bright in the sun. Open window shutters, draw them back inside, like a folding up accordion. Village on the opposite shore, nestled under tree-covered hills. Ships passing on the Rhine, visible from the heights. View like that from a castle, built half way up the mountain. My sister draws the view from the window in pencil, later, colours it in.
Walking down the Allee Rosenberg, beside Opa, going for a walk to the Rhine “Ufer”. Walking stick in hand, swinging rhythmically, with each step of the right foot, placing down the tip of the walking stick. I walk, and imitate the movement of the leg and the hand in perfect rhythm with my grandfather.
Opa talks as we walk, high German only, no “platt – deutsch” for him. Tells me of the Rhine river, it’s long, long history back to the Roman occupation and after that, to the Robber barons who built castles, and got rich collecting river tolls.
(It doesn’t seem possible to return to this house – yes a renovated version is still there – but someone else own it now. Who could afford to purchase it back?)