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Marlies and arriving home again

The day after the night in Trier, Virginia and I packed up our things and rolled them across the street to the bus stop. Stefan and Magrit had bid us farewell before we were off to bed, so their good feelings and wishes went with us. We only had to wait a few minutes. The rain came down in a pitter. The tiny Ruwer River flowed brashly under the bridge. Except for the sounds of aerial and terrestrial water, all in Eitelsbach was quiet.

I was nervous, of course. While the public transportation systems of Germany are reliable, I’m always in fear that we’ve boarded the wrong bus or train. But my jitters were for naught. Once in the hands of the Verkehrsverbund Region Trier, everything ran without my need to control it.

The bus ran the length of Trier, making stops at nearly all the important points of the city. Many were the scenes of memory. I had walked and ridden these streets so much in my younger years that I knew where we were at all times. The beauty of a European city is that, with the exception of places like Berlin, it doesn’t change much. People and businesses come and go. But the physical city, the streets, the buildings remain. There’s aa comfort in that. At least, when I come back, I’ll know where I am.

While Virginia looked out the window at a foreign city in motion, I gazed at the past, feeling viscerally all the hours and days I had once experienced on these streets. I remembered the night I kissed Monika on this corner, the walk down this street I made in pain and anguish with a severe sinus infection to the hospital on dark night, my path from my little room high up in the apprentice school to the vineyard.

Virginia was relaxed and looking forward to our visit with Marlies in the little, two-street village of Wawern, Our bus terminated at a pleasant and clean station. Buses came and went. We talked for a while with a German commuter who talked about his impressions of the United States. The rain and dark, my favorite weather, made the day and our arrival in our destination all the more poignant.

I’d told the bus driver where we were going when we boarded. Like most good bus drivers, he told us exactly where we arrived. We climbed out with our luggage about a hundred feet from Marlies’ door.

She greeted us and welcomed us into the next three days. We set ourselves up in the quiet room downstairs, a place weighted with the history of a family raised and matured in this place known only to the region and the people connected to it. Children’s paintings, collages, and drawings hung around the room, each with its own story. Seeing them again comforted me.

I was home, like it was here I was always meant to be.

We sat for a long time telling stories in the ornate and picture-and-mirror filled living room. Tea and cookies stood on the table. I translated for Virginia on and off, but much to my surprise, Virginia and Marlies understood each other more often than not. It wasn’t that they knew the words the other uttered. They understood the feelings and emotions behind the words.

Marlies, now 90, is a small, energetic woman. Pains that come from a life full of toil plague her. But she overcomes the hardships with an inordinately good attitude. As we sat there, she spoke of her life as it’s developed since the death of her husband, the august man of few-but-powerful words, Josef. She found herself rarely alone. People constantly call. She has people over for coffee. Her daughter Barbara comes over a few times a week. With all of this, she has home health help that comes twice a week to help clean, shower, and cook.

She complained from time to time but not in a way that sought sympathy. These were just the facts. Loneliness haunts her in the between times when there is no one around. Josef, on whom she could always depend on for companionship and conversation, moved on. She felt his presence, she said, with every turn and every day. She has a small memory shelf with his picture, a lovely portrait of him with a smile, surrounded by candles and fresh flowers.

Toward, evening, Paul Legill, my winemaker friend in Schengen, came to the door. We had planned that he would make the drive from his village on the tail end of Luxemburg to Wawern. He had invited us all out to dinner. Marlies met Paul with joy, him being one of the most reliable and regular friends of mine. Many times in the past, Marlies had him at her table for coffee, dinners, and conversations. Paul looked forward to spending some time with Marlies and she him.

We drove to Ayl, the village famous for its wines, and sought out a table at an interesting restaurant. Set in an old winery, the restaurant served traditional Saar Valley cuisine and Indian specialties. Technology and markets have transformed winemaking on the Saar. The valley’s wine production falls into fewer, larger hands as time passes. Immigrants and German entrepreneurs fill the old buildings with new delights.

The food offering was a strange combination that worked. The Indian owners part of the change that has come to this little, isolated corner of the German Republic. The owner spoke fluent German flavored with the accents of her native Hindi. Marlies favored the place, being, as she was, inured to influences from around the world. She and Josef had hosted over 200 foreign exchange students over the course of 50 years. She found herself quite at home at this meeting of German and Indian.

While I participated in the conversation, I spent a good deal of time watching these people enjoying each other. Paul, a native Luxemburgish speaker, also speaks German, French, and English. He chattered away with Marlies and Virginia, their discussions running from religion and politics to what they were into these days. For me, it was like hearing other people praying. I don’t ever pray. But I listen to the varied voices lift to places that I’m not sure exist. The eternal exists in the voices. That’s good enough.

After Paul dropped us back at Marlies house, we sat a while drinking ginger tea and feeling a good day coming to a satisfying end. When Virginia and I descended to our room, I gave her a kiss. Then, I listened to her fall asleep and wondered if life gets any better than this.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    Your essays are a gift.

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