Of Crime and Punishment
During the second half the school year Frau Stoll gave birth to a baby boy. With his arrival came also a dramatic change in my relationship with the Stoll family. Had I experienced until then a semblance of acceptance as being part of the family, I now felt completely out-of-place. I had become a nuisance, an irritant, a foreign obstacle that needed to be brushed aside to make room in their home and hearts for their newborn son. Old grandma Stoll with her gigantic, trumpet-like hearing aid pretended not to hear me anymore. Frau Stoll was now occupied with her own child and had no time to bring some cheer into my heart. Herr Stoll’s attitude towards me became more and more critical on everything that in his view was unacceptable behavior. He was meting out harsh punishments for my tardiness at suppertime. I had no watch and being a dreamer I easily lost track of time. He also spanked me harder and more frequently for associating with the ‘wrong’ friends.
Toughened up by the frequent spankings I often took on the role of the victim in the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ games I played with my friends in the beautiful park of the Messkirch castle. On one occasion I allowed myself to be captured and tied with ropes onto a tree. In a bizarre combination of fun and cruelty the ‘Indians’ were howling and dancing around the tree taking turns at punching me in a ritual of crime and punishment. Later on when they had released me, they praised me as their hero for so stoically and silently taking their punches. I delighted in their accolades. The role of the cooperative sufferer with real life experience in the domain of pain suited me well. However, its enjoyment was indicative of a character warped by the loveless and punitive atmosphere in the carpenter’s household.
One rainy afternoon I had to stay indoors after school and spent time at the carpenter’s shop downstairs. Herr Stoll and his three apprentices had been working on various woodworking projects. I was standing next to the first-year apprentice at the very front of the workshop. He had taken a liking to me and often found time to chat with me. It was near closing time. While the young man was cleaning up his workplace, I teased him by hiding his plane he been working with just a few minutes before. The young man was puzzled by its sudden disappearance. While he searched for it, Herr Stoll like a raging bull came racing down the aisle. Without giving a simple word of explanation he grabbed me by the neck and dragged me to the back of the workshop, where he beat me in his furious anger, slapped me in the face, banged me around and threshed my behind. When my cries had turned into a mere whimper and then into silence, Herr Stoll decided that the first part of my punishment had been successfully completed. Nearby was a small storage room for plywood and other wood products. That’s where he threw me for the second installment of my punishment for distracting the apprentice from his all-important clean-up job. I sat on the bare floor aching all over. For how long I sat there I cannot remember. In the darkness of the storage room I contemplated on the crime I had committed against one of my master’s employee. I was still stunned by the traumatic experience, when after a very long time the door of my prison cell opened and the bright outside light made my eyes squint. The shadowy silhouettes of Herr and Frau Stoll like phantoms of the netherworld were looming in front of me. Looking down on this miserable human bundle, Frau Stoll glanced at me as if expecting a word of apology for my misbehavior. Wondering about my silence she remarked to her husband, “Look how guilty he must feel. He is not saying anything at all.”
From this time on I was desperately thinking of escape. Anxiety about this horrific life and homesickness often drove me to the balcony on the north side of the building. There I stretched out my arms towards my home village Rohrdorf as if to invoke some magical force to rescue me from this intolerable situation. But there was no rescue and no home to flee to. The Klopp family once so miraculously reunited was beginning to show signs of disintegration. The failure of the farming venture resulted in a debt load that created a lot stress. Father suffered under long episodes of backaches. From time to time he found temporary employment in the village, while Mother worked hard in a household in the town of Sigmaringen to make ends meet. Karl had gone to Göttingen to study economics. Adolf, who had worked at the Bizerba factory in Messkirch, emigrated to Canada in 1953. He was tired of handing over all his hard-earned money to cover family expenses. Eka (Lavana) had begun her nurses’ training in Hamburg and Gerry had moved to Switzerland to enter a toolmaker’s apprenticeship program. By looking back at the extended periods of separation between Father and Mother I am sure that their relationship was already greatly strained. At the time when I was desperately yearning for the comfort of an intact home, it had ceased to exist.