Hey Old Man.
I just thought about the Myrafälle, those gorgeous cascades that tumbled down over the limestone hills, through cool leafy woods and forested glens. Photos show that I saw them first as a baby, but my first consciousness of them was their image on the old Austrian stamps we collected together, and the stories you told me of them.
And when we first visited them, and made our way up over the bridges, boardwalks and finally to a deep pool that fed the various cascades, itself fed by the meltwater of that icy winter.
“In that Gasthaus there, we often would go in the spring,” you told me, “Often they would have music and dancing there. The old man there, he was a terrible drunk and would always pay the patrons to buy him a drink. His wife, she was an old sow, and wouldn’t let him drink. But she knew him too well, knew he couldn’t just have one drink. But if the customer bought him one, then she couldn’t stop them. So he paid them to ‘buy’ him drinks. When she found out she gave him one hell of a hiding.”
We looked at the Gasthaus, nestled between the hills, but unusually we didn’t continue up the path for a drink there. We started to head back, me in the lead, you behind.
I think it was so organic, what happened next. Did you nudge me a little? I’m not sure. But the walk down the hill, across those bridges became brisk, then a gentle trot and suddenly we were running. We sped across the springy, leaf strewn paths, we clattered across bridges, setting up harmonic waves that set the timbers to swaying, we jumped down the little staircases, using the railings to help us fly through the air. We ran together, and the whole time I could hear your breath, every now and then one of us would laugh briefly, and we ran together at the same speed.
About halfway down there was a big sweeping corner, that hooked left across an embankment and I ran up it, like a skateboarder along the edge of a bowl. You saw your chance, and cut across the inside, and then the chase was on. I can’t remember how often we swapped the lead, but even then, as a 15 year old boy I knew this wasn’t about winning, this was about making each other keep running faster, while staying together. A walk that took us the better part of three quarters of an hour on the way up was over in less than ten on the way down. I don’t know who got to the bottom first, but I do know who won. Both of us.
The last time we went there, was a few years ago. You had lost both your legs, and could not go beyond the new Gasthaus that had opened at the bottom. We were both older, and could no longer run at the same speed. We each had moved into new lives and struggles. But you looked up with that twinkle in your eye, and at that moment, our thoughts, our memories were running in tandem, racing down through springy, leaf strewn paths, clattering across bridges and jumping so far down stairs so high that it was like flying.
The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.