My dad told my 91-year-old grandmother, his mom, we’ve moved to Germany for nine months and she seems OK with it, she says. They live about 20 minutes from each other in Pennsylvania — my dad, his sister Sue and brother Jim, and when we’re there we take the backroads that resemble the rolling country and farms here in southern Germany — it’s called Pennsylvania Dutch country, there.
My mom and dad met in State College, where I also went to school, at Penn State University. Dad was finishing school there in 1969 when they were married and I was born right as he was graduating and getting his first teaching job in 1970.
In 1990 they split up and each remarried in the early 90s — my dad to Ivanna Clauss and my mom, to John Pearse. Mom met John in a grocery store checkout (they joked, “from the expressway to the aisle”) and my dad and Ivanna got set up by mutual friends.
Eberhard learned to play the guitar from a book John wrote called Hold Down a Chord, and introduced himself backstage to John after a concert in Germany in the 70s, while my mom and dad were still married to one another and living in Allentown, PA. When they bought a house in Germany and told Eberhard the location he said that’s funny, he lives just 15 kilometers away, in Ludwigsburg.
Eberhard was one of the only people John would talk to as he was dying, in a small treatment center with a view out the window I remarked reminded me of Pennsylvania, where we lived in New Tripoli, a place called Highgrove House.
Mom and John met Benny shortly after moving to Besigheim. He was with a girl named Andrea and John suggested they could house-sit while John and my mom divided their time between Germany and Pennsylvania, since John (who was English) had to leave the States every 90 days because he wasn’t a US citizen. He was born in 1939; his mom went into labor earlier than expected when the Germans launched their first air raid over England.
Last night, Eberhard taught Lily the chords to You Never Give Me Your Money, a song we played in the hospital (“Group Death”) on Capitol Hill when Dawn was in labor with Lily, in a makeshift bathtub, but wasn’t technically allowed to give birth to Lily right there in the water due to liability laws about water birthing.
Benny, who also sings and plays guitar, told Lily he believes singing is a gift, a gift he thinks comes from God, and she should sing if she wants, it feels good. Don’t worry about what people think, he says.
The German word for gift translates to poison, in English:
The word for “to poison” used to be “vergeben,” but it went out of use because of its homophone meaning “to forgive,” and became “vergiften.” (from Yahoo! answers, seven years ago)
My mom has been telling stories about her dad, whom I don’t remember, and died when I was about 4 years old. Earlier this week she told the story of how her brother Dave had a dream he was in a car with their dead sister, who warned something bad was going to happen to someone in the family the next day, in a car. Dave called everyone in the family and said be careful, try not to drive today if you can, and that’s when their dad, my grandfather, had a stroke in his car, hit a tree and died — Dave identified the body.
Dave felt a tingling in his hands that week he said, and won two cars at a state fair through a lottery. They thought it was a scam, that he won both entries.
I don’t know much about their dad, other than what my mom tells me, and I’ve asked if I could have her permission to start writing it down as we travel through Europe, possibly trace some family roots.
Filling in the details of a person’s life this way reminds me of what Polaroids used to look like, as you waited for the color and the detail in the faces to slowly come into focus, you make them real for a moment. And you had to keep the pictures away from the sun because they bleached out over time. There’s an app for that now that simulates the same process.
Anyone who is here now is a guest and I thank you for coming, to take part in the celebration of our lives, and the intricacies behind our past that inform who we are, and how we’re all connected some way.
Today we start homeschooling at our kids’ request, having dug into an app my step-mom Ivanna recommended by the Khan Academy, where we learned that Germany and Italy each became the countries we know today as a result of France capitulating in 1871 — thus bringing together 39 German states, the second Reich.
And that’s the mad game you can play with history, all the ‘what ifs’ you can spin out that form the now as we know it, the small moments that become the story of our lives — they need to be written down.