For our wedding on May 21, 1966, my mother wrote a touching poem, which she also spoke on tape. She was unable to attend the wedding. So Biene and I could at least listen to and enjoy her voice. Chronologically, her message belongs to Book III of the Klopp family chronicle, but her good wishes and heart-felt words are a very fitting conclusion to the trials and tribulations we had to endure before we could finally tie the knot.
Historical Photo of the University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s
After a few sessions in the Calculus Course I realized that I had underestimated the scope and depth of this extremely demanding subject area. I was of the mistaken belief that I could easily sail through its content with a minimum of effort, as the course appeared to be merely a review of what I had already learned at the German high school. Also the lecture hall for the Math 211 students was overcrowded with more than two hundred students in attendance. The course was compulsory for all first-year students in the Departments of Engineering and Education. Then there were the obligatory tutorial classes, which were much smaller and more conducive to the nature of a question-and-answer period. The tutor, a young graduate student by the name of Jenkins, was very keen on telling us off-color jokes and even more questionable mathematical riddles very much to the embarrassment of the female students in the class. When asked to explain how to go about solving a particular math problem, he appeared often evasive and rarely was of any real help to anyone. So we got into the habit of helping each other.
This is how I got to know Brian Fisher, with whom I immediately struck up a friendship that was going to last a lifetime. I helped him to get through the course with a passing grade, while he freed me from my social isolationHis mother was a very caring person. Seeing that I had been on a hunger diet she insisted that I should join the family for Thanksgiving. For the first time in my life I looked at an oven-roasted turkey, smelled the aroma of the carved up slices on my plate that together with the mashed potatoes drenched in mouth watering gravy, the cranberry sauce, and the mix of carrots and peas presented a most wonderful culinary delight. This was truly a treat for someone like me, who out of budgetary constraints was content with a diet alternating between chicken noodle soup on one day and chunky dinner out of a can on the next.
In the meantime the calculus course had become increasingly more difficult. We were now struggling with the concepts of mathematical limits and the first derivative. At the end of the tutorial class a female student intending to become a music teacher approached me rather timidly and asked if I could give her some help with a problem that Mr. Jenkins had been unwilling or unable to explain. Why the curriculum required that primary, music, art and all other teachers not embarking on a career in secondary math had to take this course, I could never figure out. I was able to give her some valuable clues without providing the answer. On the next tutorial class she cheerfully told me that thanks to my help she was able to solve the problem and asked me a little less timidly this time if I could spare a few minutes again after the tutorial to assist her with a question she had some trouble with. As I showed her the steps that would lead her with some work of her own to the answer, I noticed how excited she had become during my lesson. And when I saw her joyfully singing and prancing down the hallway, I realized that she had more on her mind than just receiving extra help from me. So I told her there and then that my fiancée was coming to Canada next spring and that we intended to get married soon after her arrival. Disappointment was written all over her face. But she managed to say, “I am so happy for you two.” I had to repeat the story a few more times during the course of the year, when I felt I was being approached by some other girl with similar intentions. I had no trouble doing so and did it each time I felt in my heart that someone has been trying to cross the line. Before I immigrated to Canada I had often listened to the popular Johnny Cash song ‘I walk the line’ on the American Forces Network in Munich. It has been one of my favourite tunes and lyrics to this very day.
National Park at Lake Superior – Photo Credit: camperuno.blogspot. com
Up with the lark we walked through the sleepy town of Wawa. At 9 o’clock we stepped into a Chinese restaurant to have breakfast. The owner, cook and waiter all under the same hat looked just as sleepy as the town. He took a long time to prepare and serve the usual bacon, eggs and toast for the only two customers. We were quite annoyed with the delay and decided to buy our own food for the remainder of the trip, such as ready-made meals in cans, butter, bread, milk, fruit juices, oranges and apples. At a service station I bought gasoline for the camp stove, on which I planned to heat up the chunky soup at any of the roadside rest areas. At a hardware store we picked up basic cooking and eating utensils. By the time we had eaten breakfast and finished our shopping, half the day had already slipped away on us.
Early May on the Trans-Canada Highway – Adolf’s Car on the Left
Then we were on the road again at times traveling through dense forests often very close to Lake Superior. Unfortunately, fog and low clouds obstructed our view. They were so dense at times that Adolf had to turn on the headlights. At the entrance of a small village, whose name I have forgotten, was a large billboard, which claimed in large letters to hold the record at –72º F for being the coldest place in Canada. On we drove now along the seemingly endless shoreline. The impenetrable blanket of fog prevented us from viewing the lake. At a picnic area we stopped for lunch and unpacked our victuals in the frigid air. When the icy mist briefly lifted, we could hardly believe our eyes. A finger thick coat of ice still covered the Great Lake at a time, when on the same latitude on our planet flowers were already announcing the arrival of spring! We ate our frugal meal of homemade sandwiches not far from the city of Port Arthur, which a few years later amalgamated with Fort William to become today’s city of Thunder Bay. The only noteworthy thing about the drab scenery around these two towns were the huge grain elevator strategically placed near the railroad tracks. They stored the prairie wheat waiting to be shipped as far away as Vancouver and Montreal.
Peter Taking in the Sights at Serpent River Ontario
Heading north into the Land of Thousand Lakes, we began to cheer up as the sun finally broke through the clouds. A look at the map of Northwestern Ontario will convince anyone that the description of this boreal region is not an exaggeration. On the contrary, I would call it the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. What incredible mazes of lakes and rivers branching out in all directions, which the native canoeists, early explorers and the dauntless coureurs des bois had to navigate without the aid of any maps!
As if to underline the upbeat mood I was in, I took my harmonica out of my briefcase and played one merry tune after another. I was amazed how many different songs I could string together in a potpourri of folksongs, scout melodies and pop music. Adolf contributed to the sense of camaraderie by cheerfully whistling or singing along, while we were driving into the setting sun.
At Vermillion Bay I would have liked to call it a day. A cozy motel located directly at a lake beckoned us to stay. But our goal was Kenora near the Manitoba border. Also we had just gained over the past three days another hour of daylight in our journey to the Western Provinces. So after a short break we decided to roll on. The sun was almost blinding us. Adolf lowered the visor to protect his eyes from the glare. A few minutes later the fireball nearing the horizon was shooting crimson rays through the forest, flickering and dancing in a kaleidoscopic display of color and motion. At dusk myriads of tiny lakes swept by our left window like precious pearls strung up on invisible threads. In the absolute stillness on their glassy surface black spruce trees mirrored themselves with such clarity that on a photo one would have had problems in telling which were the trees and which were their reflections. Looking at this beautiful monochromatic scenery, I thought, as I often did when I discovered another facet of nature’s beauty, ‘One day, I will take Biene on a road trip to experience all these wonderful places that we are now having to rush through.’
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Giessen Theatre – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org
Travel Preparations and a Farewell Speech on a Vinyl Record
The day after Biene had returned home, Adolf took my sister Eka and me on a whirlwind tour to Berlin, where we saw for the last time Aunt Alma and her family. On the way back we dropped in at the apartment of our brother Karl in Braunschweig, where he had recently embarked on a banking career at a local bank. There in the beautiful apartment we spent a few days with our brother, his wife Ingrid and their little baby daughter Annekatrin.
Adolf Standing in front of the Giessen Travel Agency
Back at home we directed our attention to the task of getting our belongings packed and ready. Our tickets for the voyage to Canada included the shipping charges for the wooden crates that contained all our personal effects. Almost too late we found out that we were responsible for moving them to the travel agency in Giessen. Almost instantly arose a heated argument among the hot-tempered siblings, myself included, as to whose fault it was for having overlooked such an obvious problem. Accusations were flying back and forth. It seemed that each one of us was on a faultfinding mission. Of course, no matter how hotly we debated the issue, the heat of the arguments would not move our big, heavy crates to Giessen.
Problems Worked out over a Mug of Beer
Fortunately our cousin Jürgen arrived just at the right time and helped diffuse a potentially explosive situation. He suggested a cooling-off period for the enraged brothers. In Giessen we dropped in at the ‘Vienna Forest, a popular restaurant, where they served us grilled chicken and beer. Tension and lingering hostility abated quickly at the same rate as our stomachs filled with delicious food and copious amounts of beer. Now we were ready to tackle the shipping in a more amiable environment. Jürgen had just made the acquaintance of a fellow student, who would be willing to provide his old and dilapidated VW bus for the crates. After a few more drinks at a roadside fast food outlet we were going to announce the good news at home. However, the pub, ‘The New Homeland’, was still open in Watzenborn. We thought a few more beers would not hurt and would definitely clear away the last little bit of rancour, before going home. So we finally arrived in a fairly boisterous mood. Everybody had already gone to bed. But this did not prevent us from loudly announcing to Eka that we had found a solution to the shipping problem. We all withdrew into the furnace room, which with its excellent sound-proofed walls offered a modicum of protection against the noise. Befuddled by all that beer I played the guitar rather poorly often missing the correct fret, while Adolf sang the song merrily out of tune with the chords I was playing. In the meantime Jürgen and Eka had an animated discussion on the poor timing of our nocturnal arrival. Not receiving the appreciative reception that we were expecting, we decided to spend the night at Jürgen’s place in Giessen and slept for want of something more accommodating all three in one bed, but not before having a taste from the bottle of whiskey that happened to be there for this crazy occasion. Next morning (or was it noon?) Adolf and I, feeling somewhat remorseful for our rambunctious behaviour the night before, drove home quite willing to accept any criticism with a repentant heart and to make amends by getting the crates ready for shipment.
In the turmoil of the endless visits of well-meaning relatives and friends, who all came to say good-bye, I still managed to keep up the correspondence with Biene, although it was almost impossible to find a quiet corner in the house. I had made a recording of a few simple classical guitar pieces that I felt were good enough for her to listen to. In addition, I recorded a farewell message on tape and mailed it together with the music to a company in France to have it pressed onto a vinyl record. A few days before our departure date the record arrived, which I embellished with some pretty labels and redirected it to Biene’s home address. It so happened that on the very day we boarded the Canada bound vessel, the ‘Ryndam’, she received my gift.
The recording sounds a bit scratchy. But what do you expect from a 50-year old vinyl record?
On Sunday morning Mother, like always, lovingly prepared a sumptuous breakfast. Then on Biene’s request I played a selection of a few very simple classical guitar pieces composed by Carulli. As I was nervous and excited, I made quite a few mistakes. Going as far back as my early childhood years I had never suffered from stage fright. I had taken on challenging rôles in Christmas concerts and other major school events. But this was different. Biene was the audience. While she listened to my renditions with an understanding heart, she lovingly ignoring my mistakes. The frequent boners I committed bothered me all the more, since I often managed to play the tunes perfectly, when I had been alone. Then it was Biene’s turn to perform. I set up the microphone and the Grundig tape recorder to capture her voice. She recited in her soft, sweet voice the two poems she had written for me at Christmas. Although at the pinnacle of total bliss, I was unable to push away the nagging thought of something unspoken that needed to be said
This had so far been the very best get-together with Biene. Should we again with our hearts overflowing with wondrous feelings miss the golden opportunity for a good solid talk about our future. For the day was dragging on and Biene’s time to leave was rapidly approaching. Resolutely I invited Biene for a walk along the wintry trail behind the house. We were holding hands, as I began to talk.
Mother Waiting for Peter and Biene
In just a few months I would be traveling to Canada on the Ryndam, a ship of the Holland America Line. It would not mean permanent separation. I would simply go and check out to see if it was true, as my brother Gerry asserted, that I could become a teacher with only two or three years of university training. If it was indeed true, my next step would be to get admitted to the University of Alberta at Calgary with my German high school diploma (Abitur). If successful in fulfilling all entrance requirements I would devote all my energies to acquire a teaching certificate in the shortest possible time.
Church at Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim)
And then … I paused for a moment noticing in Biene’s dreamy eyes the expression of sweet anticipation of words never spoken or written before, which she had been expecting from me, the slowpoke, for such a long time. “And then,” I continued almost choking with emotion, “I will ask you to come and be my wife.” Now she squeezed my hand and her face was beaming. Little did I know that with these words I fulfilled her secret wish, which at home in Velbert had been conceived in her heart on New Year’s Eve! So with all our hitherto hidden desires so plainly revealed with my promise to marry her we huddled a little closer together on our way back to the house. To be sure, this was not entirely due to the ice and snow and the wintry chill in the air.