The old woman limped slowly down the street, pushing a walker ahead. She stayed as close to the buildings as she could, so that she would not block the way for the younger, faster pedestrians. She paused at times, to study the display in a window, and sometimes she found a spot where she could sit in the walker and rest.
‘I’m getting old,’ she thought, as she watched the people passing. ‘Once upon a time, I could have walked as fast as they do, but that time is long past. ‘She moved on, thinking of her long life, its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and failures. But really, there had been few failures. Her career had started when she was quite young, and had only ended when arthritis made it impossible to play her violin for more than a half hour at a time.
She smiled as she remembered. First, the wonderful training and encouragement of Herr Wesler, when she was so young and nervous. She never forgot his advice “forget the others, forget the adjudicators. Remember only yourself and your violin, and you will do very well!” And she had done well, very well! She remembered the concert halls, the conductors; Herr Steindachner at Kursalon, Herr Helmut Wiedermann, in the Stiflersaal in Bruchnerhaus, and the many others. Until finally there was Herr Pauli Rudel, the premier conductor in Europe at The Golden Hall in the Musikverein! What a triumph that had been for a young woman of barely twenty years. She still felt the awe and joy of that time.
Now she was over ninety, but still able at times to play. And her other career, her other love – astronomy; that too had been a joy. She had discovered new planets, new nebulae. Her name was known worldwide in both music and astronomy circles. She was content with her life. But she missed her parents, gone long years ago. And her young brother, so successful in both of his careers, music and biology, snuffed out with his whole family by a drunk driver. Her husband had died twenty years ago, her children scattered far and wide across the world. They came to see her when they could, but it was a lonely life; all of her old friends and fellow musicians were gone,now.
She moved on, still thinking of the past, and smiled again as she remembered Herr Ludwig Zingler, the man who had never given up the quest to fine Aunt Liesle’s killer. She remembered him so clearly, and the day they had first met. That had been a very satisfying time. Together, they had contacted Aunt Liesle’s spirit, and had the killer brought to justice. Thirty years after the event, but he had paid his debt, dying in prison after serving twenty years of his sentence.
‘Enough of this looking back,’ she told herself. ‘Look forward! This month, this Christmas, all of the children and their families will be here, to celebrate the birth of Jesus – and mine. What a glorious time it will be!’
She was tiring now, so she found a sidewalk patio and settled down for a rest and a snack. She pulled a book from her carrier and started reading, after placing her order. After a while, she became aware of someone standing beside her. She looked up to see a young boy and girl gazing at her, awe and hesitation on their faces.
Smiling, she said “is there something I can do for you?” They looked at each other, then the girl, obviously the elder, nodded.
“Aren’t you Doctor Elfi Von Croy? The Violinist and Astronomer?”
“Yes, I am,” she nodded, still smiling.
They both reached into their bags and pulled out books. As they held them out, she saw that they were copies of the book she had written, comparing music and mathematics, and how the one enhances a person’s abilities in the other. She looked from the books to the children’s faces.
“Have you read the book?” she asked. When they nodded, she went on “do you understand what I was saying?” Again, nods, this time with smiles. “And you are both budding musicians and mathematicians.” Not a question, but a statement.
“Yes, ma’am,” the girl said. “we are students at the same school you went to, and we both have all of the records and CDs you made. Would you sign these for us? Please?”
Elfi smiled and took both of the books. “Ladies first,” she said. “What is your name, dear? And what do you play?”
“Gretel Meisner, Ma‘am” she said softly. “I play the violin.” Elfie smiled and wrote ‘when you play, forget everything but yourself and your violin, then you will always perform at your best.’ Signed and dated it. Then she turned to the boy.
“I’m Heinrich Treffen, Ma’am, and I play piano and clarinet, just like your brother.” He smiled hesitantly, and she smiled back. “I will give you the same advice I gave to Gretel,” she told him. “It was the advice Herr Gunther Wesler gave me when I was thirteen. It has served me all my life.” Finished signing, she handed both books back. “Thank you for remembering me. At my age, it means a lot. You both have all my best wishes for your future careers.”
They thanked her and took the books, replacing them in the bags carefully. “Thank you for taking time with us,” Gretel said, and Heinrich nodded agreement. She sat for a while, watching them as they walked away. Then she stood up, took her walker, and turned back the way she had come. It was time now to go home, take her medication, and play for a while. She smiled as she limped along, her heart lighter for knowing that somehow she had had a positive effect on at least two young lives. ‘That is enough for anyone, to know that they have made a difference.’
An old man who had noticed the encounter watched as she disappeared into the crowd, and wondered just who she was, that young teenagers would treat her with such honour.