Friday, June 22, 2012

Christmas in Luxembourg, 1976

Ville de Remich

From Germany, I headed west, to Luxembourg, crossed the boarders with little to no difficulty. I went by car, a 1967-VW I had purchased a few months earlier, dull green in color a tumult of rattling sounds, with a sick motor and weak body frame—and two-hundred and fifty miles to go, it would be a quick trip I told myself, the car should make it; again as usual, I was bored with my military life, and wanted to go someplace, and I was stationed in West Germany, it was the winter of 1976.   And there I was flying down these narrow roads with lights and shadows ahead of me a tremulous steering wheel, and my two twin boys, Cody and Shawn, in the backseat.

       The road was dotted with quaint, rural hamlets that most people associate with fairytales. The midwinter sun was nice on my forehead, and winter in Luxembourg wasn’t as extreme as it was in either Germany, or half as extreme as in my home state of Minnesota.
       It was the day before Christmas. The trees in Luxemburg, were filled with crystal like frost, tall pine trees, clouds low, cold  breathe, my heaters were not working well—but working, and the car was starting to overheat. But the landscape, the wooded areas were beautiful, which kept my mind off those little incidentals.
       The hum and rhythm of the car only put a trance on boys, they’d fall to sleep, wake up play with their toys, Cody with his toy car, fall back to sleep, wake back up to see where we were, what was going on. Shawn was always trying to get close to me, trying to jump up in the front seat: the boys were four-plus years old.
       I stopped the car to have breakfast, the street was of cobblestone, and the guesthouse was old Germanic in style, the proprietor with an apron on looked at me and my two boys, it was Christmas Eve morning—in Luxemburg, and no one was in the guesthouse, no guests that is, no one but the proprietor—he and his wife, an old couple.
       “… vhat you need something?” said the old man.
       “Yes,” I replied, “for me and my boys, a room for the night and breakfast.”
       “Vell, we closed, Christmas,” said the old man, then the old woman, his wife looked somewhat worried if not surprised, said, “Okay, we can I guess, give you a room for tonight only, and breakfast,” the old man had looked at the boys, the car and me, and with a sigh, put a smile on his face, in agreement with her.

        The boys and I sat outside around a wooded table, and chairs, my car parked alongside the curb of the road, it was chilly but there were light rays of sun beaming down upon us—it felt like Indian Summer in Minnesota, so we ate on a table set aside by the doorway to the cafĂ©, as the old man stood watching over us out of curiosity.   
       I ordered eggs and bacon, toast and jam, milk and coffee for each one of us:  we all sat waiting, salivating, we were hungry.  I had thought she understood the order, she brought three pouched eggs, which I did not know how to eat, but would learn quick—with instructions of the old man, and Cody and Shawn digging into the eggs as it were a watermelon.  They both looked at me, and I laughed, and by the time we ate the eggs, we were still hungry, the eggs never seemed to fill us up, what we got of it. Oh well, it was an experience: the agonies of Luxemburg.

       It was Christmas day, and we had said our goodbyes to the owners of the guesthouse, and had that same two-hundred and fifty miles to travel back to Darmstadt, and then onto Babenhausen where we lived. As we got on our way, it seemed to be a long road back, our brakes were going out—metal  on metal—squeaking,  and the radiator was burning up, and you could smell it. Whatever could go wrong went wrong with the car.
       The twins knew something was wrong but not exactly what. As we drove further, into a hilly area, the sky turned dark, and the transmission was jamming in first gear, couldn’t get it out, thus I drove in first gear for miles and miles and miles.  The heaters had completely stopped working the car was spitting and sputtering, and then the fan belt had broken. It was turning out to be a worrisome Christmas Day. 
       The boys had insulated snow suites on, I had purchased them in Minnesota, oversized knowing they could and would grow into them, and this day I was glad I had.
       Finally we drove alongside a guesthouse, it was closed for business, but in the back of the building, some lights were on. Actually, we were on a lonely road, deserted somewhat. And I really didn’t know what to do, and I put the hood up of the car and went and knocked on the door, asked to purchase some food for the kids.  A middle aged man in the house saw the car from his window, came out, took a look at the motor, went back to his garage, found an old fan belt, it was too big for my car, very loose to say the least, but it was better than nothing, and it worked, he gave it to us at no coast, a Christmas gift.
       “You got to drive slowly now,” the German said, indicating if I didn’t and if I went over too many bumps, the belt would fly off and perhaps get entangled into my motor, and loosen up or break my fan.
       Well, what could I say but thank you, and he and his wife gave me a hot cup of coffee, and the boys got some bread and cheese with sausage, and hot milk and they would not take any money, it was Christmas Day, and they felt they just couldn’t.  It all took an hour or so, and I felt I was intruding, but in life to get to the next step sometimes you have to lest you die where you stand—; in a like manner, I had learned a single failure does not mean a final defeat.   And as I drove away, I think they both had bitten their lips, hoping we’d make it safely back. And we did, in the gray dark of the evening. 

Note: originally written in 2002, reedited, in 2004, and 6-2012