It’s November 1st, and the beginning of NaNoWriMo, when we are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel. Not gonna do it. But I am going to try to blog every day, and I’ll start out with some more memories from my family’s first sojourn in Germany.
It was over 50 years ago that we set off on the journey to Germany. I remember getting shots – we got lots of them throughout our childhood, courtesy of the Army, and I don’t think any of us fear them to this day. I believe my mother’s eldest sister accompanied us on the train to New Jersey, where we would board the MATS (Military Air Transport Service) plane for a 19-hour flight to Rhein-Main Airport. There was at least one refueling stop (Greenland?) but I can’t remember whether we got off the plane there. I, and probably other children my age (7) and older, got to visit the cockpit and were given little winged flight pins.
Since I’ve already discussed our stay in Bad Schwalbach a few weeks ago, I’ll start with a few more things about our time on Sartoriusstrasse. Although the Occupation had officially ended a few months before our arrival, West Germany was not yet the prosperous nation it would soon become. There were still areas where the effects of wartime bombs could be seen, but the biggest effect was on the people. (For a really good book about displaced persons in Germany after the war, seek out a copy of Margot Benary-Isbert’s children’s book The Ark.) Since we were in a small American enclave in the city of Wiesbaden, we had people occasionally coming to the door to beg, and more often, to pick through our garbage in search of anything usable. (For some time afterward, we children would insult each other by sneering “Garbage picker!” Dumpster Diving was not yet cool in the 1950s.) German schoolchildren would walk by on their way to and from school, carrying their battered school satchels and often holding hands (both of which were new sights to us), and I have a vivid mental image of one of them. She was bare-legged and even at 7, I could tell that the fabric of her dress was nothing like the sturdy cottons from which my mother made my dresses.For the most part we bought our food at the Commissary and most other things at the PX. The commissary’s dairy products all came from Denmark (which was still true in 1972 when I was stationed in Berlin). We were warned not to eat ice cream from street vendors for fear of tuberculosis. My mother tried some German recipes that our maid Hilda taught her, including Rotkohl (red cabbage – which I would encounter again when I married into a Danish-American family). I don’t recall that any of them made it into her permanent repertoire, though.
As I’ve said, our housing came furnished, but the PX was a source for decorative items. I believe that’s where we acquired the brass bas-relief plates depicting Anne Hathaway’s cottage and Shakespeare’s birthplace – Brother #1 has them now. A very popular item that my father scorned was the camel saddle. I have a memory of someone else we knew who had one that was coming apart and how smelly the stuffing was! European and British items of all kinds were available at the PX. Candy was not something we had constantly around the house, but I remember fancy tins of Quality Street candies at Christmas time
And at least once, there was an industrial-sized (to my eyes anyway) can of Jordan almonds, a favorite confection of my mother’s.
We also had a Sears Roebuck catalog, although I don’t know whether we actually ordered from it while we were in Germany. (This is the best photo I could find from the 1955 catalog.) My best memory of the Sears catalog is that I would come home from school and Brother #3 would just be waking from his nap (he was about 18 months old). I could keep him amused for a while by looking at and talking about the layette pages, which at that time were illustrated in the margins with drawings of babies doing cute things.
School was General Hoyt S. Vandenberg Elementary (now Hainerberg Elementary), which was a very modern building compared to Coombs School in Bowdoinham, whence I’d come, which had been fairly old even when my mother went there. My teacher for second grade was Miss Pieruki, who in my memory is very young and pretty. I wonder if teaching in Wiesbaden was just a short, adventurous interlude for her, or whether she made a career in the overseas schools? I suppose I learned the usual things in second grade, but what I chiefly recall is that I sat in the last row of desks next to a boy named Bernard See. On the back wall of the classroom hung a phonics chart, and it was when I couldn’t read the chart from my seat that Miss Pieruki discovered I needed glasses. I still remember the excitement of coming home from the optician’s with my first pair and being able to read the letters on the German advertising signs for the first time.