Problems with Latin and Yearnings of a Miller’s Maid
One cannot answer for his courage when he has never been in danger.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Mother had taken a new position in a senior citizens’ home in Rudersberg near Stuttgart. Aunt Mieze (Aunt Marie), her eldest sister, found a teaching position in Brünen near Wesel in the province of North Rhine Westphalia. In the mid-fifties the rebuilding of the 98% bombed-out Wesel was in full swing. Aunt Mieze had applied for an apartment and for a transfer to the Wesel Elementary School. About the same time she must have invited Mother to run the household in exchange for free lodging for her and me, the youngest son. This arrangement would become reality, as soon as the apartment already under construction would be available. How Father on a long-term basis would fit into these plans, I have never been able to figure out. While Mother was still working for another year in Rudersberg, I was going to live with my aunt at the farm-like residence across from the historical Wefelnberg mill that had lost its wings, but with the aid of electric motors was still turning grain into flour until the early seventies.
From here I took the bus to attend the high school for boys in Wesel. In those days smoking was still permitted on public transport. I often felt sick from breathing in the lingering smoke of cigarettes and cigars. Things did not go very well at school either. I had started with French as the first foreign language. Here at the ancient language school, Latin was taught first and carried on for nine long years. Although I had received some private tutoring in Latin, it became abundantly clear after my first report card with an F in Latin that I had to repeat the grade. In order to survive in a school, whose claim to fame was being the toughest in the region, there was no other option.
At the opening assembly Dr. Marx, the principal, announced that out of the hundred students there would only be one-quarter left at graduation nine years later. There was no doubt in our minds that the process of weeding out the feeble and incompetent would be ruthless and merciless. My high school years were going to be fraught with stress and anxiety. At least at the miller’s home in Brünen I had a good life. Aunt Mieze was strict, but fair. When she felt the needed to teach me a lesson, I deserved the punishment. When she gave me on rare and exceptional occasions a spanking, it was intended to correct unacceptable behavior. Love and care for her nephew were her main motivation, not anger and rage as I had experienced at the Stoll house.
There were at least seven people in the Wefelnberg household: Aunt Mieze and I, robust widow Wefelnberg in her early sixties, her daughter, who had remarried, after she had lost her first husband in the war, a 10 year old daughter from her first marriage, and Leni, the maid. The couple had their bedroom next to mine. The new husband and experienced miller had taken over the duties of running the mill. With so many widows eager to remarry and competing for the few men that survived the war, it seemed that the young man had made a good choice. My tiny room of less than six square meters, even judged by the standards of the cramped living conditions in postwar Germany, would hardly qualify as a bedroom. It used to be a storage facility located under the slanting roof and was now skimpily furnished with a cot, a chair and a small desk on which I could do my homework. The door on the left of the wooden staircase was in the shape of a square just large enough for me to crawl through. On the upper floor to the right were Aunt Mieze’s office, living room and bedroom all combined in an area not larger than twenty-five square meters. At the far end on the right was Leni’s bedroom. She was responsible to assist Mrs. Wefelnberg with general household duties and was happy like most unmarried young women to have employment for free room and board and a little bit of extra pocket-money.
Aunt Mieze’s room in spite of its shortcomings was a very cozy place and created with a comfortable sofa, coffee table, desk and books on the shelves a pleasant ambiance that my Spartan attic room could not match. Here I sat often in the evening hours, when my aunt, a very conscientious teacher, had gone back to school to prepare her lessons for the next day. Leni, who had taken a liking to me, often, especially when nobody was around, dropped in to chat or to play a game of checkers with me. The latter I liked very much. Although being at least ten years younger I was able to beat her by managing to convert my pieces into kings more quickly than she did. For someone who was at the time in school emotionally wrapped-up in a fierce struggle of survival, the survival of the fittest, our principal would say, these small victories and the praises Leni lavished on my battered ego were indeed balm for my soul.
One day after being defeated again and providing heart-warming accolades for my strategic prowess, Leni unexpectedly slid over to my end of the sofa. What followed would have been a perfect scene for a comedy hour. The miller’s maid generously endowed by Mother Nature burning with desire of which I did not have the slightest inkling sat uncomfortably close to me, the twelve-year-old boy, and almost in a whisper asked me to kiss her. As for me having been raised in a family, where physical closeness, such as kissing, embracing and hugging, was rarely experienced, where aloofness and demureness were the norm rather than the exception, I was shocked at the maid’s incomprehensible request. For five marks as a prize I once ate an earthworm sandwiched between two slices of bread. But to touch those lips longing to be kissed, for my lips to make actual contact with her mouth was a most horrifying thought to me. When I refused, she pleaded with me, this time more urgently with a considerably louder voice, “Please do me this small favor. Please, please I want you to kiss me …” Suddenly the door burst open. At the door stood the miller’s wife and ordered Leni in a stern, authoritative tone to get into her room and never ever be seen again in Frau Kegler’s room. Whether she had been eavesdropping or even spying on us through the keyhole, I do not know. But to this day I am grateful to her for rescuing me from one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.