a candle and a cookie on a small shelf
Anni Uhlemayr, 1929 – 2015

Anni Uhlemayr, CouchSurfer

Stefanie Kuisle and Zeinab Greif stayed at my house for ten days. On Thursday we went down to Long Beach State University for a campus tour and to hang out with my Art classes. Later we planned to go to Newport Beach for a little kayaking or Stand-Up Paddleboarding. By “we”, I mean all 8 of us: Stefanie & Zeinab (Sonthofen, Germany), Lara (Valencia, Spain), Kevin & Anthony (Lyon, France) Sheedia & Demetrick (Curaçao) and I.

5 people walking across the Long Beach State campus.
Thursday 2:05pm – Anthony, Sheedia, Demetrick, Zeinab & Stefanie walking down to The LBSU Pyramid. The last carefree moment of the day.

Inside The Pyramid Nele Barber and the rest of the Long Beach State Women’s Volleyball team were practicing. We watched for a few minutes and then Lara and I left to find a bathroom. When we returned Kevin, Anthony, Sheedia & Demetrick were still watching the practice, but Zeinab was walking a grieving, distraught, tear-filled Stefanie out of the building as she talked on the phone.

Zeinab did what she could to comfort Stefanie for a long time. I gave Stefanie a long hug. I didn’t yet know what had happened, but it was clear it was very bad news, I sensed that someone had passed away.

Time slowed down a lot now.

Eventually we learned that the phone call was from Stefanie’s mom in Sonthofen, and that Stefanie’s grandmother, Anni Uhlemayr, had passed away at 86.

Anni had been sick earlier, but Stefanie thought she had recovered. When this round-the-world trip finished on 7 January ’16, Stefanie expected to have dinner with her grandmother on Sunday 10 January, just as she’s done for almost every Sunday. For a long time Anni prepared the meal, and more recently Stefanie’s mom has.

After a time the 8 of us moved from the entrance to The Pyramid over to a nearby patch of grass where we sat. There wasn’t much that anyone could do, but I think that all of us trying to be supportive and sympathetic, especially Zeinab, helped a little bit.

A few people ate some of the lunch that Lara had prepared that morning.

Eventually we decided that Stefanie, Zeinab, Lara, and I would go home. We encouraged Kevin, Anthony, Sheedia & Demetrick to continue on to Newport Beach, which they did.

At home Stefanie may have laid down for a few minutes, I’m not certain. But after a little while Stefanie & Zeinab went for a walk and when they returned Stefanie said she felt better.

A candle and its flame glowing on a small shelf
Thursday 6:27pm – Stefanie lit a candle for Anni.

Just yesterday I’d installed a small shelf near the couch where Steffi & Zeini liked to charge their phones. It was a “phone shelf” for a day, but now Stefanie decided to light a candle for Anni, and so the phone shelf was elevated to a small shrine. I’d bought the shelf at Ikea, and I’d also bought a set of lovely, unusually shaped candles there. Stefanie picked one of them, the smallest one, to light for Anni. Stefanie stood by Anni’s candle for a long time.

Zeinab, Stefanie & Anni's Candle in the living room
Thursday 10:49pm – Stefanie, Zeinab & Anni – CouchSurfers from Sonthofen
Stefanie braiding Zeinab's hair in a big mirror
Friday 10:14am – Stefanie braiding Zeinab’s hair

Steffi & Zeini had been craving some real German bread. And on Friday we went up to Berolina Bakery in Glendale to get some. While we were there the owner, Youna Karlsson, helped Stefanie pick out a cookie for Anni.

A candle and a cookie on a small shelf
Friday 4:09pm – Anni and her cookie. Stefanie put the cookie in the little, metal childhood plate that my mother used to feed me in. Stefanie said that her grandmother liked sweets and that she thought it was a cookie she would really enjoy.
Stefanie Kuisle sitting in the backyard
Stefanie Kuisle (born 1 October 1996) Friday, Lunch
Zeinab Greif sitting in the back yard
Zeinab Greif (born 28 December 1996) Friday, Lunch

I never met Anni Uhlemayr.

But I feel like, just a little bit, I have.

It’s difficult to see someone grieve as deeply as Stefanie has. But it is also a rare chance to see how deeply Stefanie loved her grandmother.

When this round-the-world trip began Stefanie and Zeinab were both 18. Stefanie turned 19 here in the United States. Zeinab will turn 19 in Dubai. As the youngest CouchSurfers I’ve hosted, I expected enthusiasm, energy, curiosity, joy & silliness. Steffi & Zeini were all that. I wish that Stefanie could see her grandmother in January. I’m sorry that she can’t. Because of this sad news I also saw what strong, deeply alive, supportive people Stefanie and Zeinab are.

On Sunday we went to Santa Cruz island for kayaking and hiking. On the way home, just as Stefanie has had dinner with her grandmother on so many Sundays, we had dinner with my mother. Mom’s about the same age that Anni was. I know a little about all the difficult American and personal history that my mom’s lived through, and I can only imagine all the difficult German and personal history that Steffi’s grandmother lived through. At 19 Stefanie is such a strong, self-reliant, loving, resourceful person. She is beautiful inside and out. It is a tribute to her mother and grandmother and the love she has for them. And at least a little bit I think I am meeting Anni Uhlemayr in Stefanie.

Stefanie and Zeinab stayed at my home for 10 days. Anni for 5. I cannot say that they were the “happiest” of days, but I do think they were beautiful days. Perhaps sublime is a better word. Or maybe wunderschön. On Monday evening Stefanie blew out Anni’s candle. She carefully packed Anni’s candle and her cookie for the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland. I don’t know much about what Anni did during her lifetime, but she’s really racking up the CouchSurfing miles now.

Stefanie and Zeinab and a lot of clothes on the floor
Saturday 1:01am – Stefanie, Zeinab, and their “luggage” in the hallway

At LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) we looked for a small cafe to sit and maybe eat something. There didn’t seem to be a cafe in the crowded International terminal. Eventually we found an unceremonious bank of a half dozen chairs by an exit. We sat there and ate the 3 pieces of banana bread that my mom had given us the night before. I told them a story about my time at the University of Hawaii. I said how great it had been to share these 10 days with them.

I asked Stefanie if she was OK, and she replied,

So-so.

I asked Zeinab if she was OK, and she replied,

So-so.

And then, with one hand on Stefanie’s arm, and the other gently rubbing Stefanie’s back, Zeinab added another thought, that perhaps summed up these 10 days in Los Angeles, their whole round-the-world tour, and the past 6 years of their friendship,

If she’s not OK, I’m not OK.

2 Comments

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