In a little German town……

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved

Memories are a law unto themselves.

Unlike ‘grocery shopping’, ‘dentist appointments’ (ugh!), ‘school information nights’, one doesn’t need to slot ‘memories’ into a half-hour time frame in our diaries. Wouldn’t it be strange to scribble “Nostalgia. From 9 to 10am, Saturday morning” in our diaries next to the zillion other reminders for soccer try-outs, choir practice etc etc? This is because nostalgia simply happens! Any time, any place. Without warning.

Have you ever noticed how whenever you are dusting (arguably my least favourite chore), you often stop to gaze at a particular memento that brings on a surge of delightful memories? Just this morning, I was wiping clean some artefacts on my mantelpiece. Time stood still as I gently picked up a blue-and-white candle holder with ‘Deutschland’ written in big, bold writing across it. For a brief 60 seconds or so, I forgot how busy I was and how many countless things I had to strike off my to-do list (you know, all those things that I had actually noted in my diary with definite time frames for each activity), and gave in to nostalgia (which is never factored in on any calendar). I remembered walking into a scented artefacts studio in a tiny village on the outskirts of Germany over two years ago. The plump little german woman who stood looking sad and bored behind a huge, oak-panelled desk smiled and waddled towards me. I hesitated. Everything around the store seemed ludicrously expensive. I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to buy anything. But this was my first time on German soil in a long, long time (my previous visit had been when I was in my early twenties) and I wanted to practice my now rusty German conversational skills. I smiled at the woman, cleared my throat, and spoke in German for the first time in over 15 years. “Ich schaue mich nur ein wenig um” ( I will only have a quick browse). I will never forget the look on her round, weather-beaten face. Her eyes lit up, and she threw up her hands in a gesture of pure delight. She rattled off a string of german words. I understood bits and pieces. She was delighted I spoke her language, how long was I staying in her beloved Deutschland, which country did I come from? etc etc. With a confused blend of hand movements,vigorous nodding and short, sharp sentences, she urged me to take a tour of her shop.

We walked around for ten minutes, during which time she pointed out several of her precious treasures, outlining a brief history for each artefact. My heart sank as the minutes ticked by. How was I going to tell this sweet old lady that I had no intention of buying anything from her shop? We had a long conversation. Although I could not speak the language fluently any more, I could still understand more or less what she was trying to say. She missed her only son, who now lived overseas with his family. She wondered when she would see her two granddaughters, whom she had last met over five years ago when they were mere newborns. Her own husband had died over twenty years ago, and she kept his memory alive by running his beloved shop till this day. This particular memory brought a tear to her eye, and she removed a lacy handkerchief that was tucked into the waist-band of her plaid skirt and wiped her eyes. For the past ten minutes, I had done little more than listen, adding the odd sentence here and there in Deutsch. For a brief moment in time, I had helped alleviate the loneliness that the old woman lived with on a daily basis. She wasn’t looking for a buyer. She was just looking for someone to talk to. To help bring all her faded memories alive.

It was time to say good bye. I had places to go to, things to do, like all tourists trying to cram an entire nation’s history in the span of a day. I held her hands gently in mine. “I must go now. But thank you for showing me around” I said in her language (probably with lots of grammatical errors tossed in). She shook her head and said “Wait. Don’t go yet”. I watched her hurry up the wooden stairs. She was gone for about thirty seconds. Then she re-appeared with something clutched in her hand. As she approached me, she held out her hands. “This is for you. A gift.”. I was looking down at a beautiful blue-and-white candle holder with the word ‘Deutschland’ scribbled across it in bold, sprawling writing. I gave her a confused smile. What was the gift for? I hadn’t bought anything. Although we came from different continents, and did not really speak the same language, she understood the silent question in my eyes. “Thank you. For trying to speak my language. For letting me talk to you about my husband and son. Whenever you look at this candle holder, you will always remember Deustchland”. I squeezed her hand because I couldn’t really think of anything suitable to add.

“Auf wiedersehen” (goodbye), I whispered and stepped out into the sunshine.

With a start, I looked down at my dusting cloth. I was back into reality. Germany seemed far, far away. For a brief moment, I wondered what the lonely old lady would be doing in her corner of the world. Probably looking forlornly at every tourist walking in, hoping that someone would stop now and then, however briefly, to lend her a sympathetic ear. To listen to the stories she had to tell.

I opened my diary and checked my agenda for the day. I had scheduled a visit to the library to return long overdue books, a quick stop at the supermarket to replenish the pantry and a barbecue night at the kids’ school. Somewhere in between those tightly packed schedules, nostalgia would inevitably factor itself in. It is the little things that remind us of long-forgotten, deeply embedded memories. We don’t need a diary entry for nostalgia.

Memories are, indeed, a law unto themselves.


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