I am knee deep in piles of old memories — older than the stories in Annie’s Odyssey even. They’re being churned up by my sister Kate. Here she is — my oldest sister –seeing Europe for the first time. Her stories drag me back to the smells and sounds, food and fog and autumn of my first young woman memories there. We’ve reversed some of those more traditional roles of older and younger siblings.
Since August, she’s been in Bologna, Italy living with her son and daughter-in-law. But, since I’ve never been to Bologna, the pictures from there just made me wistfully longing to be back in Europe again.
But when I saw this picture of her (on the right) and a friend in front of the cathedral in Strasbourg,
it landed me smack-dab-in-the-middle of October, 1969 — and my own trip to Strasbourg. I had arrived in Germany in early October for a job there — the result of a fortuitous lunch with an acquaintance a couple of months before. I was to be Secretary to the Registrar of a college that catered to American army-brats. Believe me, the title was a lot grander sounding than the job or the school. But — it was located in a castle in Germany.
Everyone else from the States — students, faculty, staff, hangers-on — had been there for a month already. I had literally missed the boat which seems to have happened to me a lot in those days. So I had to take my shy, not-a-word-of-German, 22-year-old, scared self on the journey down from Luxembourg to the little town of Bönnigheim in Baden-Württemburg. How did I do that all by myself?
Then, not even over jet lag — two days after my arrival — the whole school made our first
school trip to the Black Forest and Strasboug. I was to be a “chaperone” to these students who were mostly the same age as me. We left at 6:00 a.m. I can still smell the early morning wood fires and bread baking and hear the awakening animals as I walked through that dark, tiny village to get to the bus. There was a moist fog that covered everything. It was magical.
We were going through the Black Forest to get to Strasbough. The Black Forest! Here I was little Annie Eyerman traveling through the land of my ancestors — and Hansel and Gretel too. Somewhere around here there was probably still a poultry farm that Eiermanns owned. It didn’t even matter that with the fog I couldn’t see anything — I knew I was there just the same.
But that was nothing compared to arriving in Strasbourg. The sun was shining now and there was I standing — in 1969 — at the exact same place (different souvenirs) that Katy was standing in 2013. Amazing. This was my first cathedral. I was overawed by it and the town and hearing French and eating in a little bistro with lace curtains half way up the window. Ahh.
I can still feel that joy I had in me that day when I saw Strasbourg for the first time and, in some of the pictures of Kate, I see the same joy. Does it make a difference if we’re 22 or 77 when we make those first memories of beautiful places? Maybe, maybe not. We certainly would have seen them with very different eyes. But I don’t believe that that affects the wonder of the moment. I’ll have to ask Kate about that sometime — if I can catch her when she has a minute between Italian lessons and making more European memories.