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