b. Lemförde, Germany, 1930
The side door shuts behind us. My Opa takes my hand and we walk down Main Street together. We walk past the blacksmith shop, past Town Hall. We cross a little bridge that spans the creek.
I always had to stop here. I loved the sound of the water splashing over the rocks. Opa let me pick some little white berries that looked like beads. I would lay them on the ground, stomp on them with my feet until they popped.
Our garden had an iron gate. I could look through the grillwork, down the straight path lined with strawberry vines. At the end of the path was a redroofed gazebo.
For me, it was paradise. Here my grandfather—my Opa—and I became a team, co-workers and best of all, friends. There was a sandbox he built for me, right next to the gazebo. Inside the gazebo were the garden tools and a round table with two iron chairs.
The garden was about two or three acres of level ground, rich in minerals and sandy-soft in texture. Our harvest was always plentiful. New white potatoes, cabbages, carrots, leeks, and plenty of kale. Berries there were—strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants—the sweetest fruit I can remember. Fruit trees—pear, apple, plum—yellow and purple. All of it was allowed to ripen to its fullest flavor. Our root cellar was always filled to overflowing. We gave to those who were needy.
For Opa and me in the late 1930s, the garden was, indeed, more than paradise—it was our salvation. He was no longer permitted to conduct his cattledealing business. I was no longer allowed to attend public school. In the garden, we felt happy, safe and productive.
When I return to the German town of Schermbeck now, I can still walk down Main Street. I can still cross the little bridge, still hear the water babble. The bush bearing the little white berries still grows. Only now when I get to the spot where the garden gate once waited to be opened, there is just sidewalk and a path leading to someone's front door. There are no more lined strawberry paths, and the gazebo is gone.
But the taste of the fruits is still on my tongue. The joy of those moments in our garden lingers on.