We are now not just the boomer generation, but the nostalgic generation. We’ve all been around for more than five decades, some of us more than six, and if we haven’t learned anything in all those years, we haven’t been paying attention. Author Phyllis Edgerly Ring has been paying attention to her own experiences, and her own memories, and the wisdom they bring. She writes about all that in this piece for BoomerCafé which she calls, Not What We Were Expecting.
On my family’s first visit to the Hotel Schwan in the small German town of Wertheim, in January, 1960, we found the entire staff assembled out front in two lines on either side of the door. Even at age four, I could recognize this as the red-carpet treatment.
The telegram that had advised the hotel manger of our military family’s pending arrival had carried the words, “General Alexander Patch” at the top. This general’s troops had liberated most of this region and neighboring France at the end of the war.
Our welcoming committee was eager to meet this celebrated visitor who’d helped put an end to the miseries of the Third Reich, and treated Germans fairly in that process. They were no doubt anticipating a line of dark vehicles with a noisy accompanying entourage. What they didn’t know was, General Alexander Patch was simply the name of the humble Liberty ship that brought us from New York to Europe. So when our travel-weary family of four with whining child (played by yours truly) rode up in a battered taxi, they must have been very disappointed indeed.
The weight of those next few moments was palpable even to a distracted kindergartner like me. I can imagine how much more my parents felt it, and my (10 years) older sister. There are things silence conveys so much louder than words.
Perhaps it was disappointment, combined with surprise, that prompted the manager to let slip what he did, even before the kind welcome that scrupulous German manners dictate should always come first. For years, my parents delighted in using this phrase when things didn’t go as planned -– or imagined — intoning it just the way he had, accented English and all: “Not what we were ex-PECT-ing.”
Military-family life inured us to taking very much personally, and we embraced the refuge of the Schwan with its good food, cozy feather beds, and balcony views of the Main River. I had my first bites of Wiener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel there, and my husband and I return to stay every year that we’re able, a precious part of both of our military-family childhoods.
With each passing year, we both appreciate a family culture that eschewed expectations in favor of flexibility. One oft-repeated phrase of my husband’s that still makes our grown kids smile and shake their heads says it all: “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
As our seventh decade looms straight ahead, there are plenty of expectations not met (if we bothered to entertain them at all). The advancing years have certainly shown me that expectations, one of the biggest sources of human discontent, are also one of the most human of tendencies. At this stage of life, there can be a whole lot that is not as we might have thought it would be.
As one character in a book I’m working on recognizes, “Once, we thought there’d be the whole sky to fly in. Along the way, that sky began to seem a whole lot smaller.”
Yet that sky is there, along with sunrise, waiting each day. I recently read a beautiful reflection from writer Anthony William that suggested that this is a daily invitation to hope, and trust, as is the closure in the sky at the end of each day. They remind us not to miss what transpires in-between.
It’s true that what a day -– and a life — bring is often not what we were expecting. But many times, it can be much better, even kinder, than what we let ourselves imagine and believe.
Follow the writing of Phyllis Edgerly Ring … click here. Ms. Ring and her family live in New Hampshire.