Little House on the Heide
Bread and Salt

We bought a house, I wrote. Come out and see how stupid we were! Bring three bean salads, I added, thinking this was witty. When M asks, I can’t remember how many people I invited.

Around noon they start to arrive, bearing cakes and bread, flats of strawberries, tubs of humus. A table fills with meat and dips and salads – yes, there is more than one version of three-bean. We don’t know where to put all the food. One friend presents me with a package of thirty sausages, another hands me a shopping bag full of chicken thighs. We have the tiniest of refrigerators in the bungalow and it’s over 30 degrees.

There are buckets of ice in the dungeon – which is what I’ve started calling the basement – where bottles of soda, beer and wine are now joined by the salmonella-risk contributions. Even though everything Herr B left behind is now gone, the basement still gives me the creeps. Whenever I go down the stairs the sooty stench reminds me of the stockpile of coal we found stacked in a four-poster bed. The walls are painted acid green. In the half-light I expect to see the neoprene diving suit left hanging from the low ceiling.

Everyone gets a tour. I point out the coal-heated cauldron in which Frau Left did the washing, and each time I open the creaking iron door to the blackened chamber where Herr left smoked pieces of freshly butchered meat, I cackle don’t bump your head! We climb up the stairs to see old bottles and dead flies and the strange hat worn by the chimney.

The Lefts stop by, looking overwhelmed by the hordes of marauding children, the exorbitant number of guests, the mountains of food everyone brought. I introduce Frau Left to a couple seated on a bench next to the barn, a portion of which we recently tore down before it could collapse.

“They’re in the pigsty,” she laughs, explaining that the bench sits on the foundation of the trough in which she used to toss buckets of slop.

“Another time,” Herr Left says after I offer coffee and cake. “You have your guests.” Before leaving they present us with gifts – a flowering bush, chocolate and money for the kids.

Late in the afternoon everyone goes swimming. I stay behind to clean up a bit and catch my breath. The fifteen or so people who return from the lake will stay the night. M fires up the grill again – there is still so much food – and tents sprout on the lawn like enormous mushrooms. Candles flicker on the long table and kids run around with flashlights, tent walls glowing when secret stashes of candy are retrieved. In the morning I’ll find the wrappers everywhere, but right now no one cares. We look up at the stars and pass the bug spray and open another bottle of wine.

It’s after ten when the Rights arrive. Frau Right hands me a tiny loaf of bread sprinkled copiously with salt and tied with golden twine to a wooden board, explaining the German tradition of a gift of bread and salt, which is meant to evoke a prosperous connection to the new home. With a warmth I’ve never felt from my neighbors in the city, she kisses both of my cheeks, takes my hand in hers and says simply, Welcome.