The other day I walked thru Victoria Park at dusk. There were lots of people in the park. The beautiful autumn weather is holding and everyone wants to get the best of the west coast before it succumbs to its alternate name of “wet coast”.
I stood in the middle of the park and watched some children throwing sticks into the horse chestnuts to dislodge big, fat conkers. I popped a Tic Tac into my mouth and suddenly I thought my grandfather was with me. I turned around and saw a man sitting on the park bench smoking a pipe. He blew the sweet smell in my direction.
My grandfather was always old. Babi, (Czech for grandma) said that he went to war and he returned with shock white hair. Babi said his right ear was shot off by the Nazis. Babi said he was the best at making mayonnaise because he could drop oil into the emollition drop by drop and stir it gently with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Babi said a lot of things. Grandpa never said much, but he had a thin scar where his right ear should have been and his mayonnaise never broke.
I wear his family crest on my finger and read his journals. His journals are hard to read. He wrote in Czech, English, Russian, French, Italian and German. Mostly German. He wrote in small script, in runny ink, in his own code, but mostly I can manage to figure out what he wrote. He called me Renny, (with a very soft, Czech R), and it’s a thrill to read his account of my childhood. Mostly I made him laugh.
When I was little we lived in Prague while he and babi lived in Terezin. Weekends and summers were spent at our family cottage on a hill side above the river Elbe. When I was little I used to hang on around grandpa’s neck while he swam across the river with me. When I was little I used to garden with him, sleep out on the terrace with him, hike to the castle ruins with him and pick wild mushrooms in the autumn to roast them for lunch on hot rocks around the camp fire. He made the best open faced sandwiches with rye bread, mustard, salami, diced onions and hot, melting chanterelles.
He had an exceedingly long name. He was called Karl but his full titled name was: Ritter Karl Emilian Von Alemann. He was a gentle, studious, intelligent man, a lord, a knight, a general in the Austrian army, but mostly he was my grandfather who taught me the botanical name of each flower in his garden as naturally as one would say dan-de-lion to a child.
He’s been gone for a million years. Babi was heartbroken when he died and kept his ashes in her china cupboard between her crucifix and her sherry glasses for the rest of her life. When she died I took them both back to Vyšehrad and interned them in the family crypt. They rest in the soft pink light of Prague.
Mom said he never smoked a pipe. Beats me why I remember him smelling of pipe tobacco and peppermints. Mom said it was probably camphor from his arthritis rub. Doesn’t matter really.