It was a long life, and yet it must have seemed a very short life. A varied life - his childhood begun on the winegrowing banks of the Moselle, 12 years of his youth surviving in a Russian prison camp, his maturity working hard in the family business as restaurateur and wine merchant, and his retirement quiet and long, saddened only by the untimely death of his only son. Ernst was married to Gretel for what has today become an unthinkable 70 years.
I didn't know him well - my German came too late for our relationship to blossom - but I understood his uncomplicated affection for me and what seemed his continual joyful amazement over his great-grandchildren. We would have been good friends, I'm sure, in other circumstances.
Ernst Sr kept a fairly untidy but always fruitful garden, so as they toast him over there, I'm looking at all the things that are growing in the woods and in the realm of chaos I call my own garden. I'm remembering him in the promise of beauty and fruitfulness of this late-spring day. And these words seem apt :
"You find a flower half-buried in leaves,
And in your eye its very fate resides.
Loving beauty, you caress the bloom;
Soon enough, you'll sweep petals from the floor.
Terrible to love the lovely so,
To count your own years, to say "I'm old,"
To see a flower half-buried in leaves
And come face to face with what you are."
Han Shan, circa 630 CE, trans. Peter Stambler, Cold Mountain Buddhas, with thanks to Michael P. Garofalo www.gardendigest.com.