Gazing out the window of the bus as it rolled to a stop in the middle of nowhere Germany, I was living in two worlds. The now with the excitement of going back to my childhood home, and the memories, faded and disjointed as there were, of being in elementary school and knowing nothing but this foreign place.
15 years. It had been 15 years since I left this beautiful place. The rolling green hills were more beautiful than in my memory. When the bus finally stopped, a bit of panic set in. The stop was at a crossing where another road met the main street to form a T. Both roads were surrounded by fields. There was nothing here. Just two roads meeting in the middle of lush green pastures. Empty, far from civilization and people who spoke my language.
The driver was no doubt as confused about why this young American woman was traveling to a town of just over 800 (according to Google) as the woman at the bus station at Kaiserslautern the day before. Only one bus a day traveled to this small village. There were no hotels there. There were no tourist attractions. Neuhemsbach is not where I wanted to go, she assured me, grabbing pamphlets about the museums and historic sites in Kaiserslautern.
I’d already seen what I wanted to in K-town, as most of the American military families had referred to Kaiserslautern back when I was growing up. I had gone to Harry’s Gift Shop, which was always a highlight of going into K-town for me. I could find plenty of things to “I want” about in there. I had gone to the church where my dad was the youth minister, and brashly introduced myself to the current preacher’s wife to ask to look around. When you’ve waited 15 years to go back to a place that has become almost a fairy tale in your mind, you can’t be shy. Mostly, I’d just strolled the streets imagining the 8 year old version of myself that I’d seen in pictures with her dark pigtails, blunt bangs, and big blue eyes living here. It was all so old and beautiful and exotic, and I was constantly awash in gratitude that this had been a part of my youth.
Before becoming a preacher, my dad was in the Air Force. His last 3 years, he was stationed in Germany. Before that was D.C., where I was born. I have few memories before Germany, since I was 5 when we moved over there. However, I distinctly remember Daddy coming home from work one day and announcing the assignment oversees he and Momma had wanted his whole career. I didn’t know what Germany was or why we excited about it, but I know they and my teen age sisters were happy, so it must be good.
When we moved back to the states, that’s when I went through culture shock. I hadn’t known enough at five years old to appreciate the differences, but when we moved back, and there was no dairy truck with pudding and cheeses driving up to the house or brotchen rolls in the store, I was rather put off. My sisters tell me I went on a food strike for a while. I just remember mumbling a lot about “stupid Americans” and my parents reminding me I was one.
We hadn’t lived on the base. My parents had wanted the full immersion experience of living in a foreign country and found a house for rent in Neuhemsbach. It wasn’t the full house, though. We just rented the top two stories. The bottom story was occupied by a widow woman, Frau Uhl, but I just called her Oma. Our landlord was her son, and he and his family lived in the village too.
The 23-year-old, now law student, Becca got off the bus, knowing there was no way back that day to her hotel room in K-town. She got off not speaking German or having the faintest clue where to go from here. All I knew was I had to get to my little German village.
I had grown up here. I had been convinced, when my family plucked me up and took me back “home” to the U.S., that I was leaving home. I had nothing but the fondest of memories of traipsing around this hilly countryside, imagining I was an explorer or a princess or an animal. Those memories included a German woman with whom I’d garden and cook and whom I had loved liked a grandmother despite the language barrier. Here I was in Europe this summer, and by God, I was coming back. I had to see it all with adult eyes. Some of my memories were live and some were just from pictures, and they both were so old, that I didn’t even know which was which.
The road that the bus dropped me off on led to the village, at least I thought it did. In my head, I could feel being in the back of our red LaCar on the way to the military base for school. The road out of the village went past a field with sheep and then it dead-ended in a T on the main street. Oh, please dear God, I thought let this be what I’m remembering. I could handle no place to stay in a small foreign village, if it was in deed my village. If I just make it there, I thought, I don’t care what else happens after that.
I don’t think I’ve ever lived so in the moment and taken such a risk in all my life. Historically, I’m not much of a risk taker. This had to happen, though. I started off walking down the road. I saw some sheep on the side of the road where I remembered them. That was a good sign, but no sign of the church on the hill that overlooked the whole village. What if there’s another road I’m supposed to turn on, and I just don’t remember? I was only 8. I actually had no idea where I was going. I did’t know whether to laugh or cry at my current situation, but I just keep walking, feeling my heart being pulled in the direction of the village….I hoped.
Then, I turn a bend and see it. Tall and white with a bulbous black steeple. Right there in the middle of rolling farm land with homes nestled at its feet is the church. I know my house is right down there, obscured from my distant view by trees. Our house was just under it on one side. I used to go through the garden to climb up the steep hill to get to that church.
There it was. Not a picture. It was real. It was all real. My childhood was all here and real. I fell to my knees on the side of the road, weeping tears of joy and relief. I had found it, and it was real. I still had put myself in quite the predicament that I had no known way out of, but it didn’t matter. I had to come here, getting back would have to take care of itself.
Take hell-bent joyful, passion-fueled action. – Jen Sincero, author of You are a Badass: How to stop doubting your greatnes and start living an awesome life.