Sauerkraut and Bourbon: A Christmas Story
They were about as unlikely a couple as you could find. Like pairing Pilsner with pecan pie, or sauerkraut with bourbon.
Georg, at 64, was tall, with a well-groomed beard and bright azure eyes. For more than 30 years, he had lived in the small community of Strullendorf, about an hour away from the city of Nuremberg in northern Bavaria. He had been divorced for half of those years and had a grown son who didn’t live far. Five cousins made up the rest of his family in Germany, and he had an older sister, Franziska, who lived in Maine, and a younger brother, Karl, in Quebec. Georg didn’t own a car. Instead, he rode an E-Bike everywhere in the village, and otherwise, took a train. He was officially retired, but had a part time job as a handyman in a pub. His neatly furnished apartment contained him and all his life. The only thing missing was a companion. He had tried online dating and meeting women through friends, but nothing had clicked.
Joan had been widowed for 10 years. She lived alone in a big house with a pool and two dogs, in Knoxville, Tennessee. She worked at the University of Tennessee as a student grants officer. She was 60 years old with grown children, both married. Her family was very large, with more than 30 members in the immediate clan, all living within a few hours of each other. Joan had five siblings and was especially close to her two sisters, Lane and Marguerite. The entire clan gathered for weddings, funerals, and holidays. Joan drove a big SUV. She had also tried dating, but hadn’t had any luck.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students.
From time-to-time we will feature guest writers whom we have invited to contribute to the Transformations series.
Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor
"Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com. Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan and Georg lived on different planets, and yet, they had one point in common, Friendship, Maine, of all places. They just didn’t know it. Joan’s family had owned a summer cottage in Friendship since the late 1800s. Georg’s sister, Franziska, had a long-time friend, Elizabeth, who owned the cottage next door.
It all started on a whim one summer evening in Friendship. Elizabeth threw out the notion to Franziska that Joan and Georg might be candidates for a pen pal friendship. The idea sounded exotic and exciting to the two friends, especially after several glasses of wine. Joan saw Georg’s handsome photograph and thought, Why not?
And so, began a flurry of emails that almost instantaneously turned into daily Skype sessions. Maybe it was their shared laughter, a readiness to be transparent, a love of adventure. But what the heck, every single day?
They got to know each other quickly. Joan’s office mates weren’t used to seeing her door closed, a laugh muffled inside. Before long, they found out why, and were pleased she had a friend who made her smile, even from 4,500 miles away.
During one Skype, Joan remarked that she enjoyed wine, and Georg responded, “Wouldn’t it be nice to share a glass together, in person.” Before you could finish a glass of Franconian wine, Joan planned to visit Georg for ten days in November. The two instigators back in Maine were shocked and not a little anxious. Ten days? Wasn’t that kind of long? What if there was no spark when she stepped off the train? What if they grew tired of each other in just three days? What if, what if, what if….?
To welcome Joan at the local inn, Georg prepared a special basket of German treats. There were soft pretzels, German chocolate, sausage, cheese, mini-wines, and a bottle of German beer. To top it all off, Georg included a diet Coke, a favorite beverage of Joan’s. His attention paid off. She was over-the-top impressed.
Joan and Georg had a wonderful time. They toured the countryside with its medieval towns nestled among gently rolling hills and enjoyed forest walks and bike rides. They made dinner at his apartment. And they laughed. The ten days flew by. A romantic meal in a castle on one of the last evenings sealed the deal. By candlelight, they professed their feelings and future intentions. When the day arrived for Joan to return to the States, she boarded the train to the Munich airport with tears in her eyes.
In the six months and 180 Skypes that followed, they planned for Georg to visit Joan at the end of May 2018. Ninety days. That was the length of his visa. Joan’s sisters and Georg’s sister agreed that 90 days would give them plenty of time to get to know each other on a day to day basis, rather than on dinner dates in romantic castles. And Joan, after all, still had a full-time job.
What would he think of southern food? And the heat? He was fluent in English but what about that southern accent?
When Joan could get away from the university, they visited friends and family. Georg met everybody, and everybody adored him. And neither the heat, nor the southern food, nor the accent posed a problem.
Over the summer, Georg introduced Joan to his brother in Quebec and sister in Camden. The whirlwind tour garnered blessings from everyone along the way. The looks on their faces in each other’s company said it all. They were meant to be together.
It wasn’t long before the three months and Georg’s visa were up. That meant he would return to his apartment, Joan to her empty house, and both back to Skyping. Except, that’s not what happened.
The wedding took place in Knoxville on August 18, 2018, in the presence of family and friends. Their planets had aligned. (In just 13 months!)
Georg returned to Germany to settle his affairs, give up his apartment, and bid his friends and family farewell. He will return to the States this December to file for permanent residency, just in time for Christmas with Joan and her family. There won’t be snow in Tennessee to hearken the season the way it does here in Maine. But Joan and Georg won’t need it.
Franziska Hart lives in Camden and is writing a memoir of her father's time in a British internment camp in India during World War II.
When Elizabeth Macalaster is not at her cottage in Friendship, she lives with her husband in Brunswick. She has published both fiction and nonfiction, and is currently working on a book about the role of homing pigeons in the US Military.
Elizabeth and Franziska have been friends for over 40 years.