It’s like the Germans are all on some schedule here that we’re not getting. In February, everyone was pruning on the same day, stacking limbs in neat piles to dry and burn. Last week Dawn went to a bonfire where they brought dried Christmas trees and for some reason burned a witch in effigy, and when I asked Eberhard what it meant and why, he said it’s something they do in the mountains, in the Alps, loosely related to the equinox, sounds Pagan, and explains some of Charlotte’s art projects at school and the fact they’re making paper witches in March.
I drove Eberhard to Frankfurt to meet his son who’s down from Sweden, and friends from the music business here for a trade-show. He explained how a stretch of the A6 was intended as a landing strip during WWII in case the airports were destroyed; they’d just remove the dividers in the middle and land their planes right there on the road, that’s how you have to think in war.
And when we got back from Frankfurt, it was time to change the tires from winter to summer. In fact, we were late since everyone else was doing it last Saturday: mom’s neighbor Berndt, a former project manager, was out there with his hands on his hips and his wire brush scrubbing the insides of the rims clean, methodically rubbing, drying, stacking.
And for whatever reason we couldn’t pinpoint and got tired talking about, we got ourselves in a funk yesterday and the only way we could get out was to clean the area outside my mom’s barn, called a Hof, where she parks her car and still has space for a bistro, where I wheel out the grill and cook chicken breasts and each time mom says it’s better than the last.
It’s unusual to have a Hof like my mom’s in the village since no one really has parking in the old town, and mom’s area is so big and well cared for it’s often confused as a public space — she’ll come home to find people taking wedding photos there, or the occasional odd guy sitting at her table smoking, like he’s waiting for a menu.
After the Christmas markets are over in December, the townsfolk collect the pine branches used to decorate the booths and repurpose them in their gardens to cover fragile plants from frost. Dawn and I cleared the branches and stacked them off to the side, behind the Gemuse area off the barn, where a local organic co-op stores vegetables for its members to collect their weekly allotment, and our cat Roxy hunts mice.
The lawn furniture was bundled under a tarp with the pieces interconnected like a puzzle, a glimpse into Eberhard’s mind who likely did it all by himself for my mom, then wrapped it carefully with chord and tied it down just right.
Eberhard, whose surname translates to Dungeon Master in English and sounds like what he really is, a carer, has an apartment he keeps 15 minutes from my mom’s but is never there; he spends most of his time with his 87-year-old mom in a mountain village an hour away, who’s recovering from a stroke, was told she can’t be trusted to cook for herself or really live on her own, so he bounces back and forth between her house and my mom’s taking care of things, changing tires, light bulbs, batteries.
And for all he does for others and what seems like a lot of pain and suffering that surrounds him, he never complains about anyone or anything — and the bundle of furniture that’s locked together under the tightly-bound tarp reminds us of what it must be like for him inside, he never seems to let anything out.
With just a few more weeks left here now, my walks are wistful through the town and past the cemetery, and I know it’s good, it should be over, and yet I still feel the loss for all we had and did, to recognize no matter where you are it all goes by too fast.
I started reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by the Czech writer Milan Kundera, set in Prague, and in the opening pages he puts forth the idea of an eternal return, the notion we have only one life to live, and the German adage einmal ist keinmal, “what happens but once might well as not have happened at all.”
And if he’s right, that we only get one life and no chance to prepare for it, we’re constantly making it up: to call life a sketch is even an overstatement as we have nothing to study from or copy when we render it. We’re like portrait artists with no subject, we see our lives most clearly looking back, at what’s already passed.
Dawn and I had a glass of wine in the Hof and admired the barn as if for the first time, the way the light was hitting the brown-gray stone and the moss-mottled roof, and it looked like someone had made marks in the timber with a tool that probably meant something to someone at one time, but was lost on us.