Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tschüss to an Old Rogue

Those of you who know me will know I'm deeply fond of my old Opa (grandpa) and tend to talk about him far past the point where it would be interesting to anyone else. I've been lucky enough to visit him almost annually in the last few years - this is difficult, since he lives in south Bavaria, on the opposite side of this planet to me. He lives, lived I guess, in a big house he designed with Oma many years ago beside a forest which you can walk through to reach one of the oldest, and best, beer breweries in Germany. He worked as a director for a school of agriculture, and made lists "to do" everyday, crossing out the things he achieved and moving the few non-achieved tasks on to the next day. On the day Oma died he wrote "my world ends" and crossed it out.

Everyone thought he would die first - Oma was younger and stronger, and also the matriarch of the family. But ten years ago, she died, and he's been saying he's ready to join her ever since (occasionally, interspersed with long speeches on the beauty of being alive and how his family need him). Oma had always been the focal point for family matters, and in her absence Opa stepped in and we were all lucky enough to get to know this stubborn, fiery old gentleman.

Opa is gruff and difficult at times, but he's also one of my favourite people to ever live. He has a sureness and goodness which seems old-fashioned - he has that thing we could call "moral authority", in the best sense of those words. When I was visiting him last year, I wanted my friend from England to fly in and stay and wrote Opa an email asking permission, and put into the email - so as to avoid confusion or issues down the line - that my friend happens to be gay; "If you're wondering if this is a romantic friend, he isn't, among many other reasons why not - he's gay." Opa wrote back to say yes, and added "you can invite whomever you like into my house, whether you're sleeping with them or not." Then he, an old Catholic, proceeded to get on with my best friend like a house on fire.
Years ago, during World War 2, his moral courage showed itself in far more dramatic terms than simply being 92, Catholic and down with the gays. Opa always says he doesn't want the stories repeated, since no one would believe them anyway, but I did tell my friends in Israel - grandchildren of holocaust survivors - and those friends did believe me, and asked that my Opa be added to a list of honoured Germans; of people who helped the Jewish population of Germany during the Nazi years. I shook my head, Opa would hate that, but I told my mom the story and her eyes welled up. It was nice to be believed.

But really all of that is abstraction and not the real, daily reason we love Opa so much. We love him because of his incredible warmth, humour and investment in our lives. He talks about his grandchildren (us) with glowing pride, to everyone except the subject of the conversation. He asked my sister if she believes in God and when she said no, he laughed to himself and said "the smartest people don't" (even though he does). If you tell him you really like brie cheese, he'll buy you brie every single day until you're sick of the sight of it. He has an enviable wine cellar, but he'll often buy a two euro bottle and serve it to a guest, telling them afterwards it was two euro and haha isn't it great? By contrast, once he got out a bottle of red which only government officials were even allowed to buy - he was given six bottles. He told me the story of the vineyard, of the prestige of these bottles of wine for three days while the bottle adjusted to room temperature. He made me read the label, explained the history of the family. He talked about it every day, until finally the evening of the uncorking arrived and he ceremoniously poured me a glass, watching my face with anticipation as I tried it. I looked unconvinced. He burst out laughing and roared "it's terrible isn't it? it's just AWFUL! Awful, awful wine!"

Gebhard Quinger 26.8.1919 - 24.3.2012

1 comment:

g said...

Beautiful post and beautiful photos. X