Kindred Time Travel Narrative by Justin Shaw

Please note: Justin’s great-great-grandparents are my grandparents Carl and Elisabeth Kegler. Inspired by an account of my uncle’s (Günther Kegler) near death experience on the battle field in WW1, he wrote this highly creative piece and gave me his kind permission to publish it as a guest post in the Klopp Family Blog.

Kindred Time Travel Narrative

A deafening explosion burst nearby, sending a fountain of soil all around me. I fell to the floor, knocking the air out of my lungs. As I rolled over and gasped for air, another shell exploded near the trenches not too far away from me. Paralysed for a second, my mind started whirring through the countless questions that arose from my situation: Where am I? How did I get here? Am I going to die?

Yet, I had nowhere near enough time to think as a round of bullets caused me to dive into a trench. Spitting out dirt, I looked up through the smoky air to see a face looking down at me.

“Who are you?”

A young man in his early 20s wearing a military uniform peered down at me. I coughed, preparing to answer him, when I realised that I had just understood what seemed to be perfect German.

“What- what year is it?” I managed to sputter out, the words finding themselves without me having to attempt to translate.

“1917- what’s going on?” the German man shouted, confused. I would have answered him, but my mind was going through a thousand thoughts at once. I felt myself falling to the floor, but before I hit the ground, I was gone.

Gasping for air, I shot up to find myself half-asleep at my kitchen table, head buried in an old family tree. I picked myself up cautiously, half-expecting to find myself back on the Western front. I blinked once or twice, taking a moment to assess my situation. My experience felt surreal, but too lifelike to be a dream. Rubbing my eyes, I was still feeling remnants of the smoke and dirt that filled the air of the battlefield. World War I… Germany… Slowly things began to click into place. I turned towards the record of my family’s history and began to flip through the pages of information feverishly, looking for a clue as to where I had just been. Pouring through the text, I skimmed for any clue related to what I had just witnessed. Finally, something caught my eye.

It was a distant relative, Gunther Kegler. He had been born in Germany in 1894, and had joined the army at the beginning of WWI. In 1916, he became the commander of a machine gun company and traveled around Europe, fighting in many different battles for the Imperial German Army. Next to the description I found an aged picture. The man was much older than the boy I had seen in the trenches, but his face was familiar.

As I gently touched the photograph, I began to slip away again. I found myself back on the battlefield. Quickly, I threw myself to the ground expecting hails of bullets, but this time, none came. The battle must be over, I thought as I pulled myself up relieved. I began to look around the large expanse of land that had been home to the violence and human misery I had briefly witnessed before.

Trying to find my only link to this place, I scanned the scene for Gunther. As I looked around the battlefield, my eyes found large large craters from shells, and extensive networks of trenches carved like scars into the ground. My gaze came to rest on a large military truck. It was filled with corpses, a gruesome image. But my expression froze with surprise when I saw Gunther lying in the hearse. I rushed over. This didn’t make sense, Gunther didn’t die in this battle! What was going on?

“Gunther!” I shouted loudly. I ran over to the edge of the truck. He was lying still, and it looked like he had been very badly injured.

“Gunther!” I called again desperately. Had history changed itself? Was it my fault?

Gunther coughed gently. He was still alive! I pulled him out of the truck and glanced around worriedly. Nobody seemed to be around. Straining myself, I lifted him onto my back, barely able to stand under his weight. I began to slowly lumber over to the camp in the distance.

After struggling forward slowly for what felt like hours, I made it to the tents. Looking around frantically, I saw wounded soldiers slowly shuffling into a hospital tent. Pulling Gunther towards them quickly, I called out for help.

Weary eyes turned to face me, but I was already gone.

 

Works consulted: “The Kegler Tree.” The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project, klopp-family.com/our-family/the-kegler-tree/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Chapter 30 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part IV

Accident at the Construction Site and a Painful Walk to the Jewelry Store

1200px-Rocky_Mountain_National_Park_in_September_2011_-_Glacier_Gorge_from_Bear_Lake.JPG

On Friday, June 18th, I had an accident at the construction site. One of the bricks slipped off the upper board on the scaffold and hit my left knee, which almost immediately swelled up. It could have been much worse. The law did not require safety helmets in the mid 60’s. As I found out much later, I wasn’t even insured and therefore would not have received financial assistance from the Workmen’s Compensation Board. Our boss had deducted the laborers’ insurance and pension contributions from the pay cheques, but kept the money for himself.

Unable to work with so much pain from my swollen knee, I had to call it quits for the day. I promised the foreman that I would report back the following Monday. Instead of returning to my brother’s place, I stepped on the bus, which took me to downtown Calgary. Very close to the bus station stood the building of the Hudson’s Bay department store. With its three stories it was then the highest building in downtown Calgary. From there I limped two and a half blocks on Seventh Avenue to the jewelry store. There on the previous weekend I had ordered Biene’s engagement ring, on account of which so many tender, bitter-sweet feelings had already welled up in our hearts.

I was lucky. Although I had come sooner than planned, the ring was ready. Yet I felt timid and embarrassed in my dirty work clothes and with bloodstains on my pants. I felt oddly out-of-place in this opulent place laid out with red carpets, the walls covered with oak paneling, spotlights illuminating the sparkling wares for the wealthy, with every imaginable piece of expensive jewelry securely placed behind glass cabinets. My heavy German accent was in stark contrast to the polished Oxford English of the gentleman, who was wearing a formal suit. I pulled out four twenty-dollar bills from my back pocket and put the folded bundle on the counter top. It was one week’s worth of hard work. On that very same day Biene’s engagement ring began its odyssey half way around the globe, but never arrived at its intended destination in Germany.

For the longest time I did not know that the letter with its precious content had gone missing, presumably lost in transit somewhere between Calgary and Velbert. Week after week I waited for Biene’s thankful and happy response, while Biene was desperately yearning for a sign of life from me. For her, as we have seen, the ring meant protection, a signal to all that she belonged to me. But perhaps more importantly she perceived it as concrete assurance of my love and faithfulness. Wearing, seeing, touching and feeling it on her finger would have imbued her with a sense of security from within and without. But there was no ring, no letter, not even a card, which would have immediately ended her distress and despair…

Chapter 30 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part III

Peter’s Promise to Buy the Engagement Ring

Mountain Lake

Calgary, June 7th

My dear Biene,

… I would like to respond right away to your most recent letter, to which you must be eagerly awaiting a reply. I would love to write your parents immediately. But quite frankly you have put me into some kind of moral dilemma. What will they think of me when they find out that we arranged our engagement behind their backs? I would have liked to write them a letter, but I cannot do so. I have nothing reassuring to offer, because as you know I am as poor as a church mouse. Perhaps they are like most people of the opinion that we should not build ourr life on such a shaky foundation.

In spite of all this, I do not want to take away from you the joy and also the feeling of protection, which comes with wearing the ring. However, when you receive it in the very near future, I for my part will have no ring to wear. When you think about all this, you will notice that we have indeed chosen a convoluted path. But I will ignore such opposing considerations; for I, dear Biene, understand your wish. You just need to be a little patient. You must wait until I receive my first pay next Friday. Then I will take the Saturday off, walk down to the jeweler’s in downtown Calgary and order the ring for you.

Happy Pentecost to you and your family!

Your Peter

Velbert, June 11th

My dear Peter,

Again so much new information from you! Oh, I can hardly keep up! How happy am I that all is well and you have work! Even if it is hard, you are at least more content than if you still had nothing. In my mind I see you come home totally exhausted from the unaccustomed work and then I want to be really nice to you so that you can regain your strength.

Now to your letter! You are so kind that you wanted to grant my wish so quickly. In the meantime you received my letter; for just like you I had similar concerns and I am sorry that I put you into such an inner turmoil. Without thinking I had let the desire to have a ring overwhelm me. But now I would like to wait so that everything will be going on the right track. It will be all the more enjoyable when we choose our rings together. Don’t you also feel so happy when you think about it?

… Dear Peter, if you cannot write from now on as often as before, I will understand. Rather take the time you have in the evening hours to relax and get acquainted with your new environment in Calgary …

Dear Peter, you will now also think of the past year, when we both were so excited to meet again. In my excitement I felt like being paralyzed and remained seated on the bench and did not dare to go and meet you at the platform of the train station. But when you came and were all smiles, my inner tension quickly faded away and I felt light-hearted and all at ease. How grateful I was then to you! Aren’t we two rather strange people?

… Now Peter, with all my heart I hope that you are doing well and no longer are plagued by somber thoughts.

Be kissed a thousand times,

Your Biene

The incredible journey of Biene’s engagement ring begins with this letter …

Calgary, June 17th

My dear Biene,

A most peculiar blend of anger and joy must be brewing within you, when you discover the ring in the envelope. But I hope that your joy will win the upper hand. Dear Biene, I must explain to you why I did it. With each letter I feel how much our souls are intertwined. Sometimes I come across a line in your letters and notice with great surprise that what you wrote me I had felt just a few days before myself. And the manner, in which you responded to my often confusing letters sometimes with hurt feelings at first and then still see it in the best possible light, tells me that you are like me and I am like you. With this insight I took the liberty to decide as to whether your first wish was stronger than the second. You thought you had to forgo the ring for so many reasons, just as I occupied myself with them long and hard. Dear Biene, we two are still a little bit insecure. The reason for it is not our love, but much more likely our peculiar nature. That’s why, I think, you were suddenly afraid I could react in some unexpected way to your wish and you retracted it to prevent some imaginary catastrophe, which frightened your heart. Because, dear Biene, your fear was unfounded, I could see no reason any more for not buying you the ring. Wasn’t I a little bit right and are you now a little bit less angry with me? If I should be mistaken, I ask you not to disdain my gift; for I truly believe that you have a right to wear it. You know what I thought when you took back your wish so quickly? Whether you like or not, now you will get the ring anyway! So with no further ado I took the bus to downtown Calgary and ordered it at a jeweler’s store. I used the ring from your grandmother Gertrud to serve as a template for size.

O how dark is the world without you, how bright would it be, if you were here!

Your Peter

Chapter 30 of Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part II

Biene Withdraws her Wish for an Engagement Ring

Pristine Lake in the Rockies

Calgary, June 2nd

My dear Biene,

I must quickly write you this letter, and indeed for three reasons. Some very pleasant events have come up during the past two days. First and foremost I must ask you not to take my last letter too seriously. I had no work and I was worrying about our future. I missed you so much, and then I began to ponder about how it would be for you to meet me again poor and penniless. At such moments I worry too much. I believe that you already know that part of me well enough.

Today I came home rather exhausted. Yet I was happy and content. In my mind I saw you receive me tenderly in your arms, perhaps because I looked so very dusty and tired. Now I must let the cat out of the bag. Right on the first day of my search I found work. I have a good, but tough job with a construction company, and I am getting $1.80 an hour. Isn’t that a good beginning? Here I will stay until I find something better.

Yesterday I paid a little visit to the University of Calgary. From the bus stop I walked the last mile up the hill. You would not believe, dear Biene, how the people were gawking, because I was not driving a car. At the registration counter they gave me a very friendly reception. They retained my high school diploma for translation into English. Everything that I needed to know for the teachers’ training program in the Department of Education was in the book that the receptionist handed to me together with the application forms. There you have the latest information from me. I will write you again, whenever I can spare another hour.

Be kissed a thousand times! Your Peter

Velbert, June 4th

…Yes Peter, and then I read your letter. When I came to the line, where your expressed your concerns, a strange mood suddenly took hold of me, as if I was lying with closed eyes on my back bathing in brilliant sunshine. All at once a shudder seized me, because a dark cloud had drifted over the sun and for a moment withdrew all warmth from me. But this really happened only in the twinkling of an eye, because I could not understand why you were writing me this. I thought, ‘Why do you want me to be afraid of the future?’ Now I feel ashamed of these thoughts and I am sad that I even allowed them to surface in my mind. Peter, please, you must forgive me. There are certain days, when I am a little sensitive. So I did not recognize at first why you wrote me about your doubts. It was because you care so much about me and worry about my future happiness. I only saw the words, ‘ Did you consider all this very carefully?’ and ‘I don’t want that my wish become an obligation to you.’ I did not notice all the other words at all, which were so much more important. Fearfully I thought, ‘Doesn’t Peter no longer believe that our love can be much stronger than all the bonds of family and friends put together, and would he resign himself to the fact that I would no longer be willing to come to him any more?’ But immediately I felt sorry that such thoughts occurred to me, and all of a sudden I understood with my whole heart what had motivated you to lay all the possible future problems before my eyes. I am not ignoring them, Peter! I know exactly what it means to leave everything behind one day.

I talked to my mother about it and asked her, if she could bear to see me leave, because you wanted me to become your wife. You will see how great my mother’s love is. I regret more and more that you were unable to come for a visit before you left for Canada. She said it would be quite natural that I would leave her one day. But a mother would only let her children go with a light heart, if she knew that they would be happy…

Dear Peter, I feel just as strongly as you do that I could not be without you! Therefore, you must not ponder and mull over such thoughts any more. They put brakes on your zest for action and initiative. And in the end I would even believe that you cast doubts on our love, and that I could never endure. Peter, please promise me to put these depressing thoughts aside. You know that it is so simple for you to make me happy.

Now I would like to say something regarding my last letter. But I do not want to hurt you, and therefore understand me correctly. I would like to tell you that I am sorry that I had asked you for a ring. Perhaps you are not yet able to fulfill this wish, because you do not have the money or you believe that it isn’t the right time for it yet. Therefore, let us do as if I had never asked for it. I thought it would be nice to wear a ring from you, I also thought that perhaps you would be glad that I would want it. Peter, right from the beginning we two ran a course, which was quite different from the ordinary, and for that reason it is sometimes a bit complicated between us. And yet it could be simple, because I sense from every word from you that in your innermost being you are so closely connected to me. Oh Peter, don’t you understand? You must be able to understand that it is easy to give up something if one loves one another. And never would I like to make you unhappy again as I once did, when I had not yet recognized it.

Greetings with all my heart!

Your Biene

 

 

%d bloggers like this: