Growing up in the military I have been blessed to live in many wonderful and beautiful places. I attended twenty-two schools from first to twelfth grade; so as you can imagine I have lived all over the United States and Europe. One of my very most enduring memories is living at Dolan Barracks in Schwabisch Hall Germany. I was seven years old when we moved to Dolan Barracks. I spent what seemed like endless weekends and hours exploring the route from Dolan Barracks through a park into Schwabisch Hall.
We were actually stationed at Dolan Barracks in Schwabisch Hall twice. The first time I was in elementary school and the second time I was in High School. As a child I would get up early on Saturday morning and walk from the base into town traveling the seven mile trail. The trail began at the base and ended at the heart of the town. Along the way there were many types of gardens. There were mazes, rose gardens, natural habitats, water-falls and statues. I was always fascinated with every step I took and every new garden I walked through and every statue that I sat and admired. I never tired of exploring the path into town. You might wonder what a seven year old was doing walking into town by themselves which does seem odd. But for me it was ordinary, something I always did. The only explanation that I have is my Mother is British. She grew up during WWII in England. As a child she lived in a boarding school as did most children from the cities, they did this to be safe from the bombing. My mother is more detached than American mother’s; she did not have that motherly instinct that my friend’s mothers had. She in fact is far more motherly now that she is older than when I was a child.
I spent many hours as a child alone, going to the swimming pool on base or reading in the library. Exploring the base we lived on or the town nearby was nothing unusual or scary to me – it was normal. I would leave the base early in the morning starting out on the unpaved portion of the trail. The beginning of the trail was curvy with a wooden rail. The plants here were all very green and dark making the gardens feel very natural though they were carefully planted and maintained. This area felt cool, dark and very isolated. The path wound around and down the steep slope to the next level of the park that contained statues. This section of the park had a stone path that was bordered with bright flowers. Each statue had a garden planted around it. Some were in rose gardens and some had ever greens planted around them while others had bright red and yellow flowers. Each area had a stone bench where I would sit and gaze at the statue; I never tired of looking at them and I never skipped a single one – I always took my time and enjoyed how I felt in each garden. I loved the birds and the butterflies and the feel of the air.
After the gardens with the statues the path led into town. One of the first homes along the path had three concrete steps up to the house. I always sat on the bottom step and rested. An old woman lived in this house. She wore rubber boots, a white apron and a scarf that she tied under her hair in the back. I always thought she seemed old but from a 7 year’s old perspective everyone seemed old. Though she did not speak any English she would still come out and talk to me. I looked forward to these little visits; I was never afraid to talk to her. She once told me in German that her son was married to a woman from China that spoke funny like I did. Over the months she would tell me funny little things, but one day she told me that there were only very old people living in town and very few children and that is why she loved talking to me that she missed the children. I asked her were all the young people were and she and she told me that there were none because so many people had died in the war. There were no people left to have families. I am 48 years old now and that statement has stayed with me all these years. I have never forgotten how sad she looked and how sad I felt inside.
The park’s path turned to cobble stone continuing into the center of town. There were little bridges with water flowering underneath with birdbaths along the way. The path ended at the steps leading to Saint Michaels Church. The Church had 22 steps leading to the entrance. Inside the Church was a large hole in the floor that contained bones from the people that lost their lives in a nearby prison camp. These are the people that the old lady spoke about, the people that never lived to have families and raise their children. I used to think about all those poor souls, unidentified – how sad their families must be to not know where they are at. Separated forever from their families, friends and homes, never to buried and put at peace. This made a huge impact on me, probably my first feelings of empathy.
I loved these hikes that I took every weekend; they took me the entire day into the early evening. I always carried enough money that I had earned throughout the week so that I could buy a kefir to drink and a bratwurst with a brochen to eat at the city market. I always went to the same vendors each weekend; they just smiled at me greeting me with a big hello. I was really a lonely kid but I tried to enjoy everywhere we lived and get out among the people rather than hanging out on the base. Even at a young age understood that being homesick could overwhelm a person I fought against that feeling my entire life. We lived there for three years and I can’t remember a weekend that I did not make this trip on a Saturday morning. Sometimes in the evening my Dad would go with me while I led the way.
I used to play a game along the way when I would come across students that attended the Berlitz language school. The students used to sit in the park and practice speaking different languages, bantering back and forth. I would sit and listen and try to imagine or figure out what they were saying. I found this incredibly entertaining. Later we lived there again while I was in high school; I played the same game then too. I have studied several languages over the years I am sure my love for other languages stem from my fascination with the students that I saw sitting in the park.
When we lived there again while I was in high school I got up every Saturday morning and made this trip again. It was like stepping back in time. I felt the same way listening to the students and gazing at the statues, enjoying the gardens, the statues and waterfalls along the way to the City Market. Of course this time the old lady was not there; she had probably passed on. I loved that time of my life. It was peaceful, I felt in harmony with my surroundings. I also remember my Dad when I look back and I miss him dearly.