always fifty-five

my Nana when she was only sixteen

To me she’ll always be fifty-five. Isn’t that odd? When I was a certain age, my Nana was fifty-five. And no matter how much older she got, she was somehow still fifty-five to me. Now she’s died and memories of her are swirling round my brain, but there’s still a part of me that thinks of her as being fifty-five.

It’s too easy to say trailblazer, but that’s what she was. She got a PhD in sociology (ABD, but still) when that just wasn’t done…being a woman and all. She quipped her whole life that she married my grandfather during the war, when the only young men available were cripples and preachers. I know I shouldn’t say cripples, but it was her word. Seems weird the very thought of editing her at this point. Like the least I can do is actually use her words faithfully.

So she married a preacher, and they pastored quite a few Methodist churches in West Texas back in postwar America (the one he started in Midland, St Luke’s, is one of the biggest in the region). They’d do a stint for several years in some tiny place and then when everything was relatively stable, they’d be sent on to the next community that needed a church. The funny thing I remember being told was that my Nana didn’t silently grin and bear it when things weren’t to her liking.

When she was displeased about some aspect of being a small town preacher’s wife, she was very vocal about it. I could say it was some sort of Texas thing, but from my perspective it was so much bigger than that.

She loved baseball. She was a fan of the Dodgers until they left Brooklyn. Then she had cable television early on, and we spent summer evening after summer evening watching the Cubs. I’d somehow forgotten how I became a Cubs fan. It was entirely a result of those nights at her place in Kerrville, where if I had the audacity to ask what was on, there was always only one answer. ‘Baseball.’

Full-stop.

Baseball.

You know, I could spend the rest of my time here talking about my grandmother and how she spoke her mind. How beautiful her life and even her death were. Yet here I was last night after spreading her ashes in the Guadalupe River, and my niece and I sat together watching baseball. She asked me questions that I asked my Nana. To be candid, questions about baseball weren’t much appreciated, but she’d tolerate them. Begrudgingly.

My niece might’ve had a bit easier time of it. I was likely too eager to make this odd, antiquated game appealing to this little girl of the twenty-first century. But she was genuinely interested. I explained the count, and then spent most of the rest of the game quizzing her, ‘What’s the count?‘ Her brain is always working and she likes having a task. She got the hang of it early on, and thrived on answering each question correctly.

Some Bavarians (not all of them) have a phrase that’s called a Schöne Leiche. Translated literally, it’s a ‘beautiful corpse’, but that’s not at all what it means. If someone had a great life and their family comes together to celebrate rather than mourn, the party afterwards is said to make a Schöne Leiche. That’s certainly what we had.

I’m carrying it with me out of here. I refuse to let it go.

The Ranch

Image

The way the Germans see The United States in general and the Americans in particular is a much more nuanced story than I could ever fit in one measly blogpost. And to be upfront about it, I’m normally drawn to the more critical and even confrontational views. It’s too easy (and naive) to believe everybody loves the Red White and Blue.

Nevertheless, when I’m minding my own business and going about my typical day, I’m often a bit taken aback when I encounter people who have very positive impressions of my homeland. In my own strange and tortured way, I like where I came from and love some of my countrymen/women very deeply. Having said all that, I don’t advertise it.

Some Germans find out I have family in Texas, and suddenly they have a volley of questions that come barrelling out of their mouths. Did you grow up with horses? Uh, no. My grandmother had a farm, but it was truly agribusinessDid you wear a cowboy hat to school? I most certainly did not. What’s a real rodeo like? I assure you, a real rodeo is nearly as alien to me as it is to you.

Imagine my surprise when one of my clients asked me about the song I Like Beer. It won’t surprise you to know that I had no idea what she was talking about. None. Where on earth had she even located such a song of questionable quality/taste? Well, she was only too happy to inform me about the The Ranch. It’s a terrestrial radio station in the States, but you can also listen to it live-streamed anywhere in the world.

A few other titles that may or may not surprise you:

‘She’s Cold as the Beer She’s Drinking’

‘Barmaid, Pour Me a Vacation’

What do I think about this? I’m conflicted. It’s a little weird. Some Germans, as well as many Bavarians, have a rather idealised picture of life in Texas. I don’t want to dissuade them from thinking people are living a life of freedom-loving badass-ness. There are certainly plenty of people in Texas who believe that’s what they’re doing.

And I don’t want to give the impression that the perspective the Germans have isn’t nuanced. When it comes to geopolitical issues, postwar Germans are actually quite adept at such nuance. They see the American brand and know that some of it is bluster. Some of it is nostalgia. Many older Germans remember soldiers handing out chocolate bars as they liberated the war-ravaged cities. Those old-timers would likely say that that’s definitely something to be nostalgic about.

But what do I think about The Ranch providing the people of my adopted country with a slice of Americana? Still not too sure about this one. Luckily, I know some of the people who read this blog will have some clever answers for my dilemma.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to Kevin Fowler‘s ‘I Like Beer‘:

She was alone at a table for two
I said, Now's the time to make my move
So I got me a beer and I bought her  ... on the beach

She saw that umbrella stuck in the glass
That chunk of pineapple made her laugh
She took the beer from my hand and said thank you, man
I didn't take her for the longneck kind
She said boy have you lost your mind?

Chorus
Hell yeah, I like beer
It gets me grinnin' from ear to ear
Not just every now and then
I'm talking 365 days a year
I can do it around the clock
I don't like it just a little, I like it a lot
Even hot hell yeah, I like beer

Ooh, I love it

Yeah, it's good for your heart, it's good for your mind
It's good for gettin through a lonely all night
Everybody knows you shouldn't drink too much
So why does it always seem like it's enough

Chorus
Hell yeah, I like beer
It gets me grinnin from ear to ear
Not just every now and then
I'm talking 365 days a year
I can do it around the clock
I don't like it just a little, ooh, I like it a lot
Even hot hell yeah, I like beer

Everybody now, come one!

Chorus

Yes I do
Hell yeah I like beer

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