Return to Sender

Today – the middle of the month of April – not one but two Christmas cards I mailed off (both on the 17th of December) came back to me.

They carry yellow stickers. Return to Sender. Not Deliverable as Addressed. Unable to Forward.

One is a card for a friend I worked with in San Francisco in the early 1980s. We were secretaries in the Marketing Department of what at that time was a national-wide not-for-profit insurance company. Those were heady days, of alcoholic lunches when the bosses took you out at noon and you returned to the office several hours and many rounds later. After work, life meant meeting friends for drinks or beers at the neighborhood bars, and more restaurants and cultural events than you could count. I was in my twenties and living in ‘the big city’ for the first time.

San Francisco was a candy store, and I was a wide-eyed child with a big appetite.

The second returned Christmas card is addressed to the retired librarian from the University of Washington Health Services. I worked at UW in the late 1980s. I was going to massage school in my spare time, and my friend was keenly interested in what I was doing, as she was in anything to do with the world of healing. Traditional or alternative medicine: she always wanted to know more. She suggested we do a trade. I gave her massages right there in her office at lunch time. [1] She did document searches for me, tracking down peer-reviewed medical journal articles about massage in the days when massage was still a dicey career choice. (I was asked more times than I care to count what the name of the massage parlor was where I planned to ‘work’.) (Hah. Hah. Hah.)

My friend the librarian ran a working farm. We also traded those massage sessions in her office for packages amounting to half a lamb each spring. Once she snuck in a package of goat meat. “But how do I cook goat meat?” I protested.

“Really? Congratulations, Jadi. This is what people eat in a lot of places in the world. Figure it out!” I passed THAT package along to friends when I went to visit them. The husband is one of the best cooks I know, and Jim would have a solution. [2]

So here I am, firmly settled in Germany with my Swabian husband. I send out yearly Christmas cards along with a letter and a current photo taken by Uwe [3]. It’s my annual production, each letter hand stamped with glittery snowflakes. Because my mom made the most wonderful Christmas cards in the world. She had a husband and three very active little girls, and her cards were magic.

Mom would recruit us to help her color in the cards. I don’t know if this hand-painted card smeared then or later
I won’t even bother mentioning the decade that this card was made in. If you have to ask, you weren’t there…. Of course, it goes without saying that Mom sewed the dresses we’re wearing

My own, less clever Christmas cards are a way to remain connected to my mom’s tradition. And the cards are my way to remain connected, if I can, even if just one day out of the year, with the people who were in my life in various places at various times. Each of them helped me with their friendships more than they’ll ever know. Each year a few cards come back, and another friend has dropped from my life.

I still miss and love them all. [4]

NOTES: [1] I clearly evolved from those boozy San Francisco lunches. But man, I miss them! [2] Jim braised the goat meat and made stew. It was yummy. [3] Every single year, shortly before December, you will hear me mutter this: “God damn it, Uwe! I ask you on every vacation to ‘Take a photo that will be perfect for my Christmas letter!’ Just once I’d like to have a photograph from one of our trips picked out and ready to go for Christmas! Just once!” [4] Now I know what to tell people in next year’s cards. © Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos and images © property of Jadi Campbell. To see Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, and Grounded. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was named a semifinalist for the 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award. My short story collection The Trail Back Out was named 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

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

 

 

Duck Duck Goose or The Animal Kingdom: A Paddling

One of my favorite places to be is on water, scanning for bird life

November 11th, or 11/11, is an odd German holiday known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag).  St. Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) is a saint associated with modesty and altruism (aren’t they all?). Legend has it that St. Martin slashed his cloak in half to save a homeless person from freezing. His holiday used to be followed by a fast that lasted a long, hungry period of weeks, stretching out to Christmas. [1]

But St. Martin’s Day is celebrated here in southern Germany by eating a special dish of duck or goose (Martinsgans), accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apple, and homemade dumplings known as knödel.

When it gets dark, nighttime glows with candles from lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge). The streets fill with adults, accompanying children who carry hand-made lanterns. In our village the procession is led by an actor dressed up as the saint. In some areas the  parade follows behind an actor dressed up as a Roman soldier on horseback. [2]

The tradition to eat a goose (today usually replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is believed to go back the medieval tax system. November 11th was one of the days when medieval vassals had to pay taxes, and peasants often paid with a goose. [3] Another popular story is that a gaggle of honking geese betrayed Martin’s hiding place: he hid in a goose pen from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop. [4]

Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston’s Public Park. I love the little kid playing among the ducklings

All the local restaurants and beer gardens have duck and goose dishes on their menus. Reserve your table now! they cajole.

***

In all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never ordered or willingly ate duck. Bizarrely shiny, glistening, reddish shellacked duck carcasses hang on meat hooks in the front windows of Chinese restaurants throughout the city. And hang. And hang. And hang. Just the idea of the oldness and congealed fat covered with flies of this ‘special dish’ turned my stomach. Strongly flavored meat that’s been aging for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business? Yuck! I’ll take a pass…

But I recall with glee the Peking duck Uwe and I ate in Beijing. The restaurant specialized in only Peking duck, along with all the pomp and circumstance such a dish demands.

Our Chinese friend Weiyu orders for us, but every single table  wants the same meal. Waiters are formally dressed, complete with chefs’ toques, mouth masks and protective gloves. By the end of the evening they carve hundreds of plates of duck.

These guys are fast! Snick snick snick and your duck is parsed into a meal

May November 11th bring you flights of fancy and a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness. By now the ducks and geese, indeed, all migrating birds have already left for warmer climates. Despite the record-breaking warm days here in Germany, winter is coming (yes, we hear you John Snow).

Have a great St. Martin’s Day.

NOTES: [1,4] German Holidays Time and Date.com [2] Martin was  a Roman soldier before becoming a saint… See also wiki/St. Martin’s Day. [3] Medieval peasants had it rough. Taxes were collected as well upon marriage and death, St. George’s Day, and spring and fall. Source: Peasantry Their Problem and Protest in Assam (1858-1894) by Kamal Chandra Pathak. A group of ducks on water is called a paddling. The collective noun for geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team, or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump. Quora ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about ducks and geese go to my earlier posts The Animal Kingdom: 1 and 15. Say this 3 times, fast: Future posts will feature our feathered friends!

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

 

The Death of Robin Williams

NOTE: The brilliant Robin Williams was born on 21 July, 1951 in Chicago. In honor of his upcoming birthday and his incredible gifts, here is my original post written at the news of his death. — Jadi

Feste the Fool: “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.” —Shakespeare King Lear, Act III, Scene 4

Robin Williams is dead. He killed himself.

Both of these statements shock and sadden me. Put together, they are almost unbearable. Since his passing the nights have been cold indeed, and it’s taken days to reach a place where I can try to write about him.

Caren Miosga is an anchor for the major evening news program in Germany, and German journalism is a serious business. Caren reported the news of his death barefoot and standing on top of her news desk. “O Captain! My Captain!” she recited from there. There is no more fitting way to salute him.Moderatorin Miosga auf dem "Tagesthemen"-Tisch (Video-Standbild): "einer der größten Schauspieler"

I remember when he burst onto the world stage. He was incredibly funny, his wit like lightening. His brain and mouth moved so fast that it still takes repeat viewing (and listening) to catch up to him. And even then you wonder how he could improvise like that. He would recite Shakespeare – and play all the roles himself.

A good word to describe him is irrepressible. Robin seemed impossible to hold back, stop, or control. And he embodied the next meaning of the word: very lively and cheerful. But like all clowns he knew the flip side of laughter is sadness. He was a fiercely observant social critic and he spoke about what he saw. As our greatest court jesters have always done, Robin told us the truth.

During the 1980s I lived in San Francisco, and I remember going with friends to the newly opened Hard Rock Café. As we sat there, a murmur rippled through the big room. Robin Williams, two women, and two very young children had just been seated for lunch. As the news spread, people stopped eating and turned in their chairs to stare.

Robin was a guy who’d simply come in for lunch, and looked uncomfortable with all the attention. But he signed autographs and smiled. I was struck by how youthful he looked, and how shy. He didn’t have a glamorous aura. I tried to figure out what was remarkable about how he looked. In the end, I was startled by a sense that he was terribly vulnerable.

And that is the secret to his magic. Robin Williams didn’t just make us laugh. He made us feel the absurdity of our prejudices and fears, and yes, our hopes and desires, too. He reminded us at all times of our humanity. He was searingly honest about his own short comings and dreams. He turned himself inside out with a candor and lovingkindness that made his humor a healing force.

Our world is a sadder place for his passing. It’s a better place for his having lived and shared his immense gifts with us.

He is already greatly missed.

R.I.P. Robin McLaurin Williams 21 July 1951 – 11 August 2014

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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