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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dining on the Other Side

I mentioned a week or two ago that Barbara’s father has been ill. He was taken to an ER but was released again, having had his medications balanced to improve his kidney function. I pronounced him on the mend, ignoring the fact that he newly under hospice care; funny how we deceive ourselves. Hans passed away last Saturday. My first response was “But… but… he can’t go, I was going to visit him!”

Over the years I visited with Hans and his wife Irmgard a hundred times, spending many Christmases, holidays and non-holidays enjoying their company and hospitality. In ‘the old days’ they lived in Cotati California and I’d hunker down in the kitchen, looking at Irmgard’s extensive house plant collection, which made me think she and my mother would have gotten along quite well. I would chat with Hans or Irmgard, my attention occasionally distracted by the hummingbirds flitting around the little nectar feeder just outside the dining room window. I loved asking Hans to tell me about his childhood in Germany, near Poland. If Hans behaved himself he was given a treat of goose fat on brown bread. The first time I heard that story I laughed myself silly! My first thought was ‘how bad a boy would you have to be to have to eat goose fat!’ Then Hans explained that the fat tasted rich and savory butter and when spread like butter on dense, grain filled German brown bread, it was a wonderful treat. I felt a little disappointed – was I a bad little girl, never having had goose fat on brown bread?

That was such a long time ago. There were lots of pets at the old house back then. Tiny yappy dogs with names like Lumphi, the world’s second ugliest Chihuahua, and Tina, more cats than there were probably names for. Most of them were animals kept because Hans was a veterinarian and sometimes he kept animals that owners didn’t want any more or abandoned rather than pay their vet bills.

Bismarck was my old friend, a massive black Great Dane. I used to walk through the gardens with him. Sometimes he would lean on me and I’d topple over. That old dog was like a trained martial arts master, who knew just when to lean into you at your point of unbalance, making you keel over. I swear when I would look up at him from the ground, on my butt, he would grin at me.

There was one holiday I remember, I knocked on the door by the side of the house and as I stood there, I noticed I could hear a strange sound like a pony galloping. The door cracked, an arm shot out and I was pulled into the house by the shear strength of Irmgard’s arm! She slammed the door shut behind me just as an enormous ‘WHOOMP!’ hit the door from outside, making the door shake so hard the little Christmas bells on it were jingling.

“What was that?” I asked, stunned but amused. I could hear thunderous barking on the other side of the door.

“That is Bismarck!” said Barbara’s Mother. “He has grown deaf now and his sight has grown worse, so now he bites first and asks questions later.”

My poor old dog friend had grown old, much as many of the people I love are now doing. Great Danes are old at 8 and 9 years old. While it is true people live a lot longer, it is also true seventy years can pass in a nanosecond when you admit to yourself, your aunts, uncles, godparents are ‘getting on’ in years and your little cousins, nieces and nephews have children who before you know it will have children of their own. Same for your friends and their families.

I always enjoyed our chats Hans and I know there will be plenty of good goose fat on brown bread for you on the other side.

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