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!)

Growing Up in Bowel Town: Marauders

From Ghosts of Bloggings Past:

I grew up in the German city of Darmstadt, which literally translates to “Bowel City,” which I choose to render as “Bowel Town” because it sounds funnier. My first home in Darmstadt was an apartment building at Roßdörferstraße 55 (which loosely translates to “Horse-Village Street” — I swear I am not making this up). We lived for eight years in a two-bedroom apartment on what Americans would call the third floor but Germans call the second.

The building’s first floor housed a “Konditorei,” which I guess would be a pastry shop or confectioner’s shop to those of the English-speaking persuasion. The presence of said pastry shop resulted in the most amazing scents that drifted daily up the stairwell and into all the apartments, making everyone in the building crave Butterhörnchen a whole lot more often than fortnightly, lemme tell ya.

The baker’s names was Herr Gibis, and before I started 1st grade, he took to wife a younger woman with two children. Their names were Marcus and Sylvie. Marcus was my age, and Sylvie was a year younger, and they lived with Herr and Frau Gibis in the only apartment on the first floor, behind the pastry shop.

Marcus and Sylvie and I became fast and great friends. I could tell oodles of stories of our many outside adventures, including the ones about how Marcus chased me and his sister with daddy longlegs. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The story on my mind right now is The One Where We Got Into The Bug Spray. You see, adjacent to the back of our apartment complex and beyond a low chainlink fence brooded this squat, square, white building with a fire escape. (The fire escape figures into yet another tale, as does the chainlink fence, but again, that is neither here nor there right now.)

In this squat, square, white building lived an old woman. I suppose now that she must not have been very old at all — probably between 40 and 50 years of age — but to us children (we were now 10, 10, and 9, respectively), she seemed ancient. I only ever caught a couple of glimpses of her, and my only memory of her is long, dark hair in a bun, and shoulders wrapped in a fringed shawl. But Marcus and Sylvie must have seen her more often than I did, because they said her name was Maria and she didn’t like children.

It quite possible that Marcus and Sylvie were making this up.

Anyway, we were fascinated and terrified. Maria didn’t like children; ergo, we qualified as unlikeable. There was a chainlink fence — obviously, a barrier we were not meant to cross. Mystery, darkness, and danger lurked at this far end of the apartment complex. The lure of the squat, square, white building was irresistible.

I don’t know where Sylvie was on that fateful day, but she wasn’t with us when Marcus and I climbed over the chainlink fence, our hearts thudding wildly in our small chests, our eyes darting over our shoulders again and again in case A Parent should suddenly appear. But, undaunted by fear or threat of parental disapproval, Marcus and I scaled the fence (it was all of four feet high) and found ourselves on terra incognita: Maria’s backyard.

Eerie light filtered down through leaves overhead. An unnatural hush descended, as though even the birds were shocked into silence by our audacity. We were shocked into silence by our audacity. The air felt heavy.

The shed beckoned.

It was squat, square, and wooden, with a tin roof and all sorts of gardening implements leaning against its rickety frame. My memories progress as though I’m flipping through photographs, and the next picture shows Marcus and me, not entering the shed, but inside the shed, and Marcus is holding a sort of pressurized pump can, and we’re deep in the fantasy of marauders surrounding us, barring our escape, shouting for us to give up and come out, there’s nowhere left to run, and Marcus and I are looking at each other with huge, excited eyes, and we know that this moment is The Grandest Adventure EVER.

Meanwhile, the marauders were advancing. They were at the door. They were breaking in. We defended ourselves with the only weapons available: magic sleep-dust spray guns — what else?

Of course, when we got back to our side of the backyard universe (not having had the guts to approach the squat, square, white building proper, defeated marauders notwithstanding), the fantasy quickly broke into smithereens when The Parents smelled not magic sleep-dust on our clothes but insecticide, with which we had sprayed not only the imaginary marauders, but also each other, and generously. Because, as anyone with half a brain can tell you, magic sleep-dust magically turns into a restorative and palliative powder when used on a friend instead of against a slavering, primitive marauder.

I don’t remember what happened to Marcus, but I got a spanking and an afternoon in the bathtub, being scrubbed down with great vigor by my mother, who was not impressed.

That was our first adventure centered around Maria’s squat, square, white house…but it was not to be our last.

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 3 Recovery, Pt. 1

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: Lightning has just struck my brain.

Sometimes, my darlingest readers, lightning-esque is exactly how apostrophes happen. They’re pretty cramazing when they happen, but I must admit they do leave one somewhat stupefied with shock.

In Pt. 1 of my Confessions, I told of how I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2, I told why I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2.5, I delved deep and revealed the fear at the foundation of the whys.

As I thought ahead to today’s post, my mind supplied the working title “Pt. 3,” and I fully expected to write the drama, the tears, and the heartache that would go along with it.

But then, my lovelies, I had an apostrophe epiphany. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

In the Beginning

Birthday in Germany With Kitchen Gift, age 3

In the beginning, I was two weeks shy of my 3rd birthday, and my parents and I moved from McKinney, Texas (where I was born), to Darmstadt, Germany.

At this point in the story, my listeners usually ask, “Was your dad military?”

Well, once-upon-a-time, he was. But that was back in the ’60s. We moved to Germany in 1980 — so, no, we weren’t a military family by this point.

“Oh, then your parents were missionaries?”

No. Not that, either. And here’s where I usually reveal the reason for our trans-Atlantic emigration…but this time, I want to wait a bit before I tell you. Bear with me.

Point of No Postponed Return

Originally, my parents intended to stay in Germany for 5 years. Sometime in Year 3, the three of us spent an afternoon at the “Woog,” a lake down the street from our apartment. As my parents watched me play, Daddy turned to Mama and asked, “If we left now, moved back to the States, what would you miss the most?”

Mama thought for a moment, then said, “The Autobahn.”

Read: German highway system with speed limits only in small, designated areas.

That little exchange took place in 1983. The subject of leaving Germany didn’t come up again until it was time for my parents to retire in 2007.

Growing Up “Multi-Kulti”

No, “multi-kulti” has nothing to do with cults. It’s a short form of the German word for “multi-cultural,” which is how I lived and breathed from age 3 until…well, until now, because multi-cultural is a permanent facet of who I am. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is, I grew up in Germany. My parents enrolled me in German Kindergarten 6 months after we arrived. I learned German from my teacher, Frau Apfelrock (Mrs. Appleskirt [yes, really]), and from the other kids. When it came time to start 1st grade, I went to a German elementary school. My German high school career began with a change to a “Gymnasium” (ask me about that sometime) at the start of 7th grade, and it ended with my “Abitur” (ask later) during the last semester of 13th grade.

At age 19, I moved to Oklahoma to go to university. Then I got married. Graduated. Moved back to Germany to work fulltime with a small church. Had grand adventures. Learned. Had terrible heartaches. Grew. Moved back to Oklahoma at age 31. And so forth.

For now, consider that brief summary of my life as a backdrop. Playing itself out in the foreground, we have what I’ve blogged about over the last few weeks:

  • developing unhealthy beliefs about God and about my self
  • fearing that God and others would reject me for my art (painting and writing)
  • giving up my creativity in order to gain approval, to which I was (am?) addicted
  • consciously acknowledging my fears and determining to overcome them.

All of this against the backdrop of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual, trans-Atlantic, resource-filled life and lifestyle.

*sigh*

APOSTROPHE!!!

Bill Weger in My Fair Lady

And now that I’ve painted for you this picture of my life, I’ll tell you the punchline. The epiphany that knocked me flat as I wrote my Confessions and thought ahead to what was going to be “Part 3.”

Are you ready?

Here goes:

The reason my parents moved our entire life to Germany in 1980 was so that my dad could pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime opera singer.

Did you catch that?

Let me say it again:

My parents sacrificed an entire way of life, everything they had always known, in order to move to the other side of the world and pursue a creative dream.

Chills pass through my body from head to toe as I write that sentence.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Um.

Am I an idiot?

Really having a hard time not calling myself stupid right now.

Bill Weger in Aida

People, are you hearing what I’m saying?! I grew up with parents who gave up EVERYTHING* for the sake of CREATIVITY!!! They might have been afraid of the unknown. They might have been afraid of the chaos of moving and setting up a new life in an alien culture — or, rather, in a culture in which they were the aliens. Sure, they were scared of that. I’ve heard them talk about it.

But they did it anyway.

And here’s what they were not afraid of. They were not afraid of others’ rejection. They chose the creative dream over the security of others’ approval.

I have lived with their example right in front of me my entire life.

And even though I have seen it and known it and acknowledged it, the magnitude of it did not hit me until last week.

Forest for The Trees

Of all humans, I’ve gotta be one of the blindest.

On the other hand, maybe this is synchronicity at work once more.

I’ve had my apostrophe at age 34. My parents — two incredibly cramazing people!!! — packed up their lives and struck out for creative adventure when they were 37 and 34.

It worked for them.

It’s gonna work for me, too. I just have to recover from my stupefied shock first.

Mama, Daddy — thanks for being who you are. You are truly two of the most incredible human beings I know.

_________________________________
*EVERYTHING except Daddy’s 1972 Porsche 914; that, they shipped to Germany. ; )

Bill Weger in Wiener Blut (Viennese Spirit)