Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Final Danke Schön

I’ve long gone to great lengths to avoid German. And I’ve always failed miserably. Alas learning a foreign language was a requirement in high school, so I stumbled and bumbled through three years’ worth, all the while wondering why I didn’t take Spanish. (This lament was only amplified when I moved to New Mexico.) In college I specifically chose a major, electrical engineering, that had zero foreign language requirements. Yippee! The downside? I quickly discovered I had as much aptitude for being an engineer as a goldfish with a slide rule. I also had zero motivation—I was supposed to be a writer. Curses. For me to get a college degree, I had to take a foreign language. Four entire semesters. Two entire years. Sixteen ungodly credit hours including lab time. I was doomed to fail. Until I met a tall blonde German angel—Trish Hornick.

“You took three years of German in high school… and all you remember is how to count to ten?” Trish, her uncommon laugh echoing through our dorm, was quick to pick up on the obvious. Although she had no accent, she was born in Munich and her entire family spoke German. And she agreed—inexplicably and for reasons I will never know—to help me wade through Deutsch, to help me graduate. We would become lifelong friends.

I didn’t realize how successful Trish had been until more than a dozen years later when I tried to communicate with an innkeeper in Dürnstein, a picturesque Austrian town on the Danube. Other than perhaps the ability to count to ten (sound familiar?), the innkeeper spoke no English. None. So I pulled up a chair and we, well, chatted in broken German for over 15 minutes. I told her about my family, my work, even the weather in Albuquerque. What the hey? I was talking—conversing—in German. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to call Trish to tell her of such an epiphany.

Earlier this year I was going through greeting cards from the holidays, giving them one last glance. Over the years, that stack of Christmas wishes has gotten smaller and smaller. Using the postal service is so passé these days—Laura and I are fortunate just to get photographs with pre-printed greetings carefully sent by Costco. But there was one single card I could not part with. It was a richly decorated handmade greeting covered with snowflakes … from Trish. A piece of art born from an envelope. No two will ever be alike. The one-of-a-kind snowflake card. And my German angel.

I e-mailed Trish to tell her just how fond I was of her artwork, not mincing words. “I'm like, what the hell company makes a card this nice? Ohhh. Duh.” A minute later the phone rang and we chatted for the next half hour. About things friends talk about… and probably having another laugh about my pathetic German. It was the last time we ever talked.

For all the fantastic times and for the unforgettable help in German, Danke schön, Trish. Tschüss.

Trish Hornick-Rexrode died March 6, 2014 in a car accident. Her husband, Drew, who mirrors Trish in remarkable generosity, survived.

8 comments:

Jeri Burtchell (TickledPink) said...

My heart aches for you, Dave. I'm so glad you got to have that final conversation. RIP Trish.

Elys Bank said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend Trish.

Dave Bexfield said...

Thank you Jeri and Elys.

My Odd Sock said...

Dave,
Thank yo for sharing this touching story.
It is special when realizing how much someone can impact our lives.

Dave Bexfield said...

Thanks MOS.

Corey said...

Thank U, Dave. Your honoring your friend was really very good. & heartbreaking. I also took German in high school
(My mom is fluent) & had an equally regrettable experience.�� Trisha sounds like she was a beautiful human being��
Corey

Corey said...

...sorry, Dave. Trish!

Dave Bexfield said...

Corey, many of her friends called her Trish, but I often called her Trisha. Thanks for the nice note.