Is it Love?
Within the scope of the family history I would go too far if I included Erna’s side of the family except the ones that I came into contact with. There was the Langlitz family, Walter, Frieda (Friedchen) and their two daughters Helga and Anita. Walter had become a successful contractor who ran a prosperous business with his impressive array of trucks,
caterpillars, backhoes and other heavy machinery that he had acquired to assist in the government sponsored land reform program. In contrast to the northern provinces of Germany, where the eldest son inherits the farm, inheritance laws in the south required equal division of the fields among all the children of the deceased farmer. Thus, over time emerged a chaotic patchwork of tiny fields often less than one ha in size, which made farming more and more inefficient and unproductive. So Walter profited from the reallocation of land by owning the right equipment at the right time. The two daughters, Helga and Anita, age 12 and age 10, whose exact degree of relationship to Erna I do not recall, often showed up to play board games, such as chess and checkers with the newcomer in Father’s home.
Erna was also anxious to have me meet her 16 year-old niece Roswitha, who lived a few houses down the street with her widowed mother. Even though I did not recognize it at the beginning, it was clearly a matchmaking effort supported by Father. In collusion with her sister-in-law, Erna invited her niece over for coffee and cake to make sure we would see each other as often as possible. Roswitha in terms of the standards I had set for what a girl should look like fell well within the range of acceptability. However, inner qualities, such as interests in activities that one could do together, readiness to share and exchange thoughts and feelings, to support them and if necessary even to oppose them, such qualities, which began to gain more and more in importance for me, were severely lacking. In a way my encounter with her helped me set the bar a few notches higher, which further limited the number of choices for my future mate. I vaguely felt for the first time that only love could help jump the hurdle. But what is love? I could not tell, because I had not experienced it yet. So what Erna had hoped for, did not happen. We were friends, who did things together for a while. We walked down the steep hill down to the town and district swimming pool in Schotten and on Saturday evenings we went dancing in the nearby villages. The music was not exactly rock ‘n’ roll, but we could dance to it, whenever a fast beat would permit. The performance of the band improved with each refill of the giant beer mugs during the frequent breaks. Thanks to the loud music there was no opportunity to talk, and there would not have been much to talk about. On our long walk home in the moonlight I explained to her how the stars would move like the sun following the rotation of the earth. For everything I said during my scientific dissertation she approvingly giggled. Only once did she protest to express her utter disbelief, when I insisted that the moon shining so brightly now onto the forests and meadows would also show its pale face during daytime.
With my first visit to see Father after such along gap inconceivable in the light of today’s custody laws that require visiting rights at regular intervals, I accomplished much more than just reconnecting with him. The ice had been broken. Other family members now were eager to come in a spirit of reconciliation that was shared even by Mother albeit somewhat reluctantly. Near the end of my holidays my brother Adolf dropped in for a visit. He had returned from Canada to Germany on a temporary basis to learn a trade in an apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company at Hanau. There he eventually acquired a journeyman ticket as a trained machinist that would – so he was hoping – land him a good paying job upon his return to Canada. Adolf endowed with a witty sense of humor and an extroverted personality was the life of the party no matter where he went. In formal or informal gatherings, in suit or in jeans, with academics or with factory workers, he was the born entertainer who made people cheer up when they were depressed, got things rolling when they appeared to be stuck. Everybody liked him. He had many friends and few enemies. There was just one problem with this gregarious likable brother of mine. He seemed to be shy, yes even afraid of unmarried women, who might take too much of a liking to him, pursue him with the full force of passion and lock him up in the golden cage called marriage. When we received an invitation to a social evening by Roswitha’s mother, Adolf felt safe, because his youngest brother was with him. On the surface it looked like we were the suitors, Roswitha being courted by two promising young men. In reality in a strange reversal of the customary roles it was the other way around. As we gathered in the living room, Frau K. served us wine, crackers and cheese, spent a few perfunctory minutes in conversation with us and discretely withdrew with a few cheerful words meaning that we now were on our own. I found the situation very odd and to some extent embarrassing, because I had expected her to stay. It was Adolf who saved the day or more accurately the evening with his social skills that helped to get the ball rolling. He asked Roswitha about school, hobbies, her likes and dislikes, the weather, and all the other trivia that he was so apt in using as a social lubricant. To her replies often accompanied by the aforementioned giggles he added humorous comments that made us laugh and feel at ease. Eventually even I emerged out of my taciturn shell and presented to everyone’s amusement a few jokes and riddles. Around eleven o’clock Adolf ironically remarked that it was time for us ‘boys’ to go home. We politely said good night and cheerfully departed to have another drink of a more potent kind at our Father’s place.