Among several definitions in Webster’s Dictionary, the word home is
described as: “One’s native land or place”. Yes, that fits perfectly.
I hear the conductor shout “Mannheim, nachste Haltenstelle” (next
stop). It was a short train ride from Mainz, where I left my biking
friends from the “Over the Hill Gang” after a delightful two-week bicycle
trip along the rivers Mosel and Rhine. They are on their way to Los
Angeles. They too are on their way home.
I am standing on the platform. It is a sunny, welcoming day, but where
are they, my cousin Willi and his wife Marta? Did they forget I am
coming? The train is very long. Ah, I see them at the very far end. I of
course am at the opposite end. We hurry and meet somewhere in the
middle, greet, hug and all talk at the same time. I have lived in America
more than 50 years, but my German spills out of my mouth without
difficulty. Next stop is Ketscher Ring 31, a short 20- minute drive to
“Oh no, no unpacking, first we have coffee and cake”, Marta says as she
serves a scrumptious-looking piece of homemade cheese cake, New York
style, no German style. This is the first of many, many pastries, snacks,
dinners, samplings of wine, beer, espresso and chunks of dark chocolate.
It never ends, it’s a five-day feeding frenzy. I love it and the
consumption” of calories is of no concern to me now, but maybe when I
step on the scale back in Los Angeles.
A visit to the cemetery to bring flowers to my father and a bouquet for
the grave of my very best friend, Annemarie, is a time of sadness. My
friend died suddenly two weeks before my arrival. How could she, we
just spoke on the phone before I left, we had plans? We knew each
other since 4th grade. She had already arranged a get-together with
several chums from our 8th grade class.
In true German stoicism, the rest of us keep this date. Nine of us meet
under the clock at the Paradeplatz. It is easy for them to recognize each
other, they see each other occasionally. They all live in Mannheim and
have aged in each other’s presence. I, on the other hand wonder, is that
them? I approach, shall I say, a group of mature-looking ladies.
“Renate, is it really you, you made it, I would have known you
anywhere”. (Liar, I think) More hugs, more handshakes. We
have a reservation at a Konditorei (coffee house) around the
corner. We file in and each choose a pastry. What shall I pick,
there are so many, they all look scrumptious.
“Apfel Streusel, bitte”, I say to the lady behind the counter. I point to a
piece of apple streusel cake. Instead of the pastry, I am handed half of a
paper tag with a number, the other half with the same number stays with
my pastry. The young, pretty waitress delivers all ten of our orders without
error. Her efficiency is amazing.
We spend three delightful and noisy hours together. I am sure to the
relief of all customers downstairs, we are seated upstairs, the only ones
there. I am glad that Ilse thoughtfully remembered to bring our 8th
grade school picture. It helps me to connect the old faces with the
young, fourteen year old faces.
“Remember, Renate, when you swung your lunch box around and around and
the lid came off the soup container and the soup spilled all over you?”
How about the time when the “old man” (that’s what we called our teacher)
left the classroom and we decided to test our jumping skills and leapt
from desk to desk, only to be caught in the middle of this exuberance
with him suddenly appearing in the doorway? Who remembers when Krista
choked on a piece of candy during religion class,and that little old
instructor punched on her back until the candy flew out.
The stories, the laughter, the pictures we share of children and
grandchildren, the joy of being together finally ends with the promise of
another reunion on my next visit.
“You can’t go home again”, said Thomas Wolfe. Perhaps in a deeper sense
this is true, but for the moment I feel quite at home in Mannheim.
Yet, when I land in Los Angeles two days later, the tug at my heart tells
me, this is truly my home.
by Renate Colvin
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