Grössi

It was Swiss National Day. 1 August, when the original three cantons swore blood oaths against foreign aggression and the hated Hapsburgs. It was unlike any other Erste August they had celebrated before.

He sat across from her, a diminutive woman from centuries past, a veritable peasant milkmaid once upon a time who most certainly hurled boulders on the invading Austrians at Morgarten. She might have been a shade, her stature so small against the massive wooden chair she found herself seated upon. His grandmother – his father’s side – who was approaching her 85th birthday.

Grössi. Swiss shorthand for grandmother.

He looked upon her gnarled hands – worn well with ages of manual labor – and remembered the tenderness behind those curved fingers. How she would comfort his father when he was sick – a shot of grög to cure any illness (warm schnapps with water, lemon, and sugar to hide the bitterness) – how those very same hands once fended off a rabid fox using only a wooden pitchfork before his grandfather – Opa – shot it with a rudimentary (possibly flintlock) shotgun. The very same hands that knitted water-tight wicker baskets, carved planks from felled trees, sowed corn in the Alpine climate of Fribourg, cut beans, made salbe to cure wounds and prevent infections, swatted misbehaving children and grandchildren, and toasted fortune and misfortune alike with a hearty Sante and a fiery schnapps. Those very hands, rough as talons, that would pat his head and remind him – even well into adulthood – he was still just a little boy. Hepschabübe.

Apart from his full-blood Swiss cousin who was destined to inherit the family farm, he was the only grandchild who spoke enough of her odd dialect to engage in genuine conversation; the trouble with immigrant parents. He recalled the times she would badger him about his American girlfriends, when he would settle down and find himself a nice Swiss girl.

Üb’ die Berge, she would say, passing him chocolate and sweets, forcing him to sit in the shade and rest as she labored in the fields, refusing to accept his help. Over the mountain, indicating a potential Swiss bride was just over the next Berge for her wayward American grandson.

Nay, Grössi, i’ wie nicht, he would respond a thousandfold. No, Grandmother, I don’t know. His catch-all response for matters of the heart.

Schön, schön, she would sigh gayly, returning her attention to fields needing plowing and hay needing turning. Good, good. It was a waiting game for her – a means of conversation – and even though he dreaded explaining himself in a foreign tongue to this family relic, he found solace in their brief, practical conversations.

She was no taller than five feet, coming to his shoulder on a good day, but with a perpetual crick in her spine, as if the weight of the farm and family constantly caused her to tilt to and fro in either direction. Despite her size – this elderly ragamuffin – she was worth every ounce of her salt, easily outpacing him in plowing fields, harvesting hay, gathering roots, or chopping wood. She was a metronome, and he, in the prime of his Life, found himself wholly inadequate in her maternal, enduring presence. She was carved from the very stone of her mountainous homeland; part of him was certain she watched the granite blossom from nothingness.

He had visited the farm several years ago, intent on exploring Europe via foot and backpack. For a week, whilst his luggage languished in Germany – Düütschesland, she’d mutter – he helped about the place, trying to earn his keep, to show her that not all Americans were fat and lazy. Even though he awoke before dawn and helped milk cows before herding them to the hills, she was always there before him. It seemed Time was afraid of her and merely responded to her bidding. Geh’ du Lese’, Professor, she would say laughingly. Go back to reading. Farm work was no place for a boy outpaced by an octogenarian.

Once, many years ago, she asked about his American interests and what sort of music he enjoyed. Though he did take a particular liking to traditional Swiss polka and yodel, he confessed he admired Rammstein. She swore in rapid fire Swiss, crossing herself thrice – a good Catholic woman – before chastising him for his lack of taste and affinity for megabrutal music. Mein’ Gött. When they visited Rome together later that summer, she entered the Vatican on bended knee, crawling through St. Peter’s gate as a true Pilgrim. The heavens sang.

When his mother was stricken with breast cancer, the very same diminutive woman (who had only left Switzerland three times before) made an immediate pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for healing. His uncle, who ran the farm, protested at the loss of his most valuable hand for a near week: how would he get by? Soga’ Ketzer brauche’ Hilfe, the good Catholic would laugh. Even heretics need help, she said with love. His Protestant mother had been cancer-free for several years.

He thought of the old woman he and his missionary comrades had served in Santiago de Chile. Abuela, they had affectionately called her, a tiny woman who was easily 80 years old, yet cared for her American hijos and hijas as if they were her own babes. He saw his grandmother in this woman – the very same spark of Life and vitality no hardship could extinguish. She kissed the ground as they left for the last time, falling prostate upon the ground, rising for each child, kissing them on the cheek, and whispering Spanish prayers into their ears as they hugged goodbye. He wept that day, finding his Grössi in the slums of Chile.

His thoughts returned to 1 August, a day of celebration and fest. Here they were, assembled as a family: grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, the whole mess of them drunk on wine, schnapps, food, and family.

His father raised his wine glass and the table silenced themselves – the chatter and laughter coming to a hushed close. “I wish to make a toast,” he said in his heavily accented English, “to Grössi. And to Switzerland.”

The quiet table burst into raucous cheers of hear, hear’s and Sante’s as they clinked crystal wine glasses against one another, ensuring they made eye contact with every individual at the table (and never crossing arms; taboo and bad luck) before supping the fine French wine.

Amidst bread, blood, and drink, all was well.

He looked at his father, a proud, strong man who seized the American dream by the throat and throttled every meaningful promise into existence for his family. He held back tears – plain enough to see – as he smashed his glass again and again.

Für Grössi, Vater,” he said as their glasses met.

Grössi raised her own glass, her petite bird arm cradling the fine schlöcki as she toasted her fellow well-wishers.

Für dich,” he said as he met Grössi’s strong, patient eye. “Mein’ Grössi.”

“Mein’ Kinde’,” she replied warmly, the sound of cascading crystal reverberating throughout the room. My child.

She had passed away some 12 hours before, approximately 3,000 miles away, in the comfort of her bed.


My Grandmother in Switzerland passed away during the early hours of 1 August. I last saw her in 2014 when I started Camino Primaris, still the strong, implacable woman of my youth. Her image of strength, tenacity, and willpower will ne’er leave me.

Geh’ mit Gött, Grössi.

Go with God.

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On Goddamn Grendel

Hey there folks,

Wrote this observation up late last night. I reckon it might make far more sense with all the allusions and what have you if you’re familiar with Beowulf, the epic poem (not the shitty movies), and Grendel, the novel.

Cheers.

Continue reading “On Goddamn Grendel”

Broke Down With Nothing but a Pen and Paper

Consider the following to be fictionalized short stories based upon real-life interactions during the previous two weeks. Whilst on the road attending a couple of Advanced Placement seminars throughout New Mexico, the writing bug took hold – travel does that for me.

Enjoy these mad ramblings.

 

Continue reading “Broke Down With Nothing but a Pen and Paper”

Midnight Conversations

Howdy folks,

The following is a short dialogue I penned last night over the course of introspection and the Common Good.

Bear in mind, Caesar was stabbed for the Common Good.

That being said, and only one allusion to a mighty historical figure being made, I hope you’ll view this allegory for what it is.

Ah, yes; what is it?

As I tell my students: figure it out.

Cheers for now.

Continue reading “Midnight Conversations”

Praise for Dorian Gray

Best to read this one to Praise Abort on loop, comrades. The satire is not lost upon me – do enjoy. And be mindful of where you listen to this; not exactly a work-friendly song.

Now then, on to the meat and potatoes, a lovely descent into the darker aspects of self-reflection.

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Dorian Gray

Always been fascinated by Wilde’s piece; are we not all Dorian Gray?

By this, comrades, I mean are we not all hiding something from those closest to us, hiding behind the paint brush and decorated façade of artwork?

Take, for instance, myself.

Few of my charges have seen me outside of school (thank God), and fewer still have read me (thank the gods). No, my goombas, this is not my blog. I will continue to deny the existence of this blog time and again: deny deny deny.

Dorian Gray. I recommend you go and read it. Short, but with a powerful message. Wilde, the tortured artist that he was, secured immortality with this piece. And, yes, comrades, immortality is within our grasp should we choose so – one merely must make the pen (or instrument of your fancy) ensure your mark upon the ages.

Dorian Gray. The melancholic tale of a young man lost to hedonism and vice, indulging narcissism at every opportune. Ah, Wilde; you master.

We are all guilty of being Dorian Gray. Richard Cory. Hank Moody. Grendel. We all have our masks and disguises we put on to deceive and mislead our friends and family. I, comrades, am no different.

The Bruno whom you meet in the hallways and classroom is a far cry from the midnight boozer and weekend rager we all know and love (and a few former lovers positively dislike). Yet it is not without necessity: scarcely can I be myself within the confines of the classroom lest I end up in the unemployment line.

This isn’t to say, comrades, that I’m a drug-fueled, chain smoking, alcoholic on a 24-hour bender, but that my work and personal personas are vastly different. Within the classroom, I do my utmost to ensure I am a paragon of erudition and banter – my charges must learn, after all, and their care is my utmost concern. Hell, my goombas are my raison d’être for without them, my Life would be honestly and completely meaningless – what point is there for me without the pursuit of Knowledge for Knowledge’s sake? Seeing as how I fail at love and relationships harder than a South American dictatorship seeking legitimacy, it stands to reason I put my energies and motivations into something worthwhile and progressive: the love, and sharing, of knowledge.

Granted I am no Dorian Gray, nor Oscar Wilde, but the analogy can be drawn nonetheless. Ah, how I thrive upon the sweet nectars of hops and wheat, how my lungs call out for further enlightment contained within puffs of embers, how the flesh incurs with each warm bed. I am mortal, after all, and though I’m a far cry from Dorian Gray, the indulgence here and there is a powerful motivator. Yet it is nothing without the classroom – to serve.

Are we – all of us – guilty of pleasures and secrets we keep from those we love and behold? Certainly, my Life is an open book (as evidenced by placing inner thoughts and ideas here for public scrutiny) but certainly some aspects must be restrained and reined in, lest those we serve get a distorted view of what is our personal Truth. One must merely be able to open the book and read the words in a sense.

The beauty, comrades, is keeping the two separate. School Bruno and Bruno are two vastly different beings, working in tandem, and giving one another a respectable breadth lest one impose upon the other. Yes, verily, I love my drinking, smoking, and fucking far more than is necessary (bless my liver, lungs, and heart), but that aspect of me bears no necessity in the classroom. No, on the contrary, the Me inside the classroom is the philosopher-king I espouse to my charges. Granted, that’s perhaps the most pompous thing I’ve ever said, but it stands to reason that an instructor must separate the private from the personal Life – the Dorian Gray of the classroom is not the Dorian Gray in the painting.

I am not entirely sure what prompted this writing. No doubt a bout of drink, smoke, and moon gazing is the culprit (as most of my writing is wont to follow), but I still cannot place a certainty upon it. Regardless, the point is thus: we are all Dorian Gray in some fashion or another. Do we not keep secrets? Do we not forgo details? Tell half-truths? Indeed, I wager we all do, ergo I am fine with comparing myself to Dorian Gray – that sad sack of hedonistic narcissism that ultimately proved a cataclysmic and self-destructive downfall.

I am acceptable to that. I am human. I am mortal. But without my vices, why, I’d be rather boring and ordinary – and that would be Hell.

(Spring) Break from the Norm

Hey there folks,

Foremost, happy Good Friday (regardless of your religious beliefs), and may you get to spend this time with loved ones and the like.

Spring Break draws to an uncomfortable, yet welcome, end; by Monday morn, my charges will once more be at my pedantic mercy. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I do look forward to returning to my classroom. Only two more months of formal schooling afore Summer break reaches us in earnest. Frankly, I wish to keep the indomitable pace going and work hard for these next few weeks, all the better to savor what Summer brings to us mere mortals.

If Summer is anything like this past break, well, I’ve much to look forward to, comrades.

Spring Break began with a spot of welcome news from my bosom comrade, Stephanie, of Camino fame. “We bookended the newsletter,” she snapped me. Indeed, it was as she said; my article was emblazoned proudly upon the very first page of the La Concha newsletter whilst Stephanie’s wonderful review rounded off the entire manuscript. Not a bad bit of news to wake up to on your first day of a week-long respite.

Not pictured: My horrendously cracked screen

Goaded by my incurable desire to perpetually wander (and equally bolstered by the humble pride my published writings evoked), I set course for Duke City. Armed with a rather plump bag of clothes and toiletries, a slew of essays in need of grading, and a score of plastic army men, I began my Spring sojourn by visiting my nieces in Albuquerque.

I suppose my brother and my sister-in-law were there too, but, come on! Babies!

For several days, I lounged about in abject laziness, earning myself a few points toward Slothfulness on the Greatest Sin Scale; fret not, for Pride and Arrogance remain my Greatest Sins (not sure I should be proud of that, but the irony isn’t lost upon me either). Alongside my nieces, I must have watched Boss Baby a half-dozen times; add in repeated viewings of Frozen, Trolls, Story-Bots, and a slew of other kid-friendly shows for the bulk of my stay. When one sits down and actually analyzes Boss Baby, it really is a horrifying concept: best not to think of such things. My rhetorical sentiments were lost upon my nieces, all the cooing and babbling failing to satisfy my desire for a genuine, philosophical discussion.

Whilst lounging about in Albuquerque, provided schedules lined up, I did manage to visit a few old comrades for victuals. My dear comrade, Roxann, (yes, the wedding one) and I dined over shish kebabs and gyros, regaling one another with anecdotes of teaching and cat ownership, all the while lamenting the fact we are growing older in body. The couple of hours we spent together over good food and better conversation, comrades, made me realize a few things:

She’s right; I’m not getting any younger. The recurring pain I’ve in my left shoulder won’t abate with time; indeed, it is liable to become worse as the joints and sinews holding my body together begin their slow process of degradation;

The world yet remains unconquered. My trip to the Holy Land may be postponed for now, a tenure in the Peace Corps currently on standby, and my delusional plans of grandeur may be a tad unrealistic, but the fact remains that the globe still has much to offer;

Do it, she urged. Stop lollygagging and making excuses, comrade. Simply do it.

From the lovely novel “The Sultan’s Seal”

I dined with Camino comrades – a lovely couple I met at the Gathering of past years – and we swapped tales (both old and new) about our Camino experiences. After complaining of thick, sucking mud, the constant deluge of southern France, bed bugs, joint pain, inscrutable pilgrims, the oppressive heat, and the ever-present language barriers, we all shared a good laugh. “Who would want to do such things again,” we chortled. “One must be nuts to go back on Camino.”

They leave next month for France.

I leave July for Spain.

The Way, comrades, is inscrutable, and the allure – the pull – it has upon me is hypnotic. There, walking amidst strangers in a foreign land, with but a few belongings upon my back; that is where I feel most alive.

Yes, my classroom offers me a very excellent manner of achieving immortality. Working with my budding scholars brings me great joy, one I have never felt before in any of my various lines of work. But the hardships of the classroom are not quite the hardships I’m endeared to on the Way.

Yes, certain individuals can make me feel alive, but I am exceptionally good at keeping them to a distance. “What are you running from,” I’m oft told. Whenever one comes too close, I prick myself upon their thorns – a Rose bloodied by negligence and lax stupidity. The Way reminds me that Life isn’t about me: it’s about other people. It would be good to have a refresher.

In short, comrades, I aim to return to the Way. A respite on the dusty trails is just what my soul needs in order to maintain balance for the coming year.

A Call to Arms

Today I stayed at school until a little after 6PM, getting some (much needed) grading done and generally enjoying the solitude an empty classroom affords a weary soul. There is something to be said about a room – once previously filled with abounding energy – now derelict and silent as a still night. Upon switching off my lava lamp and taking final notes in my journal, I sauntered through the grounds to rev up the Green Manalishi (the Jeep for you newcomers) before heading home to some much needed and well-earned respite.

This lava lamp

Blaring Sir Elton John with the e’er present cigarette dangling from my parched lips, I casually drove back to my digs to set about my evening rituals. The sun had already set by the time I made it home, a friendly reminder that perhaps I might have been at the school a bit too long. Just shy of 12 hours today.

No matter, I reasoned, for today was a good day. And comrades, any day I wake up is a good day.

Lately I have been feeling as if my calling was misguided; that my brief tenure as a teacher was not the thread of my skein I needed to be following. After all, as I’ve written times afore (nominally whilst on the Way), I am oft unsure of what path I need be pursuing. Indeed, at my age, it is typically frowned upon to be job hopping and taking sabbatical as I am wont to do. Events beyond my control, and a select few wholly of my own doing, attempt to lead me astray from time to time.

But these kids – these magnificent little fuckers – without e’er realizing it, bring me back to grounded reality, coolly reminding me that, yes, my skein has led me here. And, Odin dammit, I am doing good things. They are doing better things.

Like taking charge of their education

As I write this from the confines of my meager kitchen, graced by the presence of Soviet propaganda and other curiosities, I am reminded of my charges’ impact upon my well-being.

A poetry book given as a Christmas gift lies atop the table. A new leather journal sits comfortably in my old school bag. Brilliant words and honest thoughts my charges have shared with me – the hallmark of trust – are strewn about my bachelor quarters, ranging from barely legible chicken scratch to assiduously constructed characters. My classroom is adorned in hand-drawn sentiments, gaudy poetry projects, and private letters and keepsakes gifted to me by my goombas. And the words my charges speak to me when greeting one another at the door or passing by in the hall, ah, comrades! Those words shall e’er provide me succor when in my darkest depths of self-pity and loathing.

This morning as I was readying my classroom in a fatigued stupor (a wedding having taken the bulk of my weekend’s productivity), I was greeted at the door by one of my charges who wished to share her creative writing piece in privacy and solitude. As I read her tale of heartbreak and youthful understanding, I asked her why she felt it necessary to share this groundbreaking revelation with me first. She had sought me out afore her friends – even her best friend with whom she’s always chitchatting during class – to seek my input and advice. It appears, comrades, I might have become an adult after all, damndest thing. We talked over her piece and swapped ideas and tales about how best to capture the emotion and really bring the story to Life. A budding writer, a strong one at that, and one who ensured my week was off to an amazing start by seeking my assistance.

Last week I was greeted by one of my Dungeons and Dragons charges (he is an upper classman and not in my direct tutelage) and he juxtaposed himself on the wall I was currently leaning upon. “Sir,” he started, “I have read your Thing We Do Not Speak Of.” It is a running joke amongst my charges that this blog does not exist and has nothing to do with me – deny deny deny. He told me how he read the previous posts, how he read it aloud to his mother, and how the bits about public education made him lament the state of education within New Mexico, but he still got a good laugh out of it. “The stuff you say about us means a lot,” he confided, as I casually shrugged my no-nothing shoulders, a grin emblazoned upon my stupid face. “You’re doing God’s work,” he said in closing, jaunting off to class afore the bell could ring him tardy.

Instances like this, comrades, these passing words and idle chitchats, keep me motivated in my darkest of days. How easy it is to lose sight of the task at hand, to become embroiled in the petty politics and administrative autocracies public education is renowned for, to sink low amidst the refuse and rubbish of standardized tests, misinformation, and power struggles teachers oft find themselves corralled in.

Yet here, in that instant, the manacles of deprivation had been cast off by the kind and honest remarks uttered by a charming goomba, and no amount of adult flak or administrative tyranny could drag me low. Ah, kids, you haven’t any idea what you mean to your “bat shit insane” instructor. And yes, that’s an actual quote from one of my promising writers. The very same from this morning.

“…what he thinks he knows.”

I have worn a great many hats throughout my tenure on Earth: salesman, security guard, student, wanderer, farmer, volunteer, journalist. No profession gives me greater joy than being a teacher. Really and truly, comrades, this is my calling. At times it is wholly taxing and I find the effort needed to survive in this trepidatious world to be almost too great; how the kids provide nectar! The pay is terrible, the administration is aloof and out of touch, the state has it out for us, the bulk of the public is unaware, but these little fuckers make it all worth the while.

I’m a teacher. It took me decades to arrive here, but sweet Christ, I’m a teacher.

Still a jerk, however. Accurate.

Now finish your essays (and stop reading my blog).