Hit and Run – 8

Lou showed up at Margaret’s apartment one afternoon with a bag wrapped in yellowing paper.

“What’s this?”

He held the package out, insistent. “You know, you’re one of the few people I’ve ever talked to about my twin brother.” His voice stumbled a little bit over the last three words. “The other day I was cleaning out some old boxes, and I found this. I thought, because you’ve cared so much about all my stories about him, well, I wanted you to have it. You’re the only person who’s ever really listened.”

Margaret pulled off aged butcher paper to reveal a stack of laminated post cards. The top one had a photograph of the Eiffel Tower. Parisians wearing red or black berets slouched underneath the building’s lacy metal work. She shuffled through the rest of the post card stack and saw they were all from European cities.

Some were major cities with iconic images. On the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling God was prepared to touch Adam’s limpid figure. A British bobby waved a nightstick from the front of Buckingham Palace as a double-decker bus turned a corner. Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle rose in wintry German snows.

Other cards were from places less familiar, or ones Margaret had only remotely heard of. Men in Swiss lederhosen blew 15′ long wooden horns as impossibly high Alpine peaks soared up into the skies in the background. The geometrically tiled turrets and arches of the Alhambra palace stood in graceful rows. Margaret knew Budapest city in Hungary, but she’d never heard of the mineral baths of Marianske Lázne in Czechoslovakia. She did recognize the card was from before the country’s Velvet Revolution and peaceful divorce.

All of the cards were blank.

“When Joey died and we finally got around to organizing his things, we found these in a drawer. He’d collected postcards of places he was going to go visit. Not getting to go was the beginning of the end.” Lou saw Margaret’s stricken face. “Not literally, of course,” he added quickly. “Just… All that damned curiosity! It’s such a shame his body held him back. With the rest of us, it’s just fear that stops us.”

Margaret found herself nodding her head, agreeing with Lou. “You’re right! I used to say I’d like to go traveling, but I never did. It’s just something I put off for someday. You know, hearing about your brother makes me want to get off my butt and go start really living.”

Lou hugged her. “Yeah, but then life hits. Real life gets in the way.”

Margaret began to share deeper parts of herself. She took Lou out to Scupper Lake and told him about her long talks with her sisters. After walking around the lake they sat on the edge of the pier. Margaret had a handful of flat rocks. As they talked, she idly skipped them one at a time at the lake. Without exception they skimmed a long ways before finally sinking. “Here,” she offered, holding the ones that were left out to Lou.

He refused to take them. “I’m no good at that. But,”

“Joey?” she offered.

Lou nodded. “Joey got really good at it one summer! Christ, he sat at the edge of a pond in his wheel chair and practiced for a week without stopping! The great thing about being terminally ill is, no activity you can do is too small or insignificant.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Death by Yawning

Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.

Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…

Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. [1]

Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.

The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. [2]

Fishing nets, Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla. [3] The spot is incredibly atmospheric.

It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)

What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.

Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited. [4] Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.

A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.

My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.

NOTES: [1] https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit. [2] Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck [3] Latvia Ethnographic Museum  [4] For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.