The first meeting

It was my very first visit to Germany and there was a lot on the agenda. One item seemed small if I didn’t think too much about it. It was a meeting at a little pub maybe a mile away from Thorsten’s apartment. It didn’t require a flight, a hotel or a border crossing. It was planned for early one evening and we were just going to make a quick stop.

The magic of our relationship at that time came from the hot sparks of possibility, the warmth of our shared ideas, genuine interest in one another, and all the excitement that comes from exploring the world together. We had purposely avoided the opinions of others to start. Thorsten hadn’t met my parents or many of my friends yet. So in the beginning it felt like a vacation whenever we were together. Sightseeing and eating the food of the region was par for the course so visiting a local pub was absolutely something we would’ve done. Going somewhere to meet actual people though??? Well, that changed the event from an evening’s excursion to a moment that mattered.

On the way, the intensity of that moment dawned on me. I was about to meet his parents. I didn’t speak German. Maybe they wouldn’t like me. I felt a panic and asked if we really needed to meet them just then. He smiled and reassured me. I could tell that he was genuinely happy about the introduction. I calmed myself. “Just be charming,” I thought. “It’s just a short meeting.”

As we approached, I was touched by how quaint the pub looked–A little wood timber house on a small street, a tiny place really. Still, you wouldn’t call it a hole in the wall because it was decorated with such care and flare. Flowers and spring decor hung in pots and ornaments near the door. Colorful and sweet really. The door was small enough that an average person needed to duck under the frame to walk in, so from the start it reminded me of a Hobbit’s home. It looked like whimsical mix of Franconian-Bavarian old style and I was tickled. So many of the buildings we’d seen were older than the United States but to me everything was new and the novelty just added to the charm.

The door opened and we were met with a flurry of voices. Every one looked up. The whole place was carved wood, but because of the time of day, the light shined brightly through each window. The sills were filled with flowers or little trinkets. The bar was on the right and there were stairs in front of the door that led to a second level.

Right away some people near the back waved to us. They looked like nice people, not particularly old but not particularly young. A sense of relief washed over me. We made our way to the large table in front of one of the windows. I know now that this is the best seat in the house. Jola’s seat specifically allowed her to see everyone who entered and everything that went on. It was then that I learned the word Stammtisch. It basically means ‘our table.’ A group of people meet at a specific time and place sitting at the same table. It’s like a Bavarian version of “Cheers” where everybody knows your name.

One evening a few years later, when I was first cooking with her, the pub actually called wondering if she was coming. Another day I met a stranger in a shop who asked if I happened to be the daughter-in-law of Jola. It turned out it was a relative of a friend from the Stammtisch. She really was first name famous around these parts.

She stood up. Like I mentioned, the sun shined through the window behind her, outlining her frame in light. I think she would’ve laughed at the image if she had realized it. Never fancy, but always put together, she wasn’t a typical kind of beautiful but she did kind of sparkle. I don’t remember what she was wearing but I’m sure the outfit included earrings, a necklace, lipstick and a little scarf. I was always so appreciative of her taste in clothing and hair styles.

First thing she hugged me and complimented my blouse. Then she introduced Heinz and the rest of her friends. Her smile was contagious, she seemed to be delighted—in her surroundings, in her friends and in this new person (me!) She talked and joked and didn’t seem to mind at all that I couldn’t understand a word of what she said. I could tell she was funny though. Thorsten translated and it turned out to be fun–nothing like what I’d worried about. I was so absorbed in the evening that I forgot to even take a picture. I’m kicking myself now, but who knew back then what life would bring? Anyway, you can see photos of the little pub here. I recently did a little research and discovered that the building is first mentioned in Forchheim’s history in 1700 but it’s thought to have already been a home before that time.

Jola and Heinz continued to attend their Stammtisch at least weekly and sometimes more often until Heinz’s death. After that Jola carried on until the Corona made meetings like that impossible. Because she died during this pandemic, we’ve been unable to celebrate her life with all the people who loved her. When her friends finally meet again we are hoping to make an appearance. I fear however it will be a bit like when we visit the cemetery. We always tell the girls that we’re going to visit Oma and Opa. Every time we arrive at the cemetery, Little Bean looks around and says, “But where is she? She’s not here.” Genuinely disappointed we have to explain that we meant we were going to visit her grave. I think the first post-Corona meeting of her Stammtisch will be tearful but I look forward to it nonetheless.