“Sprechen Sie deutsch?” I asked the young Fräulein in our first German class, University of Minnesota, January 1966, Ms. Jennifer Saltzman. She was neat and trim, cut a lovely figure, and sported dark bangs that framed her face and earned her in high school the name Cleo.
The next autumn, the beginning of our sophomore year, Jen walked with me to an independent bookstore on the West Bank of the university (the west side of the Mississippi Rover, which divides the campus). I bought a Funk & Wagnalls German dictionary (pardon my French), and she signed the inside cover with my name and the address of the Sigma Chi fraternity house where I was living.
I showed this dictionary the other day to our son Gabriel Zeck and Heidi Sheggeby Zeck when they came over for dinner. (Jen and I have been married now over 50 years.) Jen has always had a very pretty hand. About the time she accompanied me to the book store, I had graduated from the formal Sie to the informal du and was requesting favors like “Gib’ mir doch dein kleine Tatze!” (Give me your pretty little paw, pretty please!).
I must confess I copped this last phrase from my German studies. It’s one version of what the great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was supposed to have said, to his wife, on his deathbed — a nice, homely, sentimental epitaph. In the more sublime version, Goethe says, “Mehr Licht!” (More light!).
Take one, or both. The choice is yours. The option is certain Goethean or Shakespearean, as great artists know how to fly low and high, play to the groundlings and the box seats. Marriage, too, though another topic, can be sublime and boring, quotidian and divine; but that is a topic for another time.