* This entry for the Language Learning Blog Contest being hosted by Pimsleur Approach *
Memories are funny things when it comes right down to it. Some things came seem like they are indelibly marked onto your brain (whether you want them to be or not), in my case this includes random song lyrics and whole bits of dialogue from movies like “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Steel Magnolias”, and try as you might, you cannot free up that used storage space to make way for things you might ultimately need, such as phone numbers, names or instructions in case of emergency. Believe me, you could rattle off your phone number to me right now, and I’d forget it immediately, but my brain, for whatever reason it deems necessary, has decided that the words “Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” should remain with me forever.
Equally as strange are those memories you thought long gone, so long gone you didn’t even notice they were missing until they come flooding back of their own accord for no reason whatsoever, and seemingly possess you for days, playing out in living color cinemascope in your mind, as if they happened yesterday and still had that new-car smell.
This happened to me as I was about to compose this blog entry.
I originally set out to do a piece on Japanese horror films, and their ability to scare the bejeezus out of us, even if culturally we don’t share the same mythos in the west, even if we didn’t grow up with that particular set of bogeymen.
You see, I wanted to do an entry for the Pimsleur Approach Language Learning blog contest…now, for various reasons, I hold no illusions that I will win the iPad being offered, nor any of the other prizes, as I don’t typically ‘win’ things. But, the subject matter seemed different from my norm, and for once I wouldn’t be ranting and raving about something or other. When I read the 6 Must See French Horror Films on the Pimsleur blog site is when I hit upon the Japanese horror idea (not yet posted). It’s a good post, and although I may disagree about some of the films on the list (“Irréversible” is a definite yes, “Frontière(s)” much less so IMHO), I thought I would try my hand at it.
So, in the interests of my Japanese blog posting, I decided to find out how many miles there are between Japan and the USA…and as often happens got lost in Google maps, digging around for and looking at things that I never intended to search for in the first damn place. Somehow I found myself looking at Germany from the air, marveling at its green lushness and something made me want to search for Nellingen, a little burg outside of Stuttgart.
Because, by that point, the memories had started. They came swirling in, of their own volition, and I had to follow them.
When I was the sweet young age of 11, just a bit younger than my own son is now, my father, who served in the US Army, announced he had gotten orders to ship off to Germany. So the family found that we were off to someplace called Nellingen Barracks, and leaving Colorado Springs, CO behind. Leaving home, my grandparents, and everything that up until that point I had begun to consider the world to be. Sure, we had traveled before…we had been in Germany many years before, when I was just a kindergartner, we had lived in El Paso and Hawaii when I was a mere toddler, and I had spent part of 1st grade in California…but Colorado Springs was home. HOME. Its where my grandparents were. Its where “Shatzi” my grandparents beloved dog, whom I considered MINE was. Its where I fished, and played, where I wiled away my summers, with my shadow not darkening the door of the house until the streetlights came on (or face the wrath of mom). It was what I knew and what I held dear.
And we were leaving it behind.
In my Google ramblings yesterday, I came upon the knowledge that Nellingen Barracks, as I knew it, no longer exists. The base itself was closed back in 1992, and most of the area has been converted over into a housing development called “Scharnhauser Park”. But then I stumbled across this photo…
Its a photo of the aforementioned Scharnhauser Park…and do my eyes deceive me? Is that…yes….the same buildings I lived in some 30 years ago!
The three buildings in the foreground are largely unchanged from what we lived in back then, although I know nothing of how the interiors have changed, of course.
The building was divided into 3 stairwells, with 6 apartments in each stairwell, 2 per floor left and right, and on the 4th floor, was what was called “temporary housing”. It was a large apartment, still set up as WWII era troop billets, with a common or living room when you first entered, a kitchen immediately off that, and then a long hallway with small bedrooms on each side and a bathroom. The temporary housing stretched the length of the two apartments below it and had a second entryway that opened on the next stairwell. Looking at it with adult eyes, it doesn’t seem all that big, but as a kid, it was huge. The hallway seemed to stretch into infinity in a frightening way. I would turn lights on in each room, one by one, making my way down the hall, for fear that something would spring out of the dark.
I learned to love Nellingen, and by extension Germany as a whole, which being half-German myself, should have probably happened long before.
As I read and explored, more memories flooded back. Sneaking off-base to buy German sweets at a local store, or going through a hole in the fence to the horse farm beyond, where a pretty girl I had a crush on lived. I still remember her, with light brown hair, a smile as big as the world, and her favorite Dallas Cowboys t-shirt…grey with the Cowboys star emblazoned on the front. She spoke little English, and my German was horrible, but we would spend afternoons pointing and gesturing our conversations. Lest you think otherwise, ours was an innocent relationship, merely two young kids brushing horses, running in the dirt and laughing. Nothing lecherous of any kind.
Next to the building we lived in was a large airfield, more than 3 football field lengths it seemed, and it was where the helicopters that the base supported would take off and land. The area nearest to the helicopter hanger was mowed to front lawn shortness, but the field beyond grew tall, and we American kids, mostly boys of course, would play Army, Cops & Robbers, Knights of The Round Table, whatever we could thing of that involved hiding in tall grass and throwing rocks at each other. All the things that little boys do.
Germany is where my pollen allergies reached their zenith, and Nellingen was covered in what we called “cotton trees”, these trees that in the heat of fall would let loose cottony tufts that would cover the ground like snow, and cause my eyes to swell shut while I struggled to breathe. But I was young. I was reckless. Invincible. None of that sneezing, watery eyed silliness would prevent me from climbing the tallest tree in an effort to best Scott, my ginger haired friend (whom my mother despised for his foul mouth and shifty ways).
Germany is where I joined the boy scouts, and became best friends with three other boys, Tom Van Houten, who we called “Hopper”…from when he broke his legs and we hid his crutches, Jacobus Tenbroek, who we called “Coe”, who was the first Jewish person I had ever met and Paul Fox, called simply “Fox”, who always seemed to be wearing the same denim jacket, always in need of a good launder.
We ate Karamel-Kuche and drank Kinder-Bier (an actual beer for kids, with more sugar than alcohol), and went on Volksmarchen…a great concept….seriously…kind of a weekend walking marathon…you would take the whole family, and you would walk from point A to point B through the beautiful German countryside, or through a quaint German village, and at the end everyone would receive a medal or patch to commemorate the event. I still have two of my Volksmarch medals somewhere…I will have to take pictures and post them.
Yes, the memories keep flowing back…hundreds of them. And I’m welcoming them with open arms. When combined with my sudden need to learn the German language, my memories of my years in Germany are like memories of home. A second home. And I’m going to store them forever.
Take that, movie line storing part of my brain! This time I win!