Home never leaves you and memories, good and bad, have a tendency to pull you back to those places of long-ago. A wise philosopher once said, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Everything and everybody changes, even if on the surface things appear to be the same.
The trick to going home is learning to treasure those times while at the same time, letting go; it’s necessary for growth.
Of all the places I’ve traveled to none say home like Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although the place of my birth, Behringersdorf, is not set amidst mountains, the wide open spaces of G-P populated by rivers, forests, farms, meadows and hill-sides dotted with clover, buttercups, cows, goats and other livestock, and of course, the lovely cafe’s, all are It for me: reminders of home.
I have now visited Garmisch-Partenkirchen four times. My son had just turned a year old the first time his father and I vacationed there. And when we returned, having left Aaron behind, he, in no uncertain terms, let us know this was a “no-no”.
A few years later, in winter, Aaron joined us. He was exhausted by the winter-fun (indoor swimming, sledding, building snow men and playing) he had each day; so tired that, more than once, while eating our evening meal we had to save him from nodding in his soup.
Many years later, our son, my sister and her husband spent a few quality days enjoying G-P’s offerings. Two years later, Mark and I once again visited.
In October of last year I had a mission and my companion was far from the usual. This time Mom went with me to Germany. That is, Mom, in the form of ashes; she died in May.
Human rituals surrounding death vary with religion and location. The rituals may vary but in the end, it comes down to this: we either bury or burn the dead. The common denominator is honoring and remembering the dead; doing so provides another way to keep the connection, the memory, alive. (These days of course, in the never-ending quest for youth and immortality, some are turning to freezing themselves in the hopes of a future resurrection).
Our mother chose cremation and told our family that she wanted her ashes scattered in the mountains. My sister and I honored those wishes; sort of. We flung Mom to the four winds.
She is in her flower garden in North Carolina, near one of her most valued possessions, her house.
She is in Tennessee with my sister, the daughter less like her in appearance but most like her in temperament.
She is also in the mountains of North Carolina, on the banks and in a man-made lake at Shatley Springs, surrounded by green hills and mountains; some of her fondest times were spent there, enjoying good food and fine company.
And finally, she rests high atop her birth country’s mountain range, beneath a cross on the Alpspitze.
Last year, when the ever-present Heimweh set in, more urgent than in other years because of my own sadness, the thought came that I should take Mom home. And so the longing for G-P was also infused with the desire to look for the perfect spot to leave Mom.
The day before returning to the U.S. I rode a cable car to the Alpspitze. My quest to find the perfect spot did not take long. Not far from the platform I noticed a large, weathered, wooden cross half-way up a slope. At the foot someone had lain a fresh wreath with flowers; a plaque listed the names of four mountaineers who had lost their lives in that region. One was named Hans. It was my sign.
Mom’s name was Johanna but most of her life she was known as “Hansi”. In her later years she associated herself with the Baptist faith. As a child, she was a Lutheran Protestant who loved the rituals of her maternal grand-mother’s Catholic faith. Among other things she loved flowers, gardens, good food and, as said, mountains. I thought it fitting to leave her ashes there.
Mom never made it to Garmisch-Partenkirchen but I know for sure that she would have loved it there.
For me G-P is a feast for the senses: long walks in fresh, green grass or pine-scented air, (yes, even cow-dung appeals to me); the sound of tinkling bells, bleating goats and rushing rivers, and the tantalizing sweet taste of Hazelnut cakes or slightly tart Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake) –they’re part of what defines home for me.
Each year I feel the tug, the hard- to-resist call; and now there is another reason for me to heed it.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is dear to me. And high in the mountains surrounding it I’ve left another piece of my heart.
(Dedicated to my mother, Johanna “Hansi” Maria Schubert, Turner)