If you’ve ever read a Charles Dickens’s novel, then you know who they were. Three men:
- the tall, lanky one with a light-hearted disposition…possibly due to a lighter than average brain?
- the gruff, garrulous man who stands proud and talks too loud
- the sad, short fellow who’s grown old before his time
The three stood there in the uneven, brick courtyard, watching us as if we were the circus come to town. True, we were hauling a rather large, rundown circus-like wagon (I think it was military, actually). And now and then we probably spoke some nonsensical language. But we were equally amused by this trio, staring for all the world like they had never heard it’s supposed to be rude.
Perhaps I stared rudely as well, for the memory of them still makes me chuckle. I felt I had stepped into 19th Century London and would soon meet Oliver or David Copperfield running around the corner. These three were certainly not the main characters but definitely among the intriguing cast with names befitting their personalities or idiosyncracies.
Later, we learned to know these real men only slightly better, but even such trivial knowledge is essential when choosing a name. The long, skinny one was simple, but jovial. He looked out for his buddies in honest friendship, and one could see he had a compassionate heart. I suppose as Dickens I would have called him something like Hartley Goode.
The one who seemed most together on first glance was the hunter in his dark green felt hat and coat. At least, he continued wearing his formal German hunter’s attire although he had most certainly been stripped of any rights to actually own a gun anymore. He spoke formally, but with much ado about nothing. He patronized his companions. He played the chivalrous gallant, but he was obviously a cad. I think I am a forgiving soul, but when I see someone taking a dump in my vegetable patch, I begin to think ill of him. Therefore, Herr Hunter, I dub thee Sir Ludwig Filtherton.
And last but not least, I would call our neighbor and fellow tenant (the only one whose real name I actually still know) Aldwin Underweather. The poor soul. He, too, had a kindness, a goodness, a gentleness about him as his friend, Hartley Goode. They all drank too much; they were all alcoholics, but he was trapped so deeply in his addiction that he looked like hopelessness. As I remember the story we were told…ever since The Wall came down, he had been unemployed. He was still a young man–not much older than Ange and me, but he looked decades older.
Some law in Germany states that when an occupied building changes hands, the new owner has no right to ask the current residents to leave. This makes some sense, but the crazy thing was that the two people still renting apartments on the property my in-laws bought were still paying East German rent! I think it was something ridiculous like 20 bucks a month! Lucky for them.
Well, when Ange and I started renovating one of the apartments in the newly purchased, old building, we soon learned to hold our breath when walking past Aldwin Underweather’s small rooms. His apartment, beneath the one we renovated, reeked of beer, filth, and B.O. I sometimes worried that he would leave a candle lit and burn the house down, but mostly we felt sorry for the guy. Except when we couldn’t help but laugh at him.
Like the time he came home drunk, couldn’t manage to fit his key in the door, so instead tried to run up a plank to his window with running commentary. We were courteous enough not to peek out the window, but we sure did snicker under our covers in our bedroom just above his window. I’m sure the sight must have been Charlie Chaplinesque.
Then one day he came to our apartment, afraid. He was obviously hallucinating. We tried to help him. His family (yes, he did have family in town) tried to help him, too. He spent a short amount of time in a clinic to dry out, but that sadly did not last. Eventually, he did move out.
We even see him now and then at the next village’s grocery store. A bag of empty brown bottles to return for “Pfand” (the deposit). A new crate to take home. He looks so old, so old. I’m surprised he’s still alive. I don’t know what happened to his friends. But he is still around. Still an old man, as he was ten years ago when he was young. He’s used up, worn out… Someone has paid the price for him. I wish he could see that and be renewed. Then, he would be given a new name; I wonder what it would be?
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…”
Emily Dickinson, XXXII