Once every other blue moon

29 Feb

I just did a quick Google search to see how often a blue moon happens.  Apparently, it’s every two or three years.  Which is more often than we see February 29th come around.  I have a friend or two who have their birthdays on February 29th, but for me the most significant event for the date was this day in 1996 when my Opa died.

Because I grew up in Canada and all my extended family lived in far-flung places like Germany and Taiwan, I’d never really gotten to know any of them (except for my cousin Heidi, who lived with us in Thunder Bay for one year).  But when I graduated from high school in 1995 at the age of 16, having no clue what the heck I’d want to study for my post-secondary education, my dad arranged for me to spend the year in Germany, living with Oma and Opa.

It was a great opportunity.  I learned to speak German, learned about the culture of northern Germany, made some great friends, and learned a lot about music.  But the best part of it was the opportunity to get to know my grandparents.

Opa was a complex man.  He is supposed to have spoken seven languages.  (Dad says wryly that Opa’s linguistic ability is like a fisherman’s tale; with every retelling, he could speak more languages.)  He’d been a teacher of music, math, and physics at the advanced high school; when I went to school there, some of the teachers would reminisce about being in his classes.  He wrote haikus, some of them railing against God and religion and proclaiming his own atheism (but Oma insists he wasn’t truly an atheist).  He would forcefully close the doors to his study, adjacent to the music room, when I practiced piano in there; he told me that every time I hit a wrong note it hurt him like scalding his tongue on hot soup.  He loved to cuddle his grand-daughter and was pleased to offer up his always stubbly cheek for a kiss.  He told me I pronounced my name incorrectly and wouldn’t be convinced that he was wrong until we looked it up in the dictionary.  He continued to pronounce it his way, anyway, turning it into a pet name for me by adding the German dimunitive “chen” to the end: “Faenchen”, meaning “little flag”.  Glaucoma blinded him in the last decades of his life and he lamented the fact that he hadn’t seen more, such as how many petals does this particular flower have?  He lamented no longer being able to play the piano because he couldn’t read the music anymore, although I heard him at it once or twice.  When a Japanese visitor told him his long earlobes were a sign of longevity, he said, “Don’t curse me like that!”  Every night before he went to bed, he would ring the gong he’d brought back from a temple in Taiwan.  It could be heard throughout the house, a sweet and melancholy note, tucking me in for the night.

Everyone thought it fitting that a man of such contrariness should choose this day for his passing.  Contrary, imposing, loving, and proud.  I am so grateful that I got a chance to know him.

One Response to “Once every other blue moon”

  1. Nemmy March 2, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    That was beautifully written, Fawn. I was thinking of him, too, on the 29th. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there that year, though I am grateful for the childhood summers we shared with him.

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