We children of Shelby Township shared a pond. A man-made pond. More of a pit, really, dug by the neighborhood developer for to give him a place to dump all the trash that developers generate while engaged in the development a suburban neighborhood. Over years, the pit collected rainwater, which in turn incubated hardy mutations of turtles, frogs, fish(!), mosquitoes, and god knows what else. On the banks of that pond, in the grotesque shadows of the diseased trees that ringed it, friends and I fashioned balls of toxic mud then threw them at each other – for fun.
I’d been playing at The Pond the very day my sister returned from Germany, the sister arbitrarily selected by my parents on the basis of age (certainly not maturity) to represent the Michigan Moores among our noble relatives, the Kruegers, in that far-off, storied land. In the two weeks my sister’d been gone, I had come to accept my parents’ implicit judgment on having chosen her over me: “This trip is too big to waste on you.” In the two weeks my sister’d been gone, I resolved to be a man about things, to see past our sibling rivalry. Rather than indulge my impulse to be a jerk to her on her return, I acquiesced to be her captive audience as she joyfully related what, for all we knew, would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would be there, for her.
So I ran home from the Pond that day, stepped into the foyer breathless more from the anticipation of hearing of this wonderful Germany and the mysterious, distant cousins residing there than from the miles-long run in mud-splattered clothing. I hungered for news about someplace, anyplace other than Shelby Township, so much so I’d muscled aside my petty jealousy to make room for what, in my parents’ estimation, was sure to be a coherent, brilliant, colorful epic delivered by the only one of us kids capable of doing justice to the monstrous expense and hassle of the trip.
In short order however my normal respiratory function was restored, constricted by a shockingly bland narrative that flattened two thousand years of German culture and achievement more effectively than did the Allied bombs of World War II. My sister, I was disappointed but not surprised to learn, was no Marco Polo. I myself had delivered more riveting yarns to my schoolmates about tractor pulls at County Fairs than this tale of German boys, some story about a filthy river, observations on funny little cars, and the strange manner employed by Germans in consuming pizza.
Some might rise to her defense, insisting my sister was a victim of her own feeble, girly imagination, but I know this defense to be preposterous. I know my sister, I lived with her for years. Pressed to decide on the one word that best describes my sister’s imaginative talents, I’ve dithered for days between ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Cruel.’
So it seemed fair to conclude, near the end of her storytelling session, that maybe I hadn’t missed anything after all. Maybe Germany was every bit as dull and colorless as my sister said it was. But then, suddenly, up from the desolate landscape of her Germany as she purported to remember it, my sister raised a brilliant, wondrous monolith. “And oh, yeah, we saw Frankenstein’s Castle,” she said, tossing a postcard.
Wait a minute – you saw what?
Cruel. That imagination was definitely cruel.
You may have missed it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there: My sister’s open belligerence toward me. Immediately I imagined her on that plane, applying that cruel brilliance over the many hours of the flight to choose the optimal method for hurting me, settling on a strategy of passive-aggression (a favorite of hers), then crafting the dull narrative from her experience as the setup for the ruthless delivery of this tantalizing morsel.
She must have known I’d have questions. Lots of questions. What about the blood? The bones? The brains? The laboratory? The pile of torches and pitchforks? Did you see lightning? Did you meet Igor? Did you see The Monster?
Was there any mud?
But there would be no more. Not for me. Instead she left me and my imagination to writhe.
Next day and every day thereafter that I went back to my miserable Pond, to its mutant inhabitants, to its diseased trees, to its mud, I stooped with suffering for knowing that boys in Germany were playing in the long shadows of a real Castle with a real history. My noxious and dangerous pond was all I would have for the rest of my childhood while in Germany, a mob of fortunates by accident of birth thrust makeshift pitchforks and torches at Igor, at Dr. Frankenstein – and at one lucky son of a gun who was The Monster!
Is it any wonder German boys are better at science and math than I will ever be?
For twenty-four years I nursed a complex born from this news of an honest-to-gawd Castle in Germany, Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle for gosh sakes, fueling the imaginations of generations of German boys while I splashed after mutant tadpoles flitting beneath mats of algea. For twenty four years my esteem grew twisted as those trees for lack of any nourishing radiance from my nearby “attraction” but instead fed through the roots by an aquifer of hot jealousy.
You say there is no way my sister could have known of or predicted this outcome; I say you’re wrong.
But there’s good news. After twenty four years and by dint of hard work, I’d earned the privilege of taking myself and my withered esteem on a journey to see Frankenstein’s Castle, no doubt to the chagrin of my brilliant and cruel sister. I saw it for myself and felt its rejuvenating effect in the company of my exceedingly gracious Uncle Johnny who, despite having lived for decades in the vicinity of this jewel, remained admirably boyish while bearing the responsibility of Family Tour Guide. Johnny bore it, bore it well.