I’m not alone in having food trigger an involuntary memory, although it wasn’t Proust’s madeleine that did the trick for me. My time-travel experience happened when I read a post detailing a blogging friend’s experiments making pretzel rolls. Boom, I was back in Germany visiting my aunt.
I’m an Army brat and my childhood took place in two very different settings: my German grandparents’ home and US Army life at Patch Barracks near Stuttgart.
Returning to Germany was bittersweet. It was magical, really, to be surrounded by so much that was foreign yet still comfortingly familiar. And it was sad to feel the absence of my long-gone grandparents, the Oma und Opa, who were such a joyful part of my childhood.
We traveled to Germany to celebrate our 20th anniversary and on the itinerary was a visit to my aunt, the Tante Elfriede (pronounced Ell-free-da.) She was a favorite relative of mine as a child; I remembered her as warm, funny, and playful. And very beautiful.
Thirty years had elapsed since I’d last seen her and she was still beautiful and kind. I was nervous about our first meeting. Would she like me? Would we be stiff and uncomfortable with one another? Never fear. As we approached the house, she came out from around the back and cried, “Ach Gott, das lumpenmensch!” and hugged me warmly. And suddenly the memory of her nickname for me flooded back after all those years. Note: it means rag man. I guess we’d say something “you little ragamuffin.” Whatever. Some things just don’t translate.
We overcame the language barrier with a combination of my rusty fourth-grade German, Beloved Husband’s excellent vocabulary (he knows a lot of German words but cannot string them together,) and gestures.
Let’s just say this about the visit: there’s a lot of power in genes. Tante was an uncanny blend of my mother and my long-dormant memories of my Oma. Her mannerisms and facial expressions were so exactly like my mother’s that BH and I would look sidelong at each other: “Do you believe this?”
Early our last morning there, we awoke to a beautifully set breakfast table and a carafe full of fresh coffee. Tante, however, was nowhere to be found.
So we sat sipping coffee and studying the atlas she had placed on the table planning that day’s travels. It wasn’t long before she came pedaling up on her bicycle with a bag full of German broetchen. She had gotten up early and biked to the village bakery to buy the freshest possible for us. This because BH had casually mentioned how much he loves them.
After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and as we prepared to leave, both of us knowing it was probably the last time we’d see each other, Tante Elfriede handed me a bag for lunch. Hugs, kisses, and a tear or two, and off we went headed into the Black Forest.
We stopped for lunch hours later at one of those beautiful roadside scenic areas abundant in Germany. And Tante had packed us sandwiches made from buttered pretzel rolls, filled with the loveliest fresh salami which had warmed and softened into the bread during the morning’s drive and little paper-thin slices of cucumber. There was a bottle of fruity red wine and apples, I remember.
Can a pretzel broetchen convey love and care? I think so. I wonder if my dear Tante could have imagined as she was preparing those sandwiches for us that we would remember and be grateful for them twenty years on. Surely not.
Do we ever really grasp how much impact our smallest gestures can have?
How about you? Is there a time-travel food for you?
Thanks for reading,