Staying the Course
“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal
Peter’s Tug-A-War with Biene
January 6th, 1966 Calgary
My dear Biene,
Tomorrow we write our English exam. Before in a state of utter confusion I write your name on the test paper a thousand times and fail to write a satisfactory essay, I want to quickly take a big burden off my chest.
I would like to clarify just one more time our present situation for you so you have something to cling to when new challenges arise. I can understand your father’s attitude perfectly well, because he is indeed losing his only daughter. But understanding must not lead to self-sacrifice. I am standing on the left, your parents on the right; you are in the middle and can only go to one.
My dear Biene, let me recount one more time how everything has evolved. Perhaps it will help you. Last summer waiting anxiously for a sign of life from me, you became desperate and asked me to let you come. Did you then openly talk to your parents about our plans to get married? When after work I came home dead tired and often with bleeding hands, when there was no word from the university, then your parents would have perhaps persuaded me to return to Germany. Later on when during my studies one success after another made me feel strong and confident, I believed that it was time to think of your coming to Canada. You didn’t only joyfully agree, but encouraged me in every letter to ask your parents for your hand in marriage. How well they were prepared I found out in your brother’s reply. You too were surprised at the unfriendly reaction and yet should have expected it. Then you became admirably brave and said, ‘I come in spite of it all!’ I remarked to my brother Gerry that they can all respectfully bow their heads before you. That’s how proud I was of you.
Then I waited for a reply, even though it was very difficult for me. Nothing was forthcoming for a very long time. But what did I hear sounding across from England? ‘Don’t wait too long, Peter’. So then I went from the university to downtown Calgary and started the lengthy application process for your immigration. A lot of things had to be done, because they never had a case before, in which a student was going to be the sponsor. While I was doing all this, you were dreaming about our wedding. Is it possible that you wrote nothing about this to your parents? This would have been the simplest thing in the world. For what one writes with calm reasoning, becomes clearer and more distinct in one’s mind than if one had to present the matter face to face. I can only explain your parents’ consternation in the light of their lack of awareness of our wedding plans.
You write that I should apologize to your parents. I read my letter over and over again. I cannot take away one iota. It is correct. If I apologize, your parents will despise me for my weakness. But this does not matter. What is more important that you desire that I apologize and with that you indicate to me – tears are almost welling up at this thought – that you no longer stand completely on my side. For above all, these plans were yours and mine. I gather this from your request not to write about them to your parents. O Biene don’t you see that your battle is already halfway lost!
Dear Biene, you are so sure about the future, yet you do not dare to tell your parents that you want to marry me this spring. I love you for your big heart in dealing so compassionately with all people. But you must understand that you will hurt your parents a thousand times more if you tell them the full truth only at the end. What will you say to them when the registered letter arrives from the Canadian embassy?
You wrote about the shocking experience of your mother in her youth. Did you notice in regard to us the unintended irony of this tragic event? She was so much in love with her fiancé that she wanted to force her parents by means of a baby to agree to the marriage. Did the thought not cross your mind that you could be at this time in the same situation? And Biene, I have to tell you this; I would have never done ‘it’ under any circumstances no matter how passionately my blood was pulsing through my veins. For then I would have taken your freedom away to follow me to Canada. I do not blackmail, I do not sweet-talk, and neither do I make any promises that I cannot keep.
Decide if you want to come in the spring or if you prefer to stay. in Germany. You know I cannot ask the immigration officials twice. They cannot change the immigration requirements and conditions. You agreed to them and your parents should know them too.
One more time Fate is anchored within you, not in the time or the circumstances. So write to me soon and openly how things are at your end and how accurately your parents are informed. Forgive me, if I only saw the dark and unexplained content of your letter. Forgive me too, if I used too harsh a word or two and hurt your feelings or if the cold facts gave you pain. But until you can courageously face the present reality, especially when talking to your parents, I will not have a single peaceful moment. Quite frankly our situation appears already doomed to me. Biene, don’t you think a man just like a woman may also prepare himself inwardly for the wedding and may look forward to it? Yet I suffer with a burning fire in my chest tormented by the worries about our future. It cannot go on any longer like this! Make an end to my pain. My heart is longing for an end, happy or unhappy, it does not matter. Do not write any more what sounds nice, but give a true account of how things really are in Velbert, what you have accomplished and how I could help.
You have too much feeling. Oh, if you were already mine!
Biene’s Urgent Plea for Understanding
January 11th 1966, Velbert
My dear Love, I am a bit exhausted and my nerves are on edge. But don’t be afraid. I never lose my confidence and courage, whatever happens. Nothing can prevent me from coming to you.
First I must tell you this. The letter from the Canadian Embassy arrived today! I filled out the form at once and it is now on its way back to Cologne. But Peter, I had to do something you may not understand. But I had to do it to take a burden off my mother’s heart. I have asked the ambassador whether it will be possible to grant me a visa and a work permit for one year, before I will come to you forever. I have arranged with my mother to go to you till Christmas and then come back home to make the final decision. It breaks my mother’s heart. She cannot bear the thought that already this step I am going to do might be the final one. She must get acquainted to this thought by and by. Peter, please understand I have to grant her this favour. I must try everything to leave her at least in the hope that I am not bound to stay with you if I should not be able to stand the new life.
Peter, once together with you, I can reassure her in everything and she will get acquainted to the thought that I will stay with you. Peter, believe me, I only want to do the best and therefore never let doubts enter your heart! I need courage and I only can get it through you, when I know you are not troubled. Look, Peter, I come to you, I think, in April by airplane taking only small luggage with me. Coming back after Christmas I will take everything with me, for then I will stay forever. Peter, understand this change of plans, if the embassy should grant me my wish.
In one point I won’t be able to grant my mother’s wish and that is that I want to get married to you at once. Don’t think that I was not sincere with my parents. O Peter, I was! They knew everything of us for a long time and all the same they reacted like this. I cannot be frank anymore, because the more I tell them, the worse it gets. O Peter, understand my situation. I cannot bear their tears, I cannot see them suffer and they are so downhearted, because they love me so much. Although I love you more than anything in the world, I suffer too with them and I cannot help it and yet I am happy, because I love you. Peter, it is so difficult to understand.
Sometimes I really wish I could hate my parents, because everything would be easier. I have to work because my father won’t give me a penny. Nothing can move him, although I have told him everything. I cannot bear the thought to take our last money you have here. I want to be able to pay at least the fare. Besides I learn a lot. I have nearly the function of a secretary. I have to type, to write letters and to translate many English letters with many difficult technical terms. It is a real good experience for getting a job in Canada. Don’t you think so? Have confidence, Peter, because nothing is hopeless as long as we love each other.
I love you so much! Your Biene
A few days later she added …
My dear Peter, I only now realize with a great shock how my last letter must have created a storm of anxiety in your heart. O Peter, I hope you remained calm at the exam. Peter, I was not aware at all what I had done to you. See, there are so many things that I have to deal with, but yet you must never doubt that I am coming to you. Even my parents know that. They only want to make sure that I keep my freedom as long as possible, because they cannot believe that I will be able to endure life with you in Canada. Nevertheless I am going to be your wife as soon as possible. And when I am with you and my parents sense that I am happy, then they will find it easier to bear the separation. When I come to you without bringing anything, later on we still get eventually something. At least I want to be able to pay for the fare.
Dear Peter, I am asking you now just for one thing, although my letters do not always radiate confidence, you must not lose your trust in me. Unfortunately, I cannot describe everything. It is always way too much. But I love you so much that it would cost me my life, if I didn’t come to you soon.
Peter Strikes a more Conciliatory Tone
January 13th 1966, Calgary
My dear Biene,
Much has been happening on my side, and if you hadn’t written so quickly, I would have sent you a letter anyway in the next couple of days.
Warm thoughts about you flow again through my heart. Although truth sometimes hurts, it is never as cruel as nebulous uncertainty. Many people don’t manage to bear the tragedy of life with assured hearts. They actually prefer to indulge in fuzzy daydreams and attempt to escape the challenges of life. You know now that I don’t belong to this kind of people and would not want to be categorized as such. Dear Biene, please take these philosophical considerations seriously; especially as they relate to our own experiences.
But first of all let me tell you what I think about what you have written and then let me know whether you agree. I would congratulate you very much, if the ambassador would grant your request for a work visa. Please don’t count on a positive response. For he knows the regulations and he cannot change them. If you cannot support our original plan and wish to spare your mother any more grief, then the only way out is to make a new application from your end.
But now to your plans! Believe me, it would turn out to be a heavy burden for our entire future, if you were going to fly home and then come back after your final farewell. Not even a rich man would throw so much money out of the window and yet at the beginning we will belong to the poorest of the poor. You work and sacrifice your health to pay for the flight, then again you work throughout the summer just to fly back home and would not have any money to fly again. Did your mother not consider that they rob you of your youthful energy, which should be devoted to us both? Is this true motherly love? I really don’t want to get angry again, but I am facing a human puzzle. What grief will you cause all over again, when you have to say your final farewell! And as my wife you will fly back to Germany. Your mother will feel like having been deceived, and I will be disappointed that you rank your love to your parents higher than your care for our challenging start in life here. Your parents want that you can make a free decision. Why not? Here is a new suggestion. I go one more time to the immigration office and ask for an extension of our wedding date so that you can freely decide whether you like it or not. In case you cannot stand it or the strange environment drives you back home, then take my money as much as you need and fly home again. I am prepared to give my word to you and to your parents even in writing if necessary.
The chest with your belongings may be shipped after you have made your decision to stay. Biene. Is this not a good suggestion, if the deadline for our wedding is extended to three months? Would you be so kind and make your parents aware of this proposal? By their reaction you will know if they really want your best or whether they are simply trying to keep you near them for the foreseeable future. They pay nothing for your wedding. Do they also want that you pay for the return ticket? The $500.00 could furnish our apartment or house, if I was going to remain and teach in Calgary. Enough of it!
At Gerry’s family (Fyffe Road) a little baby girl by the name of Jaqueline has been born. My brother voiced his opinion in his humorous manner and said, ‘Now Martha has got what she wanted and hopefully from now on she will let me sleep in peace.’ I had to laugh at the way he said it.
Always in love
What Biene had Arranged with her Mother
January 14th ,1966,Velbert
My dear Peter,
Finally I can take all your fears away. My mother is looking at my departure in a calm and collected manner, because she now knows – which wasn’t clear to her before – that I can return any time in case of an emergency. She had been in the mistaken belief that I would commit myself to some sort of obligation, which would not allow me to come home so soon. My dear Peter, do not take it as my giving in or as a sign of weakness that I promised my mother to come home for Christmas. That way saying goodbye will not be so difficult. She can now hope to see me again in the not so distant future.
Also she has now gotten used to the idea of us two getting married. Only my father remains unbending. He says that he does not want to cast me out, but he would not financially support me in the least. My dear Peter, this is in complete contradiction of what my parents have promised me in the summer. I can only explain it by their desire to console me in my desperation, but they never counted on all this becoming a reality. I know now that they believed that while I was in England I would take my mind off our plans.
See dear Peter, I gathered from remarks that my father will write you a letter. I hope he will not hurt your feelings. That’s why I prepared you for it. Whatever he may write, don’t let him offend you.
I enjoy my work at Yale & Towne, an American company, located here in Velbert. Because of my knowledge of English, I do a lot of translations of mostly technical nature, but also take care of my boss’s correspondence. So in a way I perform my duties almost as a personal secretary. Once I am in Canada, I would like to work in an office and later, when we are doing financially well, I would also like to enrol in a university program to obtain at least the lowest possible teaching diploma.
My dear Peter, I only hope that you are calm again and you have forgiven me. Certainly everything will turn out good in the end.