Engineers

Several years ago, I worked for a machine manufacturing company owned by an Italian holding company (owned by a woman). Mr. C–, a man from a famous Milanese family with ties to the House of Grimaldi, headed the holding company. At a Christmas dinner one year, my husband and I were seated at Mr. C–’s table. Small talk fluttered around television shows, and Mr. C– said, “Why so many police and doctor shows?” He turned to his wife. “Engineers are just as sexy, aren’t we, darling?” Mrs. C– patted her husband’s forearm and said, “Engineers are boring, dear.” We all laughed. Mr. C–, in true boss fashion, laughed the boldest.

At a company dinner party.

Surely a program about engineers could captivate an audience. Imagine a diverse team of sexy engineers, an Asian woman, a West African man, and a South American gent of indigenous and European ancestry. A pharmaceutical company’s late-stage-customization packaging line is down. Vaccine end-users depend on production and logistics adhering to tight schedules. Actually, life on earth depends on the team getting a malfunctioning printing unit operating 24/7 again. Hear the clock ticking? Now, add in complications: the team must work in clean conditions, but the Asian woman is an amateur equestrian, and she’s been exposed to an unknown pathogen at the luxury stable where she boards a gorgeous black Trakehner stallion; the South American’s running shoe has a bit of dog poo on it—in his rush to make his flight, he laced on the compromised shoes. And our West African engineer has the jitters. En route to the crippled manufacturing plant—in a hot and steamy location—his dear mother’s messaging about his cousin’s engagement to a surgeon. “When,” she asks, “are you planning to settle down with a lovely young lady, preferably a doctor or lawyer?” Not anytime soon, groan. He’s in love with the long-distance runner (that long black glossy hair! Those broad shoulders!) Tricky repairs and tight conditions in situ give our love angel the sweats, especially when the runner shares a secret. He’s in love with the equestrian (who, we learn, loves animals more than people).

Our team is turning to excessive energy drink consumption.

Sounds like a hit, right?

My dad studied chemical engineering. Fresh out of college, he worked for a petroleum company, a job he hated. “I never got to do the work I loved,” he explained. “I managed people.” He decided flying planes better suited him and joined the air force. A man in uniform, he wooed my mom.

When I was a toddler, Dad returned to school, doing his graduate work in industrial engineering. The air force then put him to work in procurement.

On the campus of Dad’s alma mater, Texas Tech, 1963.

At forty-five, Dad retired from military service, joined a civilian company, and moved into contracts and negotiations. (The math geek also knew his grammar. His dad, a journalist and editor, came from a family that had owned small-town newspapers and a printing company.) I recall a time Dad thrilled at having saved his company “millions” by using precise contract language. “Their lawyers tried cracking our terms and failed!” Dad would have chuckled over an employee dispute that made the news recently. Due to a missing comma, a company had to pay out on its employment contracts.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Dad memories. Working on a DIY assignment from Mom, he measured a 2 x 4 to cut into lengths. “Ah, hah,” he said, tucking his pencil behind his ear. He stared at the board, nodded to himself, and reached for the pencil again. At the top of the board, he scribbled out a mathematical equation. He scratched his head with the eraser and scribbled more. “Right, right,” he kept saying to himself. Soon, equations covered the 2–meter length of the board. He straightened, stepped back, and smiled. “Well, well,” he said to me, “the old engineer’s still got it!”

He then cut the board into the wrong lengths.

Pockets

The other day, I was tidying up our bedroom and came across a brown wool cardigan my late mother-in-law had knitted for her husband. For some reason, she ended up wearing the cardigan herself. It doesn’t button up and it has two pockets. I remember her wearing it around the house frequently. When she passed away, my father-in-law took to wearing the cardigan himself around the house and in the garden. It held up well. When he passed away, the cardigan came to me.

I’m surprised I still have it, actually. I’m surprised none of the kids have taken possession of it. I can imagine one of my daughters treasuring it—possibly even my son. There’s a small hole in the right arm. I can imagine it got snagged on one of my father-in-law’s roses. He had one planted in the garden that he’d taken from his childhood home; the original rose had belonged to his mother. He always talked with a great deal of love for his mother. I never met her. Sadly, she died when my husband was a teen.

My father-in-law kept a small watercolor hanging behind his desk of a cavalry soldier astride a handsome horse. “I had a horse like that, once, when I was in the military,” he told me. An Oldenburg, a German warmblood originally bred as carriage horses, they often had long legs and arching, high-set necks, perked ears and great intelligence. When off duty, the soldiers took their army horses home, and my young father-in-law did so with pride. He considered himself very lucky to have received such a fine mount. His father admired the handsome horse—but required that it earn its keep on the farm.

One day in late summer, while my young father-in-law attended school, the horse was hitched to a wagon used for the potato harvest and taken out into the fields. The elegant warmblood detested horseflies, and when one bit him, he bolted. Across the field, down the road, and through the cobblestone center of Zofingen, the horse galloped. I picture the wagon careening dangerously behind him—its load of potatoes long scattered. It ran until it either exhausted its fear or energy.

My father-in-law’s father wasn’t amused by the incident—luckily no one was injured. “I returned the horse to command the very next day,” my father-in-law told me, shaking his head. Most of us have known what it’s like to hold something we prize and admire only to have it slip away.

This morning, I put on that brown cardigan, and when my hands went into the pockets, my fingers found an ironed and folded handkerchief. It’d belonged to my mother-in-law who’s been gone nearly 20 years, now. She always carried a handkerchief—kept a stack of them in a cabinet by the dining table. How many years did my father-in-law wear this cardigan, finger the handkerchief as I’m doing, now?

It’s a little bit of heartache, missing my in-laws. Fine people. Fine pockets of memories.

Spiegelei

The Swiss signage for a priority road is a diamond with a thick white border and canary yellow center. When the kids were little, they’d see one and shout, “Spiegelei!”—fried egg in German. Collect the most fried eggs on the drive from A to B, and you win!

Spiegelei!”

I first learned to drive at the age of fourteen. Living in the country—we’d moved to Oregon after my dad retired from the air force—meant I qualified for a learner’s permit. Pass a written test, and I could drive in the company of a licensed adult. My brother was off at college, my sister never around, and Mom and Dad tired of being my driving buddy; soon, I journeyed solo. When I turned sixteen, I could have taken the full drivers exam, but driving course classmates told intimidating stories about malicious examiners. I dawdled. The summer before I left for college, though, Dad was doing insurance paperwork and asked for my license number. I brought him my expired permit, and he paled.

I funked my first driving test by failing to stop at train rails embedded in the street, remnants of an industrial spur that’d been abandoned circa WWII—or was that WWI? To either side of the pavement, not even gravel remained of the old spur. “If I’d stopped,” I argued with the examiner, “the driver behind us might have plowed right into my backend.” The same man failed my second attempt. We were stopped at a traffic light when an ambulance approached. Left of me was a traffic island; right of me, a column of cars. The examiner said I hadn’t “pulled over to allow the ambulance room to pass.” Seriously? On my third attempt, my nerves spiked higher than a cat’s back: I didn’t want the same examiner. I got lucky, even receiving praise for my driving skills. But oh, how my family teased me.

In 1990, I moved to Switzerland. Since I had a valid US license, the canton of Aargau issued me an Ausweis. Legal to drive, I hopped into our Opel, and off I went. Markus and I never went over any rules of the road or signage possibly alien to me, including the European concept of priority roads.

Five years later, we lived on the Île-de-France and Normandy border west of Paris. At a T-intersection one day, a driver turning left cut across my lane. I slammed on my brakes. Luckily, no kids were with me. I complained to Markus about the weird intersection, drivers frequently honking at me there. He paled and said, “Take me to it.”

A fried egg and its vital cousin.

Well, I learned about the fried egg and its vital cousin with the bold black line, informing me when I did or didn’t have priority. All those drivers honking at me? They’d been on the priority road and I should have céder le passage.

Rights of way might not always appear logical. It’s best to understand the signage.

Ordinary

The year I turned twenty-one, the magical age when I could legally drink in the state of Oregon, my sister phoned to congratulate me and tell me how the day wouldn’t be all that special. “It’s just like any other,” she said. “You think you’re going to be different but you’re not.” Her wisdom spoiled the excitement I’d been feeling up to that point, and I wondered why she’d wanted to share such thoughts. I think I can count on one hand the number of times my sister has phoned me—probably the number of times I’ve spoken to her on the phone, too. And I don’t know if that’s because of her or because of me. Perhaps, mutual neglect binds us.

Shortly after that call, though, I set off to classes and to study at the library. On the way back to my room—in a rambling Victorian beauty—I made my first purchase of beer, enough for myself, my roommates, and to celebrate. Other than that purchase, the day turned out as ordinary as my sister had predicted. I didn’t even get drunk.

Her words have cast a long shadow, though. Not altogether dark. I’ve used them to console myself on birthdays considered hard: the shock of turning thirty, the disbelief of turning forty, the dismay of turning fifty, and the denial of turning sixty. The last happened in 2020.

I’ve also thought of them at the start of each new year, especially this one. Appropriate, isn’t it, recalling my sister’s words as the 21st century turns twenty-one?

So little seems to have changed from yesterday to today. Still, in a time when the devil of disaster spins close at hand, contrasts abound. I experienced dread and anxiousness last year, yet every morning, I woke with a tingle, happy to come into another day healthy and unscathed. I lost no one close to me, no family member or friend, but was denied access to them. Their absence made me ache for their company and long for “normal” times. I continued to work, having everything I needed already set up at home, but had to share my space with other family members working at home—their presence comforting. I sent off my stories, sticking to a rigorous schedule I’d created for myself at the prompting of several writers I’d met at the start of the year. Thanks to their encouragement to submit my work, many of my pieces found homes, one even earning a nomination for the prestigious Pushcart.

I’m pinching myself for last year’s personal successes. I’m also right back at my desk, my head down. There’s much work to do.

There are also last-year worries unrelated to the pandemic. Maybe this year is an opportunity for improvement or at least stability. I hope things don’t repeat themselves or worsen—

Ah, I’m being secretive; for that, I apologize; but here’s the lesson: this private concern and the pandemic have taught me that the list of Things Not to Take for Granted burns as long and bright as a comet’s tail. The cosmos of the unknown can be fearfully dark and unfathomable, yet it’s constellated with bright twinkles of hope. Fixations. Destinations.

How extraordinary for the ordinary to radiate so brightly in our lives, every day a pulse of light like any other—yet like no other.

Strawberries

While out on a lockdown walk this spring, I passed by our local schoolhouse and discovered a patch of strawberries. Jutting up from a slew of green leaves, tiny fruits white and plump hung heavily on delicate stems. Several days in a row, I eyed the white fruits, waiting for them to blush and redden. They didn’t. Instead, the fattest simply disappeared. I puzzled several days over the repeated disappearance of the fattest berries before wading into the patch to investigate. Those fat white fruits had shriveled or dropped without ever reddening. Could there be ripe strawberries that stayed white? I picked the plumpest hanging nearby and popped them into my mouth. Yes, yes, yes. Delicious

White strawberries growing wild.

Back home, I opened a search. My laptop screen filled with the images of white strawberries—field- and wild-sized. I grabbed a measuring cup and marched back to the patch.

Every few days, I’d collect whatever had ripened, popping them into the freezer. Frequently, as I picked, an elderly gent, heading to his kitchen garden, passed by. One time, he asked what in the world I was up to.

“Strawberries.” I showed him a handful of my treasures. “Zufällig weisse”; they happened to be white.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Those are green strawberries.”

I smiled and countered, “They’re ripe all right—they just happen to be a white variety.”

He looked at me sadly and shook his head. “Those are green.” From that point on, every time he passed me, he’d give me a curt wave and sad smile.

My nifty find is everbearing, luckily. Owing to our desperately mild fall, they produced berries up through mid-November. As the season deepened, though, I lost an increasing number of berries to juvenile slugs, tiny black commas boring into the fruits’ sweet cores. I didn’t like the competition. Had they been able to realize my presence, I’m sure they would have liked me worse.

Someone with a large dog allowed the animal to do its business in the patch. Once, as I swept my hand over the leaves to expose any hidden berries, I found the body of a common blackbird (Turdus merula). Most likely, it’d flown into one of the school’s large windows, breaking its neck. I watched its decomposition. Once it was down to feathers and bone, something carried it away—maybe that pooping dog, surprising its delinquent owner. A marten was probably the true culprit.

A good week rewarded over a hundred grams of berries, and the season, eking into mid-November as it did, finally yielded my goal: a kilo of frozen fruit, enough for jam-making. Last week, I baked scones, and Markus and I opened a small jar. The flavor is magnificently intense. There’s no mistaking the taste of strawberries, even if the golden-brown color is off-putting. If I were more proud than greedy, I’d take a jar to the elderly gardener who pitied the strange lady picking “green” berries. But I can imagine his reaction without making a sacrifice.

It’d be a shame if someone were to destroy the patch. And not unlikely. So, I brought home runners to transplant in our yard and successfully grew several handfuls of plants from seed. I anticipate spring already, when I can catch next season’s crop from the start.

Considering these strange times, it’s a comfort to be close to something that is simply carrying on in life, its narrative unchanged and unchecked.

Bellyschnabel

My maternal grandfather, born in 1911, grew up in the Texas Hill Country. Granddaddy and his twin brother, Calvin—third or fourth generation Texans, depending on which side of his family you consulted—didn’t learn English until shortly before entering first grade. In their community, everyone spoke Texasdütsch, a dialect of German. When Granddaddy married my grandmother, of English descent, he all but quit speaking Texasdütsch. And during the late 1930s and early 1940s, when my mother and her siblings came along, German wasn’t terribly popular in the US, as you can imagine, so he never taught his children his childhood language.

The Rechenthin children, Clifton, Eva, Clarence, and Calvin—engineer, biologist, soil scientist, and deceased following his sophomore year at Texas A&M.

A few words did trickle down to the grandkids. We reflexively said, “Gesundheit,” when someone sneezed, and we called our bellybutton a “Bellyschnabel.” When I was in college, I met a German exchange student and rattled off my merger German vocabulary, including “Bellyschnabel.” His look of confusion alarmed me. Turns out, my family’s word for bellybutton was just that: a family word.

Granddaddy, a scientist who went jogging every morning at five, suffered a series of strokes when he was in his eighties that began with memory loss. One evening, he returned upset from a course he taught on Texas wildflowers at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He hadn’t been able to recall the Latin name of a specimen—this was a man who’d written a book about Texas wildflowers that’s still in print, who could rattle of a list of names a native herb had and relate any number of tales about it, how, for instance, the Indians had used it and then the settlers. For soap, to dye, or heal a burn.

In the Great Depression, when Doris Hudspeth was a college student, the arrival of a young man to town created quite a stir. He had car. He had a degree. He had a job. What a catch!

Eventually, Granddaddy lost the ability to speak. My grandmother, whom we called GrandDoris, read to him daily, an exercise he enjoyed, but the pleasure of discussing books, music, gardening, and photography was over—until his older sister came to visit. Much to GrandDoris’s astonishment, the siblings struck up a deep conversation; they were speaking Texasdütsch! Around this time, I lived abroad. I’d married to a Swiss native and immersed myself in another German dialect, Schwyzerdütsch. I never got to try out my skills with Granddaddy; he passed away shortly after his conversation with his sister.

Type “Clarence Rechenthin” into a search engine, click on Images, and your screen will fill with photos of wildflowers my granddaddy took during his field work for Texas Soil Conservation Service.

Now, with my understanding of German, I’ve gone back to thinking about that curious word “Bellyschnabel.” By my reckoning, it could be a mash-up of English and Texasdütsch (which itself is quite a mash-up). Having raised three trilingual kids (English, German, and French), I know too well, how mixed languages can get. “Hocken” is the verb the Swiss Germans use for sitting (as do the Pennsylvania Dutch, many of whom have Swiss roots). If our son left a seat for a second and returned to find it occupied, he’d say, “Hey, I was hocking there!” For some reason, I always think of the more vulgar definition of “to hawk” when I hear this construct. (We got a good laugh, anyway, watching Finding Nemo and hearing “Mount Wannahawkaloogie,” the fish-tank volcano’s name.)

(Our eldest daughter holds the Family Polyglot Prize. One evening at the dinner table, she put down her cutlery, pushed away her cleaned plate and said, “I am schon finis!”)

The German word for navel is “Nabel,” so couldn’t “Bellyschnabel” be “belly’s Nabel” with a Germanic-pronunciation twist to better fasten the words together?

Who knows? Sometimes mysteries are best left mystifying.

Moon

On the last day of September, a sunny and warm day, I drove to St. Gallen to pick up a friend being checked out of the hospital there. He’d undergone surgery and had asked if I’d please drive him home so he wouldn’t have to navigate public transportation on crutches or call a taxi; he knows I like getting out and about.

Kantonsspital St.Gallen

A coffee aficionado, he treated me to an Americano and conversation at his favorite café. We caught up and resisted every urge to plan—jettisoning talk about Thanksgiving 2020 and forays to Turin.

Kaffeehaus in St. Gallen on Linsebühlstrasse.

At his place, in Liechtenstein, I pulled out a jar of Bols Genever I’d infused for four weeks with wild blackberries. He’s also a bit of a cocktail maven, and I’d considered throwing in an overnight kit in case I couldn’t resist being plied with drink—but there was work to consider, and I didn’t want to presume packing my laptop, so I didn’t. His mix, one part infused Bols, one part Jensen’s gin, and lemon tonic water, worked. It worked well. We nursed the drink, nibbled on slices of pecorino, and discussed at length what might take the mix to the next level, settling on a sprig of basil. Just as well, we didn’t have basil. I hadn’t packed that overnight kit, mind.

Liechtenstein, above Vaduz from an August visit. Looking at the Mittagspitz and the Rhine Valley, the highway running through.

Heading home well after it’d grown dark, I turned onto the highway onramp. A near full moon peeked out from behind the rugged and handsome Mittagspitz peak, and I gasped at the beauty and surprise of the moment. I wanted to stop and savor the scene and especially what it evoked in me, pleasure, appreciation, and thankfulness for the shores Chance has washed me upon.

Onramps are no place to stop. Only for an emergency should you separate yourself from a highway’s function. So, with a dose of regret, I found my place in the flow of traffic, set cruise control, and enjoyed my journey home as best I could. Highways may not be about pausing to connect or reflect on beauty and blessings, but friends are.

Door

My desk occupies a corner of the living room. I’ve thought about changing to a spare bedroom, but I loathe giving up my garden view. This morning, a larch tree in my sister-in-law’s garden holds back the fog. I’m astonished by how much the tree has grown. Shortly before my arrival in Kaiserstuhl thirty years ago, Markus’s parents built the house and planted the garden, including the larch. The fog astonishes me, too; our summer’s over.

A blocked watercolor of Falaise d’Aval, Étretat, France.

When we first moved into this house, Markus set up his workspace in a cozy corner off the entrance hall. A door separated it from the living area. When left open, the door partially covered a picture we’d hung. We removed the door, storing it in the cellar.

In the first weeks of lockdown, Markus apologized for all his noisy conference calls. Really, he minded my noise. To problem solve, I’ll jump up and tackle small chores. Emptying the dishwasher, washing the windows, or running the vacuum helps me untangle ideas. Working at the office in the city challenges me precisely because I can fetch only so many cups of espresso or glasses of water in a day. I try to preempt my restlessness by walking to the office from the train station, a thirty-minute hoof I repeat at day’s end. I enjoy changing up my route, taking the heavily trafficked road or the leafy apartment-block streets.

One day, I came across Zurich’s slaughterhouse, a 1909 structure arresting in purpose but stunning in design, similar to a train station—terminus for the animals, I guess. An eerily silent place; I assumed it’d been repurposed, but my youngest daughter has a friend who lives in the area. Apparently, she rented out an extra bedroom to a woman who woke in the early hours to the cries of distressed animals and had to move out. The cries become audible only when the wind blows a certain way.

During lockdown, I answered problem-solving urges with brisk walks. I yoked my household tasks to Markus’s calendar, vacuuming or cleaning bathrooms during his call-free hours, until I remembered the door. He quickly rehung it. A simple thing; it brought us much relief.

The morning warms. The fog retreats. Before ten, blue sky appears. Sunlight lands on the larch’s topmost branches and spreads downwards.

This morning’s brisk walk included looking back on my sister-in-law’s house—ours a peep behind it.

Soon, though, the fog will break like a wave over midday. Soon, it’ll swamp the day, leaving the sun a soft, brief buoy. These days, I’m still working from home but solo. Still, the door hangs. It blocks the picture. I’d like to enjoy the picture again, yet the flu season creeps close, and a fresh spread of COVID-19 cases threatens. Perhaps Markus will be working from home regularly again.

Mould

Earlier this month, I defrosted my refrigerator. It’s not a summer job, but a thick slab of ice covered the back wall and had to go. I don’t know why the slab of ice got going or why it grew so fast. In winter, I do the job when temperatures dip below freezing. I fill a laundry basket with the freezer’s contents and set it outside. The contents of the fridge go into a cool box first, the cool box keeping everything from freezing, from curry pastes to heads of lettuce.

The typical Swiss fridge is about one third the size of a typical American fridge. The kitchens here are also much smaller. We have no room for a big fridge, but we have a second one in the cellar. Having a place to keep everything properly chilled or frozen made the August defrosting job possible.

I worked strategically. First, I made room downstairs for the upstairs contents by what I had stored there to use. The frozen wild strawberries made up a kilo, so I made jam. The frozen blackberries went into a crisp. And, once the crisp was baked, I served it with lots of ice cream, freeing up more room. Anything with freezer burns, I dumped, but there wasn’t much ruined. Next, I shifted the upstairs contents downstairs, and as the fridge defrosted, I gave it a good scrub.

Blackberry crisp and vanilla ice cream locally sourced.

Within minutes, the slab of ice began to slip, and I peeled it from the back wall whole and threw it outside. Once everything was tip-top again, I refilled the fridge. While inspecting the contents, I found a jar of jam that had gone off. Lesions of mould spotted the jellied surface. The mould looked as if I could simply scrape it off, but there’s more to mould than what you see, and some are harmful.

Gschwellti, a meal made more delicious with the help of friendly moulds.

I remember being introduced to Gschwellti, steamed potatoes served with a selection of Swiss, French, and Italian or Spanish cheeses, soft, hard, medium. Pasteurised, unpasteurised. Goat, cow, buffalo. Soft rinds, hard rind, and blue. I was new to the culture of cheese eating, familiar with some but not half of what my mother-in-law served, and I didn’t know all of which in the selection could be eaten with their rinds on. I observed how those around me handled each before trying anything myself. When my mother-in-law found a mouldy hard-cheese surface, she simply scarped it off, which astonished me. I probably would have thrown away the whole cheese.

There are moulds and there are moulds. Some are dangerous. Most reach deep.

Place

At a birthday gathering in my brother- and sister-in-law’s garden, family and friends sit well apart, enjoying a respite from lockdown. Kaiserstuhl’s medieval city walls rise four meters above us. Markus and I know this three-family complex well. Thirty years ago, we moved into its maisonette apartment, our first, and our three children were born in the back bedroom. (Yes, home births. I’d tell people, “I’m not sick or injured—I’m pregnant.” Each went smoothly and quickly—our son’s going so smoothly and quickly that he was in Markus’s arms before the midwife arrived.)

I recall moving out—Markus had accepted a job transfer to the Isle de France. As the moving van’s doors were being clamped shut, it occurred to me that the longest I’d ever lived in one place was here, on the Rheingasse; I was thirty-five years old.

After four years in France, we decided to return to Switzerland. At first, we considered moving to the French-speaking region or closer to the Alps, but I yearned for Kaiserstuhl. A military brat, I wanted my children to have what I never had: roots and a sense of place. I wanted them to grow up among grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The garden party laughs. My brother-in-law, the birthday boy, begins describing a balancing exercise. At our age (creeping close to retirement) it’s important to practice, he explains. “Try standing on one leg as you brush your teeth.” Noticing me nod, he grins. “Once you get the hang of it, Meredith, try closing your eyes—and good luck!”

My sister-in-law offers me a bowl of fresh, local strawberries, more wine, and another slice of birthday cake. Stories about growing up here in Kaiserstuhl eddy around me, and I’m captivated. I didn’t grow up knowing community like my husband and his family and friends do. I knew only a culture, a military culture—one in flux. Expedient connections lasted briefly. If I wasn’t just arriving or leaving, my new best friend was.

When recalling the past, my family doesn’t ask when something happened. We ask where it happened—where being the anchor to each when. Most of my former neighbors, classmates, and teachers remain in my memory as if suspended in a bell jar.

My past is a shelf of jars.

The sun is setting. Evening shadows chill the air. The garden party ends. Markus and I walk home, the wine a-swirl in our steps. I’m thinking that making a life in one place sure feels like an accomplishment. “Do you realize,” I say to him, “we are now the age your parents were when I first arrived in Kaiserstuhl?”