April 1, 2009

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Yesterday at Nia class, my instructor Margaret mentioned Silver Falls State park here in Oregon, and with it came a cascade of memories for me.

The spring after we first moved here, one of Greg’s colleagues participated in an exchange with someone from Daimler-Chrysler to further the relationship between companies.  Ron went off to Germany and Hans came here.

I think, quite possibly, he was the best gift we had in that first year.  We’d had a rough start with the house (the furnace and oven breaking, plumbing problems, etc.) and I couldn’t find work as a teacher (a long standing trend!).  One night, after a particularly bad day, we had Hans over for dinner, and his presence was like a light shining down on us – warm, friendly,  and entirely good.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Hans became a near constant companion.  We did every manner of activity together.  We explored the McMenamin’s kindgom, had downtown adventures, threw parties, went hiking, took in movies, enjoyed great conversations, the works.

But these memories are the ones I hold dearest to my heart, for they are the most “Hans”:

Hans dressed in what I consider a pretty typical German fashion.  Stylish with a dash of kookiness.  He loved character socks.  He once wore his favorite pair, Popeye, with sandals, to the waterfront for the Rose Festival.  Also, he’d never owned a dryer before, and the one in his apartment was like a revelation.  “Did you know it can dry pants in only half an hour?”  Um yeah, but for every half an hour, you seem to lose a quarter of an inch in length, Hans.  No matter.  He was the happiest guy in high waters and Popeye socks.  Definitely.

Hans always wore a button down shirt, always.  In his left breast pocket he kept a small spiral notebook and pencil for new words and phrases.  Often times, he would bring out the notebook for us to help him with something particularly unusual that he couldn’t suss out with his dictionary.   The best was when he learned “spam sucking trailer trash” and “son of a bitch,” and in a rather serious tone, asked the G-Man and I: “Which is more worser?”  The two of us nearly died with laughter, explaining that it really depends on the audience.

Hans was a master at cards.  He could figure out any game in a matter of minutes and play joyously for hours.  In particular, I loved to watch him shuffle.  I have only recently become even remotely efficient at shuffling.  I can’t really say why.  I used to think it was my hands being small, but then we met Sandeep, and despite his fingers being a full inch shorter than mine, he was like a dealer in Vegas.  Amazing.  Anyway, Hans had this curious way of doing it, basically mixing up the stack, not actually shuffling.  It was crazy how quick and efficient he was at it.  You’d never imagine it would work, but it did.

Finally, the memory that started this all.  On one of our many adventures, we went to Silver Falls State Park for a hike.  It was a cold day, a bit drizzly, but exceedingly beautiful.  The water was high and the falls in their full splendor, loudly crashing into the river below.  As we hiked, we took a path that was further from the falls, deeper into the forest.  Imagine the quintessential Oregon forest – redolent with the scent of clean air and earth, full of moss, ferns, evergreens, and the lacy branches of deciduous trees clamoring for the sun.  We were happily chatting and walking when Hans suddenly stopped.  I kept speaking for a moment then realized what it was about.  Silence.  A void of sound of the most profound variety, like none I have experienced since.  For a full five minutes we stood in utter stillness and wonder that the world could be so beautiful and quiet and we could be so privileged to share in it.

There are many other wonderful memories of Hans, as well, and sometimes, when I need a little pick-me-up, I gently unpack one and smile that such a wonderful man came into my life all those years ago.  Life is good.

By the way, I could not find the picture from that day, so this one has to suffice.  The day was cloudier, but the landscape quite similar…