He talked about Berlin, missing my 21st birthday, and taking care of a loved one with Alzheimers. Before we hung up he said,
"Oh, and Tote Hosen? That means dead pants."
I had already known what that meant, obviously, as it has been the name of my silly little blog since January. The day i heard the phrase tote hosen was a little less than a year ago. My sister, father and i were visiting his family in Germany; his sister Rose, my grandmother, or Oma (as you say in das native tongue), cousin Olaf, and Uncle Wolfgang. Hallo Deutschland!
The whole family had left the farm (My aunt and uncle live on a beautiful 200 yr old farm that they renovated in a town 45 min from Berlin. Grandsee. It's lovely) to travel to the Baltic sea, a big vacation spot for the Euro kind. Apparently royalty use to voyage very far to bath in its waters. There are practically no waves, which confused and bored my sister and I, given our east and west coast only expiriences with huge salty bodies of water.
The night of Tote Hosen we had just come back from a concert held in the town's center. It was a gospel choir. If you have ever heard a middle-aged german woman sing "Go Tell It On the Mountain" then you will understand the intensity of sister's and my expirience. It was no help that our prone-to-hilarity father was bobbing jerkily to the music, grinning under the hood of his windbreaker, saying shit like "AMEN!" and "HALLELUJAH." Or that Oma would scrunch her face into various horror stricked expressions inspired by the genuine surprise and disgust at some of the harmonies. Or that my father was wearing army cargo pants and a fanny pack with a steel strap to prevent robbery. Could have been a number of things.
I dont think this stuff is normally funny. Honestly if i were a german, attending a nice, local Gospel Choir performance, and i look over and see two snorting and shaking american women in matching windbreakers (thanks dad), a middle-aged man shouting encouragement (also wearing the same windbreaker), and a sweet, elderly grandmother using faces normally reserved for indegestion, I probably wouldn't laugh. I would probably wonder who are these crazy people, ruining the acoustics of "Kum Bay Yah?"
We survived, despite the random sprinkling of rain, and started to walk back to our darling cottage, all wet and dirty. I was walking with my aunt, and in a fantastic mood. My moods in germany swerved violently the entire trip. I was twenty and wanted to get drunk and meet germans. Sasha was 17 and having nightmares and missing her bf. My father was the strange and unexpected hero of the trip, translating, defending us against our spoiled and lazy reputations, and buying us mass amounts of chocolate. I'm not sure what it is about Germany that knocks me into an arena of insecurity. I feel always defensive. I'm on guard against a comment about my education, lack of job, why i don't have a boyfriend, or poor college GPA. They always ask me about myself, and I usually like talking about myself to people i love, but in this case I end up sounding like an cheeseball interviewee. And if you have read my previous post, im a fucking terrible interviewee. I guess it sounds like every other family script you read. But the Germans, more than most people i know/like/respect/or hate, have me quivering in my seat, but with angry eyes.
They are either very delicate and steely, or bumbling and horrible. My aunt will say things like "Are you menstrating?" and i will say yes! how did you know? "Your skin is breaking out." Once she too a picture of our eyes and uploaded it to her computer . She had a corresponding eye chart and took a critical view of our digitally enlarged pupils. I was diagnosed with future uterine cancer. Sash was fertile and had strong bones. It sounds strange, and like the situation could be edged in a silver lining of comedy. But all i remember is standing in the lavender scented room, nodding ceremoniously as i contemplated chemo.
Or my cousin will say at the dinner table "Sonia just wants to drink vodka and make out with the tour guide" or to my father "Did you know she smokes" or "What's up Homie" as i shoot pain and imminent death at him through my eyeballs. Sometimes i would feel monumentously guilty and sad and want to lay my head on his shoulder and tell him how cool he was, how much i adored the way he phrased his thoughts about obama and my mother, or how talented of a musician he is. But there is a barrier of uncomfortable between us. So instead i sit next to him on the couch, and ask him to teach me a chord on the guitar. It's a pathetic move, and one that I would not make with any other member of my family, but the only move i dare make with the Germans.
But I clearly remember the night after the concert. We walked back to our cottage, I was happy to be there, breathing huge and deep breaths with my aunt, talking about the seasons, vacationing, relaxation, the stars. My aunt is a petite woman with short silvery hair and clear green eyes. She has a small pretty mouth and delicate features. She wears scarfs, tiny shoes, big sunglasses, and sweaters. She often smells like lavender. When she walks she takes long, sure strides and sometimes folds her arm in yours, or clasps her hands together. I feel like an orge next to her, inadequate, overdressed, flashy, and loud.
She looked back at my sister and father, who were laughing and falling on one another. She whipped her head back to me.
My father booms in English, "Rose, what is it [the baltic] like in the fall"
She dips her head with thought, and clasps her lips lightly. I like watching my aunt ruminate on a question, its quite pretty. She thinks physically and carefully sometimes, and the words that ring out are softly spoken and articulate.
"Well, it's not as busy. Everyone that stays here in summer is at home. The people that vacation go to the Alps." She looks out to the dead ocean, the small hills of sand."It's Tote Hosen."
Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaatt. I immediately lurch at the phrase. "What does that mean Aunt Rose?!"
"Mmm well, dead pants, like its dead in your pants. Nothing's going on."
I laugh and laugh and smile away, delighted. She looks at me bemused, but fondly. She laughs lightly as well. My father looks back at my sister, content.
We all make it back to the cabin, me rolling around the phrase lovingly in my head, holding tightly to my aunt's small arm, breathing the lavender deeply in.