Arriving back in Canada from an 11 night trip to northern Germany this past July, I jotted down a few impressions of the little town that I had stayed in. These thoughts were sketched out quickly, before they faded into distant memory, since memories have way of slipping away with the days on the calendar. It’s now September and I’ve been revisiting my notes and pictures.
If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine that I am back there in Germany, in Eutin…
I wish that I could capture the scent, package it up and send it to you in the mail. This little town that I am in has a fragrance so sweet, so light and so delicious, it makes breathing a complete pleasure. When I think about the eventuality of being back on Canadian soil and breathing air that is not filled with the aroma of linden, clematis and climbing roses, I fear I’ll have to get accustomed to it as I have so quickly become accustomed to this beautiful little cobblestone and clay tile topped town.
As a little girl, my mother must have also felt like this when she breathed in her first breath, stepping off the train at the station in Eutin. The sweet aroma a beautiful welcome. Then, a few short years later, she was taken away from this perfectly scented little town. A bittersweet departing from the place that she would love for her whole life. The place where her mother, her only family, died and was buried. Her time here, if one looks at the entire length of her life, was not that long. She stepped off the train with a suitcase in one hand and her mother in the other when she was 8 years old and then at age 11 she was taken away, the suitcase now her only possession. Those three years were enough to make an impact that would last for the rest of her life.
As I walk through cobblestone streets and alleyways in this town, I am overwhelmed by the abundance of roses growing here. Climbing along the sides of centuries old buildings, clinging to trellises and scrambling over stone walls, the roses make their presence known by sheer volume. I also see the wild, white clematis folding over itself in low hedges along the sides of train tracks next to blackberry bushes.
Then there are the linden trees.
Along every street and pathway, the giant linden trees grow and bloom. The canopies that I see now are the very same ones that my mother walked underneath as a child. Strolling through town, it is impossible to miss the fragrance of these trees. Their perfume literally hangs in the air, light and perfect. At this time of year, the linden tree is one whose presence is known first by scent and then by sight. On any street, I can look up to see the heavily-scented yellow linden flowers dangling like mini cherries between the leaves.
I have just realized that the garden of my childhood home in Thorold bore a striking resemblance to this place. Roses and clematis were the main features of my mother’s garden. I counted once and was surprised to discover more than 60 rosebushes of various colours and hybrids. Tea roses, miniature bush roses and climbing roses. And then there was the white clematis planted on the east side of the house. Each spring the clematis would make it’s annual climb up the brick chimney and then, in early September, it would burst into glorious bloom with it’s soft scent wafting gently through the front yard, buzzing and humming from the bees that also found it irresistible.
Since I am a September baby, my mother proclaimed “It blooms for your birthday!” I was always guaranteed a birthday present as long as the white clematis bloomed on schedule.
I have transplanted this very clematis vine twice now. Once from my mother’s garden in Thorold to my home in Port Dalhousie. Once from Port Dalhousie to my current home in Jordan Station. Even now as I write, this same clematis is in full bloom on the trellis in the centre of my own garden. I can hear my mother’s voice when I breath the sweet scent which, ever so often, wafts it’s way up to the deck where I write. She remembers me and sends her love.
In the summery dusk, I recall how my mother loved to walk through the neighbourhood arm-in-arm with her two girls. We would watch the sunset from our view at the ridge of the escarpment. One girl on either side, we would sing a little German song as we strolled in rhythm … “Mein hut, er hat drei ecken, drei ecken hat mein hut!”*
We’d be strolling along, singing away and she would stop suddenly, take a deep breath and say “I can smell the linden tree here”.
In that moment, she was gone.
Off in another world that the linden tree reminded her about. A place in her memory that was always lingering just beneath the surface, waiting for just the smallest prompt to bring it into full view. My mother didn’t mind leaving the present world for a moment to go back to Eutin in her imagination. In fact, I have a suspicion that was the very reason for the walk – to smell the linden trees. Sunset was only a cover story.
On my September birthday, I would wake up for school and go into the dining room for breakfast and there would always be a single rose from the garden, cut and placed in a crystal bud vase that morning. In the evening, upon my request, she would bring out chocolate cake, baked in her German bundt pan and drizzled with sweet glaze. And always, outside there was the clematis. Reliable as the seasons.
Little did I know then how important these details were to my mother. Her gifts to me – the garden rose in the budvase, the chocolate cake and the blooming clematis – these were her signatures. Gifts of great value because of the memories, both for me and for her. Reminders of a little town in northern Germany. The place where she stored her heart, even all those years later, now living in Canada.
I am here now, in that very town. I have walked the very same pathways that my mother walked when she was just a little girl. I have strolled the very same cobblestone streets and dipped my feet in the warm water of the lakes. I have walked barefoot, just to feel what she felt on the soles of her feet in the summer (and that one winter when she hadn’t any boots!). I have visited the cemetery to say hello to her mother. And also goodbye.
We have both breathed the same sweet linden tree-filled air.
I believe I have found the place where my mother stored her heart.
I too may leave a piece of my heart in Eutin.
*For those who speak don’t speak German, the song translates “My hat, it has three corners!”