Popping the cork

A group of nineteen college students and their two professors direct from the Frankfurt airport from a direct overnight flight from Dallas arrive on a farm. They sit on wooden benches at a picnic table with stiff backs and crossed legs. They don’t know what to do with their hands.

   A farm. How many can say they ate lunch on a small family farm in Rheinallee with a group of strangers? How many of those small few can say they walked away with friends? The first meal has that power. It takes the vulnerable and self-conscious state of strangers and forces them to open up until they are friends.

   A lot of stock is held in the last supper. It is biblical. It is the last request of a condemned man. It is a final hurrah, while the firsts are thrown to the wind with uncomfortable stigma. A first date. A wedding reception with the bride and groom on display for everyone in their world. A welcome dinner: where a diverse group of personalities is thrown together in awkward silence until small talk evolves into conversations.

   And that’s what we did.

   Twenty-one Americans and a German family of five sat outside their farm home between a barn and a slaughterhouse and ate an incredible meal made by the hands of one mother with products raised on the Acker Family Farm. Some say farm to table, we say table to farm.

   One taste of wine, I acknowledge the woman sitting across from me who I met through a mutual friend years ago, but have not seen since. The wine is red and dry, warm, made from grapes you can see in the distance behind the barn. My throat burns as I swallow, not prepared for the potent alcohol taste.

   Second taste of wine, the woman diagonally to my right lived in the same dormitory freshman year though we have never seen each other before. The wine is bubbly and sweet, yet I seem to be the only one drinking my full glass. It is 5 am at home.

   Bottle after bottle is opened, the proud creator, Peter, scoured our faces for the reactions, with large blue eyes. Try this one, try this one. This one was made differently; this one grew right over there. His small figure is draped in a plaid button up shirt and jean shorts, he lightly stomps around in huge work boots. With every glass Peter pours, his prized liquid makes us talk more, open up more, our voices carry over the hills. We are less of strangers by the time we begin to eat. After we feel lightheaded from jetlag and alcohol.

   Peter asks for our silence. His wife places piles of pork and potatoes on the table. They slaughtered the pigs yesterday. We’re sitting outside the butcher’s shop where an hour ago, we saw the pigs hanging by their feet, draining. We still salivate, but grow silent. Listen. He places a bottle between his legs and works the corkscrew. Listen. Pop.

   “Popping the cork is the sound of Reinhousen,” he tells us. When they hear the echo of the cork popping out of its captive neck, they all know they’re home. As the wine escapes into freedom, so they sense the freedom of home.

   Home is a comforting thought among strangers sitting on a farm in Germany. We eat our fill, we drink until we’re lazy, we talk until every last drop of wine is gone. We are together, we have completed—and survived—our first meal. We have popped the cork.

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