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April 2015, vol 11 no 1

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Chris Bays

Heartwood


wood pile
my daughter learns
to count rings

Almost everything about Ehrhard and his home told the story of his trade: the forefinger missing from his hand, the smell of forests, sawdust.

He was my Great Uncle who lived in Mohrlautern, a village nestled amidst Rhineland fields and forests. When I was a child, mama insisted we visit him and his family every month. She said he was once an important man. I didn't know what she meant, and I didn't understand why Papa, who preferred solitude to mingling, didn't mind driving us through dark winding hills to their home. I was always reluctant to visit.

I didn't like shaking his hand; its calluses felt like bark. I was afraid to talk to him. He'd sit and brood in the corner of the living room, eying the front door. He seldom spoke, but when he did, his sinewy frame leaned out of shadows, and the room became silent. I remember his gray eyes, the thunder in his voice. I remember mama telling me that he had hit hard times – it was our duty to buy his wares.

Decades later, I wake to a call from mama. She tells me how he suffered, cancer needling his body. She tells me the meaning of his name – Ehrhard, hard honor. She tells me how he almost lost family and home during the war when he tore down Nazi barricades blocking the village road.


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