Roland returned from America in 1954, two years after he and his family left. At some point we had renewed our “pen-pal relationship” and I learned that he was lucky enough to have drawn a tour of duty in Germany. He was to be stationed in Aschaffenburg, located about thirty kilometers southeast of Frankfurt. I was still in high school, just about to turn 20 years of age; from that time on, my mind was hardly ever on my studies, even though I still had more than a year to go before graduating.
The war years and those immediately following had put us both on a delayed path to completion of our studies. Roland had not finished high school at the time his family was preparing to emigrate; rather, it was necessary that he work to help provide, in readiness for their departure. In America, he completed his schooling certificates through the refugee program and then entered service with the United States Army. He had received the initial documentation for his naturalization through the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year, pursuant to 67 Stat. 108 – the U.S. government’s Act to provide for the naturalization of persons serving in the Armed Forces of the United States after June 24, 1950.
I don’t recall Roland ever having been to my parents’ house in Altenstadt before his family had emigrated to America; so it was a big surprise when one evening a soldier in American uniform stood at our front door. He was 21 years of age, and exquisitely dashing. Those dark, brooding eyes held mine as the tension ratcheted up in my body. His look was wicked and daring, and I was immediately captured.
I flew into his arms. I ushered him in to be acquainted with my parents; he had come prepared with packets of Chesterfield cigarettes for Mutti.
When it became time for him to catch his train back to Aschaffenburg I walked with him to the station. I noticed heads turning as we passed some of the local folks, and I am sure there were whispers; (did you see the doctor’s girl with that soldier?) I could just see my reputation sinking to the level other Fraüleins held, the ones who would join the GIs in the places that were not “off limits” to them, for a pair of nylon stockings. There was such a place on Stammheimer Strasse, two blocks from our house and we could hear the raucous carryings-on on Saturday nights.
Roland and I met whenever he could get a pass. In that summer of 1954, the year before Hardy and I were to graduate, my parents had planned to take us to Italy, an early present for our graduation. It was to be a camping trip; so the Volkswagen was loaded accordingly: the rear seat was removed and replaced with two tents and bundles of clothing, and Hardy and I on top. We crossed the Alps, saw glaciers and lakes so blue that one could think the sky had fallen into them. I remember our camping site by Lake Garda in Italy. There was an outdoor facility, a long tin basin with several spigots where one could wash oneself or one’s dishes; I saw American women scouring their pots and pans with Brillo pads. The toilets had no toilets, just a depression and an opening in the floor that one squatted over to do one’s business, holding on to some handles on both side walls. Flushing was not necessary – everything went into the open sewer. The explanation we heard for this was that plumbing fixtures were always being stolen, so they just did away with them.
There was a promenade along the water and the pretty local girls would come out in the evening after sundown and clatter along on their wooden platform sandals, their laughter echoing off the fronts of the houses and floating like mist out over the water. Windows had been opened now and matrons were leaning on the sills, watching the young folks below.
Roland had managed to get a 14 day pass that summer and he joined us there the day after we had set up camp. We went swimming in the clear blue water of Lake Garda, swam far out from the shore. Roland started calling for help and I was thinking he was fooling around, because just earlier I had told him that we had learned lifeguard skills in school. Then I realized he was really in trouble and started pulling him back to shore in a water rescue hold. He had had severe stomach cramps. Later we lay in the sand in the dunes; we dozed off and woke with sunburned backs.
For dinner he and I went into town to a nice restaurant. I wonder if it is my imagination that shadows my memory, but it seems that we were the only two people at that restaurant. If there were others, I did not see them. The waiter seemed to be there for us exclusively. The table was set for us with a gleaming white cloth, a small vase with a cutting of fragrant lavender stocks. We took the waiter’s suggestion and ordered young cocks, hot and crisp straight from the rotisserie, one for each of us, about the size of Cornish hens, a tomato salad and fresh bread, and a Chianti. The birds were spicy and peppery, and it took several glasses of wine to quell the burn on our tongues. For dessert, a glass bowl with fresh fruit in cool water was set in front of us. I chose a peach, the size of a large grapefruit, and ate it the only way I knew how: biting into it, its juice running down my chin, making me laugh with delight.
What a wonderful treat that was, my first experience of being half of a couple and feeling at the same time grown up and childlike. I am sure Roland was overcharged for this wonderful dinner, being an American soldier. But we did not care, the evening was so magical. We parted ways, and he spent the night somewhere in town.
I returned to my family, and we slept in our tents, Hardy and I in one and my parents in the larger one. The following day Roland joined us as we took in the sights in Rome, looking for the catacombs in vain; eating watermelon from a street vendor; the Sistine Chapel was closed for restoration work. I was not allowed into St. Peter’s Cathedral – while I did have a scarf to cover my head, the sleeves of my blouse were too short and I was refused admission; we threw pennies into Trevi Fountain and made a wish.
After the day in Rome, Roland left to travel to Capri and the “blue grotto,” I had not received permission to go with him. Our parents had mapped out different plans for us, which we followed in another day or so.
I came to find out, much later, that Roland had also visited our school friend Mac, one of the twins from his class, who he’d long been sweet on. He spent the whole night with her in Cologne – I would not call that a casual visit. I was very hurt when I found out, but I did not show it. I felt that he had been inconsiderate of me; yet, naively, I thought my tolerance and patience would be endless; I did not set any limits. I stubbornly imagined that no matter what, Roland and I had forged a bond between us – a bond that I believed would hold a lifetime.
But that, as it turned out, was an illusion.