Re: The Unposted
Reaper, there was something in the Atmosphere...I thought you were Sad, and if it wasn't you, then perhaps it was a mutual friend? and if so I trust that your honorable self will discretely redirect. As a fact, I had posted this poem nowhere, having been mostly ghosting--- moonlighting in a job that is drawing life blood from within daily. But fortuitously one night quite recently, I found this draft of mine scrawled in black, on a red graph paper pad, and felt compelled to share. The actual date of the writing falls somewhere between Oct 11 - Nov 16 2022. (I'd been tired, careless, negligent; my regrets! I can't peg it down with more exactitude, though I suspect its penning is closer to the turn of the month. 10/30? Seems fitting.)
In any case, soon after finding this scribbling of my own, I saw your posted challenge for works gone missing from 2022. And here, Dear Reaper, is what I'd wrote:
I have always
held you in esteem
...is 8 years the marker
at which to leave off---
surely the Pater
a defiant pen
and it says:
"Sign Nothing," yet!
like a slug---
from an opening
left too long ajar
---what can I?
I tip this missing cap
as random passer'by
so that some words
might greet paper,
and carry on...
I'm sharing it with you, word for word even though not a Repost per se, because I wanted to let you know that this note, pitiful and vain as it may be, unblocked my writing that had gone under key in late 2020.
So-- Thank You & Sincerest Greetings--- I am glad to see you are making your way!
Devil’s Playing Frisbee with Halos
She is angry
the Universe has not been kind
But the galaxies
owe her nothing
They have their own troubles
Their own demons
In the shapes of meteors
She is disgusted with
her pitiful attempts at
She is so sick
Merry-go-Round in her head
Such a silly answer for this ridiculousness
And she is out of questions
As the tender rays of sun
finger through the gaps in the blinds
and fall upon my face,
swaying back and forth
as the fan gently blows against them,
I lie quiet.
The rolling waves of sound
shoot upwards from the fan
and drift slowly down,
falling all around me like rain,
an intangible blanket.
My breathing is deep and lulled.
Sometimes the window is open
and I hear the birds
peep softly to greet the day.
A frail shell envelopes everything.
I am neither awake nor asleep.
Maybe I am both.
The world is frozen in time,
or it is stretching to all time?
I dare not stir.
I dare not think.
The minute I do, the spell of bliss
shatters in an instant.
Time resumes, I resume,
life continues and the hands on the clock
pass 6 AM.
I groan and rise.
Time to start the day.
The next spell will be just as beautiful.
The Personification of Merlot
Zelda had revisited The Prose & Wine café many times – well, eleven times to be exact – over the last four months. The motivation each time she visited was solely the opportunity to hear him read just one more time. She could not remember ever hearing lovelier recitations of any pieces of classical work. She was confident that his voice, laced with a lilting and beautiful English accent, was a gift from the Gods, derived from ancient times. She did not know his real name, because everyone who came to hear the recitations knew him only as The Eloquent Englishman.
She often wondered if anyone on the face of the earth could read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Byron, Keats, or Milton with such beauty and stirring emotion. So enthralled was she by his rendering of any piece of prose, she knew he could have read a children’s book, and she would have been enraptured by the melodic timbre of his voice. Of course, it did help just a wee bit that he was also quite appealing in his appearance. In fact, it helped a great deal and added immensely to his overall allure.
Zelda herself wanted to be a writer. Her innate desire was to write with passion, and she wanted whatever she wrote to be so enchanting that someone would want to read it repeatedly. Moreover, she desired to write something that he would want to read aloud in cozy, dimly lit cafés like The Prose & Wine. Thus, she justified her repeated appearances at the café to hear him read by telling herself she was receiving the necessary inspiration to do just that. However, truth be told, she had fallen, and she had fallen head over heels for a man who read from the Classics quite hauntingly and beautifully.
This evening, she had been tempted to stay home and not visit The Prose & Wine for the twelfth time. She was beginning to feel a bit conspicuous about frequenting the café when he was to be the guest reader. Moreover, she wondered as to whether he had grown suspicious of her true motive. She thought it entirely possible that he could see right through her. However, after a lengthy debate with herself all afternoon, she had ended it by chiding herself for being silly and presumptuous. He surely did not even know she existed, less that she had been to each one of his readings at The Prose & Wine. She was certain her fears were ill based and inconsequential, and so, she had decided to come to the café this evening after all. It would make her very happy to do so, and he would never notice her, of this, she was sure. Moreover and much to her dismay, it would not be long before he would move on from the city of New Orleans, and she would never see him or hear him read again.
This lovely, chilly January evening, he would be reading excerpts from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and Zelda was so excited she could scarce stand it. Sitting alone with a glass of French Merlot on her tiny table, she sipped her wine and looked out the window as snowflakes fell in the soft glow of a street lamp. She sat at her usual table, impatiently twirling her foot as it hung draped across a slender leg. Only about sixteen other people, mostly couples, were attending this evening. Perfect, she thought. She secretly longed to be the only one in the café so that she could enjoy the evening with him solo, but she knew that was impossible. Picking up her wine glass, she took a long swallow of the burgundy Merlot, hoping it would help to quell her impatience and anticipation as she waited.
The lights in the tiny café grew dimmer with the exception of a single light focused on the center of the makeshift stage. Zelda immediately placed her wine glass back on the table and perched straighter on the edge of her seat as she waited. Before long, he walked out from the back of the establishment and took a seat in the lone mahogany Mission Style chair. With a casual nod, he greeted his small audience.
“Good evening, my friends. I should like the opportunity on this beautiful winter evening to warm our minds with some beautiful words written by Sir Walter Scott. The book from which I will be reading is Lady of the Lake, first published in 1810, and the excerpt is from the Canto Fourth.”
He opened the small book in his hands and moments later, the smoothness of his velvet-lined voice soon drifted across the expanse of the small room:
“The rose is fairest when ’t is budding new,
And hope is brightest when it downs from fears;
The rose is sweetest washed with morning dew
And love is loveliest when embalmed in tears.”
Entranced, Zelda listened intently to the words wrap fluidly around his eloquent tongue and spill forth into the stillness of the dimly lit room. Despite the silliness of it, all her mind could seem to think upon was the ‘swooning’ that was often detailed in Romance novels she had read when she was younger. She was certain at this moment in time that she might swoon and faint fast away upon the floor of The Prose & Wine, so overcome was she by his lovely recitation of Sir Walter Scott’s prose. Fleeting thoughts of him bent over her lifeless body while attempting to resuscitate her lingered pleasantly in the back of her mind until she forced herself to focus once again on the beautiful words and timbre of his voice as he continued to read.
Thus, the night ensued with readings from various excerpts of the famous poem. Zelda was smitten and did not once stir during the entire time. So moved was she by the lovely poetry that she occasionally lifted a finger to wipe at a stray tear that fell upon her cheek. Ah, but she could live life in such a way, listening to such beautiful recitations by such a one as he.
Once the recitations had ended, the waiter made the rounds, replenishing everyone’s drinks. As the waiter poured a new glass of Merlot for Zelda and then stepped away, she gasped for he was standing there, behind the waiter and directly in front of her small table.
“Good evening,” he said with a brilliant smile and voice of velvet that made Zelda’s breath catch in her throat. “I hope you enjoyed the reading.”
Zelda was unsure how she did so and from where she found her voice, but she returned his smile and managed to answer him without stammering like a timid child.
“Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sir Walter Scott’s writings are so beautiful.” As are you, she thought.
“Excellent. I am so pleased you liked it.” He looked about the room for a minute before his gaze found hers again. As if unsure what to say, he cleared his throat and said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve managed to attend all my readings. I hope that means you have enjoyed them. ”
Zelda felt a blush creep across her cheeks at his words. He had noticed her uninterrupted attendance at his recitations after all. Well, she could only hope that was a good thing. “Yes,” she said. “I have enjoyed each one of them very much, but I think tonight was my favorite.”
For mere moments, the two stared at one another, seemingly frozen in time. Blue eyes met green ones, and in the skip of a heartbeat, connected. Zelda felt a small shiver run down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold weather outside.
“May I join you?” he gestured to the empty chair at her table.
“Oh, yes, most certainly! Please forgive my lack of manners,” she said as she quickly moved her wine glass and the copy of Lady of the Lake she had brought with her so that he could take a seat. He motioned to the waiter so that he could order a drink. Zelda watched him from beneath her lashes and wondered if she was in a dream. If so, it was a wonderful dream and she hoped never to awaken.
“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” he told the waiter, motioning to Zelda’s glass of Merlot.
Zelda was suddenly very self-conscious as the waiter brought her companion’s wine. Her slim, woolen skirt seemed shorter and tighter by the minute, and the burgundy turtleneck she had worn seemed to bind her chest tightly, preventing an adequate flow of air. Nervously, she tugged at the hem of her skirt and then fidgeted with the stem of the wine glass, glancing up at him to ensure he was, in fact, still there. She refrained from the temptation to pinch herself just to be sure she was awake.
“You like Merlot then?” she asked, and then mentally kicked herself. Why of course he liked Merlot. He had ordered it, had he not? Stupid, silly question and stupid, silly girl! she chided herself.
“Yes, I do,” he smiled, and a big dimple grew in his left cheek. “It’s a favorite. I find it to be such an approachable wine. It is full-bodied and elegant while it pairs with nearly every kind of food but also stands alone quite well. I enjoy the sleek softness of it - fruity, velvety, so rich in nature,” he added as he took a sip from the wine glass the waiter had placed before him.
In addition to softly sensual, like the way in which you partake of its richness, Zelda could not help but mentally note, watching his throat as he swallowed. My God, but had anyone ever been able to describe the deliciousness of a glass of wine or Merlot in such a way? She was sure not. Indeed, the enunciation and the beauty in his description, rhythm, and flow of words were like the velvety, rich smoothness of the wine personified.
He looked at her and extended his hand, “My name is Gawain.”
She responded, captivated by his beautiful smile, with one of her own. “Zelda,” she said and felt the warmth in his firm handshake.
“What a lovely name. Quite unusual though,” he noted.
She nodded. “My mother was a huge fan of Fitzgerald.”
“Ah, yes, I see. Well, it certainly suits you quite well.” He then gave a small laugh before he continued. ”My mother was obviously a fan of the Arthurian legends.” As he spoke, he watched her intently, as though attempting to determine what she was thinking. Knowing exactly what she’d just been thinking about the soft sensuality in the way in which he had described his wine and then partook of it made Zelda blush again as she looked down into her own glass.
“Are you from New Orleans, Zelda?” he asked.
“I am,” she nodded and laughed softly. “Quite thoroughly Southern.”
“Like a Magnolia, I would say. Or perhaps, better yet, a lovely Camellia,” he responded in earnest.
Zelda looked at him, flattered that he would think her as lovely as a Southern bloom as he was certainly a stunning specimen in his own right. Gawain’s green eyes watched her over the light of the table’s candle as she returned their intensity with her blue gaze. The strength of their connection seemed to intensify like the flame of the candle.
“Thank you for the lovely compliment. May I ask where your home is?” Zelda asked and looked down and pretending to remove an invisible piece of lint from the table.
“I’m from across the pond,” he replied. “Cornwall, England to be precise. But I like it here very much and think I might stay a while longer than first planned.”
Zelda looked up as she heard the emphasis in his words. His green eyes continued to gaze at her as if she were the only person in the room, wanting to gage her reaction to the words he spoke.
She suddenly grew a little more confident and gave him a beautiful, warm smile. “That would be wonderful, Gawain. I am your number one fan, I assure you. I could easily listen to you read for endless years. Your voice is so lovely and made for such lovely recitations.”
At her words, he cocked his head a bit and his brow rose in question as he looked at her. “Endless years? I fear you might regret that one, my dear.”
Realizing what she’d said and what he was inferring, Zelda blushed and mentally cursed herself for doing so yet again while also silently answering him. I would never tire of that sensuous, velvet voice of yours - not even in a million years!
He looked down at the table and noted the lovely antique edition of Lady of the Lake that she’d brought with her before glancing up to study her a bit more. After a moment, his voice laced with seriousness, he said, “Why do I feel as if I already know you, Zelda? As if I have always known you?”
In response, Zelda emitted a faint, nervous laugh and quickly took a sip of her wine before she said, “Quite possibly because I’ve been to all your readings, hanging on to each and every word. I adore the Classics and the way in which you read them is so beautiful.” If only you could know how much I adore you, too.
“Yes, quite possibly, but still….one has to wonder,” he said as he reached across the table to lightly touch Zelda’s hand with his own. Unexpected, the touch was like a bolt of electricity. Stunned surprise surfaced in both eyes of green and blue.
Zelda’s breath caught in her throat, as she realized the full importance of her visit to The Prose and Wine this night. She shivered again as she realized that had she not come to this evening reading, there would have been no Gawain at her table, and no such connection between them. Yes, fate was an oxymoron: tricky and wondrous at the same time. She was immensely pleased she had listened to her voice of reason earlier that afternoon and come tonight. For in the briefest heartbeat, Zelda knew the connection between them had already grown with unusual and easy momentum. It was gaining a life of its’ own, much like a newly opened bottle of Merlot being exposed to the air, thereby allowing it to breathe while the fullness embodied therein enhanced with every second it rested. No, she was not dreaming. This was blissful reality. All roads were converging in a way that felt completely natural and completely right tonight. Without a doubt, there was a consequence for every little inconsequential action.
“Shall we do this again, Zelda?” Gawain asked, emboldened by the look in her green eyes.
“Yes, most assuredly.” Zelda quickly replied.
“Well,” he began, but then briefly diverted his gaze to the glass of Merlot before continuing as though he was slightly nervous. “Perhaps we should consider this to be our first date for I find that I am already looking forward to our next one.”
Suddenly, filled with newborn confidence and joy, Zelda lifted her slim hand so that her delicate fingers lay atop Gawain’s hand. It was warm to her touch, and she felt the gentle strength embodied therein. Realizing there were unknown and uncharted depths awaiting discovery within the man seated before her, she felt a thrill of anticipation and excitement. Smiling exuberantly, she answered, “Indeed, nothing would please me more, Gawain. I, too, cannot wait for what tomorrow may bring.”
A low-ceilinged, crowded room...smells
Compete for forebrain dominance;
Each odor a history of that day, sent vainly
One waft at a time.
Fragrances battle malodorous foes redolent
Of antediluvian battle 'tween angels good and bad;
When the bespoke pheromone targets me with surgical precision,
One angel makes me whole.
Her scent is a carpet of pageantry rolled out
To open synaptic gates for nerves, cranial,
To welcome optic and acoustic, facial and trigeminal, and vestibular enough
To knock me off my feet.
Oculomotors turn my eyes, dilated sympathetically,
They adduct her way, accommodating sweeps of survey;
My depth of field narrows along a funnel of scintillation, illumination
Floodlighting my tunnel vision.
All of my brainy parts agree, when the data for sight and sound
And wherewithal and eurekas meet simultaneously,
Join olfactory, aligning organic tumblers, unlocking to free me
With loving chains of amino acidity.
Adrenaline fuels my heart, oxytocin erects my longing,
Prolactin instills my bonding; vasopressin alerts me to vying suitors.
Cortisol picks fight-over-flight, synapsing propagations to lead me with valor
Against them and their unworthy, unwelcome fetor.
Sight and sound seal the deal and
Norepinephrine inhibits everything in the way,
Honing my senses, toward-her, while giving sway
To disregard all things not-her.
Innovative innervations grow horns on Homunculus
That straddles my sulci disproportionately.
Probing parts amygdaloid is my patient hippocampus
Rising above the void.
There's limbic salvation above ill-winds
That supports the room's feckless entropy;
Breathless, I fall to her by way of the alchemy
That dooms me vaguely, vagally.
Lydia's eyes flew open as her alarm clock declared that it was 7:00 a.m. She jumped out of bed. Today was the day!
The date-Monday, July 4, 2005. This was the day Lydia, Beth, her sister, and Manasah, her brother had waited for the whole year! This was the morning they would head out for Brazil on a two week missions trip with their youth group and many other American youth.
She rushed through breakfast and getting ready. They loaded their three suitcases and three carry-ons into the van. Finally everything was ready.
By this time it was only 7:30. They didn't leave until 8:30! Lydia screwed her face. They had a whole hour until they would leave. She had nothing else to do until then! For almost that whole hour she trailed after her little sister, Grace. The excitement was killing her!
"Lee, will you go see what time it is, and ask Dad when we're leaving?" Lydia inquired of her brother when she saw he was heading for the house.
Lydia was about to burst! In one way it seemed like it had just been yesterday that their pastor had told the youth group about this trip, yet at the same time it had seemed like ages had passed since that cold November night. This can make one quite antsy-the effect it was having on Lydia.
"It's time!" Beth exclaimed, as she, their mom and dad, Manasah, Lee, and Zawadi poured out of the side and front doors and into the front yard.
"I think we need to pray before you leave," their mom, Jamie said picking Grace up.
"Dear Lord, I ask that You," Lydia's dad prayed as they bowed their heads, "would protect Lydia, Beth, and Manasah as they go down to Brazil to minister to the people down there. Amen."
Once all of the good-byes were said, Lydia, Beth, and Manasah piled into the van with their dad. They drove down the driveway waving to their mom, brothers, and Grace. They were finally on their way to Pastor Rod's house where they were to meet up with all the others. As ecstatic as they all were about going they were going to miss their family something terrible. Lydia brushed a tear away.
"It seems odd to be finally going after so long." Beth mused from the front passenger's seat.
"Yeah, it does," Lydia agreed, "especially after all that work and frustration." She thought of all the paperwork and support letters they had worked on. She had never known how much work it took to get ready for a missions trip, even for only two weeks.
"It's going to be really weird being away from home and everybody for so long," Manasah spoke up. It had been a subject the three had talked about a couple of times during lunch chores. They had never been gone for so long from both of their parents.
"Yeah, really," both Beth and Lydia agreed.
Lydia jumped out once they were parked at Pastor Rod's house. They were the first ones there. Pastor Rod was packing his and Mrs. Olsen's suitcases in to the church van as they got out.
"Good-morning," he greeted with his usual, bright smile.
It wasn't long until the others started driving up. Everybody started talking all at once and fast.
"It's about time we started off, but first I think we need a group picture," Pastor Rod announced once the last person had arrived.
So everybody stood or knelt in front of the red church van as all the parents gathered around with their cameras. "Mom, can you take a picture with my camera too?" Cat Fallen gave her mom her digital camera and then fell into line in the back row.
"Come on, let's get moving!" Lydia thought trying to contain her anxiousness.
After what seemed like hours the cameras stopped flashing and everyone started piling into the two vans. It was about time! They still had a very long way to go, but at least they were moving again. Lydia thought little of the road that stretched out ahead of her. She was just glad to be heading in the right direction!
"Cat, you need to be getting up," Cat Fallen's mom called at the door of Cat's bedroom. Cat jolted up out of bed. She was filled with exhilaration at those very words. This was the day she had been praying about and preparing for for so long! Now it was finally here! At long last, she, her youth pastor and his wife, and thirteen other teens from youth group would be heading for Brazil!
"I can't believe it, I'm going to another country! I'm going to a completely different continent!" These ecstatic thoughts had kept her up late into the night.
"We sure are going to miss you," Cat's mom said coming over to her and giving her shoulders a squeeze as she ate breakfast.
"I'm going to miss you too." Cat leaned her head on her mother's shoulder for a second.
She finished getting ready and then hollered, "Mom, I'm ready to go!"
"Ok, let's go," her mom replied jingling her keys.
The half hour ride into town flew by. For the first few minutes she and her mom chit chatted, but after awhile Cat fell silent. Slowly she drifted off into a daydream.
Cat came back to reality when she saw the pastor's yard filled with youth and luggage. Cat jumped out and grabbed her bags out of the back seat.
Finally they started to load up into the church van and Rohn Yoder's green van. Cat was excited to at last be on the next leg in the journey. It still would be a long wait until she set her eyes on Brazil but that didn't matter. It was great to be moving. Besides each part of this experience had its own adventures, and she didn't want to miss any of them by wishing to be somewhere else.
To Be A Proser (written January 16, 2022)
We write with unfurled passion both as individuals and that of community in support of every word written here. We are, quoting myself, the Wild West of international writing platforms combined with a therapist couch that offers both personal and creative support.
There are long term traditions, that may be worth repeating.
1. For every write you post, read 10.
2. Go out of your way to read and encourage new authors, not just old friends.
3. Like...repost...knowing yourself the thrill of someone pausing to leave just one word why.
4. If someone cares even about your piece and your promise to suggestion edit...it is because they care enough about your piece and its promise.
5. Challenges are opportunities to write outside you personal themes, style, format...every one strengthens writing skills. There are no losers. Ever.
6. Give away what you most want. Be generous with your ideas not just in your posts but in all the many ways you can connect and grow on this platform.
7. Authenticity will get you everywhere. That you that you've been hiding can be written here safely. No one will mock your open soul and you will always be better for have taken those thoughts from your mind and put them down...that's what Prosers do for themselves and each other here in this unique place.
My bucket list trip. It should have been a dream trip, but instead it was the search for my roots, for the ancestry and family tree I had only seen as a spidery drawing on a sheet of paper. The list of names in the family bible and a few photographs in ancient sepia tones in album on the mantle above the fireplace.
The rush to make sure my passport was up to date, was an intense anxiety ridden period of two weeks before my departure date. Fortunately, I qualified for compassionate reasons to get priority treatment. My mother’s death had come with unexpected speed after an undetected cancer took her from me inside of two months. She insisted she wanted her ashes placed in her family vault in Berlin. Her parents and most of her sisters and brothers were there already.
Helga the stubborn, who we all knew was impossible to argue against, remained adamant about her last wish. I swear she stoically bore the pain with brave courage until I gave in to her demands.
It had been decades since my only memories of the city came to be. I wondered if anything would look the same as it did through the awe struck eyes of a six-year-old girl. Were the landmarks as impressive or thought provoking as they were way back then?
My father taking us up to the airport when I was barely old enough to comprehend what an airplane was, was the first aviation memory for me. The next one was a cobbled together museum in a dimly lit building at the top of a hill in a park in Berlin. The year was 1964.
But enough, time to go. My bags were packed, and I was leaving on a jet plane. The lyrics of the old song echoing through my brain. An earworm that wouldn’t quit. My thoughts turned to my only surviving Uncle in Germany. Would I find him?
The flight was boring, and I finally got rid of the earworm. Listening to John Denver albums before I fell into a restless light sleep, erased the continual repetition of the chorus. I definitely knew when I would be back again.
The gentle bump of wheels touching down in Frankfurt brought a sigh of relief. I’d slept enough to be wide awake again as we watched the dawn spread its smile across the horizon. A quick stop here, then south to Paderborn where my father’s family came from. The train left in a couple of hours, so I had time for a quick breakfast.
All around me, conversations in German faded in and out. As my own first language, understanding was never a problem. Getting the first sentences out of my mouth? A whole other story. I was as rusty as an old farm gate.
I found my way to a restaurant in the airport after making it through customs. Traveling light was my objective. I could handle a backpack and a duffel bag easily, even though I was in my sixties. Genetic disorders run in our family and I was eager to meet my uncle, but that was later. First the train ride.
Since I was booked into a hotel at my destination, I fueled up on breakfast like Mom used to make. Slices of rye bread with smoked ham and cheese spread on open faced sandwiches made me smile. No calorie deficit fat free sugar free yogurt for breakfast here. I’d be walking enough it wouldn’t matter in any case. Everything is far more pedestrian friendly than home was. Germans love their bread, and I’m with them there. The darker the loaf, the better as far as I’m concerned.
I caught a taxi to the train station after breakfast. There were lockers there, and since I had an hour and a bit, I took the time to walk the streets in the area for a while. A bustling city, with a towering city center business hub, it didn’t feel any different from the downtown skyscrapers of home. Some things are constant. Modern cities all seem to have that jagged horizon of glass clad building the breathes the heart into its economy.
At least my tongue wasn’t as stiff as I dealt with my train fare. I bought a travel pass, which was cheaper than paying for each leg of my trip individually. Great idea. Turns out I could have used it to get to any of the EU countries, but I was only interested in finding the spots that were part of personal history.
Of course, a stop in Cologne was imperative. The Gothic cathedral there was a must see even for me. The spires with their dark conical hats soared well above the rest of the buildings around it. I did the climb to the top of the bell tower in spite of aching knees. My mother did it at my age, I would too.
The green fields around Paderborn were a relief. The dense population centers weren’t exactly my favorite place to be. I spent more time in the mountains and national parks around home than in the city. That was only for the planning stages before my next trip. Natural beauty was always my goal, but these towns and cities I passed through on my train trip melded old with new in intriguing blends.
The man across from me on the train had me laughing. The jokes were coming fast as we rocketed from Westphalia down to the Bavarian area of southwest Germany. Munich was on my to see list before heading north to Berlin. Ironically, they were at the same latitude as my hometown of Calgary.
“But seriously, why are you here? The country isn’t much really, if it’s architecture you want, then you’ve seen the best in Cologne already.” His smile invited me to tell him my secrets, but I chose to let him in on my search for my missing Uncle. I’m translating our conversation for ease of reading, because not everyone is fluent in German.
“My daughter has an interesting genetic disorder. I know my mother’s grandmother had it, and I suspect her brother did as well. I have it, too.” I pulled my left pant leg up, showing him my prosthetic appendage. Talking to him would confirm the link in proper fashion. Most people immediately gasped when they realized I’m an amputee, but this one was different.
His eyes grew serious as he considered his response. “I’m a geneticist. Such a serendipitous coincidence to meet you here. Tell me, which one of the exotic list of rare diseases are you afflicted with?”
Our discussion went on until the train slowed abruptly in Munich. I gave him my uncle’s last known address in a nursing home in Berlin and my phone number as well. He said he would make inquiries for me. The timing of onset of my symptoms and those of my daughters were a classic progression. Finding out when my uncle was first afflicted would complete the timelines, as my great grandmother was elderly before her first problems appeared.
As we deboarded and I retrieved my luggage, he asked, “Will you spend some time with me? I find your determination to thrive refreshing. You could be in a wheelchair, yet here you are, seeking answers and lost family.”
“I only have a tour of a beer brewery on my list of things to do. My mother had a huge fondness for German beer. So, yes.”
“Too bad you didn’t wait a few more weeks. Oktoberfest is an experience.” His voice held a sarcastic undertone, and I was instantly sympathetic.
“Much like our Stampede in Calgary. It is an experience as you say, but when you live with it year after year?” I shrugged my shoulders.
“A meeting of minds, there. Your German is improving,” he told me.
“It only takes a few days of immersion or more importantly conversation with someone who will be patient with my poorly structured grammar as it comes back to me. Thank you.”
“You said your mother comes from Berlin? I don’t hear the Berlin dialect coming through in you.”
“Father came from Westphalia. Paderborn to be exact. I found the estate there, still standing as it was before they were sanctioned by Hitler. My grandfather was an outspoken judge who ruled against many of his ideas.” I didn’t mean to get into the more personal aspects of my journey. “The graves of his whole family are in a tiny cemetery close by.” I didn’t answer why we spoke high German in so many words, but he caught my meaning. A perceptive man.
“No one left on that side?” He sounded sympathetic, and continued, “Please allow me to take you to dinner.”
“A few cousins, all of them out of the country at the moment. They take their holidays this time every year. I didn’t want the distractions. This is a bit of a mission for me.”
“Which brewery? Hofbrauhaus?”
“Of course, Mom loved their beer.” It’s the most popular brew in the city, and she found a small delicatessen which imported it.
“Then let us take your baggage to your hotel, and then we’ll take ourselves to the Brewery.”
“Really, it isn’t much trouble to bring it along,” I protested.
“I understand, but it will be easier on you. I think you have had a long day already.” Again, his sensitive nature showed itself. Perhaps I should accept.
He held out his hand for my duffel bag, and I made a snap decision. I handed it to him and brought up my itinerary on my cell phone. Reading the address, he turned and said, “This way.”
The interlude in Munich was quick and intense. I didn’t doubt we would meet again in the future. His manner was charming and considerate, and the attraction between us was surprising. I’ve been widowed for years, and this quiet pull between us irresistible.
Ulrich woke me late the next morning, just in time for check out. The brewery tour forgotten, we spent a leisurely hour at lunch, and he walked me back to the train station. The discovery of a sexy senior who wasn’t repulsed by my handicap was something to be treasured. He was a handsome man, not much taller than me. His head proudly bald with a dapper deep grey goatee sprinkled with silver streaks.
His hug as we parted lifted my heart and I knew I had an ally in my search for my Uncle. I had no idea if Manfred was still alive, as he was a couple of years older than my mother. My cousins in Berlin lost track of him when their mother passed away. The other cousin was in Tennessee, and definitely didn’t care about what happened to Uncle Manfred.
Berlin, my goal for this trip. Totally different from what I remember, and exciting as I explored. Berlin as a complete city, with no restrictions on how to get in and out. Flight was the only way in if I remembered our early time there when I wasn’t quite six years old.
The zoo, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (that sounds so strange in English), the Flight Museum, with lighting to do justice to the examples of airplanes on display were all new to me again. The progress made over the years on animal care, and exhibit presentation was educational.
But it was the ping of an incoming text message which caught my attention on my second day. I was at the Brandenburg Gate monument when I slid my finger across my lock screen and pressed my finger to the correct spot to open my phone. I found a bench to rest while I read.
The address for the nursing home was front and center. It seemed my Uncle was a recluse. From what Ulrich could find out, he had no visitors, but was a favorite with the staff. They were his family now. Why? I had to know. Punching the address into the GPS on my phone, I set out to find it. Berlin has an exemplary public transportation system. I knew, two of my mother’s brothers drove busses here. Little wonder I retired from a thirty two year career driving at home. It ran in the blood.
I studied the map on my screen and realized it was on the edge of the city. A long trip. Perhaps a taxi would be better. I was staying in one of my cousin’s apartments. Arrangements were made long before I picked up my tickets to fly.
Approaching the entrance to the multi-story building, I read the name of the nursing home over the door. The right place. I hoped I wouldn’t surprise Manfred too much. From Mom’s stories, he had a rough life. Indoctrination into the Hitler Youth in his early teens scarred him for life. He had no children, and his wife abandoned him early in their marriage.
Later on, we heard he lost a leg for some reason. It happened to be the same one I lost too. I knew we had similar health issues. He was an alcoholic, which I avoided. He was rumored to be diabetic, but really, I wondered if it was a misinterpretation of medical data. I fought with the same issues all the time. Inflammation from a chronic auto-immune disorder can do crazy things to your sugar levels.
I went to the information desk, my heart beating a tattoo in my chest. This was it. Would he welcome me or turn me away as an uncaring member of the family? Again, Mom was the only sibling who even tried to break the walls he built around his heart.
I spoke with the woman seated behind the shield and pulled a mask out of my pocket. It seemed there were still a few COVID policies in place. I showed her my negative test results and my vaccine record, and she assured me I could remove it once I entered Manfred’s room. He should be there as he spent time reading after lunch. Really it was dinner here, as many still took their biggest meal at noon including the clients who lived here.
Following the directions she gave me, I went up in the elevator. The building was old. Refurbished decades ago, it still had a filigree door and an operator who was in charge of opening and closing it. Charming, and a great way to track patient movement. The top two floors were for dementia patients and had limited access to keep them safe. The man was a fountain of information and encouraged me to be patient with Manfred.
I found the work desk with all its bright computer screens and several nurses. At least care here wasn’t meager like it could be at home.
“I’ll take you to him,” Helga said. Her name tag declared her name in large print. I thought it was poetic justice that she had my mother’s moniker. A sign? God might be on my side this time.
She strode down the hall with quick steps. “Manfred has a corner room. He doesn’t have a roommate as there is more than enough from his union pension to provide for him. The city takes care of its employees very well. It’s his birthday today, and as usual he’s retreated and asked us to keep his family away. But you’re different. He speaks of Helga fondly.”
I had explained my relationship when I arrived to let them know who I was. She seemed very happy to see me. I trembled a bit inside. I wanted to see the man I met once for five minutes when I was a tiny girl. I wondered if he would even remember.
“By the way, Manfred is completely alert and fully aware of what is going on in the world. He has protected himself by dropping contact with his family. They never really gave a thought to his situation. They consider him a drunk and worthless because of it. His medical situation, well, I’ll let him explain.” Helga knocked on my Uncle’s door.
I hitched my left pantleg up a bit. I wanted Manfred to know I suffered the same fate as he had at first glance. The nurse raised an eyebrow and I answered her unasked question.
“I have the same problem. I’m quite sure of it. I want to confirm, as my daughter is afflicted as well.”
“Now I am doubly glad you came. He’s crusty, but lonely. Do your best to break down the barriers he has built.” Her frosty attitude melted by several degrees.
“I will,” I promised.
“Come in.” His voice was the same. The deep timber and warmth spoke of welcome.
I knew he wasn’t expecting family. I thanked my lucky stars my German was back to native speaking fluency. Stepping through the door I took in the gentle man sitting on the bed. His prosthetic leg was standing like a soldier beside his bed. His hair was dark brown exactly like my mother’s. Silver wings at his temples, he didn’t look his age at all. I knew he would be ninety one today. A small detail I’d forgotten until the nurse mentioned it.
“Happy Birthday. Mom would have loved to be here too.”
“Who are you?” He sounded suspicious. I could hear the hurt under the gruff coldness.
“Your niece.” Manfred looked me up and down. “You have my father’s hair. Blonde like he was.” His eyes locked on my false leg. “What happened?”
“Blonde like my father too. And I have your illness too,” I said. I knew they met when my mother was visiting. She was his favorite sister. 1989, the year the wall came down. Mom was lucky enough to see it destroyed after almost getting caught on the wrong side as a teenager.
“Herbert. A forced soldier. We had much in common. You must be Karin?” His eyes lit with a good memory. “Your sister is one of them.” Again, the bitter tone.
I walked across the room and bent forward to give him my hand. His grasp was strong, and he tugged at my arm, forcing me to sit on the edge of the bed. Manfred leaned forward, his hug unexpected and warm. Like a bear, he squeezed until I could barely breathe. My own arms pulled him tighter. Family.
“Yes, I’m Karin.” Mission accomplished. Time to talk.