I Was a Weird Kid, and Here’s Proof

Or: My Parallel of Trout Fishing in America.

 

Or: Snail Hunting in Germany

Once upon a time, my parents and I moved to Darmstadt, Germany, two weeks before my 3rd birthday, and that’s where I grew up.

From ages 3-6, I attended Kindergarten. (In my early 1980s Germany, “kindergarden” was basically the American equivalent of daycare. We played, we did crafts, we had field trips, and at least one of us acquired a foreign language from her fellows and from her teacher, Frau Apfelrock [Mrs. Appleskirt {I swear I am not making this up.}].)

At age 6, I started Grundschule, German elementary school.

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

The Grandson: What?

Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

While in elementary school, I attended an afterschool “daycare” called Kinderhort. Kinderhort was within walking distance from school, and it was designed for kids whose parents worked fulltime. This way, we didn’t have to go home to empty apartments and get ourselves into trouble. ; ) At Kinderhort, they fed us lunch, we had extensive playtime indoors and out, and we had to sit down every afternoon and do our homework. After late afternoon snacktime, parents arrived to pick us up.

The Plot Thickens

One day, probably in 3rd grade, it was time for our first overnight Kinderhort trip. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t just overnight, it was several overnights. I remember feeling vaguely apprehensive over being away from my parents for most of a week, but I don’t remember saying anything about this out loud.

My parents, however, perceptive people that they are, must have known which jig was up, because they sent this note along in my suitcase:

Yes.

You read it correctly.

To bribe me into participating fully in a fun-filled field trip, my parents promised that we would go snail hunting once I got home.

Because that was what I liked to do.

Snail Hunter Extraordinaire

Even as a kid, I hated spiders. Bugs held no fascination for me. I did enjoy the roly-polies (amusingly known as Kellerasseln in German) we occasionally found beneath rocks and rotten branches, but it’s not like I wanted to take them home with me.

Snails were a different matter.

Forget the “sugar and spice and everything nice.” I had the spice, all right, but other than that, I was “snips, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails all the way.”

I HEARTED SNAILS ALMOST BEYOND COMPREHENSION.

I found them, and I brought them home. Pink shells, yellow shells, striped shells, big, little, medium. I made homes for them in terrariums (terraria?): potting soil in the bottom, sticks and stones to crawl over, shallow containers for water, and all the lettuce and cucumbers they wanted. Once a day, I misted them with water from a spray bottle. The top of each terrarium I covered with mesh held in place by rubber bands.

Do please click to embiggen cuteness.

I read books about snails. Like, the educational kind of books. I learned about how they eat, how they sleep, how they mate, how they repair damage to their shells. When some of my snails inevitably got frisky with each other, I watched the whole process and felt amazed. When the snails laid eggs, I researched carefully how best to care for them. When the eggs hatched, I suddenly had tiny escapees all over my bedroom and had to find a tighter mesh with which to cover the terrariums/a.

Me with my pets, ca. 1985. Click to embiggen.

When my friends came over, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just want to sit there and watch the snails.

Hmm.

Most of my snails hailed from the large courtyard between our apartment building and the surrounding buildings. They were fairly common garden snails, common enough that the parents frequently had to make me set some of them free. And, of course, there was the occasional death in the snail family, which generated space for the occasional new addition. (Yes, I mourned the death of each gastropod.)

The one snail that lived with us consistently for several years, though, was The Big One.

In German, she’s called a Weinbergschnecke: literally, a wine mountain snail. Extrapolating from the “Berg” (mountain) part of her nomenclature, I named her “Bergie.” Why did I decide that this snail was female? No clue. Except that she looked like a girl. And like a Bergie. (Snails are actually hermaphrodites.)

Bergie was a helix pomatia, also known as “escargot snail.” That’s right, she was one of the edible ones, and I kept her as a pet. I always felt right courageous for having rescued her from a terrible culinary fate. Besides, she had a damaged spot on the top of her shell when I found her. Though she’d already repaired it, I knew she needed a little extra TLC.

At some point — I don’t remember why — it came time for me to set all of my snails loose, and I knew I wouldn’t be acquiring more. When I placed them carefully into the damp underbrush in the big courtyard, they slimed happily away without a clue that they now found themselves in a bigger, more dangerous, and yet more variegated world. I said goodbye to them all: pink, yellow, striped, big, little, medium.

But the only one I truly regretted was Bergie. She poked her head out, unrolled her eye stalks, and looked around as though she knew exactly what was going on. I was sad, but I thought she might be excited about this new adventure. I watched her for a few minutes as she got acclimated. Once she was well on her slow, meticulous way into the grand expanse of Untamed Flowerbeds Plot Next To Stone Wall, I went home.

Some time later — it might’ve been a few months, it might’ve been a year — we moved away. A few days before we left for good, I went hunting in the courtyard one last time. Sure enough: There, under the well-drenched leaves of a stinging nettle, sat a Weinbergschnecke with a telltale scar on the top of its shell. Bergie! Weird kid that I was, I grinned like an idiot.

But I didn’t bother her. If she had forgotten me, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by making her remember.

Bergie

(Click for what’s pretty much life size!)

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