Nostalgic Projection of Spring Soon to Come – Part I
Snow is still clinging to the shadowy areas of our yard. But the first snowdrops appeared, the catkins are ready to explode and send out their clouds of pollen, and the tiny red hazelnut flowers are showing that Spring is knocking on our doors. All these early signs have a profound effect on me. I cannot wait for the wildflowers to bloom again and give our present somewhat drab landscape a colourful new dress. Digging in my archives, I found photos of wildflowers, the ubiquitous dandelion, the wild strawberry flower, the Alberta rose, the wild sweet peas and the Sulphur Cinquefoil. Enjoy.
When Father’s back pains hurt too much, he stayed in bed for most of the day. Adolf and I were sitting at his bedside to keep him company. Then Father and I would often talk about the great empires of the past and the lessons one might learn from the causes of their decline. I really warmed up to this topic as I had recently taken a keen interest in the Roman Empire’s history. We concluded that if one allows foreign religious and ethnic elements to dominate the nation’s cultural core, it will sooner or later lose its identity. Its values and moral fibre will undergo first decline and then total collapse. Germany, according to Father, has not learned her lessons and was headed in the same direction. Pointing to the record player on the night table, he remarked, “The record is turning. The needle is progressing in its groove. But in the end, it will be starting all over again. symbolizing the eternal recurrent of the same in world history.” Adolf feeling a little left out in this highfalutin talk, said he would buy himself a couple of history books to study up on the things he had missed in school.
Before the end of my vacation in Michelbach, I gave Erna my moped. The engine of her better-looking moped had utterly broken down. Adolf, the skilful mechanic and jack-of-all-trades, took the working motor out of mine and installed it into Erna’s moped. As a reward for my generosity, Adolf drove me in his Volkswagen beetle back home to Wesel, where he would spend a few days to visit with Mother and Aunt Mieze. In this joyful summer of 1962, I saw Father for the last time alive. I am so glad that I did. How great would have been the loss if I had missed this golden opportunity to see him!
The pictures I had taken last week clearly show that Old Man Winter is on retreat. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to capture many images of snow covered landscapes, ice sculptures and even of my wife dancing at the lakeshore. But now it is time to bid farewell and allow youthful Spring onto the stage of our four-season countryside. Enjoy.
With my first visit to see Father after such a long gap inconceivable in the light of today’s custody laws that require visiting rights at regular intervals, I accomplished much more than just reconnecting with him. The ice had been broken. Other family members now were eager to come in a spirit of reconciliation that was shared even by Mother, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Near the end of my holidays, my brother Adolf dropped in for a visit. He had returned from Canada to Germany temporarily to learn a trade in an apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company at Hanau. He eventually acquired a journeyman ticket as a trained machinist that would – so he was hoping – land him a good-paying job upon his return to Canada. Adolf, endowed with a witty sense of humour and an extroverted personality, was the life of the party no matter where he went. In formal or informal gatherings, in a suit or jeans, with academics or factory workers, he was the born entertainer who made people cheer up when they were depressed and got things rolling when they appeared to be stuck. Everybody liked him. There was just one problem with this gregarious, likeable brother of mine. He seemed to be shy, yes, even afraid of unmarried women, who might take too much of a liking to him, pursue him with the full force of passion and lock him up in the golden cage he called marriage.
Then my sister Erika dropped in for a brief visit. When she heard that I had been going out dancing with a girl from the village, she contemptuously commented on her in Father’s presence, “Ho! Ho! Going out with a peasant duffer! (Bauerntrampel in German)” By now, I had become quite accustomed to the unpredictable outpourings of her sharp tongue. Her caustic and biting remarks at Mother’s place in Wesel had been edged forever into my memory. However, Father was livid. Having respected all his life the hard, honest work of the farmers from whom we receive our daily bread, he was deeply insulted by that derogatory remark. He gave her a severe dressing-down for displaying unjustified disdain for such an honourable class of people. Never since my early childhood days, when he had read me the riot act for stealing eggs from Mother’s henhouse, had I seen Father so angry. If I did not know the meaning of holy wrath, I knew it now.
Erna’s house was at least half a century old, and the electrical wiring was outdated and no longer in compliance with the latest electrical code. It required that all circuits be correctly grounded. It made me feel good that I was not just there to enjoy a relaxing summer visit but also to make myself useful. Father had bought the three-prong wire, and I installed it and connected it to the junction boxes, outlets and switches. I showed some reluctance to take the twenty marks Father wanted to pay for my work. He lectured me somewhat like this, “Listen, Peter, if someone offers you money, not dishonest money, mind you, but money earned for work you did, do not hesitate to accept it. For you not only cheat yourself out of the reward that is rightfully yours, but you also insult the generosity of the giver.” To such a powerful argument, I had nothing to reply to and took the twenty marks.
Yesterday, the air was crisp after a frosty night. Still, the sun came out with the full brilliant force to warm and light up brilliantly the morning landscape of our beloved Arrow Lakes. A ten-minute drive from Fauquier going north on Highway 6, we visited the so-called Burton Flats. This low-lying area was once productive agricultural land. It got flooded when BC Hydro built a dam near Castlegar. The lake level is so low around this time of the year that one can see how narrow the Columbia River once was. There my wife and I went for a long walk to the original river bank. The following is a small sample that we brought home from our outing. Enjoy.
Right from the beginning of my visit, Erna, Father’s second wife, and I got along very well. Her cheerful and lively disposition did not allow me to lose myself in gloomy moods, as I was occasionally prone to do, especially during prolonged periods of idleness and aimlessness. Even though I was reluctant to admit it, I could even see that Erna was the right person for Father. She was the sunshine that had brought lightness and contentment to his sunset years. From her radiated a contagious joyous spirit that created the in-peace-with-the-world atmosphere so conducive to Father’s healing process from a torturous past, from which he only now began to recover. I do not remember him as a man broken in body and spirit, as my distant cousin Eberhard Klopp described him in his book of the Klopp Family History.
Erna also had a moped of the same make and the same 49 cc class as mine, on which she would travel down the steep hill into the town of Schotten to buy the few things she needed for the small household in Michelbach. When you have company, one always seems to find the time to show off the beauty surrounding one’s home turf. Without visitors, one tends to delay and leave such outings for another day. Erna was no exception. Now she was eager to travel with me to the nearby-forested hills, up to the scenic Nature Park around Mount Vogelsberg, down winding country roads into the lush verdant valleys neatly tucked in between minor mountain ranges. There was no better form of transportation than our two Miele mopeds. With a lunch pack clamped to the rear luggage rack, we were ready to dart off into the magnificent Hessian landscape. A little overweight for these light machines, Father gladly stayed behind, looking after a few chores still to be done on this mini-farm with just a few goats to feed and milk. Just as we were revving up the engines, Father came to the road to congenially shout over the noise, “Have a good trip!” Too soon, my vacations came to an end. Thanks to our weekly excursions into the hill country, I had acquired a solid geographical knowledge of the region. As I was internally preparing myself to leave the Rhineland for good after graduation, I had already created a new base to drop in as son and stepson, a place I could truly call home.
After supper, we three would sit in the living room leisurely sipping homemade apple cider in the long summer evenings. We would talk until it was time to go to bed. More accurately speaking, it was Erna who did most of the talking. She certainly had the gift of the gab. With the unerring memory for minutest details spiced up with colourful expressions and peppered with her village’s melodious dialect, she was the born storyteller. I will never forget how she described the chaotic scene of the German Reichstag of the roaring twenties. She and her friends were sitting in the same living room forty years earlier and acted out the ugly political debates they had heard over the radio. They did this with such exuberance, with so much mock yelling and screaming that the poor cats terrified by the brouhaha created by the inflammatory speeches sought refuge under the sofa and added to the parliamentary cacophony with much hissing and growling.