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I’m always amazed at how intertwined things can be so as to become a braid of events that become larger than the sum of their parts. One of them came together just recently that left me pondering many, many things, but I have to leave some details to my special guest author. You’ll understand why in a moment. But first, the strands themselves:
- A couple of weekends ago, we said goodbye to our beloved grandma for the last time. It caused me to look back a bit, at the 94 years of her life, and the lives of those around her.
- This last weekend, I went through a stack of 4 x 5 transparencies, some 50 years old, some older. Some had color as bright as the day they were taken, some were black and white. And while I was searching, a picture came up that hadn’t seen the light of day more than a couple of times in the last few decades. And it caused me to look back, both figuratively and literally, a bit more.
- Then last Sunday there was an article in the paper about the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair, in Seattle, Washington, but most importantly, there was a story about Belgian Waffles.
- And that reminded me of a story my mom told, and wrote, about those very Belgian Waffles, which were an absolute hit at the fair, and which made a lasting impression on her.
And over time, hearing those stories, and seeing the pictures, made me realize that history, and we can call it that, wasn’t dull and dreary, faded black and white images. It made me realize that life way back then was just as full and vibrant as it is today, with real people, living life as best they could, sharing responsibilities and joys just like we would…
…and then I saw a connection between all of those disparate thoughts, those strands of the bigger braid being woven together up there that I hadn’t seen before.
See, in 1962, the grandma we said goodbye to a few weekends ago was younger than I am now. She babysat my sister and me so a young couple could have some time off and spend a whole day away from the responsibilities of raising two young children. That young couple was my mom and my dad, and while my grandma watched us, mom and dad headed north, to the Big City of Seattle, to see the World’s Fair – and – well, actually, let me introduce my guest writer for today, telling the story of the beginning of that braid, the very story of the Belgian Waffles mentioned in that newspaper article, not as a historical event looking back 50 years, but through the eyes of a young woman, only in America for a few years, still learning about the country, the climate, and the culture.
Oh… And the waffles.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my mom.
A memory of the 1962 World Fair
By I. Roush
The pictures I saw in the papers reminded me so much of the equally famous Fernseh Turm (TV tower) in Stuttgart, in the area of my home town in Germany. The two looked like twins, and that alone made me want to go to see it at the Fair.
I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what to expect at the Fair.
Was I ever surprised!
My dear mother-in-law volunteered to take care of our two little ones, our 3 month old baby and a toddler, which gave my husband and me a chance to make a full day of it, a very welcome treat from full-time parenting.
At the Fair we walked from exhibit to exhibit and marveled over new inventions from all over the world. It was not only inventions but also people from all over the world. This could be clearly seen in their faces and many times also in their clothes.
It was fascinating, and a tremendous amount to take in. New gadgets for the household were demonstrated in one building, in another was an enormous rotating oven that was almost hypnotic to watch as it churned out hundreds of the well-known scones at a time. But even so it seemed they could not be produced fast enough to satisfy hungry Fair-visitors.
In another building was the art gallery. I remember one painting of a seascape which was so realistic that I felt the need to stay back for fear I might otherwise get wet. (I decided right there and then, that’s the way I wanted to learn how to paint water.)
Then we saw something special.
It was the Belgian Waffles. I never had heard of those.
By this time my tired feet reminded me that it was time to take a break and my stomach was in total agreement with them.
There was quite a large crowd standing in line already in front of the raised platform from which those waffles were handed down. They looked so inviting with that generous helping of luscious ripe strawberries and an even larger portion of whipping cream on top.
My husband and I looked at each other, and then realized this wasn’t such a hard decision to make, so we joined the waiting throng to be served. We hadn’t been there very long when the lady, who was handing down those yummy looking waffles, stopped and looked right at me. I’d never seen her before, and couldn’t imagine she had anything to say to me, so I looked left and then right, but there was nobody else who seemed to feel singled out by her. But then she pointed her finger right at me and with a loud voice announced:
”You probably have to go back to your booth, so I better serve you first”.
My Dirndl had given me away.
I realized that she had seen the Dirndl and thought I was one of the people who was actually part of the fair, but of course I wasn’t. There was no booth or exhibit I had to hurry back to.
Then again, I couldn’t argue with a person who was in the process of doing her ‘good deed’ for the day.
As I stood there trying to figure out what to do, the crowd helped make the decision, parted, and graciously made a path for me to receive the waffle the lady was offering me.
My dear husband didn’t wear any ‘Lederhosen’, so he could not pass as my Bavarian escort but she was gracious enough and served him also.
Happily carrying our plates, we looked for the nearest bench where we could sit down, I could rest my tired feet and enjoy those wonderful Belgian Waffles to the fullest.
That memory of the 1962 World Fair still brings a happy smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart.
Thank you Belgian waffle Lady!
So – the strands of the braid come together with a thank you to the Belgian Waffle lady, a belated thank you to my grandma for babysitting my sister and me those many years ago, making this trip, and this story, possible – and a very special thanks to my mom, who wrote the story you just read. (You can see her below wearing the Dirndl in a photo taken around that time, also in a photo taken a number of years later, when she discovered that making dolls wearing Dirndls was fun, too, and one of her and dad, taken a few years before the story happened)
So this is my 100th story, and it’s not so much a story, as a look back on the first 99…
I had no idea I had so many inside me, but they’re here. For those of you who’ve commented on them and helped me get better at writing through your critiques, thank you. For those of you who were unwitting characters in some of them, I thank you. For my sister who created this blog in the first place and felt I needed to get my writing out there, thank you. For my family who often saw nothing but the back of my laptop as I was writing – I’m working on that – and thank you – really. And to some very special people who decided I was worth keeping around – thanks for your help in all of that. You know who you are.
As for the stories – I think the most fun stories for me to write were the ones where you, the reader, figure out whatever punchline was coming, just about the time your eyes hit it.
All of the stories are true. Some took an astonishing amount of research, ballooned into huge, huge stories, then were often allowed to simmer for some time until I could edit them down to whatever the essence of the story actually was. I have one unpublished one that has so much research it that it’s ballooned to 12 pages when there’s really only about 3 pages of story in there, but that’s how the writing process is… Find what you need. Distill it down to its very core, then take that and make it better.
I did a little looking through the stories and found some little snippets that made me think – and made me smile as I read through them all. They’re below – in the order they were published, so the subject matter and themes are pretty random, but there was a reason for each one of them. So, cue the music, and here’s a selection of quotes and thoughts from the stories (with links to the originals) that made me smile, or laugh, or think, or sometimes just cry.
1. From the story: “Cat Piss and Asphalt”
“Pop, is it possible for the memory of something to be better than the event itself?”
This was when my son went to Paris. In Springtime. And he had memories he needed to share. I listened, and smiled, and I wrote.
2. I wrote a story about a friend named Georgiana – who taught me so more about writing software code than any book I ever read, any class I ever took, and more than she could possibly have imagined.
3. Then there was the story “Have you ever been in a dangerous situation and had to drive out of it?” when I was trying to jack up a car with a flat tire, on a one lane road the water tanker trucks were using, on a hill, in a forest fire, next to a burning ravine, “Most of the things that I would have used to brace the car to keep it from rolling were on fire, so that limited my options a bit. “
4. There’s the story I called “Point and Click” – which really isn’t about pointing, or clicking – but is very much about – well, it’s short – you’ll get it – and even if you don’t, that’s okay. I hope you don’t have to.
“This time, there’s a loud “click” of the hammer slamming down on an empty chamber. “
5. On managing to borrow a car, and within a couple of telephone calls finding myself taking pictures of an F-4 Phantom out of the back of a KC-135 tanker over Missouri.
The look on the face of a classmate as I was printing the pictures that evening was absolutely priceless.
6. Then there was the story called Salty Sea Dogs – just one of the weird little things that seems to happen to me when I go out for walks…
“Into this nautical environment walk two characters straight out of central casting for Moby Dick”
7. There was just a little snapshot of a conversation between two people, one of whom really understood what was going on, and the other who didn’t. And the funny thing is, I’m not sure which one was which. It’s just something that happened On the Bus…
8. Sometimes stories happen in the blink of an eye – or in the ever so slight smile of a spandex covered cyclist riding past.
9. I wrote about a lesson I learned about plumbing once, (water doesn’t ONLY flow downhill – and it’s not just water)- which my kids still laugh about.
10. There was the story where I wasn’t sure whether my daughter was complimenting me or insulting me – or a little of both, but it made it in here in the story Compliment? Insult? You decide…
11. And somehow, I managed to get phrases from the movies “The Lion King”, Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”, and both the old and new Testaments of the Bible into the same story, combining them with a sermon I heard and an attitude from my boss that all ended up in the lesson you can find in the story The view from the Balcony… Forgiveness, Writing in the dirt, and “No Worries”
12. I learned, and wrote about, buried treasure – and it’s often not buried, and it’s not what you think it might be.
13. I had a story bouncing around in my head for years before I finally wrote it down, and was astonished when the right brained creative side of me finally let go of it and the logical left brain started analyzing it. if I’m wrong on the numbers, I’d be happy to have someone prove me wrong, but when you hit a certain set of railroad tracks at a certain speed in a 1967 Saab, you will catch air, and a lot of it. It was the first of many Saab Stories…
14. I remember a story that came out of a single sentence. This one is called, simply, “Stalingrad” – and is about – well, here’s the quote – it’s: “a story that boils down to six words, but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes” – it was also one of the first stories that caused me to cry as I wrote it. I wasn’t expecting that, and I think it was interesting that people asked me to put “hankie warnings” on the stories I’d written.
15. For the next one – I wanted to have a little fun – and this story, too, came from only a few sentences my dad told me, but it, too, required a surprising amount of research and I figured out the rest, and realized there were three stories inside this one, and I decided I’d try to braid them together in such a way that they came together – ideally, not in just one word, but the same syllable of that one word. You’ll find that story called “B-52’s, Karma, and Compromises…”.
16. I learned that one person can do something stupid, but if you get a few guys together, even without alcohol, not only does the quantity of the stupidity go up, but the quality is almost distilled to a concentration that you couldn’t make up… in the story Synergistic Stupidity, The Marshmallow Mobile, and the Little Tractor that Could… I learned that I could help people, I could do something stupid with a friend, then, while trying to figure out how to un-stupidify this thing, watch as several others got involved, ending up in exactly the same spot we’d gotten ourselves into, break the law, ‘borrow’ a tractor, and in the end, put everything back where I found it, and my grampa, whose tractor it was that I’d ‘borrowed’ – didn’t find out about it till years later. You’ll find that in the story, along with a map of where it happened. Really.
17. I often learned as I wrote – the story about The Prodigal Father took me back a few thousand years, to standing beside another dad, waiting for his son, and I suddenly understood a whole lot more about what he must have been feeling.
18. Some stories were just silly. I mean, Water Skiing in Jeans?
19. Or Jump Starting Bottle Rockets… ? With Jumper cables attached to a 40 year old car?
Yup… I did that.
20. But it’s not just my generation. I wrote a story about my mom, who – well, let’s say she has a healthy dislike for snakes. Not fear, mind you. Dislike. And when they started getting into the goldfish pond and eating her goldfish – well, she armed herself. First with a camera to prove it – and then with a pitchfork to dispatch it. And sure enough, 432 slipped disks later (Thank you Johnny Hart for that quote), that snake was no longer a threat, and mom, bless her, was quite satisfied…
21. I never think of my mom as a feisty little old lady, she’s my mom – but she’s awfully close in age (well, in the same decade) as another feisty little old lady named Cleo. I never thought I would get airborne trying to take a picture of an 88 year old woman emptying a mop bucket, but I did, and it made for a wonderful story, and a wonderful image.
22. I took a little break from writing actual stories and spent a little time explaining why in the “story” Scalpels, sutures, and staples, oh my… It was a hard “non-story” to write – but it was what was happening that week, and I was a little too busy living life in the moment to be able to write much about something that had happened in the past.
23. As some of you know, I spent a few years as a photojournalist, and as I was going through some of my old images in a box in the garage one day, I found they were a time machine – taking me back to when I was younger, and when there was so much of life still ahead of me. I remember sitting across a parking lot from a dad trying to teach his daughter how to rollerskate at Saltwater State Park between Seattle and Tacoma, just knowing she was going to fall, and as I sat there and waited to capture the image as she fell, her dad, unseen behind her, was there waiting to capture her. I had a little ‘aha’ moment about God right then. How many times things have looked like they were going the wrong way, and yet, He was in the background, orchestrating stuff to make it right in the end? (I don’t know the answer to that question, just know it’s worth asking)
24. Another “Proving Darwin Wrong” moment – as my son says – I was working for the Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan, and these thunderstorms would come in off the lake, and I wanted a lightning picture with a lighthouse in it. Now I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not the best lightning shot in the world out there, but there was, shall we say, a flash of inspiration that came rather suddenly as the film was exposed – the only frame, the 28th one (yes, shot on film), in Lightning bolts, metal tripods, and the (just in time) “Aha!” moment…
25. Sometimes the most profound bits of wisdom come from the simplest things. I was astonished to find out how many people read the story “Mowing dandelions at night…” – and what they thought about it. Some of those comments are on the blog – some were sent directly to me, but they were all fun to read, and to ponder.
26. I am constantly astonished at the amount of wisdom that can come from simple things. I remember – again – being in the garage, and finding an old, cracked cookie jar – and as I looked at it, and held it gently, I could almost feel the stories it held, and as I started writing – it gave me more and more detail for the stories that I was able to write and share.
27. The next story published was one I actually wrote in 1998, but happened in 1977, and it was then that the phrase, “Really, they don’t shoot on Sundays…” entered into my vocabulary. It was also the story that inspired my son to ask me the question, “How did you get old enough to breed?”
Hearing that from anyone is a little weird.
Hearing that from your own offspring is a little mind bending…
So should you be interested, the story involved a 1973 Pinto station wagon, a hot summer afternoon, some ducks, a cannon shell, and Elvis Presley.
Actually, in that order.
28. I then found myself writing about a cup of coffee, and the friends involved in making it. I’ve lost touch with Annie – but LaRae is now an amazing photographer, Stevie can still make an incredible cup of coffee, but is making a much better living in the transportation business.
29. I was trying to write a story a week around this time, and had no idea how much time it would take, and found myself staring at Father’s day on the calendar, and realizing how, as hard as our relationship often was (I think an awful lot of father-son relationships have their rocky moments, and I remembered back to the time I taught both of my kids to ride a bike. There was this moment, I realized, where you have to let go of the saddle – and as I talked to more and more dads about this, I realized that they all, instinctively held their right hand out as though they were, indeed, Letting go of the saddle…. I have to warn you – this story took a turn toward the end that I wasn’t expecting, and it was very, very hard to finish. You’ll understand when you get there. I found this story crossed cultural barriers, age barriers, gender barriers, and I ended up putting a hankie warning on this one as well.
30. I needed a little levity, and a smile after that story (remember, they were coming out once a week, but they were taking more than a week to write – so I had spent quite a bit of time on this one, so I, writing, needed a break, and remembered a song we used to sing when I was growing up – and the dawning horror in my wife’s eyes as she realized what it actually meant. (Think German sense of humor (heard of Grimm’s Fairy Tales?) and leave it at that).
The thing about these stories is they just come. In fact, they’re all there – all I have to do is listen, and they’ll come…
31. The next story required listening for something that’s very hard to hear, and listening for about 20 years before it all came together. It ended up being two stories that morphed into one, and started out as a story about old Saabs, and ended up being a story about listening to God in the weirdest places. At the time, I had no idea that God talked to people in Junkyards, but, it turns out, He does. He talks to us everywhere – if we’re willing to listen. I have to say this one’s one of my favorites – it was fun to write, fun to search for the right words, fun to put the little vignettes together (there’s a bit about Harley Davidsons in there that I really like) and it was fun to see it all come together. I hope you enjoy it – even if you aren’t a fan of old Saabs, or maybe haven’t heard God in a junkyard. Believe me, I was just as blown away by that as you might expect. If you end up reading the story – let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
32. And we go back into the time machine (in the garage, looking suspiciously like an old box of black and white photos) where I found the picture behind the story “Fishing, Gorillas, and Cops with – well, just read on…” I like the story – love the picture – I think, because it’s just a normal day – nothing special about it except that – well, that it was so normal, and if you’re looking, you can find beauty everywhere, even if it’s an old guy fishing. (actually not far from where I took that lightning shot a few stories up)
33. My next story brought me a little closer to home, and my mom had just made some jelly. I always joked with her that the jars of Jelly were Time Capsules of Love…– and they were. It was neat to be able to finally write a story about them and what they meant to me. I even took a picture of one of those jars for the story.
34. I’d broken my leg that spring, and found myself in an amusing, cross cultural situation afterwards – which ended up in the story, “Knocking down walls with an old brown purse…” I still wonder how the fellow in the story’s doing. I did print out a copy there and leave it with people who could get it to him.
35. I’d written a few stories about my son, and decided that it was time to write a couple about my daughter – and the wisdom you can learn about yourself and your kids showed up in two stories, one ostensibly about greasy fingerprints (and Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®)
36. …and one about Pizza – and finances, and if you’re not careful in college (or in life), how prioritizing one over the other can affect things in a significant way…
37. I wrote about letting go – something hard to do – but with a smile in the story, and letting go in a location you might not expect.
38. I wrote about Veteran’s day – and memories of my dad, crossed with a scene I’d seen when I was a newspaper photographer years earlier, and I suddenly understood what the family whose privacy and grief I chose not to invade were feeling. There is a lot of pain in that story. Writing it down finally helped me to let some of it go.
39. And I needed a smile, so I wrote about Fifi…. This is one of my favorite stories, in which I simply chatted with folks and talked my way onto the only B-29 in the world, but at the same time, talked the photo editor of a paper I’d never seen into holding space on the front page for me because I was going to get a picture from the plane as I flew to the town where that paper was. it was an all or nothing thing from both sides, and was truly an incredible experience. I recently took a training class in “Win Win Negotiations” – and that one was held up as an example of how to do it.
40. There’s a story I wrote about rear view mirrors, and it actually has very little to do with mirrors.
41. and another I wrote about pouring a cup of coffee… which, surprisingly, has a lot to do with pouring a cup of coffee.
42. ….and my favorite prank of all, a story about (and yet not about) spinach.
43. My daughter got mad at me for the next one, called “Playing Digital Marco Polo in Seattle…” – which happened over lunch one day. “Why do these things keep happening to you? – I want things like this to happen to me, and they don’t – and yet here you go out for lunch and get… “ and she trailed off, not sure how to finish it. As it was happening – it had all the drama of a spy thriller – and I wasn’t sure what I’d walked into – but it was fun.
44. By this time it was near Christmas, and we as a family had worked our Boy Scout Troop’s Christmas tree lot for years, and something special happened this time that made both my wife and an old veteran cry. Tears of joy and gratitude – for having the privilege of being part of something special – but nonetheless tears. And I wrote…
45. We’d gone to Arizona that spring to tape me doing some presentations, and I realized there was a story that needed to be written about not that, but about a very special thing that happened down at the Pima Air Museum, as well as McChord Air Force Base many years earlier, so I shifted gears to write a story for the “Stupid things that Papa did when he was Little” series, it’s the story called “Can I help you, sir?”
46. There was a sad story about a fellow with hope, on the bus – made me realize that as bad as things were sometimes, they could always get worse, but this fellow wasn’t feeling sorry for himself, he was just taking things one day at a time. From the story: “He said he’d take anything for work, but right now there just wasn’t anything.”
47. I pondered electrons, and the monthly “Patch Tuesday” we have at work, and my thoughts wandered from very small things like electrons to the really, really big picture of Who made them., and what it all means.
48. Those of you who’ve been around me for some time have heard me use the term Butthead… and one day I decided to just write the story down about how and why that term came about, and what it means. (it’s usually a term of endearment, delivered with all the warmth of a cuff upside the head.)
49. At one point, my guardian angels were sharing pager duty, and all their pagers went off when I was miles from anything, no radio station in range, just, for a rare moment, bored out of my mind, crossing North Dakota one year in that old Ford I had. And I did something to pass the time that apparently set the pagers off. I still wonder, sometimes, how I survived some of these things – or whether they were as crazy as they seem when I write them, or if they were just me paying attention to things other folks just let slide.
50. Often the stories are just from oddities that happen in life. I never thought a broken TV would make a story – but sure enough, it did.
From the story: “Now Michael, because I have educated him in the ways of complex electronics repair, performed the first task one always does when troubleshooting and/or repairing electronics, which is to smack the living crap out of it.”
51. And then there was the story about my friend Betty… and I have to tell you, that was one hard, hard thing to write. It was her eulogy, and it took me a week to recover emotionally from writing it, much less giving it. I still miss her.
From the story: “I’d come into that room, with that pile of trampled masks outside the door…”
52. I wrote about my son’s and my time in Boy Scouts – with trips to Norwegian Memorial one year and Shi Shi beach the next year. The places aren’t much more than 15 miles apart, but the experiences were literally night and day. And after months of pondering I learned that while there was absolute joy in the trip to Norwegian, there was so much more in the way of life lessons from the trip to Shi Shi. They were completely different, but I wouldn’t trade either of them for anything.
The thing about these stories is they’re just out there in the order they come into my mind… Some get finished quickly, some slowly. Some are written in a couple of minutes – some take decades to live and weeks to write. Some I don’t even remember myself until I read them again, and at that point, they’re just as fun (or painful) for me to read as they were the very first time…
53. There was the story of Humpty Dumpty in Winter… – (because we all know he had a great fall) – and I think it’s safe to say that that particular story was the epitome of understatement. It’s just the absolute tip of the iceberg from when I broke my leg.
54. I didn’t write for awhile after that, and when I did, needed something to cheer me up a little, and wrote a story called What Heaven must be like… about an afternoon that was both planned and spontaneous, and I did something that I had never done before. I met new friends, I saw a smile from my son I wish I’d actually caught (there’s a picture in the story *after* he stopped smiling – I was trying to hold the camera steady while we were still coasting toward him at a good clip and missed how big that wonderful smile actually was. That story is very much in my top ten favorites – assuming I have a list like that…
55. And then… for a little fun, I wrote a story that was a combination “Saab Story” and a date with a young lass who shall remain nameless, but who – well, here’s the title: Old Saabs, Big puddles, and Bad dates. You’ll figure it out.
56. Not long after that, my friend Beth wanted me to go out and do something fun, and take pictures to prove it. It was also a time when my friend Greg wondered out loud whether I embellished my stories. I’d heard that question before, and given how weird some of the stories are, I understood the reason behind it. I told him no, I didn’t embellish them, and then, to Greg’s incredible shock, he walked right into one of the stories with me, literally as it happened. The look on his face when he realized what was happening is something that will live on with me for a long time. He insisted I write it down, and that I could most definitely put his name in it, so here it is… There were three main parts to the story – and they all made it into the title: Blackbirds, Blue Saabs, and Green Porta Potties
57. Some of my stories are what I guess you’d call a ‘profile’ of a person – and in this next case, it was of a fellow who was a stranger, was assigned to be my officemate, became a friend, I followed him to another company where he became my boss, and as we grew older and professionally went our separate ways, we still remained friends, and I still have a lot of fondness for the memory of that first meeting of my friend Jae…
58. Then there was the time when my mom used a phrase I’d never, ever heard her use – and I’d only heard used one other time in my life. But that time had a story wrapped around it so tight that you couldn’t hear the words without going into the story. And, as is often the case, the story spans a couple of generations, some youthful stupidity, global warming, and how difficult it can be to keep a straight face when being asked a simple question… You’ll find all that in An “Inconvenient Truth” – and how important asking the right questions is.
59. I went back several years on the next story, which was called, simply, Bathtime… I didn’t realize how – much that little activity with your kid could change your life, but it does, and the story still brings a smile. (yes, there are pictures, but no, they weren’t included in the story, for reasons that will become obvious as you read it)
60. I did quite a bit of thinking as I wrote Dirty Fingernails, Paint Covered Overalls, and True Friends – and liked the way it came out. Life lessons that took a number of years to happen actually came together in an ‘aha’ moment as I was writing this story – and it just made me smile. I opened up a bit more in this one than I had in others, I thought, but it was all true. I found myself happy with the result.
61. Amazing Grace simmered in my brain for several years before I felt it was ready. It was one that happened as it’s described in the story – but I spent quite a bit of time trying to be absolutely sure the images described in the story were written correctly so that whoever read it could not only see them, but feel them. It was an experience, on so many levels, physical, emotional, spiritual. I hope that feeling comes through. Let me know how it affects you.
62. I changed pace completely with the next story. Shock and Awwwwww… took place in the lobby of Building 25 on Microsoft’s main campus. It’s the classic story of “Boy Meets Girl” but there’s a twist… it’s not just a Boy… It’s a Nerd. And it’s not just a Girl, but a drop dead gorgeous girl in the eyes of said Nerd. Everything is going fine until the paperclip enters the picture, and then sparks literally fly.
63. Over the years I’ve found that chocolate has totally different effects on men than it does on women. I mean, if it’s chocolate from Germany, or Switzerland (both are kinds I had when I grew up) then it’s okay. Other than that, I generally don’t go out of my way to find it. I don’t have a reverence for it like you see in some ads, and simply didn’t understand the whole “oh, it’s so WONDERFUL” idea one mother’s day weekend when we went to Cannon Beach in Oregon – and there, I learned that strange things happen when you put Men, Women, Cannon Beach, and Chocolate in the same story.
64. And then I had a week in which – well, I couldn’t quite write a story.
65. There was so much going on, a little fun – but then so much teetering at the edge of life and death thing that it was hard to think of something fun or funny to write about. Life was happening, and I needed to deal with it. I didn’t realize how personal this would become in the next little bit. I was hoping to write a story about graduation for the young people I knew who were graduating, but a lot of the echoes of what had recently happened to me followed in the next few posts,
66. And I wrote a story about Graduation, dodging bullets, and other life lessons… that seemed to encompass all I needed to say, plus telling the young graduates something that might help them along their way.
67. And then, of course, there was the 4th of July – a holiday that carries with it many memories that would have my son convinced that Darwin was completely wrong. In this case, the story was about Rockets, Styrofoam airplanes, the Fourth of July, and Jimi
68. And an example of how some stories come from the weirdest places – all I can do is point you to this one: TEOTWAWKI* (if you’re an arachnid) – so if you’re a spider, you might not want to read this one.
69. And then, in a story about an event my mom found out about literally as she read my story about it, and, as she told me, had her heart beating a little because she didn’t remember it and wasn’t quite sure of the outcome. Again, proving Darwin wrong, we have what happens when you Take one teenager, add horsepower, and get… It’s entirely possible that that’s when my Guardian Angels were issued their first pagers.
70. After that, I found a couple of stories I’d asked my dad to write. He’d written four of them on the computer and printed them out – just before the computer was stolen. I wrote a ‘wrapper’ around the stories to put them in context, but otherwise, they are exactly as written. I did that with three of his stories, and they are One act of kindness that’s lasted more than a lifetime,
71. Puff balls and Pastries - in which – well, a little mishap caused a problem that had some surprising consequences.
72. …and Some things matter, and some things don’t. I was truly stunned at the world he was describing in this one, in large part because there was something in it that was considered by the people of that time and place to be “normal”. I often wonder about his friend there, what happened to him.
73. By this time it was summer – and it was time for the kids to visit the grandparents back east, and it got me thinking about that time many years ago when I had to do some Rat sitting while they were gone, so I wrote about that one, and smiled at the memory.
74. And then, a story that had been in my head for years, and I think by far the most read story on the blog, and it was a simple story about Tractors, Old Cars, and a Farmer named Harry
I checked with his family first, having a long conversation with his son before I published this, and got their approval. I heard from his friends, I heard from people who didn’t know him, and because of the story, felt they did or wished they had. I had no idea what an impact a story like that could make – but it clearly did, and I felt it was – and had been – a privilege to know Harry and his family.
75. The next story took place in church – where often children are supposed to be quiet – but one child made her presence known in a totally different way in
76. Writing the story about Harry made me think of Grad School, and I found myself humming the song “Try to remember the kind of September…” and wrote a story around that – my first couple of days in Athens Ohio – what a cultural shift it was, and simultaneously, what a neat and terrifying experience it was to do this (go 2500 miles from home, to a place where you knew no one, and see how much of a success you can make of yourself…)
77. That got me reminiscing a bit, and the next story was from when I was about 12, when I spent part of a summer Haying, growing up, and learning to drive a clutch… It was a fun summer – and both trucks, the ’66 Dodge and the ’54 Ford, the truck that could pull the curves in the Nisqually River straight in the story still exist. They were sold to a neighbor who still uses both of them. And my uncle’s back has completely healed.
78. “The only thing missing was an old Jeep and mugs of bad Army coffee.” I found myself thinking about how God reaches for us in some of the strangest places – and remembered thinking this as we were walking back from a Civil Air Patrol Search. It was our first real search instead of a practice one – and we were quite excited about actually being able to put our training to use… The combination of all of those things brought me to the story God, Searches, and ramming Aaron through the bushes
79. Lest anyone think I’m so incredible (you should know better) that God talks to me like He talked to Moses – there was a little story about – well, it fell squarely into the middle of the “Stupid things that Papa did when he was Little” series. I learned a lot about keeping the fire (and, come to think of it… starting the fire) in the stove.
80. If you’ve been reading the stories, you might remember that I took a trip down memory lane – on the Autobahn, to Munich, at 110 mph, in the story Octoberfests, Museums, and Bavarian Waitressess – it combined almost getting kicked out of one museum, getting locked out of a second, and trying to drown our sorrows in a very famous place, Munich’s Hofbräuhaus. …and – I wonder if the waitress (in the story) is still there… Whether she is or not, she made a memory that’s lasted over 30 years…
81. Taking risks…
“…there was nothing but air between me and the roof about 30 feet below, and had I slipped, I would have rolled down, then off the roof and fallen another 40 feet or so before becoming one with the pavement” Yeah, there’s a story that wouldn’t have happened if the scaffolding hadn’t held, if the receptionist hadn’t called the janitor, or if, simply, I hadn’t thought to ask if I could climb out on the roof of the courthouse to get a closer shot of the construction going on. Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to be bold, step out of your comfort zone, and ask for EXACTLY what you want. You’ll be astonished at how often you’ll actually get it. And sometimes, you might even have proof that you asked…
82. We go from the top of the courthouse to sitting in the shade on Mr. Carr’s front stoop. And I never thought that I would (or could) write a story about a sandwich, but this one was worth writing about. I still remember how cool that water was, how moist the – oh, I’d better stop, pretty soon you’ll want your own Mr. Carr’s Sandwich
83. A story about my friend Jill – including the only picture I was ever able to take of her, as well as the line, “WHAT have you DONE to my CAR?” – said in a way you might not expect.
84. The story behind my son’s famous quote, “Sometimes, things go wrong…” There’s a lesson there that we could all learn a lot from.
85. In the story A tale of Three Christmas Trees, and a little bit more… you’ll find the line,
“In fact, it’s safe to say, that in that year, God did not have Christmas trees falling out of the sky for us. Well, actually… I take that back. He did.”
And it’s true. But there’s much more to that story, involving things like how much character you get from being poor – and learning to not take things for granted, and making things on your own. All amazing stuff in and of itself, but together, wow.
86. Every now and then, a dream will show a startling reality in a way that simply can’t be explained in words. It was new year’s day – and I wrote of a dream I’d had – and the lesson in it in A New Year’s thought, of flashlights, warm hands, and a wish…
87. …and then – a story that had happened a decade earlier finally made it into print, and I wrote about Meeting Howard Carter in the back of the Garage… If you don’t know who Howard Carter is – read the story – you’ll find out. There are links to him there – but what’s interesting is the story has very little to do with Howard Carter, and much more to do with a dishwasher, and a ‘70’s era Plymouth that was big enough to put a small village in the trunk of.
88. Michael and I, in dire need of a break from everything, hit the road in the story Road Trip! (and Mermaids… and the Gates of Mordor) – and crammed just about as much as we could cram into one 24 hour period as we could, in two states. We combined Horses (a couple of brown ones and a mustang), and music, and too many spices, and old, fun music, and theatre, and sports, and an excellent impression of the Four Yorkshiremen, and it all melted into one afternoon/evening/morning/next afternoon that was a tremendous amount of fun.
89. Even as this next one was happening, and I was smelling a truckload of gasoline in a place I’d never thought I’d smell it, and blocking traffic in the last place I wanted to block traffic, I found myself wondering if this was going to make it into a story. It did. It’s here: Caffeine, Clean Engines, and Things that go Whoomp in the Night…
90. If you remember the story about “Transmissions from God”, you know that occasionally I hear God’s still, small voice telling me to do something. Sometimes I hear Him in a junk yard, sometimes I hear him in the balcony at church, and sometimes in Safeway parking lots in Ballard.
91. If you’re keeping track, this next story, in the order they were written, was Norwegian… – though it happened a year before the Shi Shi Beach story. It ranks as one of the top camping trips I’ve ever been on.
92. And this next story was literally a dream. If you’ve gotten this far, you know that occasionally I’ll remember one, and for whatever reason it will have something significant in it. I called this one Jungles, White Helicopters, and Long Journeys – because when I had that dream, I thought I was near the end of a long journey – but in reality, – well, if you’ve ever gone through a challenging time – and you can pick your challenge. The story fits. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
93. And after I wrote that one, I got to wandering down memory lane a bit – sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a hankie – sometimes both. It’s funny how a certain smell rocketed me back to Sidney, Ohio and this story: Black and White, and Read all over… – and it’s written pretty much how I told it to my son on the way home one evening. It still brings a smile.
94. While I was in the neighborhood, so to speak – I remembered the time I wandered into a radio station just outside of Sidney, because no one told me I couldn’t – and making a new friend with the DJ there. I smile every time I think about that time, and the story Radio Stations, Paul Simon, and Blue Moons came out of it.
95. I’ve had stories take on a life of their own – and this next one was one of them. I started off just writing a story about me doing something that had unexpected results, and it suddenly turned into something more. Something much, much more. You’d never think that Carburetor Cleaner, Hot Water, and a Cold Sprite could be mentioned in the same sentence and have a common theme – but they were – they do, and I feel, honestly, honored to have been a part of the story.
I will miss Dan. He’s one of the best.
It took me awhile to figure out what to do next… the story about Dan was published, along with some of the other “Saab Stories” in the Saab Club Magazine – and I just had to let it simmer a little bit, as it was, if you read it – a hard story to finish.
96. The next story was one I’d written a year earlier, and was one of those things that my daughter would say just happens to me. I don’t know why, maybe because I pay attention? I’m not sure… In this case, I was out for a walk, and a little dog interrupted that walk and melted my heart for a good while. When I found out the dog’s name, I was stunned, and did lots of research into the name, just to understand it. I think it’s because of all the research I did that my mind was completely overwhelmed with the name and what it represented, and I didn’t like the story at all. But – a year went by, and I read it again, and sure enough it made me smile. It turns out that Fuzz Therapy with Rasputin is cheaper than any other kind of therapy.
97. Sometimes therapy comes in different packages. I remember one time, years ago, my son was sick, it had been an exhausting day, and I’d just gotten him to bed, but he wasn’t sleepy. I was sitting there, in the tired exhaustion felt by all parents of youngsters at the end of a long day, trying to figure out what I could do to make him comfortable enough so that he would go to sleep. Of course, if he went to sleep, that meant I could sleep, too. While I was pondering this, I heard his voice cut through the thoughts, “Papa? Tell me a story…”
A story. It was like I’d been in a dream, and he’d pulled me out of it. A story. I tried to think, and knowing he liked dragons, I figured I’d start somewhere and see where it took me. I’d had a class years ago where we wrote a story, one sentence at a time, but the professor wrote a word on the board, and we had to write a sentence around it. Then he’d write another word, we’d write another sentence. Eventually, we’d have a story, but we wouldn’t know, from one sentence to the next, where the story was taking us.
And that’s how I started… Blindly going where no story teller had gone before, I started off with my first sentence: “Fred was a Dragon.” – and I went on from there, the story slowly taking shape until it became the story you can read as: Of Dragons, Knights, and Little Boys… Let me know what you think when you can.
98. I put this next one out on Father’s day. It’s a Saab story, but it’s more than that… it was a trip my son and I took to visit my mom on the fourth of July – and an adventure that had a fun quote come out of him. It made me smile, and – wow – 6 years later, I finally wrote it down. It became the story called …if Will Smith drove a Saab 96
And – it’s still July as I write this… I’ve been going through a lot of these stories, trying to find my favorites – find the ones that made me smile – that still make me smile, and also find the ones that made me think, or helped me learn something…
Sometimes I learn things that people show me, or teach me, or from some mistake I made.
Sometimes I learn from things God puts in front of me and gives me the privilege of seeing, and learning from.
And sometimes I learn from stories that have made me cry, in living them, in writing them, and again in reading them.
There’s a little of every one of them in there. There’s tales of youthful stupidity, there’s the story in which my son says I’ve simply proved Darwin wrong – that it’s not survival of the fittest – it’s survival of the luckiest – and often there’s an element of truth to that. The phrase that sticks with me is the one he said after I told him one of my “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories. I heard words I’d never, ever have thought to hear from my own offspring, “How did you get old enough to breed?”
99. So to finish that off – a tale that involves a uniquely American holiday, youthful stupidity, a good bit of luck, and the sound of Guardian Angel’s pagers going off yet again… It’s the memories of July 4th… When I was a kid…
Thanks for being with me through these first 99 – well, 100 stories. I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have.
Take care & God bless,
The other night some friends had an “Oktoberfest” – where they blocked off the street in front of their house. There was bratwurst, sauerkraut, potato Salad, and of course, beer. On top of it all, was this overwhelming oompah music.
It’s funny, as I was writing this story – I realized there was a theme in it that I hadn’t even noticed -
It took me back many years – the last time I was in Munich, when our friend Martin, his brother Wolfgang, my sister and I drove down there from the Ludwigsburg area where we lived, and took in the sights. We went to the park they’d made for the 1972 Olympics, went up the tower. You could see the BMW Museum from there, so we went to visit that, where I discovered that they absolutely don’t like you touching the artifacts (since I’m an official airplane nut, I was looking at, and in this case touching, a WWII airplane engine – I’d just reached out to touch it when I heard a very loud, very German voice on the loudspeaker shatter the otherwise almost reverent silence of the museum. I looked up and froze. The camera that had been aimed at the engine was now aimed straight at me, with a red, almost laser like light on it that made it clear I’d been both spotted and caught.
Yup… Deer in the headlights, that’s me.
It was very clear that I was to keep my hands off the merchandise…
The tone in the fellow’s voice made it very easy to imagine that in a control room somewhere, a security guard must have been marking a little notch in what would translate as his gunbelt… “Yep, got another one…”
I was embarrassed, and not just a little terrified, but what could I do? So we left. By this time it was afternoon, and went to the German Museum where they had all sorts of exhibits and displays, and for whatever reason we started at the bottom, and were in the middle of this exhibit on some kind of ancient Babylonian or Mesopotamian stuff when the lights started flashing and we thought either there was a power outage or – then the siren went off.
I figured I’d touched something wrong.
Turns out it was neither.
It was the fact that the place was closing down, and of all things, at 4:00 on a freaking Tuesday. With me being the aforementioned airplane nut, instead of going straight for the airplanes, we’d wanted to see everything, and were planning on saving the best (airplanes) for last. When I heard on the loudspeaker the rough German equivalent of “Attention K-mart shoppers, the store will be closing in 5 minutes, please take your purchases to the checkout stand.” – okay, so it wasn’t K-mart shoppers, it was all of us who’d come thousands of miles to see the exhibits, only to find out at the last second that the place was closing before we could see everything. On that realization I just about went nuts and tore out of the Babylonian exhibit into the lobby area. I looked around, found the signs to the second floor and tore up saw this huge curved staircase to the second floor where the airplanes were. I was running so fast that it’s possible to truthfully say that I ran rings around a V-2 Rocket (okay, so the rocket was in the center of the curved staircase I was taking two and three steps at a time), and I arrived panting at the door of the hall the planes were displayed in just as a rather burly, and fairly stubborn, guard locked the door from the inside. (Note: you don’t get much more stubborn than German stubborn, unless you’re talking Hungarian stubborn – don’t ask me how I know this
I tried to plead my case, but my Schwäbisch accent was no match for his Bavarian accent and attitude – and he was the one with the lock in the key. I could only look through the now smudged windows at the planes I’d come to see, neither realizing, nor being able to convince the guard, that this might be my only chance to ever see them. He didn’t seem to care. I remember seeing a two seater Me-262 and the only Do-335 in the world – oddly, without the swastika on the rudder, like most planes of the time had had – but then I realized, even then, that the echoes of WWII were still there, and the law was clear: absolutely no swastikas – even if they made something historically accurate. You couldn’t even buy a model WWII airplane with the right decals…
Once the doors were closed, there wasn’t anything else to do there – I was so frustrated at the time I don’t even remember taking a picture of anything. Wolfgang, Martin, and my sister showed up about then, and, knowing that this was something we – especially I – had wanted to see, they tried to get me out of my funk… I mean, getting kicked out of – well, “encouraged” to not come back to the BMW museum until I could behave was one thing… Having the dang exhibits in the German Museum close in my face was another.
We were hoping to not make it a “three strikes and you’re out” kind of thing, but I was seriously frustrated.
It was hard to acknowledge it at the time, but aside from that, we’d had a pretty good day. We’d driven well over 100 mph on the famed Autobahn, to the point where slowing down to 60 when we got into Munich made us want to get out and push, we’d seen priceless works of art, items that were literally one of a kind on the planet – and – it was almost as if Ferris Bueller had taken a day off and gone to Munich, instead of going to Chicago. Somewhere in there we got onto a subway and got out at the Marienplatz in the square in Munich and watched the famed clock tower (or Glockenspiel) strike, I think it was 5:00 in the evening by the time we got there – and our friends, realizing it was dinnertime and still trying to help overcome the last Museum bust, wanted to take us to this place they called the “Hofbräuhaus”
We were tired, had done a LOT of walking, and were to the point of not even caring anymore, but they insisted, so we went in – and were suddenly surrounded – no – immersed – in Bavaria at its finest.
To say that the Hofbräuhaus had atmosphere would be like saying water is wet, and this atmosphere was thicker than the proverbial pea soup.
First: The music. I know there are people who think that the definition of “perfect pitch” is when the accordion you just tossed out lands on the banjo. I’m not sure how many banjos there were, and I didn’t take any pictures, but Lordy, you have never, ever heard “Ooompah” music till you’ve heard it played by a bunch of well lubricated Bavarians. (there was an accordion, a tuba, a baritone, I think a trumpet and a trombone)
Tourists like us were there, but it was the locals who were just a delight to watch. I’d heard the song most Americans know as the “Beer Barrel Polka” – but the words were a lot different, and came across sounding more like the music here: “Rosamunde”. (the video’s not from the Hofbrauhaus, but watch the crowd in the video to get a sense of what it was like).
It looked like the people in the band wouldn’t remember it the next morning. In fact, it seemed the band was on complete autopilot. Waitresses kept their steins full, and they played – well, like a well lubricated machine… it was a wonderful background to everything else. Occasionally the crowd would join in and we’d see people standing up, arm in arm, singing their lungs out.
Then there was smoke from any kind of tobacco, there was the astounding smell of beer. Not stale beer from a place that’s been serving beer for the last few years and hasn’t been cleaned up, but fresh beer that’s been poured in the place since 1589.
Like for more than 400 years.
There was a sign up at the front where the bartenders were filling the 1 liter steins as fast as they could, something to the effect of “Wet Floor” – and they weren’t kidding… there was beer all over the place, and you did want to be careful to not slip on it.
Why was there beer all over the place?
Well, part of the answer lay in the regulars. It seems that the place has special tables for them. A lot of them are pensioners who live in apartments nearby and come for the camaraderie, the social aspect, the food, and of course, the beer. What’s surprising about them is the vast quantities of beer some of them can put away. I was talking to a fellow who’d been there a few times, and had seen this little old man, couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds, put away several liters, every evening, every time he showed up. These are guys who by any other definition would be considered alcoholics – but there, they show up (and have been showing up) daily for years, and they have their usual table, the waitresses know them, know their orders, and keep them happy by keeping their beer mugs full.
Now those waitresses, to keep from having to make too many trips to serve a table, take as much as they can carry with every trip. This means that invariably, some glasses spilled, some fell, some broke, (hence the warning signs about the wet floor) but for the most part, the beer gets to where it needs to be.
So it was this expectation that helped set up our next encounter. We were led to our table, and as the waitress came over, we realized we’d spent most of our money on museums, trips up the tower, and souvenirs. We pooled all our money together and realized that if we subtracted the money for the souvenirs we wanted to buy there, subway money to get back to the car, gas money to get the car back to Ludwigsburg, that left us with enough for – um – one beer.
Split four ways.
So one of the things that’s important to know is that a good percentage of the tourist photos show gorgeous young Bavarian women serving beer in places like this.
The real ones aren’t hired for their looks. They’re hired because they can carry, over the course of a shift, hundreds of liters of beer to their customers. They keep the customers from getting too thirsty, they keep them from getting too hungry, and they keep bringing whatever it takes to keep the customers satisfied and happy, as they’ve been doing for several centuries.
Our waitress looked like she’d been there since the place opened.
She looked tired.
And it looked, from everything we could see about her, that she’d had a day we, as tourists, couldn’t possibly imagine. She looked like we were her last table and she was looking forward to going home, soaking, then putting the feet she’d been on all day up and getting a chance to rest a bit before starting it all over again.
She just had this one last table to deal with, and at that table were four teenagers and a pile of change.
She straightened her apron out a bit as she got to our table and was all business:
“Also, was möchten sie?”
(Her words said, “So, what would you like?” but her tone said the Bavarian equivalent, “So, what’ll it be?”)
We looked at each other, swallowed, and then together, said, “Ein Bier.” (one beer)
“Also gut… Vier Bier.“
(“Right… Four beers”)
„Nein… EIN Bier.“
(“No, actually, ONE beer.“)
„EIN BIER? Da sind ja doch vier von Euch!“
(“ONE BEER? But there’s FOUR of you!?“)
She looked at us with a combination of disgust and disdain that can only be done by German and French waiters. Add to that a look of confusion, like a mathematician who’d just discovered that dividing by zero didn’t work. In her world, one customer = many beers, not the other way around.
We kind of stared at each other, and it was then that we realized the first rule of the Hofbrauhaus:
It is not, repeat, NOT a good idea to – um – ‘irritate’ a Bavarian waitress… I don’t care how many weights you’ve lifted, they’ve lifted more, they’re stronger than you are, and they do it for eight hours at a stretch.
As we were coming to that conclusion, the day finally got to her and she absolutely went off on us. I don’t remember her exact words, but they translated roughly to:
“How can you possibly expect me to make any money if my customers only order one beer? I mean, you’re sitting there taking up four spots, and only ordering ONE beer? There’s no way you’re ordering one beer, that’s not just unheard of, that’s an insult.”
Uh… right… insults were off the table.
Then again, now that she had set her expectations: “Also, was möchten sie?”
(Again, her words said, “So, what would you like?” but the tone said, “Alright, really, let’s get this show on the road… what else are you going to order that is going to make it worth my time to even see your faces again?”)
We dug deeper into pockets, wallets, whatever might have a little extra money, and ordered some kind of pork roast, some sauerkraut, and I think there might have been some mashed potatoes.
And one beer.
And oh, my, it was good.
The beer was strong enough to pack a bit of a punch, but between the four of us, none of us had enough to worry about. The pork was amazing, and the sauerkraut was something you’d just have to go there to experience. It was amazing. We pooled enough money for a tip, left what we could there, then headed out into what was now night..
We got to the subway, then to the car, but didn’t drive 100 on the autobahn this time. This time we slowed down to about 80 mph.
Because it was dark.
And because it was raining off and on.
Martin wanted to be safe and drive even slower, but there’s something about German drivers and the autobahn, and by golly, they’ll drive as fast as they can. We were constantly having to move over so that other cars could pass us. The law’s pretty clear over there. If someone wants to pass you, you let them. Martin had been moving back and forth and was getting tired of it, so decided to stay in the fast lane. One driver made his thoughts very clearly known to us by getting so close that I, in the back seat, couldn’t see his headlights past the trunk lid. Martin finally moved over, and the last thing I remember of that day was that the silhouette of a Porsche 911 with a glowing exhaust pipe as it passed us.
Oh – and we did get home. I’d managed to save enough for one souvenir that actually survived the trip back, and that I still have after all these years.
I suppose I have to rate this one PG or something – just so you’ve got some warning…
When our son was little we taught him the typical songs you’d teach your kid here in America – you know, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” … “You are my Sunshine”, and of course, the ever popular children’s song, “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m okay”…. (okay, I didn’t teach him all of that one)
But I also taught him some of the songs he would have learned had he grown up where I grew up, in Germany. Specifically Southern Germany. More specifically, the “Swabian” part of Germany.
The sense of humor over there is so matter of fact… And it’s old. Some of the folk songs have their basis in events that may have happened hundreds of years earlier, and that sense of humor is often dry to the point of being dusty.
Also, some of these songs come from the same culture that brought you Grimm’s Fairy Tales…
The original ones, not the Disneyfied ones.
So one of the songs I taught my son was about a fellow getting a ride on a train.
With his wife.
And a goat.
Now before I describe the song to you – you really have to hear it. (click on the word ‘song’ back there). If you don’t understand German – don’t worry – the people singing are singing just like we all did, with joy and gusto. You might be wondering why by the time we’re done, but… Well, that’s one of the things that might be lost in the translation – which I’ll be doing my best to do, as it were, below – you just need to hear what the song sounds like first.
The one you just heard, if you listened, starts off pretty fast. The way we used to sing it, we’d start out slow and speed up – like a steam locomotive of the time would – then get faster – and then there’s this refrain, “Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala”, – and then the last two lines of the previous verse are repeated. It’s also sung in the dialect of southern Germany – which, where I grew up, is kind of like a gentle southern drawl. (and the one you just heard is definitely authentic) I mean – speaking “Hochdeutsch” (high German – the formal stuff) – you could try to say “I love you” and end up sounding like a cat, hacking up a hairball – so the southern dialect, the Schwäbisch – or “Swabian” dialect – is gentle, laid back, and saying the same thing sounds like a hug.
Needless to say, there’s a difference between hugs and hairballs, so I’ll do my best to translate here. Note: the dialect is phonetic – so what you see below might not be translatable in, say, Google or other online translation services.
The first verse just tells the story of the first train that went all the way from southern to northern Germany. This section of track, the “Schwäbische Eisebahn” was a tremendous source of pride in that part of the country when it was built, and the song, as I understand it, almost became a sort of regional “national anthem”.
Auf d’r schwäbsche Eisebahne gibt’s gar viele Haltstatione,
On the Swabian railroad track, there are lots of train stations
Schtuegart, Ulm und Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach!
Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach (several of the major stops on the line)
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Schtuegart, Ulm und Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach!
Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach
It was a tremendously fun song to sing – I’d sung it growing up – so it was a given that I’d be teaching it to my son as he was growing up.
And then my wife asked the most innocent, and simultaneously impossible question she could ask:
“So what’s it mean?”
Auf d’r Schwäbsche Eisebahne wollt amol a Bäurle fahre,
On the swabian railroad, a farmer once wanted to take a trip
Goht am Schalter, lüpft d’r Hut. “Oi Bilettle, seid so guat!”
He went to the ticket agent, tips his hat, and asks, “One ticket, if you please”
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
geht am Schalter, lüpft d’r Hut. “Oi Bilettle, seid so gut !”
…went to the ticket agent/machine, tips his hat, and asks, “One ticket, if you please”
“Well, it’s about this farmer… “
“…and his wife…”
“…aaaaand this goat…”
(Long, LONG pause as I try to figure out how to translate this part that up until that moment had been funny, but now that I tried to translate it into something someone born and raised here in America would understand, I realized that it would absolutely, positively, without a doubt, lose something in the translation… Just how much was to be determined…)
Einen Bock hat er gekaufet und daß er ihm nit entlaufet,
He bought himself this billy goat, and so it wouldn’t walk off
Bindet ihn d’r guete Ma, an den hintere Wage na.
The good man tied him to the back of the last car in the train.
(unsaid, implied, or left for you to guess is that he was doing
this while loading the rest of his stuff onto the train)
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
bindet ihn d’r guete Ma an den hintere Wage na.
“Well, the farmer ties the goat to the back of the train to keep it from wandering off.”
This is where it got hard…
“Well… what isn’t actually stated is that he forgets the goat.”
“What – the goat runs off?”
“Well, not exactly…”
“What do you mean, not exactly?”
“Well, the goat’s tied to the back of the train.”
“And the train LEAVES?”
Wie des Zügle wieder staut, der Bauer nach sei´m Böckle schaut
When the train started up again, the farmer went to check on the goat.
(the version I used to sing had a couple of verses before this one where the farmer sits down next to his wife, lights up his pipe, and has a smoke, and it’s at the next stop that he makes the discovery below)
Find’t er bloss Kopf und Soil an dem hintre Wagetoil.
And finds nothing but the rope and the goat’s head still tied to the last car in the train.
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Find’t er bloss Kopf und Soil an dem hintre Wagetoil.
The reputation of an entire culture was on my shoulders as I tried to explain that tying a goat to the back of a train that was about to head down the tracks a tad faster than said goat could run could be seen as rather amusing when looked at the right angle, you know, like the farmer went to town every week on the train, and every week he did the same thing – only this week he did something different, out of the ordinary, not routine… He bought a goat. He thought about it long enough to tie it to the back of the train so it wouldn’t run off as he was loading his other purchases into the train – and, as we often do, he then went on autopilot once he was on the train and the whistle blew. (how many coffee cups, diaper bags, wallets, or dare I say it, loaded child seats, have you seen on the roof of a moving car?)
Of course, trying to find out exactly what angle in all this would be amusing was the challenge…
‘s packt d’r Baure a Baurezore, er nimmt d’r Geißbock bei die Ohre,
The farmer (in frustration) grabs the goat by the ears
Schmeißt er, was er schmeiße ka, dem Konduktör an ‘n Ranza na.
And throws what he can throw (namely what’s left of the goat) as hard as he can throw it at the conductor
(essentially blaming him for not keeping track of the goat, so to speak)
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Schmeißt er, was er schmeiße ka, dem Konduktör an ‘n Ranza na.
And while I’m happily singing “Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala” with my son, clapping with him and smiling, the dawning realization in my wife’s mind changed the look of shock on her face into a look of absolute horror.
She was thinking of the song from the goat’s point of view, which, in Germany, especially in agricultural Germany, you really didn’t do much… I mean yes, some of the farm animals kind of became pets, but for the most part, goats were livestock, and farmers managed them. Livestock lived long enough to either produce or become food. It was pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and pretty practical.
But here in America – especially here in America in an area where you don’t see livestock in much more than a petting zoo – you tend to think of those warm fuzzy little goat like things a little differently, and you might tend to see the whole story from their point of view.
“He left the goat tied to the back of the train, the goat tried to keep up with the train, and – and…”
I had to fill the silence with something…
“And they wrote a SONG about it?”
“And it’s a HAPPY song?”
“Well, um. Not for the goat…”
Trulla, trulla, trullala…
I was talking to my mom the other day about an email we’d both received – about an American soldier in WWII and how he had done brave things on the battlefield. For example, killing the enemy, saving his compatriots, just doing what soldiers do.
And she, having grown up in Germany during World War II, sent me this note:
You know Tom-Son, looking at war and the so-called ‘victories’ from both sides, something became clear to me during that war. I was between 10 and 14. In school we talked about how many air planes had been shot down, how many ‘Panzer’ (tanks) or ‘Gefangene’ (captured, how many ‘enemy soldiers’ were killed, until…
Pastor Gotthilf Hoelzer one day somberly made the remark
“THEY WERE ALL THE SON OF A MOTHER”
That brought those ‘victories’ into perspective.
During the war, there was no TV. Everyone who had one huddled around a radio in the evenings to hear the “special bulletins”, the “Sondermeldungen”, to hear how the war was going.
Mom was born in 1929, in Germany, at the height of the Depression. This is the Depression that Hitler got Germany out of. The Depression where he convinced many people that he was the right person to be their “leader” – their “Führer” – before things went completely crazy. The unemployment situation was absolutely dire, and mom’s parents – my grandparents – had found employment by working at the milk “Sammelstelle” – a collection station where the farmers would bring their milk to be processed and sent to the larger dairies.
Mom told me just a short paragraph of a story – a story that boils down to six words, but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes:
“I remember one family on our ‘milk run’ in Hanseatenstrasse. Their soldier was there when Stalingrad was surrnounded and was expected to be taken by the Russians. The German troops were trapped. The adults of that family were huddled around their radio to listen to the ‘Sondermeldungen,’ knowing that they would not see their man come back. They were all crying. Their little girl did not understand and she said : “Lasset me doch au mit-heula’. (essentially: “Tell me what’s going on so I can cry with you”) She sensed that all those hearts around her were breaking and she wanted to know why…
It was most likely that the adults were crying about her Dad.”
And a flood of images came to my mind.
…the chores still needed to be done, but they were rushed so that everyone could gather around the radio to hear the news of the day. The husband, the father, the brother, the son of someone in that room, was in Stalingrad. Hitler himself had ordered that there would be no surrender. The 6th Army of the Wehrmacht, which had stormed into the city that summer was either decimated or being left there to die.
In that moment, the adults realized that their son would not come home. His father, who up until that moment had been looking forward to sitting down with him and hearing his stories, and in hearing them, would relive some of his own battle in WWI. But he realized as he listened to this news, that he would not hear them, or his son’s voice, ever again. He remembered back, remembered seeing his wide open, trusting eyes as he, like all fathers, tossed his little boy into the air and caught him again and again, his laughter ringing like a joyous bell. He remembered his birthdays, his baptism and confirmation in the church, and his marriage at the little town church flooded his mind as the tears flooded his eyes. He remembered how he was able to sit down, after a hard day’s work, and celebrate that German tradition of ‘Feierabend’ which, while hard to translate into English, can best be summarized by the meaning behind the phrase “It’s Miller Time” .The work is done, it’s time to rest. He’d been looking forward to the end of the war, to be able to have a huge Feierabend with his son, because the work – the war, would be over.
But there would not be any more Feierabends with his son.
And he wept.
Unashamedly, he wept.
For the companionship he would no longer have with his son, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of sons from their fathers.
The enormity of what he was hearing on the radio was too much to bear. He tried to read his wife’s expression, and saw the sorrow of a mother who’s being told she’s lost her only son. She was inconsolable. The words she heard from the radio, those of victories for the fatherland, of bravery and sacrifice, were overcome by her own memories. As she sat there, the words turning into a dull buzz in the background, she remembered the moment when she knew she was going to have a son, the first spark of life inside her. She remembered waiting to be sure, and then remembered the simultaneous look of shock, doubt, surprise, and joy in her husband’s eyes as he realized he was going to be a father. She remembered sharing that special communion a mother has with her child as she nursed him. She remembered his first day of school and his last. She remembered the gleam in his eye when he told her about that very special girl, the one he wanted to become his wife. She remembered their wedding day, and how this girl became part of their family.
She remembered his laugh, that belly laugh that can only come from the absolute, unrestrained joy of a little boy, and how it had gotten so much lower in tone over the years, but still, the joy was there. She loved to watch, and listen, as he and that special girl laughed together.
And she realized that she would never hear that laugh again, not from her son, and not from that special girl.
And she wept.
Unashamedly, she wept.
For the companionship she would no longer have with her son, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of sons from their mothers.
She held that special girl in her arms, trying to support her, as she was lost in her own thoughts of him.
He’d been in her class, in school. They’d grown up together. They’d laughed and had a history together that started long before the day they walked down the aisle. And as her vision blurred with tears, she saw images she knew she’d never see again.
She remembered the bashful look in her husband’s eyes the first time he talked to her, the nervous look on the day he proposed to her, and the confident, anything but bashful, look on the day they were married. A part of her smiled at that memory.
She remembered the moment when she realized she was going to have his child. She remembered waiting to be sure, and then remembered the simultaneous look of shock, doubt, surprise, and joy in her husband’s eyes as he realized he was going to be a father.
She remembered seeing her daughter’s wide open, trusting eyes as he, like all fathers, tossed his little girl into the air and caught her again and again, her laughter ringing like a joyous bell. She remembered the tough times, and how hard he worked to keep food on the table, and a roof over their heads and how he, despite the Depression, had kept them fed. She remembered quiet evenings sitting by lamp light, quietly sewing, or reading, no words, just companionship, and how much that meant to her.
She remembered when everyone had chipped in and bought the radio, and how it had filled the room with music and laughter; how they had invited friends over and they were able to dance as if they had their own orchestra.
She remembered the light in his eyes as he saw his daughter take her first steps, and how once that happened, there was no stopping her.
And she remembered trying to decide whether to be proud or horrified, or both, when the draft notice came in the mail. She remembered her guarded tears as a train took him to parts unknown for basic training, and the anguished tears she shared with his mother after the train was gone, and they knew he wouldn’t see them.
She remembered that first visit home – how he’d changed, and how proud he looked in that uniform. There was still a sense of pride in her, but there was also an uneasiness that that took quite a bit of strength to keep from turning into outright terror at the things that can happen to a soldier, both to him and by him.
She remembered looking at his hands, the ones that had recently held a new life, wondering if they would be asked – or ordered – to take a life.
She remembered the next trip – the last one – in spring, when he wasn’t allowed to tell her where he was going. She remembered holding him fiercely, and how, as she looked into his eyes, she saw the love, the caring, the gentleness of the man she knew, and she remembered, how the sound of the train whistle changed that completely. She saw the eyes of her husband turn from the look of one who gives and nurtures life, into the look of a soldier, one who takes it.
She remembered recoiling at the shock of this transformation, and how he had pulled away from her. Both of them had brave faces, both had heavy hearts. He turned, walked toward the train, and only once turned to look back. In that moment, she saw, for a split second, the eyes of her husband saying goodbye. Neither of them knew it would be their last .
At first, the radio reports and the newspaper accounts were all full of victories and successes. Then, as the months wore on, September came and went. Hitler had said that Stalingrad would have fallen by then, but it hadn’t. October came, November came, the Russian winter came, and the news then was that the 6th army had been cut off and surrounded. The news reports confidently said that a relief force was fighting its way down to help them, but the Russians fought them off. Then Goering said he’d resupply what remained of the army with 750 tons of supplies a day, by air. But there weren’t enough airplanes left to even get one third of that, and like so many other things in this war that they’d been led to believe were necessary and would succeed, this had failed as well.
They’d been listening warily to every news report, wondering how much of what they were hearing was the truth and how much was lies. They would get bits and pieces of information about what was happening, and it would, all culminate in an overwhelming sense of dread as the news reports came in. Every night, they sat by the radio – the thing that had brought so much joy, laughter, and music, but now it brought nothing but strident propaganda and death.
And then the news reports stopped altogether.
She wasn’t sure exactly of the moment it happened, but somewhere in those weeks of silence from the eastern front that cold winter, she knew. She knew she would never see her husband again. She knew she would never hear his laughter again, or see the look of love in his eyes as she felt his love inside her. She knew she would raise their daughter without him. She knew that she would never again be able to drowsily reach over to his side of their bed and feel his warmth, or hear his soft breathing. She knew now that she would miss even his irritating habits, like cutting his fingernails with his pocket knife. She would never have to ask him to clean up the cut off fingernails again, or clean his dishes off the kitchen table after dinner. She knew she’d never hear him say grace in that wonderful way he said it, thanking God for the simplest of meals, as if it were a feast, fit for a king. He made her so proud when he did that. He was grateful, even for the little things. She remembered that. Oh, what she’d do for those little things – to hear him say grace again, to hear his breathing, to hear him tell her what a good breakfast she’d made, to feel him lift her off the floor in that all enveloping hug he’d always used to say good bye. And she realized, with a start, that when he’d said goodbye that last time, at the train station, that he hadn’t lifted her up like he always did as he said goodbye…
Somehow she knew that from that moment, nothing would ever be the same.
The news reports 3 weeks later confirmed it.
She would not hear his voice again.
And she wept.
Unashamedly, she wept.
For the companionship she would no longer have with her husband, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of husbands from their wives.
She remembered her first married Christmas without him, just a few weeks earlier. They were supposed to be done with Stalingrad by September, and here it was more than 3 months later. They did what they could to make it a joyous Christmas, with Mama, and Oma, and Opa, but it seemed hollow. Through it all, the church service on Christmas Eve, and the “Heiliger Abend” later at home, her – their – daughter kept looking at the door, and kept asking, “Wo ist Papa?” (Where’s Papa?)
Christmas and New Year’s came and went, and still no news.
Finally, in late January, there was news.
No, not just news.
The regular radio programming was interrupted by music, and then, The News.
The relief force had failed.
Goering’s Luftwaffe had failed.
Stalingrad had fallen.
It was so hard to look her daughter in the eye as she tried to give her the news that so many mothers had had to give their children over the last few years, that their father had joined the thousands, the millions, who had “fallen” in the war. They used that word, in their dialect, “Er isch g’falla” – “Er ist gefallen” – “He fell”.
It didn’t mean that he’d fallen.
It meant, quite simply, that he’d been killed.
Stalingrad had fallen.
A son, a husband, a father, had fallen.
And she wept – for him, how cold and brutal it must have been – she couldn’t imagine and didn’t want to.
She wept, for her daughter, who would never again feel the gentle touch of her father’s rough, work worn hand, hear his laugh, hear his deep voice call her name.
She wept for his parents, now across the room together, but each suffering their own world of pain, realizing their legacy was at an end.
And she wept for herself, that she would not be able to grow old together with him.
And as her daughter said, “Lasset me doch au mit-heula” – “Lass mich doch auch mit heulen” – “Tell me what’s going on, so I can cry with you” – she held her, hugged her, lifted her up off the floor like her father used to, like her husband used to, and as the radio droned on in the background, mother and daughter melted into each other, and the little girl finally understood.
She would not hear his voice again.
And she wept.
Unashamedly, she wept.
For the companionship she would no longer have with her Papa, for the laughter they would no longer share, for this stupid war that was taking thousands of Papas from their little girls.
Her mother realized she would not be the only child who lived through that war who lost a father. But even still – for months afterwards, the little girl would stand at the window every day, waiting for her Papa. She wanted her Papa to know that he wasn’t alone, that she was there, waiting for him, that his little girl hadn’t forgotten him.
The finality of it all, the stupidity of it all, the arrogance of it all, was just too much. Every day there’d been reports of so and so many thousands of the enemies killed – and she realized, that for every one of them, every one of them, this act was being played out, too… Every day, in Germany, in Russia, in countries far and wide in this war, in living rooms and kitchens, in barns and shops, in factories and train stations, someone was getting news that a beloved part of their life had been savagely torn from their heart.
Of the million soldiers in the Wehrmacht, The German 6th Army, 750,000 had been killed or wounded. Many more simply froze or starved to death. After the siege, the 91,000 left in the city had surrendered. Of those, only 6,000 would ever see what they knew as the fatherland again.
Mom went on:
On the one side of the Strenger Haus (where she grew up) was Karl Beisswenger (with 3 children) and on the other, my cousin Karl Klotz (2 children, Kurt u. Elsbeth), who never came back from that war. And upstairs, it was Paule Rosenberger’s father.
That’s the face of war.
No, only part of the face of war.
That’s not mentioning the dead from the ‘Bomben-angriffe’. (Bombing attacks)
I better not get into that.
War is Hell.
On both sides.
The images came unbidden – in the blink of an eye, if you will. A story that could be told in six words – but at the same time, could not be told in a hundred lifetimes.