Archive for November 2nd, 2011

“Do you think you’ll ever try living in another country?” is one of the prompts suggested by the Post-a-Day project, and it’s one that speaks to my heart, particularly at this time of year.

I probably would not ever have thought in terms of “trying” to live in another country, but in fact — I did, a very long time ago.  Some people could argue that it wasn’t “legitimately” living in another country, since my husband was in the military and was stationed in Germany, but they would be wrong.  At that time, only career military personnel could live in base housing.  There were a limited number of flats “on the economy” that were contracted through the Armed Forces for junior officers (lieutenants and non-career captains who were married), and non-career enlisted personnel who were married were either separated for the man’s entire tour of duty, or they found housing on the economy for themselves.  We fell into this last category, since, for reasons I will never understand, my college-educated husband was enlisted.

Fortunately, he spoke German, so was able to find a place for us with no trouble.  I did not speak a word of German.  After three months of not understanding what was going on around me, I enrolled in an evening college course in German language and grammar.  It helped that my husband had also enrolled in an evening course, for his Master’s degree in psychology.

For the first year of our marriage, we did do many things on base, notably laundry and grocery shopping.  We never attended church on base; my husband just liked the German Mass better, and I came to appreciate the spare beauty of the hymns, and eventually, the theology expressed in them.  But half the time the base laundromat was out of order, and most of the time the “fresh” meat and produce at the commissary was plain awful, so bit by bit, I began transferring my business to a more local venue.  Grocery shopping was something we did together — my German was still very limited, at that point — but I could handle the laundry by myself:  I’d load my laundry basket onto the back of  my bicycle, secure it with bungee straps just like all the locals, and pedal off a mile or so into downtown where the laundromat was located.

I still remember when “the light bulb went on.”  I was sitting in the laundromat, listening to the ladies chit-chatting about whatever, and, bored out of my mind, I picked up a ladies’ magazine that was lying around and began to skim through it.  And suddenly it dawned on me:  I could read this.  I was actually understanding it!  Not all of it, of course, but enough that I began to buy this magazine for myself, and to skim through the articles, picking up more and more German on the way.  (It helped that there were great recipes.)

As my fluency increased, so did my social contacts; finally, during the last year we lived there, we were like any of the rest of the locals, commuting to and from work by bicycle, purchasing our groceries every day, spending our Saturdays at our favorite city haunts and our Sundays, after church, touring the countryside and indulging in Kaffeetrinken (afternoon coffee) before heading home.  One of our great pleasures was singing; not only were we members of the church choir, but we also joined a “Song Club” (Gesangverein), where I learned some of the most beautiful folk music I have ever heard.  How can you resist “the beautiful, shy hour of creation” as a description for the first hours of daybreak?  Or the fun of learning that although “the devil has many arts — he can’t sing”?

It took me twenty years to re-accustom myself to life in the USA.  And a corner of my heart will always consider Germany “home”:  It was where I came alive, came into my truest self.  It was where I learned to sing.

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