18 June 2015

Home Alone 3

[This is the final section of the series of letters my dad wrote home to Mom before she came to Germany to share their new life there with him.  Dad makes some observations about the Germans that might seem harsh, but I’m here to tell you, they aren’t inaccurate.  Things may have changed in the 50 years since, but the truth hasn’t.]

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 1962
My darling,

No letter from you today, so I don’t have to concern myself with getting the answers to a lot of questions; this at least is somewhat of a compensation.  I can spend my conversation with rambling on about experiences and observations.

The German uses his fork as a shovel, his knife as a broom, his mouth as a vacuum cleaner and his stomach (I am sure) as a sewer.  He approaches food with complete and dead earnestness, and his only real concern about a menu selection is how he wants his potatoes.  Generally he likes them cooked, but I suspect he will eat them raw if necessary.  He consumes them in great quantities [and this was a good 15 years before Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin did “The Coneheads” on SNL!], and a meal is often meat and potatoes without any vegetable or other attendant food.  He carries the continental habit of eating with both knife and fork at the same time to ridiculous extremes.  I have seen them use the knife to put food in their mouth, and of course to help pile ridiculous mounds on the fork for inhalation.  He cuts his food only into pieces small enough to be manageable.  This means that tremendous chunks of stuff are taken at one gulp.  Large pieces also provide excellent platforms on which to place potatoes and any other items which are imbibed at the same time.  My momentary observation is that Douglas at his worst looks positively regal at the table compared to many Germans.

The German is fond of animals.  They have many dogs for pets, and never bother to take them to the curb when walking them.  This makes walking something of a challenge.  You find yourself constantly sidestepping the evidence of their presence.  [And my dad was a dog-lover.  My mother, not so much, but Dad loved dogs and we’d had several before we left the States.]

All German waiters and waitresses carry a money purse just slightly smaller than an attache case.  All checks are paid directly to the waiter who makes change immediately, and then presumably settles with the restaurant later.  For this reason he carries with him enough money to make change, and during the day this purse keeps getting fatter and fatter.  [This was, of course, in the days before credit cards were common, especially in Europe.]

I failed to mention to you in earlier letters that I have seen the signs with THAT WORD.  At several places around town a local jeweler has placed clocks which read simply his name Martin, Uhr (clocks) and Schmuck (you know).  [Okay, everyone probably gets what Dad found amusing here.  Schmuck is German for ‘jewelry’ or ‘ornament.’  It has a different meaning in Yiddish, which has bled over into English slang.]

I suppose you read of the passage by Congress of the postal and pay raise bills.  This means that we get about a 10% pay raise as soon as JFK signs it.  It goes into effect the first pay period following signing, and then an automatic additional raise in January 1964.

I must tell you of an absolutely shattering experience I had yesterday morning.  I was scheduled to pay my respects to the head of the local DGB (the association of labor unions, similar to our AFL-CIO [Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, or the Confederation of German Trade Unions]).  When I arrived he ushered me into the conference room where he had assembled the heads of seven unions and proceeded to introduce me to each of them and then go into a formal speech of welcome and good wishes.  This was fine, albeit slightly unexpected, and I replied as best I could.  Then came the bottle of cognac and toasts had to be drunk all around.  This at about 11 in the morning.  Believe me love, when I left that place I was not even touching the ground with my feet.  It was as bad if not worse than the Army Navy Club episode.  [I don’t know what this episode was, but I can guess.  So can you, I imagine.  The Army and Navy Club is a social organization in Washington of which my father was a member.  (They called him “Capt. K*****” there, which always amused me!) ]  I was shattered for the rest of the day—absolutely no good.  It was a good thing that I had answered your letter earlier; I never would have made any sense after that.  [It was conventional wisdom that alcoholism was the occupational disease of the diplomatic service.]

I wonder of you would try and bring something with you of my clothing.  Only if you have room and need not crowd or go over weight—I can use a sport jacket and a pair of slacks for week ends, and for working around the house, some sneakers and blue jeans.  Everything I have with me is somewhat on the dressy and formal side.

*  *  *  *
 [Thursday,] Oct. 11, 1962
My dearest,

No mail today—these must be the weekend days, and you are in Princeton so I won’t hear from you until tomorrow at the earliest and possibly Saturday.

Today there will be a slight break in the routine of calls and administrative duties here in the office.  I had a call yesterday afternoon from Frankfurt which gives me the opportunity of going there today.  Some budgetary matter[s] for the forthcoming year are to be discussed, so I shall make the trip.  In all probability I shall return this evening.

I dropped a note to Rick this morning—he told me about his unfortunate test results.  [I don’t remember what these “unfortunate test results” were—obviously a low grade; in my case, it probably was a C, I imagine.  It happened.]  I hope he isn’t having too good a time this year.  Maybe this is done purposely to bring the boys up short and get them to settle down to serious business[I doubt this.  I probably just didn’t study or something.]

I haven’t heard from Doug since last week; I can’t tell you how I envy you your trip this weekend to Pottstown [the Pennsylvania town in which my brother’s school was located].  Relate every moment and incident when you write me about it.  I must know everything.

There isn’t any more news or information to dispense at the moment.  If I got started about missing you I might go on indefinitely and first thing you know I’d start feeling sorry for myself.  Just take it for granted that I do.

*  *  *  *
Friday, Oct. 12, 1962
My dearest darling,

May I first wish you the happiest of Columbus Days.

Yesterday, as I wrote you, I had to go to Frankfurt for the afternoon.  How happy I am that I did.  There waiting for me were three letters from you, one from Auntie Mac in Israel, and the envelope from Monroe Karasik.  [“Auntie Mac” is my father’s baby sister, Marion, who lived near Boston; she must have been visiting Israel, although I don’t remember that.  I’m not sure who Monroe Karasik was, but there was a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, a fellow Chevy Chase resident, by that name.  What he might have sent Dad is a mystery to me.]  I know that you write regularly, and I am aware that the delay and bunching up of mail is all due to the pick up and delivery systems [of that APO mail system I noted in part 2].  The proof is in the receipt of three letters at one time.  This morning I got the package of bills and other items which you sent me.  This got sent to another Amerika Haus by mistake and had to be forwarded to me here.  [The German mail system is so precise and accurate that Germans know exactly when a scheduled piece of mail is supposed to arrive and if it doesn’t get to them on the day expected, they call the post office and complain immediately!]

I’m sorry about the cards.  I did have business cards printed here (sample attached) but before I left D.C. they told me I would not have to have formal engraved cards since I was not at an embassy or consular post.  When I arrived I was told to make a formal call as soon as possible after arrival; cards for both of us will be required.  I figured you must have a plate which can be used rather than have a new one made.

About the clothing: you can leave in storage the cotton poplin suits (tan and blue), the seersucker striped suits, the linen suits and a checked light weight wool and dacron suit.  Send along the gabardines (tan, brown, and blue), dark gray stripe, and two pebble weave cotton and dacron from Brooks Bros. (one gray and one brown).  You may leave all the gay cotton and flannel slacks for summer and all the shorts (take maybe one or two pair of shorts, in case).  Also leave all the very light colored summer jackets.  Also leave the white loafers, hiking shoes, riding boots, a pair of light weight wing tip leather shoes in black and dark brown.

The weekend is coming up and that is the loneliest of times.  No office activity to make the time move along.  No car to go off touring, and no social contacts yet to spend time with.  I have had no dinner or evening invitations as yet—with the exception of tonight.  An English judge who stays at the “Club” while the international tribunal is in session, is having a small party tonight for his daughter who is arriving.  He invited me to take part and I must say I am looking forward to it. 

[The “Club,” of course, is the French Club, where Dad was still living.  The “tribunal” he mentions was an international court of reparations, known as the Arbitral Tribunal, that sat in Koblenz.  It heard suits over property seized by the Nazis during the Third Reich and I believe it had five judges, each from a different country which changed periodically on a rotating basis.  Dad eventually got friendly with the Italian judge.]

Now a few more items about the house furnishings etc.  The living room is light gray, has 2 green sofas, 5 upholstered chairs, 1 coffee table, 1 round end table.  It has a large dark wood breakfront with open shelves and small cabinet sections about as follows: [A pencil outline of the breakfront follows showing details, with dimensions and the notation: “shaded area is open.”]

The dining room is blue.  There are two side boards which line up end to end along one wall (I guess), a long oblong table (it should have leaves to insert, but I haven’t seen them), 8 side chairs and host and hostess chairs all of dark wood with blue plastic backs and bottoms, a china closet about as follows: [Another diagram is included.]

This is about 5 feet in height and approximately 4′ long.

There is also a long chest with two pair of cabinet doors.  One side of one cabinet contains six drawers (for silver and other items, I guess) about like this: [Yet another sketch.]

There was also on the dining room a low table on wheels with a glass top (tea cart) and a square table with drop leaves also on wheels.  The latter has a shallow drawer and cabinet which opens at opposite ends, front to back.  In other words both the back and front have a drawer and a cabinet which opens.

There is a large breakfront standing in the bar alcove which is like this: [A fourth drawing.]

In addition I found 8 straight and two wooden arm chairs similar to the dining room chairs only with rust brown plastic backs and seats.  There appear additional ones like this around the house for odd chairs (bedroom, etc.).  Also a brown upholstered small easy chair.

The den is light tan.  It has a blue high back sofa, leather topped desk, small coffee table, pair of end tables (small cabinet type) and two nesting tables.  Also a blue upholstered easy chair and an odd upholstered chair with wooden arms.

The breakfast room is peach and has only an open shelf cabinet.

The kitchen is light green, has an old wooden table, two above the counter double door cabinets, 3 double door below the counter cabinets and one single door.  I broom cabinet, 1 full length storage cabinet with shelves (canned goods, etc.), 5 shallow under the counter drawers and one bread drawer.

In each of the two small bedrooms on the third floor there is a single bed, a closet cabinet, a night table and a chair.

Maybe this inventory combined with the second floor information that I sent to you the other day will help decide what to take.  All in all the furniture is pretty worn and shabby.  It may be possible to request replacement or at least recovering.  I understand the thing to do is go up to Bonn and fight with the procurement man to give you some of the newer things he may have on hand in exchange for the shabbier things you may have.  In view of all the downstairs cabinets maybe you had better reconsider my suggestion about our breakfront.  At any rate, even if we do go over our allowance, I would rather pay some money to get some of our more desirable things here for the next few years.  It is always a fair gamble that we will stay longer than three years.

Does any of this make any sense to you other than I love you and I miss you terribly.

*  *  *  *
Monday, Oct. 15, 1962
My darling,

How was the weekend?  Did you manage to have both Doug and Rick together or didn’t it work out?  [I don’t recall a weekend with my mother and my brother.  (Columbus Day was on Friday, the 12th, in 1962, and that was before the holidays were all moved to Mondays, so no three-day weekends.)  Our schools weren’t that close to one another; it was a 75-mile one-way trip, a 1½-hour drive.]  I just got a delightful note from Doug this morning.  The best and most amusing part of it was the receipt of the clippings which I also sent to him.  He says “I got your letter with the pictures and I hung them on the wall behind my bed but no one can read them.”  [Doug’s talking about the German newspaper articles about Dad’s arrival in Koblenz.]  I found this terribly amusing.

He says he is doing very well and is terribly busy.  The grade average which he wrote me certainly indicates better than even very well.  It sounds like he is doing stupendously.

Now, don’t get yourself all excited about a maid.  I didn’t say I had one, I only indicated I was on the trail of one.  It may not work out since she lives out of town and has a family.  This involves commuting which may not be either possible or satisfactory.  The embassy finally gave me the go ahead on the floors and general cleaning in the house.  And I hope to get started on that this week.  If they can finish it up within the next ten days, I will move in and start getting things ready for your arrival (I personally, am quite ready).  You might jot down some food items that you think I can stock up on.  I will be in Bonn the 18th and 19th and I can use the commissary.  [Commissaries are military grocery stores, operated by the army’s Quartermaster Corps, the supply branch.  (PX’s are like department stores and are run by a Department of the Army civil service agency, in Europe called the European Exchange System, or EES.)  The embassy compound in Bad Godesberg had a small commissary.  In Koblenz, where we had no access to a PX or commissary, my family lived “on the economy,” doing our shopping just like the Koblenzers.]  I thought I would get some American canned goods (fruit juices, fruits, etc., and some cereals).  These things are generally quite expensive on the German market but the fresh foods such as vegetables and meats, butter, bread and milk are just as good [as] and not any more expensive than [at] the commissary.  [That’s not entirely accurate: the milk in Germany then was pasteurized, but not homogenized.]  I’ll also bring in some cleaning soaps and powders.  If I get the place in order and the maid is available I shall hire her and put her right to work getting things set up.

I had a rather pleasant weekend.  I mentioned in my last letter that I had been invited to a small party on Friday night by the English judge stationed here.  He had his daughter come to town to help him move his household from Berlin, where he sits on another court, and from which he has resigned, to Koblenz.  She is a very nice newly married young lady who is living in Bucharest with her husband (an Englishman) supervising some British operations in Roumania.  As a result of the little supper on Friday there was another invitation for Saturday night dinner, which helped make the weekend more pleasant and not so lonely.

This morning I called on the leader of the local SPD (one of the two major political parties in Germany [Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or the Social Democratic Party of Germany]) and again the cognac routine.  This time coffee came with it, so it didn’t hit me quite so hard.  I know what they mean when they talk of alcoholism being an occupational disease.  [See?  I told ya.]  I regret that I have only one liver to give for my country.  [Do you suppose Dad made that up himself?]

Tonight we are sponsoring a chamber music concert.  [This was probably a group of American musicians, either ones working locally or on tour for USIA.]  Since this requires more space than is available in our own auditorium, we use one of the local schools.  I don’t have to do anything except be there and act as host—matter of fact I am looking forward to the concert.  The quartet has an excellent reputation and it should be my dish of tea.  [Actually, they serve tea in glasses in Germany.]

I love you, I miss you, I wish the 27th were already here.

*  *  *  *
[Tuesday,] Oct. 16, 1962

No appointments today, so I have remained relatively sober.  Today another jackpot.  A lovely letter from Doug, one from Mort (your substitute husband?) and two and a half from you.  The half being the little note with the cartoon addressed directly here.  It was postmarked Oct. 13, so it only took three days; its mate has not yet arrived.  [“Mort” would be Morton Rabineau, husband of Vivian, and the other half of the couple who were my “second” parents; see letter of 8 October.  (Sidelight: “Uncle” Mort and my dad had the exact same birthday: day, month, and year; the two couples always celebrated together—except, of course, in the years my family was abroad.)  I don’t know what the cartoon was.]

I’m inclined to agree with you about Nichols [despite the variant spelling, this is certainly the real estate agent Dad wrote about earlier].  I think he is hungry enough to possibly [be] doing a better job for us than anyone else.

I think your thoughts on bringing more of the smaller pieces over is good.  After talking to a few “veterans” I find that you fight with the procurement officer on a fairly constant basis (keep after him, that is) and you manage to get furniture replaced, recovered and repaired so that eventually you get things looking pretty decent.  It’s the small little touches that make the difference.

The next few days will be busy ones for me, and you may find mail slacks off a bit.  I go to Bonn for two days of conferences (all A.H. directors in Germany).  I get back on Saturday and on Monday I go to a small town in the area named Zeltingen where we are sponsoring a three day seminar of teaching students from the two normal schools [teachers’ colleges] in this area (Rheinland-Pfalz).  [Zeltingen, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, is on the Mosel River about 60 miles southwest of Koblenz.]  We have supplied the lecturers and subjects for these conferences and I must appear and make a welcoming speech.  Back to Koblenz on Tuesday in time for a lecture at our A.H. auditorium that night, and again the introductory remarks from me.  After that I relax and wait for you——.


P.S.  An enclosure with self-explanatory notes.  [The enclosure was a letter from Beatrice Perry, who I had guessed was the person to whom Dad referred the “English lady” who was an amateur painter; see the letter dated 5 October.  (Dad added a few wry remarks to Beati’s letter, but I won’t detail them.)  I was correct, and the British couple’s name was Melville.  Beati opened her note to Dad with: “It was wonderful . . . to know that you are really there bringing our culture to those hopeless natives (or vice versa).”  I hope she was joking!  (Whatever else people can say about Germans and their culture, it is the land that gave us Goethe, Schiller, Mann, Klee, Ernst, Beethoven, and the Bauhaus—not to mention Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and the VW.)  Beati also mentioned Stuart Davidson, another of the partners in Gres Gallery.  He went on to start Clyde’s eateries in Washington—though he sold the company many years ago now.]

[Wednesday,] Oct. 17, 1962

The enclosed form and accompanying letter arrived from school this morning.  Since you visited Doug over the weekend I’m sure you know the whole story about his exhaustion.  That kid will play his heart out for something.  I have filled out the form except for checking the diseases on the front and his immunization dates on the back.  The latter you should take from the immunization record with his passport.  The part to be filled in by a physician does not have to be done.  Please mail it on to school. 

[Enclosed with Dad’s letter was one from my brother’s school doctor dated 13 October 1962.  The day before, Doug “played soccer until he became exhausted” and was admitted to the school infirmary.  I don’t remember this incident at all; it’s possible that I never knew about it—my folks may just not have told me Doug was sick.  (The form Dad mentions was a “preentrance [sic] health report form” that either hadn’t been filed or went missing.  Doug was scheduled for a physical at school soon, which is why my parents didn’t have to complete part of the form.)  In any case, he recovered the next morning and the doctor “dismissed him to school.”]

Since I received three (really two and a half) letters yesterday I am not surprised that there are none today.  My only complaint is that I will go off to Bonn this afternoon and not have any mail until I return on Friday night or Saturday morning.

By now the packers should be at the house completing the packing and shipping job, unless the original schedule you gave me has been changed.  This means that the decisions have been made and we no longer have to worry about them.  I’m sorry about my clothes.  I know there are a lot of them, and I’m sorry that they are my weakness.  [Dad was a clothes horse, his own kind of fashion plate!]  I apologize but there isn’t much else I can do except assure you that for the next three years my purchases will be at a minimum.  My big trouble is that I never get rid of anything—just add.  [That was true.  It helped that Dad’s style never really went out of fashion, so he could keep wearing whatever he owned until it wore out.  And he did!]  You’ll have to accept me with my shortcoming and problems.  [Too late!  They’d been married for almost 17 years by this time.]  I’m sure there must be some Freudian explanation to my clothes mania.

All my love for you is contained in each suit and pair of shoes.  Will that indicate some measure of its extent?

*  *  *  *
[This is the last letter that I have; as he wrote, on 18 and 19 October, Dad was at a conference of Amerika Haus directors at the embassy.  I don’t know if Dad didn’t write any more after that (that doesn’t seem likely) or if Mom didn’t keep the letters or if they just got lost.  Mom was due to arrive in Germany on the 26th or 27th (Dad made two different references to her arrival date), six or seven days after Dad got back to Koblenz.  In any case, this was the prelude to a wonderful family adventure and the next stage began when Mom joined Dad and continued when my brother and I came over some months later.

[A sidebar to all the preparations for shipping my folks’ personal belongings.  Sometime between the packing and the shipping, a dockworkers’ strike shut down all the Atlantic ports in the U.S. and nothing sailed.  When my brother and I arrived for our first visit, over Christmas 1962, Dad’s clothes hadn’t arrived and all he had was a trench coat for warmth.  We traveled to Paris in an unprecedented cold snap with Dad shivering and shaking all the way.  We were also forced to drive a rented Peugeot—Avis and Hertz hadn’t reached Europe yet—which was a wreck with windows that wouldn’t roll up and a heater that didn’t work—because the American car my parents had bought (an American Motors Ambassador: raise your hand if you remember American Motors!) was also sitting on a pier somewhere stateside.  Eventually the household goods and clothes arrived and everything settled down to a kind of normal.]

*  *  *  *
[The period from September to October 1962 when Dad was in Koblenz alone and Mom was in D.C. was the only extended time my parents were separated after their marriage.  (My mom and dad met on New Year’s Day 1945, soon after which my dad, who was already in the army, was shipped to Europe.  The couple corresponded regularly for the next year—they married in January 1946—and Dad later collected their letters and bound them.  I hope one day soon to write a post based on selections from that correspondence.)

[My brother and I made our first trip to Europe, as I’ve said, during Christmas vacation in December 1962.  We were surprised with a trip to Paris for the holiday—my 16th birthday, as it happens—which was an adventure of its own.  (I recount some of that trip in “An American Teen.”)  After returning to the States for the rest of the school year, my brother and I joined my folks in Koblenz in the summer of 1963 to live, going to an international school in Switzerland when the academic year started in the fall.  My parents remained in Koblenz until the spring of 1965 when Dad was transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Bonn as the Cultural Affairs Officer; he was at the embassy until 1967, when he returned to Washington and resigned from USIA.]

No comments:

Post a Comment