A Totally Serious Post on an Important Topic

Ask me what I did today. Go ahead – do it. I will tell you eventually, but first you need the back story . . .

I have lived in Austria for about 35 years now, speaking more German than English on the average day. And yet, I have never lost my American accent. When meeting someone for the first time, it usually only takes a sentence or two before they ask me where I come from. So I have had A LOT of conversations about cultural differences between these two countries. And when I say “a lot”, I mean a gazillion.

It has made me somewhat of an expert on Austrian/American conversational relations. When I was teaching, I sometimes did cultural lessons on the topic and developed a list of “Things You Should NOT Say to Americans” when meeting for the first time. For example, the Austrian might want to know how the American came to be in Austria at all – what brought them to this country. The question usually comes out jarringly direct as:

“Why are you here??”

Another point was that when an American says “Hi. How are you?” it is not a question. (Neither is “How do you do”, by the way.) Under no circumstances do they really want to know how you are – so don’t tell them.

The absolute Number One on this list was this:

“If an American has been in this country for more than 15 minutes, assume that, yes, they DO know what an “Oachkatzlschwoaf” is.”

It is dialect for “squirrel’s tail” and Austrians, for some reason, seem very proud of this word. I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times if I know what it means. What makes it doubly annoying is that I never once heard an Austrian actually use the word in normal conversation: “Oh look at that oachkatzl! What a bushy schwoaf he has!” If that happened, I think it would go a long way in making this all less irritating.

So, go ahead and ask me what I did today, because  I worked on my latest crocheting project – a squirrel for my sister-in-law.

I made the schwoaf.

oachkatzlschwoaf

Damals war ich vierzehn

 

When I was 14, it was the year 1976. The year of the American Bicentennial. A celebration of 200 years of freedom and democracy. In commemoration, I baked a cake and decorated it with an approximation of the original American flag. (Please don’t count the number of stars or stripes. I wasn’t a perfectionist back then.) The only reason I still know this is because there is a picture in my childhood photo album. I stare at it now and feel that it represents the peak of my patriotism, not to mention my baking skills.

The reason I have dredged up this particular memory is that I have just finished reading this book: “Damals war ich vierzehn”. In English, the title would be something like “I Was Fourteen Back Then: Youth in the Third Reich”. It’s a collection of short stories/essays/memoirs of Austrian writers who were children of various ages during the reign of Hitler. The experiences and perspectives were wildly different, but all of them moving. There was the boy whose torment by his fellow aspiring Hitler youth only made him want to belong more. There was the man piecing together memory fragments from his four-year old self who emerged as an orphan from the rubble of a bombed-out air raid shelter and somehow managed to travel all alone to his grandmother hundreds of miles away. There was the little girl who started singing a song while waiting in line at the butcher’s, only to be slapped viciously and repeatedly by her beloved Grandma. (She didn’t know it was an anti-Hitler song. It was just something her dad sang.) There was the young Jewish girl whose family (or what was left of it) returned to Austria right after the war – “now that it was all over” – only to learn painfully over and over again that it was all far from being over.

The one that got to me most, for some reason, was the story of two neighbor kids who were ordered by the Führer to bring their pet dogs to a sort of army physical to see if they were fit for service on the front lines. The kids proceeded to “train” (= torment) their dogs with loud bangs, sirens, and pain to make sure they cowered and ran off during the test (and were therefore rejected and spared). While reading this story, a realization washed over me of just how far-reaching and deeply implanted the tentacles of the Nazis had become by that point, interfering in daily family life even down to the relationships between little kids and their dogs.

This book is one of two perennial favorites of teachers in Austria who have to teach about the Second World War*. The other is called “The Wave” and it tells the story of a Californian teacher who conducted an experiment on his students after they rejected the idea that fascism could take hold in America. He began a movement in his class based on principles of “strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride.”** He then added in symbols, and slogans and salutes. His experiment took on a life of its own, spread throughout the school and quickly got out of his control. Brutality and torment ensued.***

 

“How could they?!” I remember thinking the exact same thing as my German teacher in high school taught us about that historical period, including her own youthful experiences. She told us how at some point a critical mass of followers was reached, after which dissent became life-threatening.  She told us how parents eventually became afraid of their own children and could no longer speak freely in front of them. (Think about the song in the butcher’s shop – that grandma surely acted not out of political conviction, but out of fear.) My teacher let us know the whole story, including all the ultimate atrocities. I still thought “How could they??! That could never happen here!”

I must have been about 14 at the time, maybe a little older, but in any case, still near the peak of my patriotism and baking skills.

 

And here I sit, about 44 years later and 45 days before the next election, wondering not only if it could happen, but if it will happen. Fascism in America. Or if our institutions (or what is left of them), our Constitution (or what is left of it), our Free Press (or whatever that is now), and our liberty loving people (who is that exactly? which liberties do they care about? whose liberties do they care about?) may pull off a last-minute reversal.

The American people beating back fascism would go a long way in restoring the entire world’s faith in our country, not to mention my own. Will it happen?

Or will more brutality and torment ensue?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

*One principle in the Austrian curriculum in History is called “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”, meaning “coming to terms with the past”. The idea behind this policy is fairly straightforward and Santayana-ish . . . “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Austrian students are confronted with the events and the atrocities of the time of their grandparents (or maybe now great-grandparents). In their Junior or Senior years, they all take a class trip to Mauthausen, which was the one major concentration camp in Austria.
We have no real concept of dealing with the past in the United States. On the contrary. As Gore Vidal wrote (about the issue of legalizing marijuana) in the New York Times: “It is a lucky thing for the American moralist that our country has always existed in a kind of time‐vacuum: we have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday.” He wrote that in September 1970 – a half century ago. It still seems true today. Maybe more so than ever.
 ** In other words, “Law and Order, Build the Wall, America First, Make America Great Again”.
***Strangely enough, there was a scandal here in Austria just last year. A teacher was using this book to teach about WWII and, for some reason, his/her students started role-playing the same dynamics extra-curricularly. It got bad. Things are not perfect here either.
 

Mansplainers

(Kur Report – Part 9)

 

Except for sporadic traveling sisterhoods (i.e. small groups of housewives who use the health care system to arrange biannual free vacations together), we cure guests all come here alone. That means part of the experience includes finding new temporary friends. Last time I was lucky to meet a lovely woman to take walks with as well as the boisterous, multi-cultural, and interesting crowd who gathered in the smoking hut on the terrace. This time the pickings were slimmer and more homogeneous.

I remember learning in a high school Psychology class (at that time, to my amazement) that the number one determining factor in the formation of friendships is proximity. The girl who lives across the street or sits next to you in homeroom is more likely to become your friend than a less accessible girl who shares all your opinions and interests. It’s the same thing here.

On arrival, I gravitated toward the terrace and immediately met two perfectly pleasant Austrian women. The next few times I came they were in the company of three or four middle-aged+ men who all talked loudly, a mile a minute, and often at the same time. The few times the women said anything, the men took up the topic and shared their vast knowledge, often repeating what the woman had just said as if it were their own original idea. My visits to their table were mostly brief and taciturn.

Last night, I actually sat down and stayed for a while. For an hour I was instructed on a whole variety of subjects – from the secrets of growing balcony flowers to Austrian property rights, from corona virus to bartending, from various Austrian B-celebrities to the “refugee problem”, from the probable causes of to the cures for my bursitis attacks . . . With my irritation factor rising steadily, one of them began informing me about the best way to learn English. I briefly considered mentioning that he was now entering my area of expertise.

Clearly, however, my voice was too thin to be audible to them. I needed some assistance from a more powerful one.

I waited for an opening. It came along fairly quickly when someone mentioned music. They were trying to remember the name of the man who sang “What a Wonderful World” and I just happened to a have a video of my daughter singing that very song on my cell phone. I pushed “Play” and handed the cell to one of them saying “That’s my daughter.” They slowly passed it around.

The mansplaining ended abruptly. For the next half hour, we talked about music and international adoption and racism. They looked me in the eyes and asked me a  lot of questions. They listened to the answers. Two of them shared stories about non-white members of their own extended families.  They became people and the conversation became a nice one.

Thanks, Mitzi.

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

Life Among the Lemmings

 

There have been murmurings lately about masks being required again in the future – but so far only in certain areas  – like at bars in tourist hotspots or in the few communities where there have been local outbreaks. Two of those were traced back to church services – and in one, the congregation apparently not only sang and danced and hugged and kissed, they also all drank out of the same communion goblet. (She says, shaking her head.) So now everyone within a 10- or 20-mile radius is now in quarantine. I assume the Viennese will also have to go back to wearing masks in public spaces, being so densely packed together AND permeated with tourists. But where I am, the lockdowns and mask-wearing and disinfecting are all receding in our memories. People have gone back to regular habits with the exception of cheek-kissing and handshaking. (Replaced by hugging and elbow-bumping, respectively, which, if you ask me, are both improvements.) The only places left where masks are required are pharmacies and public transport.

So, it felt a bit strange last week to have to dig out my mask and put it on while riding the train and then the streetcars in Graz. In both cases, I found it comforting to look around and see all the other passengers wearing one too. There is a certain pressure toward social conformity here that apparently keeps most everyone in line. When the lockdown came, it was estimated that something like 90% or 95% percent of the population complied – or maybe I should say they respected it. I don’t remember hearing about any mask altercations in stores. No one showed up mask-less at the parliament with signs and guns to shout about freedom. There was one sorry, sparsely attended protest, but the people speaking there couldn’t seem to agree on whether masks, vaccines or 5G networks were the biggest threat.

 

I keep wondering what all this says about us. Are we all lemmings following the pack? Are we somehow . . . less free?

Or simply more unified?

I was impressed from the start how the government coalition of Conservatives and Greens took charge and spoke with one voice. Daily press conferences kept the population well and honestly informed while preparing us carefully for the next steps to expect. Experts in every area of communal life (health system, welfare system, school system, public transport and public safety, banking, tourism, and commerce . . .) came up with thoughtful and detailed policies which were constantly updated and adapted. Just to give one example, when the schools closed down and switched to distance learning, my husband was asked by the school board how many and which of his students did not have access to a computer and/or internet at home. There were only two in his school. A few weeks later, packages arrived at their doors with brand new HP laptops inside along with a letter saying they should be returned to the school at the end of the year. I was amazed that someone in the government even thought about these kids, much less arranged for a solution in such an efficient and trusting way. You’d think they would have a thousand other more pressing issues to deal with.

It was the same for me when I had my two months of unemployment. I was dreading the humiliation and bureaucracy, but it turned out that I only needed 10 minutes to fill out a very unobtrusive online form and click “Send”. Three days later, an already complete application for benefits arrived in the mail. I had to fill in three short missing pieces of information (such as my bank account number for the money transfers) and sign it. I mailed it back the same day, postage free. Two months later, I sent a one sentence email informing them that I was employed again. That was the entirety of the “red tape”. Not exactly a socialist nightmare.

 

There was one incident in Graz where I encountered  “free” people. After taking a seat in a streetcar, I looked up and noticed an unmasked couple across from me. They looked familiar. I think they were a part of a loosely organized group who disperse themselves regularly among the various small train stations along my route and then spend the day asking commuters for money. I’ve had (very short) interactions with some of them for years. And so, here in the streetcar, I was not surprised when the man immediately asked me for money. I gave my practiced response of staring him in the eyes silently for six seconds and then turning away. (My alternate reaction in cases when a child is with them is to point at the child and ask why she isn’t in school. Both of these seem to work pretty effectively.) Five minutes later, the ticket checkers showed up. They approached the couple. Did they have tickets? No. Did they have masks? No. (The checker opened his bag, took out two masks and handed them over.) Did they have identification? No. Did they want to buy a ticket now? Yeah, maybe. Did they have money? No. During the entire conversation, the checkers remained calm and polite, even friendly. At that point we had reached the final stop and we all got off. I never found out how the situation resolved itself. But I am 99.9% sure no one ended up on the ground or in handcuffs. I am also sure that I will be passing these same people again in some train station or another next year, and the year after that.

 

With such catastrophic numbers and trends in the US news each day, this seems like such an insignificant little story, so it has taken me a long time to figure out why it has been on my mind. On the one hand, I DO believe that people here in Austria are generally under more pressure to conform. But the streetcar incident also shows a measure of tolerance and accommodation for those who don’t. This is a well-governed place and, especially lately, I’ve been appreciating that fact a whole lot.

 

 

Quasimodo Returns (and Just in Time!)

Have you ever wondered at what point a pizza simply becomes too big? I thought that last night while out for dinner in a nice Italian restaurant in Graz. Honestly, the diameter of this thing was about 6 inches longer than that of the plate below it. Needless to say, doggie bags were required.

The reason the hubby and I were in Graz was that my elder daughter was throwing a 20th birthday bash in our house. Once she had received permission to have the party, she proceeded to tell us that we weren’t actually invited, but no worries, we could stay in her apartment that night. That was nice of her, I thought. Well played. Or maybe, not. Everything was spotlessly clean when we arrived there. We trashed the place and drank her vodka.

That was my third trip to Graz this week. On the second one, I finally met up with the sisters-in-law again and handed over the penguin. Based on the reaction, I think he has found a good home.

 

On my first trip to Graz this week, I took my daughter along with one of her friends (a former student of mine!) out for lunch. We negotiated a sort of mini-management deal as this friend has a lot of connections to the art and music scenes, knows a lot about the business side, and wants to help Mitzi promote herself better. Two days later, Mitzi had a one-hour gig at an open stage bar and raked in $80 in pay and another $180 (!) in tips. After hearing this, the husband decided to show up next week with his accordion and see if he can do the same (and then quit his job to be a street musician). As far as I know, he only knows how to play 5 songs and four of them are not suitable for polite company, so I am not sure if this is a good plan.

 

Anyway, back to today. The husband and I returned home again this morning to survey the post-party carnage. What we found was a house looking pretty much the same as when we left it. In fact, the only evidence that a party took place at all was the overflowing glass recycling bin and some half-empties on the kitchen counter. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. This was just further evidence that my children aren’t children anymore. In fact, one of them is no longer even a teenager! Why didn’t anyone warn me that this was going to happen?

Thank goodness I still have one problem child left to worry about.

Remember my four new chicks from spring? Well, there is something seriously wrong with one of them. He is only half the size of his siblings, he seems kind of deformed, and he is not growing feathers. We keep consulting the Backyard Chicken Bible and it tells us not to worry as long as he is running around and eating – which he is. But, still, he is the ugliest piece of poultry I have ever seen. You be the judge:

 

The Karens

 (A White Mother of Black Children Reflects on Privilege)

 

It has become nearly impossible for any informed American to ignore the subject of white privilege in these turbulent times.

But for many, I suspect, the question has remained distant, intellectual, or abstract. In my case, it has been intensely personal. I have discovered myself to be completely and utterly ambivalent about it.

Two realizations keep recycling through my brain and confusing me. The first came after watching a few seconds of the video of the murder of George Floyd (which was all I could take) and then thinking, with utter abhorrence, “In this scenario, I am not the neck. I am the knee.”

The second realization was that I have spent the last 20 years ferociously wielding my white privilege like a shield for the sole purpose of protecting my black daughters. But my ability to do that is now coming to an end. The older one has begun her new life in an apartment in Graz and the younger will be moving out and joining her in about six weeks. They will have to go on living without my shield.

I won’t be there to silence passers-by.

I won`t be there to make the train conductor think twice about asking for their tickets in a suddenly different tone.

I won’t be there to stop strangers from touching their hair.

I won’t be there when the neighbor downstairs tells them that they walk too loudly.

I won’t be there when the policeman asks them for their identification.

 

No, they are going to have to go through this world mostly on their own now. And what a world it is.

– – – – – – – –

My learning curve about racism here and in the United States has been a long one. I look back at some of the statements I made in lecture halls and can only shake my head. I remember discussing a “groundbreaking” article about how economic success in life has as much to do with luck as with talent or drive. I felt at the time that it was important to challenge the prevailing myths about self-reliance and “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” and dishwasher-to-millionaire American success stories. It didn`t occur to me at the time that access to “luck” had racial preconditions. That was about the time when we were planning to start a family.

Years later, when the anti-foreigner movement was underway here in Austria, I argued that “foreigner” was just code for non-white races. I said that, in contrast to Austrians, Americans had dealt directly with the topic of racism and were starting to come out of the other end of the tunnel. I thought. That was about the time when we were considering international/interracial adoption and wondering if it would be fair to the child.

From there, I had the revelation that the concept of “race” was merely a social construct and not a real thing. After all, if you go back far enough, we are all Africans. While raising my children, however, I discovered that race was only a construct for white people. For others experiencing the consequences of race-related belief systems, it is a real thing. And a danger.

And now, after George Floyd, I have finally realized that true equality means this: As long as the construct of race remains real for some of the people, it remains real for all of them.

I am the knee. I am the white woman calling the cops on a Central Park birdwatcher. I am the person who saw a suspect in twelve-year-old Tamir at the playground. I am a Karen.

 

This very morning, I discovered that new slang term (“the Karens”) in a New Yorker article. I told my husband about it and he found it a bit too amusing. He immediately googled for more information. Later, during breakfast, I asked my daughters if they had ever heard of the term. There was an uncomfortable silence and a meaningful look passed between them. Then the elder daughter answered.

“Yeah . . . we didn’t want to tell you about it. We were afraid it would upset you.”

 

A Motherful Day

 

While on our daily dog walk, Nice Neighbor Lady told me that her son refuses to celebrate Mother’s Day, saying first that every day should be Mother’s Day and second, that it was a Nazi creation. It’s not, but after that, I didn’t have the heart to tell her how wonderful mine was.

It started early with two new flowers for my garden and then a trip to my sister-in-law to pick up a washing machine (along with a whole bunch of other furnishings) for my daughters’ new apartment. From there we went to a (socially distanced) family gathering where I got to see my mother-in-law for the first time in two months. Since the golf courses have reopened, her life is back in order again. We couldn’t stay long, because my daughter had to get back home for a performance. It was a Mother’s Day Concert being livestreamed from the nearby spa featuring local musicians. I don’t want to brag too much, so I won’t say that she stole the show. Instead, I’ll quote a few of the WhatsApp reactions from friends and my sisters in the States:

“Amazing!”

“Wow. wow wow wow. She’s killing it!”

“Oh. My. God. So beautiful.”

 

Right before leaving for the concert, my husband called out to me that my favorite chicken just hatched a new chick. (She actually let the other hens do all the brooding work for 19 days, and then took over for just the last two. Crafty girl!) Right after the concert, my Skype started chiming and I got to spend the next hour with my own mom. And finally, shortly before going to bed, my daughters posted on my Facebook page, including two of my very favorite photos. Here it is – or at least a doctored version with names changed to protect the perps:

What a wonderful day full of momstuff, sisterstuff, daughterstuff, and grandchickendaughterstuff!  To spread the joy, here are two songs from my favorite singer:

 

 

 

Yo! Bro!

 

At our reunion in December, I managed to coerce two more family members into following my blog. Last night, during a Skype session, I snagged the last remaining sibling.

“Do you read my blog?” I asked innocently. To which he had no choice but to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that . . .”

At which point he was trapped.

“You know most of the people who know me and aren’t bloggers themselves just follow by email . . . (followed by an explanation of what that means) . . . tell you what. Open your web browser right now . . . now type in circumstance227.wordpress.com . . . no caps . . . now look in the bottom right corner – see the ‘Follow’ button? Press that. Now type in your email address . . .”

I suppose there might have been some point where he could still have wheedled his way out of this, but he didn’t. And now he has just gotten his first email notification.

Yo! Bro! How’s it going?

To commemorate your initiation into Trek* World, here’s a little blast from the past:

For other readers, a short explanation: This particular brother spent two summers in his youth on massively long bike trips with two friends. It must have been in the early 70s, because one of the articles mentions them “starting High School in the fall”. I don’t remember much other than the huge beer can collection he came home with. And how surprising it was that he could find so many empty cans in such good condition just lying there on the side of the road!

On a less facetious note, the whole story amazes me somehow. In today’s world of too little trust and too much general anxiety, it is hard to imagine the 15-year-old who would want to do this, much less be allowed to. The world and parenting norms have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

On the other hand, my own personal world got better today.

 

Surprise

 

The husband’s birthday was one of the minor challenges I have had to face during the past six weeks of lockdown. The first thoroughly unoriginal idea was to have a family picnic. But then I saw a video of some couple in the States who held a drive-by wedding and an idea was born . . . (or maybe I should say “co-opted”. . .):

                                (anonymized for the blog)

 

Of course, before I could send this out, a lot of prep work had to be done. The husband is very aware of his role model responsibility and has been strictly following the social distancing rules. On the other hand, things are slowly opening up here – stores, hairdressers, mechanics, building sites, etc. A week from now, the kids will start returning to schools. I made some calls to certain friends and co-workers to pitch the idea of this party and got nothing but enthusiastic responses. Every one of them had also been isolating for six weeks, seeing one another only through screens the entire time. So, I figured I would go for it.

Turns out the hubby`s friends and teachers are a spectacular bunch. Secret WhatsApp groups arose where they worked out the timing among themselves to make sure no crowd would form, everyone agreeing to leave as soon as the next guest showed up. (In true Austrian form, they expressed less worry about any health risks than “what the neighbors would think”!) I didn’t have to organize a thing on that end – they did it all on their own. And none of them spilled the beans.

Friday, 1:45 pm, the husband arrived home from work as ordered (only 15 minutes late). We sang a quick “Happy Birthday” and sat down to lunch under the decorated carport. The husband expressed his wish for a long family hike in the afternoon and we all insincerely said “Sure! That’s a great idea!” (heh, heh.) Ten minutes later the first car drove past and parked nearby. As the first two guests walked toward us, we quickly rolled out and set up the self-service bar, complete with hand-sanitizer station. My last worries subsided when I saw the husband’s laughing reaction and how happy was. A steady stream of very cool people made sure that he stayed that way for the entire time.