Of all our destinations on this trip,
I had the lowest expectations of Hamm.
We moved there in 1967.
I don’t remember much of it at all
though I’ve been told of the Kindergarten teacher who,
when I bit a classmate, bit me back!
I had friends there I don’t remember
with whom I played and celebrated.
My brother was born there.
It was on our itinerary though
simply because we once lived there,
not because I particularly wanted to go.
Hamm is up in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany,
northwest of Cologne.
Not an area I have ever thought of as beautiful—
especially compared to some of the other places we lived,
but, somewhat to my surprise,
we drove through lush, green rolling hills to get there.
It’s in the Ruhr area (Ruhrgebiet)—
which I had always associated with industry.
Dad pastored an English speaking baptist church there
comprised mainly of Dupont workers,
and I knew the region was one of coal and coal mines
(though I discovered most of those have been shut down now for years).
And the Ruhr itself, doesn’t have anything to do with industry.
It’s actually the river
defining the southern border of the area.
And Hamm turned out to be
this wonderfully quaint little town,
nestled against a canal,
with a lovely pedestrian section downtown
with shops and restaurants,
a picturesque church and a playful fountain.
And after the big cities we’d been in,
as my daughter pointed out,
it was honestly nice to be in a small locale—
full of presumably not tourists (in Hamm!),
nor those catering to tourists—
locals in the midst of the regular routines
of normal everyday life—
in the midst of things not made nice for others who come,
but for those who are there.
It’s usually nice to have expectations exceeded.
It’s sometimes even nice to be proven completely wrong!
And we sat outside at one of the tables
set up in the middle of the pedestrian street
outside a restaurant and we ate,
and I observed a group at an adjacent table,
present when we arrived
still talking and laughing together—
lingering at their table
when we left.
Obviously not just there to eat—
but to receive nourishment.
And we left Hamm telling ourselves
we needed to tell my brother (Uncle David)
we really liked where he was born.