When I lent Benny’s dad Christoph a book on German history and explained the author’s premise, that too much focus had been placed on the Hitler years, he said that’s because no one told them what happened, no one talked about it growing up. He found out about the Holocaust after he moved to the States as an exchange student in the 60s.
We end our first 90 days in the Schengen saying goodbye and thanks to friends, and I get sentimental seeing the girls off to school this morning, taking them on the same route I took Lily six years ago when she was finishing kindergarten here: I ask them to stop so I can tell a story about what happened a year ago when I was really busy at work, so much I couldn’t really listen to them on walks to the lake back home, I’d get distracted, and so I wrote them notes in plastic eggs I put with their overnight bags when Dawn and I went away for a weekend with our friends to McMenamins, outside of Portland — and Lily mists up with me as I say goodbye and watch them disappear under the tunnel — these goodbyes symbolise other goodbyes we’ve had, or I can imagine having in the future.
Christoph was born in 1945 and didn’t meet his dad until he was six years old; his dad was a Nazi and taken to a prison camp in Russia, then just returned home one day and introduced himself as his father.
He shows us a black and white photo of his grandfather holding his dad as a baby outside the bakery they owned in East London. When the first war started, the English told his grandfather he could either return to Germany or remain as a prisoner, and he wisely chose the latter, for they sent the Germans off to the Isle of Man, where it sounded like he had a good time playing cards and writing love letters to his English wife.
When the second war started he returned to Germany with the English pounds he got for selling his bakery, intending to use the money to buy property and retire here in Germany, but the bank robbed him of his money, told him it wasn’t worth anything, and left him only enough to buy an old clock.
The girls leave a set of plastic fangs in my mom’s bathroom by the sink, and the cat traps a mouse in there but takes longer catching it than seems normal, so much I wonder if she’s making it appear harder than it is, a trick I learned watching some consultants in my last job.
Christoph says when the war ended the Nazis just changed from one uniform to another; his history teacher was a former SS officer. I’m not sure what he means by it, but I plan to hear more when we return from the UK in February.
We put summer back in a box the way you do with seasons like Christmas, when it’s time to switch things out, and the Germans were all out this past weekend clipping and pruning, scrubbing out the window box containers, as if they’re all on the same schedule, the same as the church clocks, the calendar that says Winter Time begins this weekend.
We leave the Schengen Monday by boat from Amsterdam to Newcastle and begin with a visit to our friends tomorrow in France, then 18 properties Dawn’s reserved for us throughout the UK and Ireland.
Eberhard helped me with the SIM card in my cracked German phone, and took me to get the car washed, left us with a flashlight, a kit with backup anti-freeze, engine oil, safety vests in case the car breaks down, blankets…Dawn and I went to the drug store and bought toiletries, new scarves, socks. I have a box of cookware I’m assembling and we’re borrowing my mom’s Dutch oven, and we’ll look like hippies living out of the back of our car for the next three months, or not.
I started a poem comparing us to paper planes that don’t fly right because of how they’re folded, or the fact they maybe crashed too many times and their noses got bent. And Dawn and I talked on the bridge, how it’s hard having your heart in two places because it can feel divided, or like it’s gotten lost in between. There’s a phrase “cloud herding” I stole from an Irish writer I’m hoping I can use once we set foot in Scotland and turn the clocks back an hour, then see what we can see there.
Post title HT to The Smiths, their fourth and final studio record released September, 1987.