You had a raincoat? and other obvious questions

our fair city on the banks of the River Isar

Good morning 2020 (written early New Year’s Day morning). What a wild ride it’s already been, and I’m still in my pyjamas.

My mother, who’s nickname when she was young was ‘Fafa’ so that’s what I call her here, and I have talked briefly, which because of the time difference between here and the States means it’s still yesterday there.

My sister-in-law and I also had a meaningful, end of the year conversation a little while ago in which we talked about her husband/my brother and what he was like as a child. That was something.

We also talked about me, which is unfortunately still one of my favourite subjects, and she had some insight about all of that, which I appreciated. All of that, you ask? All of what, exactly?

Well, this is the first time in almost twenty years that I haven’t had a dog to walk on New Year’s morning. You likely know of Ella and Louis, but before them there was a girldog named Lyle. She came with my first wife and me from the States, when wee moved here to Munich in 2001.

She was my only real responsibility as I was getting my bearings in this curious new land. German culture was weirdly unfathomable, which made no sense because I’d lived here as a small child. I’d learned to play German music and even sang in the godforsaken language before I understood what I was singing about. Nevertheless, I felt odd and like an outsider.

That first year, I drank too much Augustiner and Austrian Veltiner, I smoked my Gauloises, and I walked my dog. It was all pretty straightforward. Below is a photo of my friend Elaine’s dog, Poppet, and me in Tottenham. Well, it’s our shadows. When I’m without a dog, I greet every single one I see. Right now, I’m meeting a lot of dogs.

Poppet’s and my shadows…

Here’s the story I want to tell today, and I assure you that there’s a moral. I’ll be explicit, rather than make you guess what my motive is.

It’s about gratitude and perspective.

A woman told a few friends and me a disheartening story about her horrible childhood and how she always felt like an outsider. She could’ve been telling my story, but that’s beside the point. ‘It’s not always about you, Ken.’ Yes, I get it.

She told us about standing in the rain in her raincoat and looking up at the sky and somehow, in her childlike wonder, asking what on earth the reason for everything was. Asking God or the universe or whatever was out there why she was even here. Why did she even exist? What was even the point?

Aphrodite and the setting sun

After my friend told her story, we were all really quiet. It was so depressing that we were simply mute. Until one quiet voice meekly asked, ‘You had a raincoat?

The raincoat obviously wasn’t the point of the story, but clearly the woman who was almost afraid to ask her question must’ve had an even worse childhood. For her, the mere shelter from the rain was absolute and utter luxury.

I try to remember that everyone I encounter could be dealing with trauma that he or she doesn’t even want to think about. It’s a trick I use to be more compassionate. Sometimes it works.

Sometimes I forget. My New Year’s resolution this year is not to forget.

I should be more compassionate. Especially to those who’re in my inner circle. They very well might get my best, but they simultaneously get the worst of me, as well.

I resolve to give them more of my best. A lot more.

All of me

It’s been the best of holidays so far, but to badly mangle Tolstoy, it’s been the shittiest of holidays, as well.

We knew it’d be weird without those loved ones that we’ve lost since last Christmas. As prepared as we might’ve been emotionally, grief is a weird mistress. She doesn’t play fair.

Today, Miriam looked up to the sky & said, ‘Hör auf mit diesem Scheiß, mama!’

See, things are breaking and going missing and we’re doing our best to keep an even keel. However, sometimes the slings & arrows of life are just a bit too much.

Opa has handled having us at his place just swimmingly. He insists that he savours the time with his granddaughter, but having her parents taking up space and whatnot must be annoying sometimes.

Today, he just snapped, yet he had a good reason. Somehow, apparently out of nowhere, his bedroom door had slammed shut. There were accusations & recriminations, but the simple fact was that the door was closed & none of us could open it.

We called a friend, Harry, who was here in moments. In the meantime we had to ‘abwarten & Tee trinken’, which continues to be one of my very favourite German sayings. It means ‘wait (patiently) & drink tea’.

You know how much I like tea, so I’ve always assumed it was a Redewendung created especially for impatient folks of my type.

I’m not the easiest sort to get along with, but I’ve noticed something about myself. If everyone else is freaking out and losing their cool, I can sometimes just be rather calm in comparison.

It’s actually a conflict resolution technique I learned when I was a teenager. If someone across from you is melting down, you’ve got two obvious responses available: match their energy by freaking out in a similar manner…

or…

The opposite.

Someone starts yelling, like me when I don’t get the lollipop I wanted, and across from me there’s Miriam just stating calm, cool, and collected.

So, here’s a video (above) of me playing an Elvis-like character singing the old standard ‘All of me’:

All of me
Why not take all of me
Can’t you see
I’m no good without you

Take my lips
I want to lose them
Take my arms
I’ll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I
Get along without you

You took the part
That once was my heart
So why not, why not
Take all of me

All of me
Come on get all of me
Can’t you see
I’m just a mess without you

Take my lips
I want to lose them
Get a piece of these arms
I’ll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I
Ever make it without you

You know you got the part
That used to be my heart
So why not, why not
Take all of me

To be continued…

The progeny & the local team (Greuther Fürth) where Oma & Opa lived last year at this time

Well, we didn’t make it to Mahag by Monday morning, as it’d been planned. I suppose Miriam called them, but at this point in such a ridiculous story? I just don’t know.

Long story short, you’re begging of me? Other than that we didn’t make it to our appointment? You mean: what happened up until that point? And why on God’s green earth would you make such a plan & then not actually show up?

No idea how to answer any of that. Short story but just a bit of backstory? Ok, I can manage that.

Oma (Miriam’s mama) passed on this year, and quite honestly, we weren’t sure how Opa (der Günter) would deal with such an elemental change in his life.

To be fair, he’s managed the whole thing mostly magnificently. For fifty years, he was married to die Margarete, so he’s never had to wash his own clothes or manage normal, mundane household tasks. He’s always had a wife to do all of that.

However, now that she’s been gone several months, der Günter has managed his newfound bachelor life that of an old pro.

Why didn’t we make it to our appointment with Mahag in Trudering? Because we needed to go get Opa, so he wouldn’t be alone for his first Xmas without his lovely bride.

Thats why.

To be continued…

Another chapter in the book of Fafa

 

Fafa in Strasbourg on the River Ill
 
The last week has been filled with adventures while my mother was in Germany. She made her annual European trip, which included a week in France, and then she and I met up in Strasbourg before our return to Munich

She loves Munich – as I’ve often mentioned here, we lived here in the early 70s – and at the end of her trip, I asked again if she’d seen enough of the Bavarian capital. Would she want to venture out & see more of the rest of Germany. Although she’s already seen so much of my adopted country and especially of this beautiful city, she insisted that there was plenty more she wants to experience. Not only other cities & regions she’s until now only read about but most importantly shed like to continue to venture out from Munich as a starting point. 

We both agreed that it’s not always easy living so far apart, but her regular travel thisaway makes it a bit more tolerable. Like so many other familes living on separate continents, technology also allows us to regularly communicate in real time. Unquestionably, it’s a second rate substitute, but it at least provides some alternative. 

So what exactly have we been up to? Well, the photo above is on a boat tour of Strasbourg. That’s the River Ill, so we were quite literally ‘illing’. We ate a lot of Bavarian food; it’s possible we even are the equivalent of our body weight in Schnitzel. 

I’ve written about her here: Happy Birthday Fafa, which also explains that’s a nickname she’s gone by since she was a child. 

Because she’s so regularly here, my mom has befriended quite a few people hereabouts. This means she arrives with a bit of an agenda to see and be seen. And because she’s so gregarious, there’s often a new crowd of admirers asking when she’ll be back. 

 

Ella and Louis pondering her return
 

be peaceful, make peace, and stay true to yourself but not at the expense of other people or their level of comfort

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My mom and little Benjamin. At this point, he was the newest addition to the family, and he continues to amaze all of us and ours.

He has his dad’s ability to remember minutiae and he’s not shy about you knowing he knows it. He’s a storage container of vast amounts of trivia. Vast.

We’re all processing our grief differently, but BK Michael seems to do it most under the radar. Stealth like.

He grieves.

Don’t get me wrong.

He just does it with more assurance. Hell tell you it’s been hard since our mother has passed, but he won’t go on and on about it.

But Fafa’s brother, our Uncle David has been on our minds. As has our dad, Bill Auvenshine. I’m sure Michael will tell you of his vivid dreams, if you ask him.

It’s not my place to divulge such a thing.

I know I hear her voice, though. It’s soft but still in my ear.

Quietly, softly guiding me.

Be peaceful, I hear her say. Or so I think at first.

After listening more carefully, I hear, Make peace.

Then I listened further and more carefully, and I heard only after a long wait:

Stay true to yourself but not at the expense of other people or their level of comfort.

why would I want to dwell on any of that?

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Light coming in on steps in the Durham Cathedral

It’s been seven years since my dad died, and I wish I had better words to express how incomprehensible that still is. All those things you say when someone who was suffering has passed have slowly subsided. I remember him in the most inopportune moments, but there he is.

The things I dig deep within me to say about him are likely going to always fall short. When I slow down enough to notice things like that light pouring into the stairwell in the photo above, I’m reminded that he touched so many lives partly because he knew how to shut up and listen.

He truly was quiet. So few words emanated from him that there was a noticeable hush in the room when people realised he wanted to say something. When I was rather young, I remember he had the saddest smile sometimes. I suppose one of his successes was that the melancholy in his grin appeared to have evaporated.  Over the years, it was as if he just didn’t have the time or energy to be maudlin anymore.

There was a soulful singer he introduced me to who sang about the depravity of humanity. Beautiful songs, but really quite dark. Years later, I asked him why he never listened to that artist anymore.

I just realised one day that his songs were really depressing,‘ he said. ‘There’s enough sadness in the world – why would I want to dwell on any of that?

Yes, why indeed.