You will recall that in May of 1952 Roland, my schooltime sweetheart, and his family left for America. I was seventeen at the time; we promised to write to each other, feeling that somehow things would ultimately work out for us.
Originally, the family’s sponsor had arranged for them to move to Togo, Minnesota. As they were about to depart from Germany, however, there was a chicken pox outbreak, and they were quarantined for eight weeks. Meanwhile, their sponsor took another family to Minnesota, and the Frieses made arrangements with a different sponsor.
In his letters I learned that after the Friese family’s arrival in Manhattan, New York, they learned they were going to Bandera, Texas. They traveled by train to the nearby city of San Antonio, Texas where they were collected by the owner of Montague Ranch in Bandera. This is where the family was assigned to work. The three men in the family worked hard as ranch hands and Roland’s mother helped in the house; her youngest child was four years old.
Roland wrote of swimming in the Medina River, sharing it with water-moccasin snakes, often coming across rattlesnakes. He learned to ride horses cowboy style and bear the Texas heat. He wrote of the rancher’s wife fashioning baskets from the carapaces of armadillos, bending their tails to make the handle.
His brother Gerhardt was the first to leave the ranch to find work in San Antonio, where he was employed by Friedrich Refrigeration Company; the remainder of the family followed soon after and Roland began working for the same company.
I for my part had no such exciting things to write about, still being tied up in high school’s humdrum routine. My summer’s excitement was an occasional afternoon at the pool or tennis court in Büdingen.
In the fall Edel and I sometimes walked to Oppelshausen, my aunt Dori’s farm, to help with the apple picking. That was our excuse anyway, we were more interested in fun than actual work. My uncle Robert, who had to give up his study of Jura (jurisprudence) and take over the management of the farm after his brother was killed in a hunting accident, was in the habit of inviting young students from his fraternity to the farm between semesters, and so it happened that I made the acquaintance of a young man who was a student of law in Frankfurt. We joked and laughed while climbing into the apple trees on ladders and filling our sacks. I found this to be a different sort of day from those that had come before – a pleasant interlude – but nothing more.
However, a day or so later a horse and rider appeared at our house in Altenstadt. I knew the horse as one of my Aunt Dori’s before I recognized the rider as the young man in the apple trees, Karlheinz. He brought with him a sack of freshly picked apples for Mutti, a gift from her sister – or perhaps payment for our efforts at helping. My parents invited Karlheinz to stay for afternoon coffee. As they engaged in lively conversation, I would occasionally come into the room with different excuses, trying to hear what they discussed.
When it was time for him to depart, Karlheinz asked if he would be allowed to “come calling” which I graciously granted. I found him entertaining and saw nothing wrong with visiting with this young man, since Roland and I had promised to write and nothing more. Karlheinz mounted his steed and, with a wave, rode away.
I did not think about it any further, certainly not that anything could become of it, as I judged myself, still a teenager, too young for a college man. I had experienced this conundrum already once before, when Papa had declared a suitor too old for me.
So here I had something a little different to write to Roland about. But I certainly never expected the reply I received about two weeks later (remember air mail took 5 to 7 days en route at the time), by which time the incident was no more than a dim memory for me.
Roland was incensed with jealousy, mocking me and the “knight in shining armor on horseback.” He used many ugly words I had never heard out of his mouth. Certainly, his words had the exact opposite result, if they were meant to “reign me in.” I bristled against them in defiance and broke off our long-distance relationship, which was just but a few months old. Consequently, I accepted an invitation, with my parents’ approval, to a fraternity dance my Aunt Dori and Uncle Robert were going to. They would take me along, and I was going to be Karlheinz’s “date.”
At this dance I again observed the behavior of adults in party mode, much the same as I had seen before. I felt more adult in their company, not that this should be mistaken for maturity, but I emulated what I saw around me.
After that dance, I saw Karlheinz several more times. I felt no special sexual attraction for him, but I sensed my parents’ approval and acted accordingly. They had not approved of Roland, and I am sure they were relieved when his family left for America.
Once I took the train to Frankfurt to meet with Karlheinz to go to the botanical garden. Another time he came to Altenstadt and we walked to Rommelhausen, one of the neighboring villages, and went to a cozy cafe and drank wine and talked for some hours. This man had memorized the largest part of Goethe’s “Faust”, which impressed me immensely. He gifted me with a copy of the book, bound in silk, for my 18th birthday that December.
Karlheinz was extremely interesting to me, but I began to realize that he had serious intentions and eventually broke up with him.
In 1996, I was in Germany for my Mutti’s funeral, and my 87-year old Aunt Dori stayed with me in Altenstadt. When our reminiscing touched on the farming complex Oppelshausen, which her family had given up many years earlier, I asked Dori if she knew what had become of Karlheinz. She told me that he was a Juvenile Court Judge in Frankfurt.
Perhaps I could have been a judge’s wife…Perhaps I could have been a microbiologist AND a judge’s wife…
I don’t recall how it happened that Roland and I began writing to each other again, but I remember a letter from his mother informing me of his enlistment in the U.S. Army. We would meet again in another year.