Of pipe tobacco and pepermints. Memories come.
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. The smoke reminds me of this Starbucks capuccino rig.
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. I remember at the end of each hike he would put a drop of brown oil on his tongue, which I later found out was cannabidiol to treat his arthritis. He always stressed how important holistic medicine was. After our outings he would make 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.
His photograph hangs in my studio. It’s taken from his left side.
Kim Van Sickler
What a wonderful tribute to your grandfather. I especially love the paragraph about living in Prague. Sounds idyllic.
Thank you Kim. Prague is so beautiful. I try to go there when I can; it feels like home…always. I love the innovative ways everyone is responding to this challenge. Don’t you?
What a treasure to have your grandfather’s journals! And of course, what a treasure to have your own childhood remembrances.
It is Lori, I’m really lucky he wrote almost every day. He knew so many languages and his journals were his method of study, you know, keeping his mind sharp.
Beautiful piece. How blessed you are that he kept journals. Loved the image of him making mayonnaise. I’m amazed at all the languages he wrote in. Nice to read about the General. You allowed us to see all the sides of him Nice job.
Thank you Sabra. I have vivid images in my brain of him sitting at the kitchen table slowly stirring the mayonnaise: drop of oil, drop of lemon, drop of oil…
Joy Weese Moll
Beautiful description that really paints a picture of the man. I’m fascinated by the journals — what a treasure!
brilliant bit of writing v .
Thank you robbie. x
Wow –what a beautiful post about your grandfather. I’m totally intrigued by your description of him. What a treasure for you to have his journals.
Aw Erin, thank you so much. 🙂
Jane Ann McLachlan
What beautiful memories, beautifully expressed. You’re so lucky to have had him in your life. As the youngest daughter of a father who was the youngest son, and a mother whose father married late in life, I never knew either of my grandfathers. I am also terribly envious of you having his journals. I wish I had journals of my Grandpa’s experiences in WWI.
Thank you Jane Ann. It’s too bad about your grandfathers but I’m relaly looking forward to reading about them. 🙂
Veronica, this is just stunning. I see your artist’s eye here. I want to re-read it for the beauty of the memory and the language. You were blessed to be close to your grandfather. I never knew my paternal grandpa, and I have almost no positive memories of my mother’s father because he was always sick. I’ll be visiting those memories soon, though.
Gerry, thank you so much. 🙂