Of Stories & Connections
One of my house plants – they all survived – has brand new, bright green new shoots. My kids put their tracksuit pants on, and all pairs they seem to own are hovering above the ankle; they fit before we left, like their shoes that are now a bit tight. Our basement has gone and in its place, is the freshly tiled and painted space for the new kitchen. This little house we’ve been in nearly two years now, keeps shape-shifting as our needs do. The hydrangeas have their Knospen and while it’s nothing but rain forecast for the next ten days, it’s rain and ten degrees and that’s about 12 more than what it was when we left. A month away, hidden away in the gum trees for most of it, and life has pushed on.
A week or so of feeling a bit funny always folllows a trip back home. It’s jetlag, a weary dragging of self back into real life and a kind of emotional disturbance that comes from spending time with the other side of the world. It’s a good emotional disturbance, mostly, one that breeds gratitude once you have wrestled with it long enough and felt the sadness of not being there to help out or hold hands. Sunlight helps, but there’s not much of it this time of year.
This trip felt like I suppose the next couple will, as the children grow and become more able to connect the dots of their widespread family: more emotional. Australia is now a place they connect with on their own level, a place and the home of people they will develop their own relationships with, indepedent of me. I once read an article that said telling children stories of their family and history helps build their self esteem – it is thus a good thing my mother is a walking encyclopaedia of our family history – and it felt very much this trip that a big part of my job was to pass on stories of people and places to whom and which my children are connected.
How lucky they are.
Our neighbour dropped off our mail, bills and reminders and the most recent village magazine. I like reading the village magazine, it makes me feel part of this place when I recognise people in the photos. And it helps understand a village that has been around since something like 1220. I love reading about the little groups that meet to speak Plattdeutsch or what the volunteer Feuerwehr has been up to.
Bleary-eyed and a few coffees in the other day, I came across a story. Last year, somewhere in the village, a plaque was dedicated to four allied soldiers who were shot by the Gestapo on the 29th of March, 1944. One of the soldiers was an Australian. I did a little digging, like I always do when I stumble across a war story featuring an Australian. His name was James Catanach. He was captured at the Danish border, along with New Zealander Arnold George Christensen and the Norwegians Halldor Espelid and Nils Jorgen Fuglesang. They were part of a mass breakout from a prisoner of war camp in present-day Poland days earlier (the breakout the film The Great Escape is based on) and were headed for Denmark, but were arrested as they attempted to cross the border. Police handed them over to Kiel’s Gestapo, who said they would take them back to the camp they had escaped from. Just outside of Kiel, in our village, they were taken out to a field and executed. James, a bomber pilot, and reportedly one of Australia’s youngest squadron leaders, was 22 years old.
I’m going to go and find the plaque, find where an Australian died 75 years ago, for the same reason that when we lived in the city, I would often go to the Commonwealth Cemetary. I know history is so full of these stories and I know the earth holds the bones of so many – but I find, in my life here in Germany, these stories from a time that sent the world reeling for generations, from a time I am still connected to through my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, are a hard reminder of the causality of this world, of the clear lines from one person’s story to another. And of how lucky some of us are, to have time and place favour us at the same time.