Nostalgic Projection of Spring Soon to Come – Part 2
The grass is starting to grow. The grey cover of our yard is showing a hint of green. The raised garden beds have been prepared for the spring season. Soon it will be the time for planting the cold weather crops. Our strawberries are getting busy developing their buds and promise a bountiful harvest. This is the second and final instalment of my excursion into my archives. Today I am focusing on daisies, violets, a tiger lily, and an unknown beauty. Enjoy.
At the time of Father’s sudden and unexpected passing, death had given me in quick succession several reminders of our transitory life here on earth. In the fall of 1963, I was serving in the signal corps of the German Nato Forces in Bavaria. On November 22 at the Maxhof army barracks, I listened to the American Forces Network (AFN Munich). The DJ suddenly interrupted the Country and Western music and, after a short pause, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later that night, AFN reported that he had died of his gunshot wounds. I was shocked by the news of this tragedy, as I had taken a liking to this great man for his courage to force the Soviet Union to remove their missiles out of Cuba. I liked the way he had publicly committed himself to the security of West Berlin. His famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ will remain with me for as long as I live. Then, in January, our staff sergeant Wohl had a fatal accident when his VW beetle collided with a public transit bus on an icy hillside road in Feldafing. Three comrades and I accepted the sad task of becoming his pallbearers. I will never forget the widow’s heart-rending sobbing in the front pew when the officiating priest addressed her with a few consoling words. A couple of weeks later, almost if death intended to remind me again of its presence, I lent sixty marks to a friend so he could buy a train ticket to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
Then, on February 26, an order came for me to see the captain for an important message. A little puzzled and worried about this unusual event, I went to the captain’s office. After I sat down, he informed me with genuine regret that my father had died of a massive heart attack on the night of February 25. The officer granted me a five-day compassionate leave, effective immediately. Numbed by this horrific message, I could not respond with a single word. The captain, deliberately ignoring military protocol, shook hands with me and spoke kind words of condolences.
Only a small number of family members, aunt Meta and Anna, Erna’s relatives and friends attended the funeral in Michelbach. I wrote and dedicated a poem in German to my dad, my best friend and helper. The poem ended with a line in Latin:
Viventium, non mortuorum misereor.
I feel sorry for the living, not the dead.
If Father were still living today, he would proudly look at his many descendants: five children, eleven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Perhaps one day, some of them will be interested in the fascinating story of their wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather Ernst Klopp. I hope that they will read it and get to know the roots of the Klopp branch of their family.
My next project will be writing about my father-in-law, Walter Panknin, and his family.
Nostalgic Projection of Spring Soon to Come – Part I
Snow is still clinging to the shadowy areas of our yard. But the first snowdrops appeared, the catkins are ready to explode and send out their clouds of pollen, and the tiny red hazelnut flowers are showing that Spring is knocking on our doors. All these early signs have a profound effect on me. I cannot wait for the wildflowers to bloom again and give our present somewhat drab landscape a colourful new dress. Digging in my archives, I found photos of wildflowers, the ubiquitous dandelion, the wild strawberry flower, the Alberta rose, the wild sweet peas and the Sulphur Cinquefoil. Enjoy.
When Father’s back pains hurt too much, he stayed in bed for most of the day. Adolf and I were sitting at his bedside to keep him company. Then Father and I would often talk about the great empires of the past and the lessons one might learn from the causes of their decline. I really warmed up to this topic as I had recently taken a keen interest in the Roman Empire’s history. We concluded that if one allows foreign religious and ethnic elements to dominate the nation’s cultural core, it will sooner or later lose its identity. Its values and moral fibre will undergo first decline and then total collapse. Germany, according to Father, has not learned her lessons and was headed in the same direction. Pointing to the record player on the night table, he remarked, “The record is turning. The needle is progressing in its groove. But in the end, it will be starting all over again. symbolizing the eternal recurrent of the same in world history.” Adolf feeling a little left out in this highfalutin talk, said he would buy himself a couple of history books to study up on the things he had missed in school.
Before the end of my vacation in Michelbach, I gave Erna my moped. The engine of her better-looking moped had utterly broken down. Adolf, the skilful mechanic and jack-of-all-trades, took the working motor out of mine and installed it into Erna’s moped. As a reward for my generosity, Adolf drove me in his Volkswagen beetle back home to Wesel, where he would spend a few days to visit with Mother and Aunt Mieze. In this joyful summer of 1962, I saw Father for the last time alive. I am so glad that I did. How great would have been the loss if I had missed this golden opportunity to see him!
The pictures I had taken last week clearly show that Old Man Winter is on retreat. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to capture many images of snow covered landscapes, ice sculptures and even of my wife dancing at the lakeshore. But now it is time to bid farewell and allow youthful Spring onto the stage of our four-season countryside. Enjoy.
With my first visit to see Father after such a long 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 temporarily to learn a trade in an apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company at Hanau. 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 humour and an extroverted personality, was the life of the party no matter where he went. In formal or informal gatherings, in a suit or jeans, with academics or factory workers, he was the born entertainer who made people cheer up when they were depressed and got things rolling when they appeared to be stuck. Everybody liked him. There was just one problem with this gregarious, likeable 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 he called marriage.
Then my sister Erika dropped in for a brief visit. When she heard that I had been going out dancing with a girl from the village, she contemptuously commented on her in Father’s presence, “Ho! Ho! Going out with a peasant duffer! (Bauerntrampel in German)” By now, I had become quite accustomed to the unpredictable outpourings of her sharp tongue. Her caustic and biting remarks at Mother’s place in Wesel had been edged forever into my memory. However, Father was livid. Having respected all his life the hard, honest work of the farmers from whom we receive our daily bread, he was deeply insulted by that derogatory remark. He gave her a severe dressing-down for displaying unjustified disdain for such an honourable class of people. Never since my early childhood days, when he had read me the riot act for stealing eggs from Mother’s henhouse, had I seen Father so angry. If I did not know the meaning of holy wrath, I knew it now.
Erna’s house was at least half a century old, and the electrical wiring was outdated and no longer in compliance with the latest electrical code. It required that all circuits be correctly grounded. It made me feel good that I was not just there to enjoy a relaxing summer visit but also to make myself useful. Father had bought the three-prong wire, and I installed it and connected it to the junction boxes, outlets and switches. I showed some reluctance to take the twenty marks Father wanted to pay for my work. He lectured me somewhat like this, “Listen, Peter, if someone offers you money, not dishonest money, mind you, but money earned for work you did, do not hesitate to accept it. For you not only cheat yourself out of the reward that is rightfully yours, but you also insult the generosity of the giver.” To such a powerful argument, I had nothing to reply to and took the twenty marks.