the last summer

the last summer before waldorf. I was 3 and a half years old, and in the autumn that was to come, I began waldorf kindergarten. We rented a house on island Gotland in the Baltic sea, a typical, white Gotland cottage. On the island’s gravel roads, my grandfather taught me to ride a bicycle. (I don’t know how an 80 year old man who had been smoking his whole life had the stamina to run after a bike, but ran he did.) He didn’t believe in helmets or support wheels. My own father had tried to teach me bicycling at home in the city, applying safety precautions and supporting devices, to no avail. The difference may have been in the enthusiasm, more than it had anything to do with the lack of helmet and support wheels. Well, anyway, even at home it was mainly my father who was into helmets. My mother was, like my grandfather, not very keen on them. For some reason, she considered helmets to be one of these moronic Swedish inventions for the über-cautious. In my grandfather’s world, there was no such thing as getting hurt, and if there was (he had actually lost three fingers in a machine in his youth — a lucky circumstance, since it meant he was exempted from active duty as a soldier in the war(s)), he wasn’t going to pay attention to it. He wouldn’t be bothered with unnecessary safety considerations. I’m not sure he was a believer in band-aids — unless, perhaps, you had cut off a finger, I don’t know, luckily I never did that — and definitely not in pain-killers.

Grandfather was sure dressed up, even when running after a bike on a country road. I think I look older than 3 and a half, but in fact I’m not; I was just rather tall and somewhat unchildish (which is actually less apparent here, since I don’t look serious at all).

During the following three years, grandfather and grandmother used to pick me up from waldorf kindergarten in the afternoon. They’d sit on the bench outside, on the kindergarten porch, waiting. He’d probably be smoking.

But that was not until later. Post-Gotland. (And the KG photo above, shot much much later. Not that this view looks very different compared to then.)

Before I began kindergarten, I spent the entire days with grandmother and grandfather. Well, the early mornings with him only, because she used to sleep until a bit later. They taught me things. Grandmother had the memory of a horse and was skilled in games, but was somewhat nuts from time to time, which meant we had to put up with the presence of little green men, gnomes and bears. Thus I became accustomed to the existance of imaginary beings, however immaterial, aside from the gnomes, elves and fairies inhabiting the waldorf world. Grandfather and I didn’t really see the same things she saw. Grandmother — very conspicuously — discontinued seeing them, at least temporarily, when her medication (the cause of the seeing in the first place) was adjusted.

One day — this was probably some time during the year before I started kindergarten, I can’t have been more than 3 — my grandmother, in my parents bedroom, with her back against the window and its curtains with green leaves on them, taught me the secret of counting beyond 29. I had this problem, and nobody had cared to fill me in and reveal the solution to it, but of course grandmother would, once she realized my predicament. The problem was that after 29, I thought one was to continue with twenty-ten, twenty-eleven, and so on, which didn’t seem like such a huge obstacle — until you reached higher numbers were you simply lost track. That’s all very well, said grandmother, but you’re missing that the basis for counting is 10, that’s why you’re messing things up. You must think in intervals of 10, thus begin anew with every 10th reached. 20–30–40–50. Thirty–thirty-one–thirty-two.

That was that. So very simple. I still remember the sensation of having an epiphany. The green leaves of the curtain always reminding me of the wonder of thirty–thirty-one–thirty-two and the brilliance of the system itself, the intervals of tens. (Something similar happened when I learnt to read and write, although I have no memory of this at all. Nobody taught me. I knew the letters, though, and one day, my mum says, I turned up in the kitchen. And I asked, how do you get the letters to form words if the letters are “eff”, “emm”, “ess”…? Dog would be dee-o-gee? No, said mum, you just take the letter-specific sound, like “f” without the “e”. She says I completely lit up and left the kitchen without a word. From that moment on, I read. Which was a blessing because waldorf didn’t have any plans on teaching me. Enjoying letters and numbers wasn’t an asset there. It rather meant you were a child with a stunted soul, with a bad karma, with a predilection towards the ahrimanic… You were not good, you were evil.)

Anyways, with grandmother and grandfather the day’s program always comprised the absolute necessities for a child. Grandfather smoked like a chimney. Grandmother and I filled in lottery forms (turning them in at the local Tabac — what’s that in English? how ironic I only know the French word — in Swedish: “kiosk” which people like my grandparents and my mum pronounced with a real “k” (as in “cat”) while most Swedes use a kind of “sch” sound!… well, now you know) and sometimes we won money, dabbled with her divination cards, watched ski-jumping (grandmother had a fondness for ski-jumping, I don’t know why…) and I used to watch the trains arriving and departing from Stockholm Central Station on the other side of the channel, down by which we also often spent time feeding bread crumbs to the birds. Now, we learn from Steiner that children under the age of 7 can only learn through imitation. (Although it was probably inhalation that caused my love of cigarette smell.)

I don’t smoke. I don’t care about lotteries. I don’t care about ski-jumping. And those cards, no, I don’t believe in them (frankly, I don’t think grandmother did either); on the other hand, I do believe in band-aids and pain-killers. And I often wish I were a smoker. It smells so lovely.

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