All Tomorrow’s Parties

Before we leave Germany, there are parties and picnics to help make saying goodbye a little easier.

Three months is a season, long enough for the days to get shorter and the sun to drop noticeably in the sky. We spent the weekend saying our goodbyes. The academic life is one of comings and goings, so I’m more used to this feeling than I might like. But now my daughter is old enough to have made friends on her own, and to see her take her leave of them just kills me. People have been so kind to us here, so welcoming. We wanted to give them something back. So, of course, we fed them.

The kita (day care) where Squishy spent her summer wanted to have a going-away party for her. In Germany the person celebrating makes the cake—and it’s always cake. Wanting to put a slightly American twist on things, Tara went all out on cupcakes, dying some pink, making multi-colored buttercream frosting, decorating the tops with elaborate patterns of sprinkles. Germany has no tassenkuchen tradition–muffins come closest–so the teachers were mystified, but the kids could tell right away these cupcakes were something special. When we came to pick Squishy up at the end of the day there was evidence of that frosting on more than a few shirts.

On Saturday, we threw an American picnic, except that it hailed all afternoon, so we had the party in our apartment instead, and we didn’t serve hamburgers and potato salad, but cooked mostly Italian-inspired food. We made a pork roast in the style Judy Rogers calls “mock porchetta,” slathering the meat inside and out with a mixture of lemon zest, herbs, capers, salt, and a ton of garlic, and letting it sit for a day before roasting it slowly. It’s profoundly good, and something we make in the States to celebrate. The butcher left the skin on, and I noticed one or two guests making repeated trips to the table for just one more piece of crackling. The wheat berry salad, loaded with crisp cucumbers, rich cherry tomatoes, and more herbs, was another big hit. Germans have a taste for whole grains–more than one of our friends here grinds their own grain to make bread–but making a salad with the grains seemed like a new trick to most of our guests, and one they liked a lot. People had started to drift out before I realized that that was the best party I’d ever throw where I couldn’t understand most of the conversations around me.

I have a little more work to do here, so my family has gone on ahead of me. And now, sitting in an apartment stripped of all traces of my wife and daughter, I’m acutely aware of the truth that home is wherever the people you love are.

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