The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXIV

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Storm Clouds on the Horizon

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Key Player #1 in Chapter 34: Gertrud (Biene) Panknin 1965

As the drama unfolds I will introduce for each part of this chapter one person, who played a major role in our desperate struggle for being reunited in Canada.

We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle with against the things our significant others want to see in us.  Even after we outgrow some of the others – our parents, for instance – and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live. Charles Taylor

The Letter to Biene’s Parents

To merely summarize the troubles we experienced, the opinions we voiced, the arguments we had and the decisions we made, the agonies and struggles of the heart would have distorted the true picture we had created through our correspondence between October 1965 and March 1966. On the one hand an objective approach, if it were possible at all, would never have succeeded in describing the passionate appeals we fervently made to one another in the face of dire adversities. On the other hand a purely emotional account would most certainly have embodied on my part a lot of bias and subjectivity. So for the next two chapters I mostly let the letters speak for themselves. They include more and more often our first attempts to correspond with each other in English. Here and there I corrected a few grammatical errors and edited out some awkward expressions without changing the intended meaning.  The letters in a sense are also a fine record of our progress in the use of the English language. As to those still written in German it is my hope that not too much of their emotional impact has been lost in translation.

September 25th Didsbury

My dear Peter,

…From my mother I had an immediate reply to my letter, which was going to prepare her for the letter from you. With her words my mother has taken a big burden off my heart; for she writes that she is glad that things are working out for us and that she would help us in as much as she could. She congratulates you to your success at your entrance exam and is confident that we somehow will make it together. Strangely, I felt my heart ache, even though I was happy all the same. Please, dear Peter, write to my parents soon; for now they have been prepared. How I wished I were already with you! Then I would know that everything was true and not just a dream.

Be lovingly kissed, Your Biene

October 15th Calgary

My dear Love,

There are a lot of important things I have to tell you. But first of all I have to apologize that my letter is so late. It is quite possible this will happen again and again for the next couple of months, because the academic work is overwhelming. Only with a time schedule from dawn to dusk I am likely to pass the final examination in the spring, Therefore, dear Gertrud (I guess it sounds better in English to say your real name), remember that I am working hard, that I am devoting more love to you by spending every minute available to me for studying.

About a fortnight ago, I wrote a long letter to your parents. I am still waiting for an answer. I don’t know what they will think of me, and in which way they will react. I only hope positively. I explained the situation and spoke of you as Biene without recognizing that, because this name had become so familiar to me, I had forgotten at this moment that a little more formality would be required. I hope they will not mind it. Canada was shown not in terms of a paradise for their daughter, but as the place to start a completely new life with all the uncertainties of the future, which I cannot anticipate now. They have seen the financial problem as well as the problem of my professional career. Now it is up to them to make their decisions, I hope, in favour of both of us…

With a thousand warm kisses, Your Peter

The letter I wrote to Biene’s parents does no longer exist. As the events unfolded it became very clear that I had made a grave mistake by describing honestly and realistically all the challenges we would be facing in a letter that was supposed to make them agree to let their daughter go to Canada and marry me.

Ominous Rumblings from Biene’s Home Front

Peter copy

Key Player #2 in Chapter 34: Peter Klopp

After having dispatched my letter to Biene’s parents I felt very much at ease. With vim and vigour and guided by an indomitable desire to achieve high marks in my academic endeavours, I embraced a regime of self-denial, a kind of mental forced  labour. I cut my leisure hour of guitar practice in the evening, shortened my social lunch time with friends and fellow students at the university, and allocated an extra hour to my studies at home in the morning. I had no idea about the potential danger to my health by placing so many burdens on my shoulder. But I was happy in the sweet knowledge that all the hard work would pay off in the end. Little did I know, however,  of the storm clouds gathering on the other side of the Atlantic and of the ominous rumblings coming from Biene’s home turf.

October 20th, 1965 Didsbury

My dear Peter, Life is like a brilliant symphony. Again and again I feel this. Every day has its special tune and colour and atmosphere and you need to be a poet in order to give a vivid and colourful picture of it. Sometimes the melody of the day is light and joyful, in other times dark and full of melancholy.

Today was a bright and sunny October day, and pushing the carriage with the little laughing Paul through the park, I felt happy and at peace with the world. Here in England I have gained new aspects of life and I really feel for the first time free and independent. Two letters, which arrived with the second post, made me hurry to the place, where I usually have a little rest in the sun. I got your letter as well as my mother’s and I have a lot to tell you. At first, Peter, be assured that my parents got your long letter. Don’t worry about not having received an answer until now. I am going to tell you the reason although I rather would not like to speak or even think of it, because it makes me feel unhappy. My aunt (you know, I sometimes talked about her, because I loved her very much) died a fortnight ago. My parents went immediately to Berlin and stayed for a week to arrange everything for her funeral. All the tasks connected with my aunt’s death caused my parents much grief and my mother felt mentally and physically exhausted after the journey and she was not even able to write to me. As soon as she feels better she will let you know what decisions she and my father have made. She asks me to tell you that this is the reason for their long silence. My mother had to tell me so much about the last happenings that she only gave notice to me of the mere fact that she got the letter from you. Yet she did not discuss it. She only reassured me that she would stick to her promise and try to help us in any case…

In love yours forever, Gertrud

A day later, having not sent off the letter, she continued on in German, which I took as a bad omen, and so it was.

My dear Peter,

Today I received a long letter from my brother, which contained the main thoughts and arguments, which he as he told me had written also to you. It is quite impossible for me at the moment to delve into all the details. I didn’t know at all that you don’t find it easy to stay in Canada. This is in any case the way my brother interprets your words. As soon as I have answered my brother, I pass on his letter to you. Dear Peter, my decision is firm, and nothing can detract me from what I recognized as the right thing to do. I have no fear of an uncertain future. This just for today! As soon as I have a little more time and leisure I will write you everything, which I have considered and decided.

Your Biene

I knew all along that, when this moment came, everybody would be against our plans.

For the moment it was very easy for Biene to stick to her decision. To join me in Canada was not only the right thing to do, but also fulfilled the promise of love between the two of us. She was still far removed from the source of disapproving views on getting married to a young adventurer with an uncertain future in the far-off and hitherto unknown country of Canada. Thus, she was able to take a firm stand against the first volley shot by her twin brother Walter across the English Channel.

Gradual Descent into Emotional Hell

 

Walter

Key Player #3 in Chapter 34: Walter Panknin, Biene’s Twin Brother

On the 23rd of October, 1965 I had not yet received the devastating news about her family’s opposition to our wedding plans. Not being aware of the storm clouds gathering over our sweet hopes and aspirations, I wrote Biene a cheerful birthday letter. Being in a most jocular frame of mind, I teased her about the severe yoke of marriage and encouraged her tongue-in-cheek to enjoy the few remaining months of freedom until our wedding day in May . A few days later my mood changed drastically, when I received the bad news.

October 25th, 1965 Calgary University

My dear Gertrud,

If this turns out to be true what you have just been describing in your last letter, you will be in great trouble pretty soon. I had to force myself to work yesterday, because I kept thinking about your problem, which consequently is also my problem.

First of all, what your brother told you is definitely wrong or it is at least the wrong impression. I have never mentioned that I wouldn’t like to be in Canada. The more I think about it, the more I do believe that your parents and brother don’t have any objections against me, but against the fact that their only daughter and sister should leave them in a couple of months. Thinking of returning to Germany is now out of the question. I thank you again for not having interfered in the time of undecided matters and inner conflicts before I entered the university. But if you had done so, it would have been the only possibility of getting me back to the Old Country. Now I have decided to stay. It is not only the money (about one thousand dollars) that is invested now into my studies for the winter session, I am also personally involved with great delight in the courses, especially in German literature and cannot give it up just because your folks want to have you around for a few more years.

But you were resolute and are still resolute, as you wrote me. Didn’t your parents know that you intended to follow me after some time? Sure, they did. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that they must have hoped that our relationship would eventually come to nothing. I guess on this particular point they underestimated the strength and sincerity of our love. Maybe they will think quite differently when they realize that they cannot change your mind. Though I wished I could do more, I cannot help except politely answering your parents’ letter, but definitely stating that I am willing to stay.

There is something else I want to tell you. You said your brother is going to write me too. He may write as often as he wants to, but he cannot expect me to answer his letters as long as I haven’t gotten word from your parents. I know what an awful impact a death of a close relative can have so that I fully understand why they couldn’t answer. In this case I’m willing to wait another fortnight and even longer, but I cannot accept your brother as a mediator between your parents and me. Do you understand me? I think the matter is too important to have it delegated to your brother. I wrote your parents and expect no answer from anybody but from them alone. How can I find out that the arguments are his and not those of his parents? Would you mind telling him that I really enjoy studying now that ‘I really like to be in America’ and his conclusions must have been a misunderstanding.

Although I don’t want to, I am getting quite a bit worried. But when you are involved, how can I remain calm! Nevertheless celebrate with an untroubled spirit your 21st birthday. I hope you will get a day off on Friday.  As to your next year it is my heart-felt wish that in spite of all adversities all things will come to pass that you are hoping for right now

With lots of love, your Peter

Biene’s Bold Reaction to Five Letters from Germany

Papa

Key Player #4 of Chapter 34: Papa Walter Panknin

November 2nd 1965 Didsbury

My dear Peter,

Before I respond to your messages and also tell you about my life here, I want to deal with the main issue at hand. Dear Peter, my parents and my brother’s reaction came so unexpectedly for me that every letter from home was a real shock for me.

First of all my brother wrote, who until now has only written this long letter to me. He tried to logically explain that our plans are against all reason that out of several reasons I would be unhappy with you in Canada and above all that I would make my parents unhappy. Shortly afterwards I received an equally long and logical letter from my father with similar arguments and the threat that if I acted against all warnings and reason, I would in no way receive any support from him. Then finally came a long letter from my mother. She desires that we two come together and that she was prepared to let me go ‘one day’ to Canada. However, influenced by my father and brother’s arguments, she too thinks that it would be too early and that we would only be unhappy. Even my brother-in-law and sister asked me in long letters to take everything into consideration and let reason prevail rather than listen to my heart.

Dear Peter, as I can only roughly indicate to you, their main concern was about my happiness and the fear to lose me. Therefore, Peter, I cannot feel any anger or disappointment. You are right, Peter, my parents must have hoped all the time that everything, as you said, would fizzle out between us at the end. And only now I understand as to why without any objections they let me go to England. I believe that they hoped it would lead me to different thoughts. Dear Peter, you can imagine in what kind of conflict I find myself! I have never been so determined in my life as now! I come to you, even if I have to earn the sea voyage myself. My decision is final, and nothing can dissuade me from it. Therefore, Peter, prepare everything.

My parents fear that the hard work would make me unhappy. O Peter, I realized here in England how physical work in harmony with intellectual work creates happiness. And to work together with you for our life can truly make me happy! Mrs. Lande literally cried, when I told her that I would have to leave at Christmas time. She thinks that never before had a girl managed to do so well with the work and the children as I have. These words give me self-confidence; for I came  with no experience whatsoever. My mother always says, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’ I also believe in it. Sometimes I think that I am hard-hearted and egotistical, because I want to come to you, although I know how much pain I am causing to all the people that love me. Yet, Peter, don’t we need to live our life as our parents lived theirs? My father writes that he would rather travel to European destinations four times a year than to spend a single penny for a trip to Canada to visit his daughter, who has abandoned her home country. You too will feel while reading this, how much these words have hurt me. When I come home for Christmas, I will talk calmly with my parents. If they insist on their position and refuse us any help, then Peter I will come in spite of it all. I have so much confidence in our future. Perhaps we can only convince our parents with an iron will! O Peter I think that I appear so hard-hearted toward them, for I can sense how they must feel. But I know that it is right to go to you.

In the meantime you will have received my brother’s letter. Don’t take it as an insult that my parents have used my brother as mediator. I am more offended than you; for I know that only my brother’s influence could have changed my parents’ mind. However, Peter, all parents would just like my parents try to keep their children at their side, especially if it means to let them go into a world of uncertainty. And Canada is for them uncertainty. We must understand them. But nothing can change my decision.

My dear Peter, now I have not yet dealt with many of your questions and problems you brought up in your letters. However, I shared the main issue with you so that you can undertake all the necessary steps and you can tell me what I need to do. As always in a big hurry, unfortunately!

Be lovingly embraced by your Biene

Having observed in the past quite a few of Biene’s vacillations during times when decisions of the heart had to be made, I felt total admiration for Biene’s courageous handling of a dilemma out of which there seemed to be no escape. In my eyes she ruled like a queen over the complex issues that were going to haunt us for a long time to come. Indeed I was awed by her bold stand against the odds that were stacked against her. However, what I did not realize at the time, when her letter  gave my anxious heart a lift, was the fact that Biene was fighting far away from home the  good fight in the safe haven of her British employer.

A Letter from Biene’s Twin Brother

Mutti2

Key Player #5: Elisabeth Panknin, Biene’s Mother

November 8th 1965 Calgary

My dear Biene,

I would like to embrace you and kiss you a thousand times for your decisive letter on Monday. If it had only arrived on Saturday! Then I would not have gone through the hell of emotional turmoil. My brother Gerry brought your brother’s letter from the Fyffe Road. It had been sitting there for the past fourteen days, Dear Biene, not even during the worst time in the German Army had I been so devastated! I was incapable to do anything sensible. But one thing at a time in the right order! How great you have become again in my heart. I know now what made me happy. In my mind you have already been with me all this time. We celebrated your birthday together. I played your Don Giovanni record, while getting up in the morning. I did all kinds of repairs, bought a picture to decorate our little basement room, and you helped me choose it. You spurred me on at my studies. Imagine I wrote one of the best essays on the Canterbury Tales with very few mistakes. Here too my independent individual opinion was being admired. In Math there have been only very good results on tests and assignments. I have been welcomed into the social life. Everywhere I have gained friends not just with my professor, who is already looking forward to meeting you, but also with my fellow students. I am helping some in Math, others in History. And I did all this as if you were already living with me and made me happy. Dear Biene, quite frankly with this certainty in my heart I could have waited another two or three years. But now I am completely cured. Biene, how good it is that you want to come. Otherwise I would have to ask, yes indeed I would have to beg you to come!

But now let’s look at this letter. If I hadn’t developed in my life so much sensibility, I would have perceived the letter as completely harmless. He had taken my letter to your parents apart into thousand fragments and quoted, quoted, and quoted. In his opinion there was nothing that would keep me in Canada, the prospects in Germany were a thousand times better and so on and so forth. After he had completely blackmailed me morally, he added injury to insult by threatening with financial blackmail. Imagine, I was so dumb as to believe that these were his own ideas. I deemed your father too good to threaten me. Still awake in bed at three o’clock in the morning I could no longer take it anymore and wrote till six a long letter to your parents and presented piece-by-piece positive arguments. Above all I mentioned that the Alberta government will pay for the second year at university, that all my relatives here in Canada had offered financial assistance, that there are still 1,500 marks left in my German bank account, and that thanks to you I have great success in my studies here in Calgary.  O Biene, it is no use. If they are not willing, then even the best arguments will not help. I will have insulted your father; for I attacked your brother by stating that I hold myself too good to accept such mean-spirited blackmails. They will mark me as an evil character. O Biene, be firm and strong and hold on to me. I feel you are almost stronger than I, because I have been deeply insulted. But a determined will can bring them still to reason. Besides I think much of your mother’s influence, when the time for action will have actually come. Again thank you for your letter! I am stuck in the midterm exams and need peace, inner peace. How strong has your unshakeable determination made me!

Now that I can breathe more freely again, I will outline precisely, what needs to be done. With your approval I will go to the immigration office in the next couple of days. But I think that in spite of it all I should wait for a reply from your parents. Should I give to the immigration official your address in Velbert or my mother’s address? Don’t do anything, until you receive a message from Cologne. They will set a date for giving you a physical examination in Cologne. Be accurate with all information regarding your relatives in East Germany. When they notice that you were not telling the truth, they may reject your eligibility for immigration. Beforehand you have to get your lungs x-rayed. You need a valid passport as well, for which you must apply in due time. For the voyage you must been inoculated against small pocks, if this has not been done during the past two years. As soon as you are done with these preliminaries, you must see a travel agent to make arrangements for the trip. There will be no immigration visa without a ticket! If it is an efficient travel bureau, you will have no trouble with your luggage crate. They will pick it up and take it to the railroad station. Only in Montreal you will see it again. You yourself will be lost there without any help, because there will be nobody to look after you, when you have been cleared by customs Canada. I will have to be there, when you come. But that much money I will have left over. O Biene, it is not the most beautiful prospect that we both have to work very hard to have things work out for us. But on weekends we will be able to travel to the mountains for a few days  for sure. Oh, how I feel well again.

Many thanks for your letter! I still have so much to tell you.

With a thousand dear kisses,

Your Peter

Mother2.jpg

Key Player #6: Erika Klopp, Peter’s Mother

As the drama unfolds I will introduce for each part of this chapter one person, who played a major role in our desperate struggle for being reunited in Canada.

Stepping up the Pace

“It is easier in spite of the great distance to visit relatives in Canada than those in East Germany. And we will lose our children we try to hold captive. In a higher sense we will regain them as we let them go.”  Peter’s Mother

From the moment the avalanche of opposing letters came crashing down on us, Biene and I accelerated the pace of our correspondence to a feverish pitch, as far as the notoriously slow mail service between England and Canada  would allow any speeding up at all. Biene continued to be resolute and firm in her decision to come to Canada and marry me as early as the following spring. While I had nagging doubts about our future, her bold attitude emanating from her letters was like a shining exemplar encouraging me to be strong and not to despair. Biene’s twin brother had planted poison in my heart. I had premonitions, even believed to hear inner voices with dire warnings of imminent disaster. Fortunately, Biene was always able to dispel such dark fears, which usually surfaced on my distraught mind after stepping down into my dingy basement room after a long, hard day at the university.

With every new letter she rekindled my longing for her presence. Her passionately written words filled my heart with warmth and confidence, fortifying me for the long pause in our correspondence, which was to come even before she returned to Germany. For the longest time like a weary wanderer leaning on his walking stick, I clung to her words.

Do you know Peter that I have the same feelings like you namely that I might become a good wife to you? I am longing for you so much! Your words saying that we must both grow together touched me deeply because that’s what I feel every day more. Yet, Peter is it not a miracle all the same? Look we both are going through the same experiences of life although thousands of miles are between us. In mind we are together. I feel so closely linked to you that to a certain extent the distance does not matter. Yet we are living beings of flesh and blood and not only souls. Therefore even the strongest mental link is only a substitute for being together. I want to feel your arms around me, touch you, speak to you and kiss you. Please undertake all the necessary steps for my coming at once. Have always confidence in me and never let doubts prevail over you.

My dear blogging friends, let me break the rules for writing an objective autobiography and allow me to address you directly. After reading these passionately written lines, tell me who would be the young man whose pulse would not go up a notch faster, would not feel the warmth of tender anticipation flood his heart, and would not foretaste in all its intensity the embrace of his beloved sweetheart ? Even a heart of stone would melt after being exposed to so much loving-kindness!

How could Biene have so much confidence that everything would work out in the end? Was it naive and wishful thinking or blind trust in Providence? Was she truly prepared to enter the lions’ den, especially after the barrage of opposing letters suddenly ended and dead silence from parents and brother was sending out ominous warning signals?

Canada’s Moral Code for Biene’s Immigration

Paul

Key Player #7: Paul Werner, Biene’s Brother-in-Law

December 5th 1965 Calgary

My dear Little Bee!

Your admission to Canada is more complicated than I had thought before and is connected with some obligations. Dear Gertrud, you know that I like to talk about each step with you. However, it would take too much time, and I had better hurry up so that you can come next spring. I hope you will agree with all I am undertaking now. First of all there is no other possibility of your coming except that you come as my fiancée. Second, I have to declare that I am willing to marry you within 30 days after your arrival. That means, I cannot compromise with your parents as I have suggested to them that we shall marry after a trial period of a year or so.

I have many things to do now. But I hope that I’ll be at the department of immigration on Monday and have all the requirements fulfilled for them. I have to provide the following pieces of information:

1) A letter from some responsible person, preferably a married woman, who will have accommodation for you until the day of the proposed wedding. (I got a letter from Martha and Gerry). This is probably for maintaining the good morals.

2) A letter from a minister stating that I am of good character, free to marry and that he will perform the wedding ceremony within thirty days of your arrival. I’ll get this letter tomorrow after church.

3) Then I have to give them an exact report to demonstrate that we are well acquainted,  that we correspond regularly and that we have exchanged recent photographs etc. This is already done.

4) And I need to provide additional facts relating to you and to me.

It was really wise to start the whole matter from here, for it would have been difficult for you to apply for your immigration in Cologne without having somebody financially responsible for you. If anything goes as the officer in charge has promised me, I might embrace you in May 1966.

How good you are in English! I see you have learned the natural way of expressing yourself. No wonder that you had so much success at your school. You are really familiar with the so-called everyday English that still eludes me. Will you promise me to speak English after we meet again, at least during the regular course of the day? You know, in my second year at the university I will begin with student teaching at the high schools. Therefore, I must have a satisfactory command of the English language.

In longing and in love

Your Peter

Manchester-england - tourist-destination

Manchester, England – Photo Credit: tourist-destinations.com

Biene’s Last Letter from England

December 10th, 1965 Didsbury

My dear love Peter,

As usual I can just drop a few lines although I am dying to write you all I have on my mind. Your last letter contained quite a lot of exciting news concerning my coming to you in Canada. I feel so relieved that everything is set going for it. I think the conditions are quite sensible and I do agree with them. Peter, imagine we both will get married in less than half a year. On the one hand it seems quite natural to me to get married to you because I cannot imagine another husband for me than you. Yet on the other hand it seems like an unbelievable marvellous wonder, which only happens in dreams and fairy-tales. The thought of it is really overwhelming me with thousands of exciting feelings.

On the 23rd I am flying home. I booked my flight yesterday in town. I am afraid that I will have to face much trouble at home. Yet I feel strong enough to defend my cause. My brother has caused all my relatives to write to me in order to bring me to reason. Are we really that foolish, Peter? I admit that our plans are extraordinary, yet the more I think it over the more I feel that we are doing nothing wrong. I must convince my family! I have so many arguments. But perhaps on both sides the emotional sphere is more powerful than reason, and since strong feelings are involved it will be difficult to come to terms. Oh I really wish I could see clear. At home I will see.

Mrs. Lande often wonders where I get all my patience from and why nothing can shake me and then she says that she really wished to know you because judging from me you must be a really marvellous man to make me always so happy. Do you know Peter that it is about a year ago that I realized how much I am in love with you? It was after the ‘Don Giovanni’ opera, after I had given you the little good luck charm, the magic ‘Glücksbringer’ and after you had left me, and the train had disappeared. I suddenly felt for the first time that I could never live anymore without you loving me. This discovery shook me so very much and stirred up all my feelings and frightened me to such a degree that I was really ill at night and then I wrote to you and then … oh Peter, I sometimes cannot believe that all I had so desperately wished in that night has come true. I do not believe in magic at all, yet you must admit that it was a strange coincidence that I gave you the ‘Glücksbringer’ just on that particular night. 

Yours for ever Gertrud

After this passionately written letter more than two weeks passed until I received a card, which did not even arrive on time for Christmas, because it had been sent by surface mail. But her last letter from England was so heart-warming that its message of courage and love sustained me through the darkest days of the season. In quick succession I jotted down all my thoughts about the best possible strategy for Biene’s handling of parental opposition to our plans. I decided to keep writing in small instalments and wait, until I had received word from Biene before sending off the compiled letters. This method also served to bridge the time. However, as Christmas was drawing near, worries about how Biene was making out in her struggle with her parents occupied my heart and soul. Was it not exactly two years ago that I had worried about losing her forever during the gloomy days in the army? Should it be possible that her parents gain the upper hand? Would they be able to soften her resolve to come and marry me in the spring? With no Christmas greetings from Biene or from her parents the stage was set for the loneliest Christmas of my entire life.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXII

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Dover

Port of Dover and the Famous White Cliffs of Dover – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Biene Travels to England

“If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts.”

W. Somerset Maugham

In the meantime Biene had exchanged quite a few letters with Mrs. Lande, her employer-to-be in Manchester, England. She found out that she would be working in a modern household with three small children all less than six years of age. In spite of the many warnings from her friends regarding tough working conditions, Biene was looking forward to her job as an au pair girl, which offered a great opportunity for improving her English language skills through direct contact with people speaking their native tongue.  Becoming familiar with running a household while earning some money also proved useful for the young lady from Germany.

At the railroad station

Biene and her Parents at the Düsseldorf Railway Station – August 1965

On August 10th Biene took the train from Düsseldorf to Calais to catch the ferry to England. At dawn the ferry reached her port of call at Dover, where Biene had to endure a gruelling time at customs and at the passport control station. She arrived at London by train two hours later than expected and therefore missed her connection to Manchester. Fortunately at Dover she had enough time to send off a telegram to Mrs. Lande. After a brief sightseeing tour of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London she was on the train again and traveled through a very pleasant landscape, the so-called Midlands, featuring one of Britain’s finest scenery, greenest countryside and grandest views, through a picturesque patchwork of streams, valleys and woodlands.

Midlands Lyth_Hill_01

The Midlands of England – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

After the cold night onboard of the ferry Biene felt sleepy and happy in the warm afternoon sun that was peering through her compartment window. After she had conducted her first English conversation with a nice elderly couple, who almost overwhelmed her with good luck wishes for her time in England, she fell asleep and awoke only, when the train was already approaching Manchester. The closer she got the more excited she became and wondered if Mrs. Lande would recognize her on the platform.

Manchester_Victoria_station Edited

Victoria Station, Manchester, England – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

But she worried about that for nothing, because her employer was nowhere to be seen. In vain she looked around and after some time she was standing with her suitcases all alone on the deserted platform. She asked a black porter, who looked at her with pitiful eyes, to carry her suitcases to a taxi. When he found out that she was from Germany, where his mother was living, he was so delighted to be able to help her that he did not take any tip from her. Biene was quite touched by his helpfulness, especially after the porters in London had shamelessly taken advantage of her uncertainty over how much money would have been the appropriate amount for a tip. In the taxi she felt drowsy and suddenly very tired after so many wakeful hours. She could barely follow the verbal onslaught of the taxi driver, who in his zeal to share his local knowledge wanted to tell her about all the remarkable sights of Manchester.

Biene’s Plunge into Life’s Reality

Lande's House at the Corner

Lande’s House at the Corner of Parkfield Road in Didsbury, Manchester, UK

What a pleasant surprise unfolded before her eyes, when the taxi stopped at a large house with a friendly appearance. Immediately all tiredness disappeared. Mrs. Lande received her with open arms. The two became instant friends. That night Biene slept like a log. And it was good, because there was a lot of work waiting for her the very next morning. Mrs. Lande had just returned from her vacation in Spain and needed all the help she could get with the children. There was little baby Paul, who was being potty-trained. He was not too eager to cooperate and constantly climbed off  his tiny chair. While Biene was putting him back, where he was supposed to do his business, Caroline and Simon were pinching each other and screeching like howling dervishes. Gradually Biene was adapting to a totally new routine in her life. A 7:30 Paul woke her up with his crying, because he was wet and the diapers needed changing, all the while the older siblings were hanging on to her skirt and were hollering for attention. They wanted to get washed, dressed and fed breakfast all at once. And when at rare occasions a little bit of peace and quiet reigned in the Lande household, a pile of children’s clothes, the entire gamut from diapers to pants, were waiting on the ironing board. So Miss Panknin was on her feet from dawn to dusk seven days a week, during which she had altogether one half-day off. But even then Mrs. Lande occasionally brought Paul into Biene’s room, because she could not handle him any more.

Nearby Park Didsbury Manchester England

Lots of Green Spaces in Nearby Parks

In spite of the hard work Biene was happy. Every night, when after a relaxing bath she sank into her bed, she fell asleep with a sense of accomplishment she had never experienced before. In her letters she would often mention to me that through her work with the children, as challenging and arduous it really was, she was able to draw herself out of the darkness of idleness into the light of meaningful activity with little children. It was heartwarming for me to see that she too was going through an important trial period albeit quite different from mine. By dealing so intensely with young children she was in a much better position to decide on a small or large or no family at all. She learned first hand how much love and labor one needed to invest in raising a large family. Being an au pair girl was a real eye opener for her.

Leisure time had become a precious commodity for Biene. Whereas back home at Velbert she had often idled away her time, she now began to appreciate every free moment that she had at her disposal. What allowed her to truly enjoy her time off was the heightened awareness that what she was doing in Mrs. Lande’s household was not drudgery she needed a break from, but deeply satisfying service to others.

On one of her half-days Biene took little six-year old Caroline to a nearby cinema. Mrs. Lande had recommended the movie ‘Sound of Music’, which had gained the status of a box office hit not just in England, but also in translation practically all over the world. Completely enraptured by the picture and the music Caroline cozily sat on Biene’s lap. She was proud that she had been allowed to go out with the new so amiable au pair girl in the family.

Sound of Music

Little Paul also brought much joy to Biene. Barely two years old he had already turned with his cute baby talk into a real chatterbox. One of his favourite words to express his admiration or approval for something she suggested to him was ‘nice’. When she played on the harmonica I had bought her in Schotten, he dropped all his toys and looked at her with his big dreamy eyes as if a fairy had just arrived to play for him on her magical instrument. Then he clambered up into her bed. Every time she stopped playing, he would nudge her to play some more by tapping with his fingers on the harmonica and by humming and crooning a melody of his own. On another day in the evening, when the kids had all been put to bed, Simon, the middle child, sleepy-eyed with drooping eyelids, stepped into her room, snuggled up to her on the bed and like an affectionate little darling laid his head on her lap. She stroked and caressed him, until he finally fell asleep.

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The Original Harmonica – Banged Up but still Functional

 

 

Biene’s Engagement Ring

 Her Half-Day Cultural Activities

On one of these half-days my letter with the engagement ring arrived.  Biene having no idea what it contained and filled with joyful anticipation placed it prominently on the mantle piece. She did not want to open it until all her work was done. This way she would enjoy reading the latest news from Canada in the peace and quiet of her room.  The morning hours crept by at a snail’s pace. Finally the moment had come, when she could open the letter. I thought it would be best to let her describe her reaction upon finding the engagement ring in the envelope, about which we both had given up hope of ever seeing it again.

The Ring

The Engagement Ring

O Peter, if I had opened it any sooner, I would not have been able to do any work. Now I was by myself, and it took me a very long time, until I had recovered from the joyful shock. I was totally unprepared for this! Now your ring is on my finger and I have to keep looking at my hand, because I can hardly believe it. And how accurately you have chosen size and form as if we two had bought it together! Is it not like a miracle that your letter with its precious content after a journey half  around the globe finally landed in my hands? How did I yearn for it in June and then later again, when you thought it could arrive by surface mail! And now it has come so unexpectedly! Will it always be like this with us? I keep thinking of the quote from Bodelschwingh you had given to me in Michelbach, ‘To learn to wait is our merit …’. Ever since I love you, Peter, even waiting fills me with joy. All I do is for you, and all I experience, I experience in thought with you. It is unimaginable how much inner peace and how much strength you have given me after all these years, in which I had been torn and  tossed to and fro by feelings as if I had been living in a labyrinth. Now it seems to me as if I have found the right way. No, it is actually not like that, for I know that I found it through you …

As hard as her daily chores often were, they did not diminish her enthusiasm for the care she was able to provide for the children. Having received much love during her childhood, she was able to pass it on to the Lande children. In fact the close relationship with them aroused feelings of tender anticipation of the not too distant future, when she would be looking after our own children in the land of our dreams in Canada.

Every once in a while, she granted herself a little treat and went out to immerse herself into the British cultural environment. When she attended a performance by the internationally renowned Bolshoi Ballet, which happened to be in Manchester on its tour throughout the United Kingdom, the dancers and the music enchanted her such that in her imagination I was sitting next to her just like on our rendezvous at the opera in Wuppertal and with this romantic image on her mind she no longer felt alone among all those strangers in the theatre.

On rare occasions she went out to dine sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend. With all the work that Biene had to do, there never seemed to be enough food for her on the dinner table. Indeed, at times she was so hungry that she often resorted to eating candies, which was certainly not helping to keep her teeth in good health. The dentist in town paid for by the generous medical program, which included foreigners with a work permit, took care of many a cavity in her teeth.

Like me at my road trip through Canada, she was sometimes puzzled by certain customs, peculiar expressions and idiomatic expressions. One day while waiting for her meal to arrive in an East Indian restaurant, she was looking at the little trays, which the waiter had placed in front of her on the table. One of them particularly attracted her attention with its dark aromatic liquid, which Biene thought to be an appetizer. After all this was an exotic eatery, and while she did not recognize what it was, good manners and etiquette required that she at least tried and tasted some of these mysterious substances. The saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ may have also prompted her to reach for the teaspoon and dip it into the liquid that appeared to her as most appetizing. The strong piquant flavour was not altogether disagreeable. However, when the observant waiter saw the young lady from Germany sample another spoonful, he came rushing to her table and discretely said, “Excuse me, Miss. The items are not hors d’oeuvres, but rather condiments for the main course you had ordered.”

condiments (3)

Some other time she went out to dine with her friend Susan. They had ordered a glass of wine to complement their meal. As they happily savoured the delicious food, the waiter came by their table and announced in a tone that was supposed to convey his appreciation for his customers, “The drinks are on the house.” Biene pondered on the meaning of his puzzling remark. In her mind she visualized drinks being placed somewhere on top of the restaurant. But she was smart enough not to ask any questions or make a silly remark, as I had once done on my trip with Adolf through Canada. Susan clued her in later saying that the waiter meant that the drinks were free this evening.

Biene’s Academic Endeavours

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Cambridge University, which administered a branch in Manchester – wikipedia.org

To strengthen and further develop her language skills Biene enrolled at the Manchester branch of the Cambridge University, which offered English proficiency courses to foreign students. By some administrative error they had placed her at a lower level program, which was way too easy for her. When she brought her concerns to her teacher’s attention, he made sure that she would participate in a more challenging course. There the curricular material was quite difficult. But Biene, never afraid of tackling new challenges, attended the evening sessions with vim and vigour. Many nationalities were represented in her class, all striving to obtain the prestigious Proficiency Certificate. In spite of having less time for studying than her fellow students she made excellent progress. She soon became known in her class as the ironical author. Her instructor was so impressed with her ironical style that he read out her essay to the students as an exemplary piece of writing. The topic was ‘First Impressions of the Typical Character of the Englishman’. Based on her own experiences, she attempted to show and to prove that there was no such thing as typical Englishmen. Like other human beings, they all have their own individual character traits. The recognition, which she received from her teacher, was a great boost for her morale and strengthened her self-esteem. She was proud to see not only her language skills improve,  but also to see herself evolve as an independent thinker. Great was her joy, when she heard that her composition would be published in the official school magazine.

The Dream Word of Bienes Stories

Her facility to express herself well in the English language also came in handy in the Lande household. Being able to communicate well with the members of the family had become truly a source of great pleasure for her. This was especially the case when dealing with the older children at bedtime. She discovered the joy of story telling, not just any story that she may have read in a children’s book. In fact, she invented them in her creative mind at the spur of the moment. Caroline and Simon were fascinated, because they were involved in shaping the development of the story and felt important that they had a say in how the story would end. Each time Biene got lost in the maze of her own thoughts and paused for a brief moment, the children would spark with their questions new wonderful ideas and thus often contributed to a fanciful, fairy-tale kind of ending. To the children the most popular stories with all their variations were about the ‘Little Moon Man’ and his friend, the ‘Little Star Friend’. When Caroline and Simon listened as quiet as a mouse, Biene was happy about her success and dreamt of creating story and picture books for our own children. Until then a lot of water would spill over the Niagara Falls, she regretfully wrote to me in one of  her letters.

Peter’s Passionate Plan

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The River Irwell at Salford, looking towards Manchester City Centre – wikipedia.org

With the intent of giving Biene a mild shock followed by a pleasant surprise I wrote Biene  a letter, which seemed to suggest that the waiting period might be cut short by more than she had anticipated.

Calgary, September 11th 1965

My dear Biene, I have to bitterly disappoint you. Believe me, my pain is greater than yours not to see you as quickly again as we first thought possible. We must resign ourselves to some unforeseen circumstances. I don’t know how it all came about. Either the official of the university exam committee did not have all his marbles or I wasn’t quite there myself, but — I passed the test!

Aren’t you a little glad now that you will be able to come to Canada as early as next spring? Oh, how happy I am to finally have gained a foothold in Canada. This will be the last letter with my brother’s return address; for I will immediately start looking for a small apartment to rent in the northwest of Calgary close to the university. From there I will write to your parents in Velbert. I hope that they will have some understanding for our unusual plans. But I have to ask them soon, if everything related to your immigration should pan out as intended. Right after your parents have given us their consent, I will pay a visit to the immigration office and will initiate the process. You need not do anything, until the Canadian Embassy in Cologne will give you further notice and tell you what to do. Greetings with love, Peter

Biene thought she had prepared her parents well, before she had left for England. She now wrote a letter to her mother, who had given her until now her full support for our plans in Canada. In it she let her know that a letter from me would be coming soon, in which I would ask the parents to grant me permission to marry her beloved daughter. Shortly afterwards, Biene urged me, “Please write my parents soon. For now they have been prepared.”

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Manchester Town Hall – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

In my mind, I was merely going through a number of steps that would involve a few letters going back and forth with questions about my progress at my studies, my job prospects in the teaching profession and my assurances that Biene would be well looked after and be happy. In my mind the exchange of letters was a mere formality, a remnant of an old custom that appeared antiquated in the modern world, yet had a useful function of getting to know one another. This was especially true in my case, where a formal visit from Canada was out of the question. With Biene having done her best to have her parents prepared for my letter and in view of the fact that she would be of age to determine her own destiny, I did not spend one minute worrying about a negative reply. Besides, after passing my English proficiency test, I was riding on a wave of renewed optimism and was looking forward to boldly taking on the next major hurdle, two intensive semesters back to back with hardly a break in between. My ambitious goal was not just to get by with average marks, but to excel with a high enough grade point average to be eligible for government grants to acquire the necessary financial support for the following year.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXI

24

At the Crossroads

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”  Elbert Hubbard

Peter Quits his Job

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Calgary in the Mid 1960’s

In the middle of July I got an unexpected three-day break without pay. It rained so hard for the entire time that all outside construction was grinding to a halt. Restless and deeply worried I studied again the classifieds in search for a more meaningful job. There I stumbled upon an ad of a geophysical company, which was looking for young candidates whom they were willing to train with pay as seismic observers. I had not yet learned that just because there were positions to be filled and companies advertised them in the newspaper did not mean that one had already landed the job. My youthful enthusiasm for a great opportunity for carving out a happy and prosperous future for Biene and me made me ignore all the hurdles I needed to jump in order to get the job.  Nor did I heed the warnings of the somber prospects of separation, which inevitably would have come with the fieldwork in remote areas of the province. Having been apart for such a long time, this was the very thing Biene and I were trying to avoid. As always when I was all fired up and nothing in the world could dampen my zest for immediate action. I spoke with confidence and a fair level of fluency in English the day I contacted by phone the personnel manager of the company.  He appeared favourably inclined – so I thought in spite of my strong German accent – and promised me to mail right away the necessary forms and a pamphlet what seismic work was all about.

On the very same day I also visited the campus of the University of Calgary to enquire about their teachers’ training program. Here too I was impressed with the friendly and professional manner the lady at the registration booth received me. Little did I know then with my naïve trust in outward appearance that in contrast to the rough and tumble world of the construction industry these people at the institutes of higher learning were trained to be kind, helpful and polite! It was part of their job. Smug about my progress I had made in a single day I rode the bus home to my brother’s place. High in spirit, already projecting myself far into the future and seeing us in our cute little bungalow à la Biene’s vision I sat down to write her a very long passionate letter that evening, essentially pulling us out of the deep trough we had just gone through with the loss of the engagement ring.

At the beginning of the following week the blazing midsummer sun returned full blast and was burning mercilessly from a cloudless sky. Mr. Milne phoned to tell me that he would start on a new building project in the town of Vulcan, where he had taken on a lucrative contract to build a movie theatre. Knowing me as a good and reliable worker, he had assigned me to a special work crew. I found the prospect of working long hours and of making more money quite alluring at first. At five in the morning I climbed on the back of the same old truck, which had taken me to my first job site in early June. There my Yugoslav coworkers and I huddled together for the ninety-minute ride to Vulcan, halfway between Calgary and Lethbridge. The first few days turned out to be quite tolerable in spite of the heat and the long hours. The walls were still low and the heavy concrete blocks were within easy reach of the masons. Best of all the cool of the early morning air lingered on for a good part of the day. It actually felt fairly pleasant to work under such conditions, especially when a breeze brought relief from the heat in the afternoon. Yet, I was totally exhausted after fourteen hours, out of which I was only paid for eleven, because they deducted the traveling time from my pay. I did not complain, the pay was good. I even had recently received a raise, which brought my weekly take-home pay to a hundred dollars. But in the second week the steadily rising walls were beginning to cut off any air circulation and the sun was relentlessly beaming down onto the building site. The masons working high up in the cool breeze were clamouring for the concrete blocks and were shouting at me to hurry up. Down in the searing furnace I struggled to keep up with the demand. With heat being reflected off the walls, the temperature was inexorably rising. I began to drink huge quantities of water and drenched my shirt in a desperate attempt to cool off the overheated body through sweating and evaporation. During such brief breaks, which I had granted myself to recuperate a little, I suddenly realized that the combined worst hardships I endured at the German army during basic training were by comparison to this hell like a pleasant Sunday school picnic. I felt like a slave in the service of Vulcan, the god of fire, after whom the town had been named.

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Star Trek Enterprise Replica in the Town of Vulcan – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

While I was standing there for a short moment leaning against a huge pile of blocks, my boss caught me, as he called it, in the act of loafing and severely reamed me out. It was there and then that I decided to work only till the next payday and to start looking for another job. Unlike my fellow workers from Yugoslavia I was not a slave of this construction outfit and had the freedom to quit.

Working on a Wheat Farm

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Harry Mueller and his Family in front of the Farm House

On the weekend Harry Mueller, a wheat farmer from the Hussar region and a good friend of my brothers Adolf and Gerry, dropped in for a short visit. When he learned that I just quit my job, he invited me to help out on his farm, where he would have plenty of work for me. He promised that in return for doing some basic chores he would pay me well in addition to free room and board. I would become part of his extended family that included his permanent farm helper and a young boy on a visit from California, whose company he assured me I would enjoy. I gladly accepted the offer, which after my ordeal as a labourer appeared to me like a godsend. Apart from the welcome change in scenery I felt it would be good to be away from Calgary for a while, where day in and day out I was sitting on pins and needles in tense expectation for some positive sign either from the university or the geophysical company.

I was the third of the Klopp brothers, who worked on the Harry Mueller farm. Adolf, who immigrated to Canada in 1953, had stayed the longest and had become quite attached to Harry and his family. He liked working on the farm. Life in a close-knit family after the turmoil during the postwar years in Germany must have been very appealing to him. Here he found everything he had been missing at home: stability, security, meaningful work, companionship with Harry, Eileen, Harry’s wife, and his mother Mrs. Mueller, whom I remembered well from her visit to us in Wesel in the late 1950’s. Adolf thrived in an environment, where he could see the fruit of his labours, see the results of a day’s work, and relax in the evening having a beer or two and shoot the breeze. He was not the type who would worry about events that may or may not disturb his life in the distant future. He lived very much in the present. His brother Gerry and later also Karl would do the worrying for him and urged him not to remain an unskilled labourer forever. Gerry after his arrival in Canada also spent some time at the farm, but just long enough, until he landed a job as a toolmaker at a bottle manufacturing plant in Medicine Hat. His ambitious nature would never allow him to stay at a dead-end job.

From the very outset it was clear that my time on the farm would be limited to two weeks. It became a respite from the harsh realities of hauling bricks and mortar. Indeed working for Harry felt like taking a holiday. Looking back I can safely say that quite apart from earning money I received much more than I was able to give. I learned to drive a tractor, operated a hydraulic lift arm, and was able to do in one day what the construction crew would not have accomplished in a week. There was a fence that had outlived its usefulness, which Harry wanted me to remove one fence post at a time. He showed me how to use the manual gearshift of the tractor, how to lower and raise the hydraulic lift, how to wrap a chain around the post, and how to attach the chain to the lift arm. Then he hopped on the tractor and gave a brief demonstration of the entire process. Being the owner of a full section of fertile land all planted in wheat, he had more important things to do than pulling out old fence posts. He left me with the encouraging remark, “I see you at lunch, Peter. Good Luck!”

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Peter Pulling Fence Posts on the Harry Mueller  Farm

I stood there for a while contemplating the incredible amount of trust he had placed upon my ability to live up to his expectations. I was determined not to disappoint him. At first I took ten long minutes to pull out just one post. But soon I got the hang of it and yanked three out of the ground within the same time period. When Eileen rang the lunch bell, more than twenty posts were lying along the narrow dirt road leading up to the farmhouse.

Great Blunder and a Gentle Rebuke

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Half way through the afternoon I noticed that the tractor was running low on fuel. Harry had gone to town to get some supplies. So I took matters into my own hands and drove the tractor to one of the nearest fuel tanks. They stood high above the ground on sturdy metal legs, letting gravity do the work. After I was done filling up, I restarted the tractor and headed back to the nearest fence post. While I was driving, I detected an acrid smell in the air that I had not noticed before. Heavy black smoke belched out of the vertical exhaust pipe. The engine began to stutter and threatened to stall. Panic stricken I immediately turned off the ignition. At that very moment Harry had returned from town and parked his truck right beside me. From a mile away he had seen the ominous smoky telltale that there was something seriously wrong with his tractor.

“What did you do?” he asked.

“The tractor was low on fuel, so I decided to gas up,” I replied.

“Which storage tank did you use?”

I was getting a bit alarmed by Harry’s questions. Sensing that I might have done something wrong, I answered rather timidly, ”From the one nearest to us.”

“Well, Peter,” he began calmly explaining without the slightest trace of anger in his voice, “this is a gas driven tractor. You just refilled it with diesel. You did well in turning off the engine. You could have damaged it, you know.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon draining the tractor tank and refuelling it with gasoline. On startup dark sooty smoke was still spreading its foul stench into the air, but after a few more minutes the oil had been cleared from the internal parts. The engine was chugging along again at its regular smooth rhythm. How grateful I was to Harry for letting me carry on the next morning in spite of my blunder at the fuelling station!

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Peter Pulling out Fence Posts the Easy Way

At the end of the week I had pulled out all the posts, had loaded them on a utility trailer and had hauled them away. I was beaming with pride, when Harry entrusted me with a much more challenging task I was supposed to start on the following Monday. With the removal of the old posts I thought I had merely cleared away an eyesore, which would in fact be very low on a wheat farmer’s priority list. Rather I had created some more space for the expansion of the existing wheat field. Harry had already ploughed that part and said that my job would be to drag the harrow over it to break up the clods and remove the weeds. For that he added he would let me use the brand new John Deer tractor. It goes without saying I was absolutely delighted about my latest assignment.

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The Immense Wheat Field behind the John Deer Tractor

Anyone who ever stood in front of a wheat field so large that one could not see where it ended would understand my fascination about the mysterious way the wind was playing with each individual stalk to create the illusion of waves swirling over the giant expanse in front of me. Unlike an ocean wave, where the water molecules bob up and down and actually never move forward except at the surf near the beach, a wheat wave consists of myriads of stalks swaying in the wind following in faithful synchrony its force and direction. This is especially spectacular to watch when the direction of the wind suddenly shifts, at times creating the strangest patterns of circular motion. They appear to dance around as one unit  until they suddenly dissolve and unite again in perfect harmony with the action on the entire field.

211

A Memorable Fishing Trip

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Near the end of the week Harry, Gary, his permanent farm hand, Chris, the young boy from California and I were relaxing in the living room sipping cool beer straight from the bottle. Harry suggested that it was time for a break and that we should all go together to a remote lake in the Rocky Mountains, where he knew a good fishing spot. That was indeed good news, for I longed to be back in the mountains and fishing would be another skill I could acquire while enjoying nature at its best. The time before the harvest was relatively easy for the wheat farmers on the Prairie Provinces. They often took their vacation in July or August to rest up for the hard work that lay ahead, when they had to bring in the crops. For harvesting, timing was everything. If you harvested too soon and the grain had not matured properly, the wheat board would downgrade the quality. If on the other hand you waited too long and let the rain and sometimes even early snow dampen the grain, you would again not get top dollars for your harvest. Harry had $20,000 worth of high quality wheat growing all around his farmhouse, the equivalent of ten times the amount in today’s buying power.

Trailer

Bright and early on Saturday morning we were heading out to the Rocky Mountains. Harry had hitched to the truck his travel trailer, which comfortably slept the four of us. After a three-hour drive, he turned off from the main highway. Somewhere up a steep forestry road Harry knew a good fishing lake surrounded by snow capped mountains. Very few people dared to venture out so far into the wilderness. As it turned out, we would have the rustic campsite right at the edge of the lake all to ourselves. There was nothing to set up. Harry unhitched the trailer and blocked the wheels, while we helped by unloading the two boats off the truck and dragged them into the water. After a quick lunch consisting of bologna and cheese sandwiches, we were eager to try our luck in fishing.

Harry and Chris

 

Harry took Chris, his young guest from California along and directed his boat across the lake to a promising spot, where he had been fishing in previous years. Gary and I decided to make a circle tour hugging the rugged shoreline in the hope to reel in a good-sized trout or two. My interest in fishing was at best lukewarm. In my mind I saw me actually catch a fish, kill it somehow, and wondered how I would clean and make it ready for supper. Suppressing these disturbing images I focused on the beauty of the mountains all around us, the crystal clear water reflecting the majestic scenery in the still mountain air, and the bright blue of a cloudless sky competing with the dark green curtain of the impenetrable forest. The eyes of the scout in me were searching for suitable sites, where one day Biene and I could set up our little tent, here perhaps a bay with a sandy beach, there a small rocky island with a single spruce tree for protection and shade. A tug on my fishing rod pulled me out of my daydream.

 

Gary

“Peter, I think you’ve got a fish on your line,” Gary said and stopped the outboard engine. Then giving me clear and simple instructions he guided me step by step in the fine art of landing a fish into the net. It was a medium sized trout. Gary grabbed it and through its gills he threaded a piece of nylon line, which was tied to the boat. Then he threw it back alive into the water where it would stay fresh and would not spoil on deck in the hot afternoon sun. This practical approach to fishing seemed cruel to me. Why not kill it immediately, I wondered. But my interest in fishing got a little boost with my first catch ever. After Gary had restarted the engine, I cast my line with greater enthusiasm. Soon after I felt again a tug and pulled in another trout. Before we had finished our circle tour, I had altogether caught three trout and Gary always too busy with the outboard motor nabbed only one. When Harry and Chris returned from across the lake, we counted six beautiful trout weighing a little under a pound each. Chris. barely able to hide his envy, commented, “Beginner’s luck!” So it was. The greenhorn from Germany had provided half the amount of meat for supper tonight.

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Fortunately, I did not have to kill and clean the fish. Harry and Gary took care of the messy job. They also looked after the cooking. I volunteered to make a fire. While I gathered rocks to build a safe enclosure, Chris helped me pick up dry twigs and branches from the forest floor, which he chopped up into small pieces with a hatchet. Soon we were ready to start the fire. I placed some birch bark in the middle of the fire pit. Then I built around it a cone of thin twigs with thicker, longer ones on top. I held a burning match close to the birch bark and said, “A good scout knows how to start a fire with only one match, even when it rains.” Almost instantly the flame fed by the oily substance in the bark spread quickly through the twigs. The crackling sound and the flames shooting higher and higher indicated to all that the one-match experiment had been successful. Chris and I brought out four lawn chairs and kept feeding the fire with bigger branches to make it ready for cooking. By now Gary had wrapped the trout in aluminum foil and suggested to let the fire burn down a bit so that the meat could be baked on the ember. Harry came out of the trailer with a large frying pan filled with cut-up baby potatoes. In no time at all a tantalizing aroma spread around the campfire and made our mouths water. A cynic would have quoted the old adage, ‘Hunger is the best sauce.’ Indeed, we were ravenously hungry. But in the great outdoors, where likeminded people gather around the campfire, a simple meal with just a few ingredients, such as freshly caught trout baked in butter, baby potatoes fried in vegetable oil, ketchup for extra flavour, and a cool beer that was in fact all we needed for total and complete satisfaction.

Pyramids from a Socialist Point of View

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Egyptian Pyramids – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

After sunset the air quickly cooled off. We threw more wood on the dying ember and moved our chairs closer to the fire pit. It provided the only light, as twilight gradually changed to complete darkness on this moonless night. Our teenage companion, who was first to break the contemplative silence in our group, astounded us with his patriotic, boastful chatter about California being in his opinion the greatest, the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most this and the most that place in the world. Harry impressed me with the calm manner, with which he countered the preposterous display of chauvinism, when he simply stated, “It takes a lifetime of traveling to many countries before one can decide which is the most beautiful place on earth.” Then in a conciliatory tone he added, “But there is one thing we can all agree on.  This place here without comparing it to any other place is truly beautiful. I for my part wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

After a few more beers our conversation shifted towards more philosophical topics, such as the eternal grandeur of creation in contrast to the ephemeral nature of the man-built structures, even of the most enduring 5000-year old pyramids of ancient Egypt. When I ventured to express my admiration for the wonderful buildings that the ancient civilizations had created as lasting monuments to their cultural achievements, Gary responded rather disdainfully, “I don’t care two hoots about all these amazing structures in the world, because they have been built on the backs of millions of slaves, who had to sacrifice their lives in pain and agony so that one person, a pharaoh, a king or an emperor would be remembered as great and glorious in the annals of history.”

Gary’s unexpected outburst, tinged with socialist undercurrents, reminded me a little of my brother Adolf and his strongly worded attacks against the exploitation of the working class. But I had to admit that Gary had a point, which didn’t fail to leave a lasting impression on my way of thinking. Not quite firm in the pronunciation of English words I meekly said, “Nature is the best ‘arshitect’. So let us all admire its creation.”

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Harry Mueller in his Cozy Trailer

The fire had completely died down. The Big Dipper had moved a considerable distance during the last couple of hours on the starry northern hemisphere. It was time to go to sleep in Harry’s cozy trailer. I was in a very happy mood having plucked a delicate mountain flower, which I intended to send to Biene as a little memento of our weekend fishing adventure. Dreaming about owning a small trailer and traveling with it to a place like this with Biene, I drifted off to sleep being blissfully content with the world around me.

U of C in the mid 60s

University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s

On the way home to the farm Harry dropped me off at Gerry’s place. It was very disappointing not to have any letters waiting for me, neither from the Employment Office nor from the University of Calgary. I was very anxious to find out whether or not my high school diploma had received full recognition for the entrance requirements. So I checked in at the registrar’s office. To my greatest relief, the secretarial staff had done their homework and reported that come September I would be eligible to begin my studies as a student in the Faculty of Education. Now the time had come to decide in earnest which program to choose. To make sure that I would succeed in my first two semesters not just with passing grades, but rather with superior marks in most subject areas, I embarked on a most unusual program. I selected German as my major and Mathematics as my minor. After a brief interview with the head of the Modern Language Department it was decided on the basis of my German background to advance me to the senior courses at the 300 level and above. In math I would take the mandatory calculus courses, which at least for the first semester would be simply a review of the material already covered at my final high school year. This arrangement with the core subjects, I thought, would enable me to concentrate my energy on the other subjects, such as English literature, philosophy, psychology and school administration, all of which required fluency in the English language. Having accomplished all this in the course of a single morning visit, I returned home full of confidence and wrote Biene a letter feeling on the top of the world again.

Peter’s Daring Request and a Chinese Love Poem

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Calgary Pallister Hotel in the 1960’s

Still dwelling on my romantic sentiments fuelled by my recent fishing trip into the Canadian Rockies and riding now on a wave of euphoria brought on by my apparent success at the registrar’s office of the University, I sat down to finally write the letter to Biene, which she had been yearning to receive for such a long time.

August 2nd 1965 Calgary

My dear Biene, …And now I come to the most important part of my letter. Next April my first year will be over, and I will do everything in my power to pass all my exams. Then I will be at the halfway mark of my teachers’ training program, and the most difficult period of my studies will be behind me. However, a very busy summer will be waiting for me, because I will have to earn enough money to pay for tuition and living expenses for the second year. Since the direction, which I have chosen for my profession, will have been secured, I think that it will now make sense for you to come to me so that we two can take on the challenges of the last year together. That way we both will have worked our way up, and it will give us later the feeling of having reached our goal together. But above all remains the fact that I love you, and it seems to me now that two years of waiting will be unthinkable and unbearable. This summer has brought me so many wonderful experiences that I am hurting just to think that you could not share them with me. After your reply I will find out what to do next. I love you. Your Peter

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The House on the Fyffe Road

Four days later I received the devastating news from another department of the university administration that they had reviewed my high school certificate and determined that I would have to take a written English proficiency exam on September 10th.  Only if I passed that test would I be admitted as student in the Faculty of Education. I was deeply worried, since I had only a month to prepare myself for this decisive moment in my life. Every day I wrote for practice a paragraph, sometimes even an entire essay on the topics I had gleaned from my brother’s old high school English text. I was afraid that if the standards were nearly as high as they were for essay writing in German at my high school, I would most certainly fail. I was clearly standing at the crossroads. The thought repeatedly crossed my mind to return to Germany and enrol at the University in Erlangen near Nuremberg, Bavaria, for the beginning of the fall and winter semester. Proud as I was, I rejected what was to me like an open admission of surrender of all the plans that Biene and I had made for our future in Canada. Going back to Germany would entail six long years of postsecondary education and an equally long waiting period, before I would reach financial independence. By comparison even one year’s delay here in Canada seemed preferable to me. So I boldly stuck my neck out and asked Biene to come as early as the following spring regardless of the outcome of the test on September 10th. In case I did not succeed in passing it, I would take night classes in English 30 and work during the day to earn more money for my studies in the following year. No matter what was going to happen, I thought, I would be teaching within three years. Biene and I would be navigating through the uncharted sea of an unknown future with the unshakeable trust of reaching eventually the island of a secure and happy life. The dreamer in me was temporarily getting the upper hand. Perhaps it is a good thing to lose oneself in one’s dreams every once in a while. As it turned out, there was no need to ask, to beg, or to entice Biene to come. Her reply was swift and passionately written.

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Brothers Adolf (on the right) and Gerry, his Wife Martha and Son Wayne

August 7th Velbert

My dear Peter, How auspicious your letter already looked from the outside! When I opened it full of expectation and the color photos and the little mountain flower fell into my lap,  I already felt that it would contain only good news. And really, from one line to the next I felt warm and happy all over. But when I came to the ‘most important part’, I lost all my composure. My heart leapt for joy and in my excitement I had to read twice before I could comprehend that you meant next spring.

O Peter, you don’t know, how much in the last little while my heart was sinking! I could not and did not want to tell you, because uncertainty lay heavily on your shoulders. You know, Peter, my thoughts about you and our future did not offer any calm. How often did I lie awake at night searching desperately for a solution! And always at the end I came to the same conclusion that if you stayed in Canada, I should come to you as quickly as possible. I wanted to write you this only when a decision had been made. Dear Peter, can you now feel what your question means to me? It feels like being liberated. To me it is as if you read my most secret thoughts, and I always have to think of the lines in the Chinese poem, which a poet had written to his wife over a thousand years ago.

‘I have read your silky characters

and distinctly saw the letters cry.

Hundreds of rivers and mountains block your path.

Yet in thought and desire we are one.’

…Over and over again, since you were gone, I had to think, how much better it would be to bear right from the start all our initial hardships together. When we are so far apart for such a long time, even the beautiful things we experience make us feel sad, because we cannot share them with each other. Isn’t that so?

See, dear Peter, I lived through some bad times after our flight as refugees from East Germany, and so I know that one doesn’t have to be unhappy in times of need. One just has to have confidence. Imagine, like you I thought of renting a room at the beginning. How more easily will we be able to work and learn, when the constant yearning is no longer eating away at our hearts!

Dear Peter, the main thing now for you to do is to write my parents and tell them what your thoughts are on all this so they can put their trust into our plans. When they notice that we thought this through maturely and prudently, they will find it easier to let me go …”

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My Brother Adolf 1965

I was delighted, no, more accurately put, I was absolutely ecstatic about Biene’s affirmative response. We two were one heart and one soul with the same sweet wish to join forces to embark on life’s journey as one. However, I was realistic enough to realize that writing her parents at this time would do nothing to convince them of a stable, happy and secure life for their daughter in the light of the current uncertainty over my academic endeavours.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXX

29

The Incredible Journey of Biene’s Engagement Ring

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“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”  Nora Ephron

Peter worries about the Future

This chapter contains a highly condensed version of our correspondence. Only parts that seemed relevant to the theme of the initial challenges facing us on either side of the Atlantic are included here. I reorganized some paragraphs only to enhance the flow of the narrative and sometimes added a sentence or two to make for better transitions. What remained is the fascinating account of the incredible journey of Biene’s engagement ring.

May 29th

My dear Peter,

Your latest letter has made me so happy, and all your plans have touched my heart. I would love to write, o Peter, commit such a great ‘foolishness’, landing a job with the IBM Company and let me soon come to you so that through our closeness we can give each other strength to do all the things that you have described to me. But Peter, you are right; we must not be unreasonable. And perhaps time will pass more quickly and more easily than we think. I am so eagerly waiting for the moment, when your letter to my parents will have arrived. I cannot put into words at all how much I miss you. But because I know that you love me I can bear the long wait…

My dear Peter, now that I am going to England to work as an a-pair girl, I have a special wish. I can hardly overcome my fear to ask you for something that I so fervently desire. But I will directly ask you, because you love me. So I really don’t need to be bashful about it. You know, Peter, I would very much like to wear a ring from you, especially now as I am going to England. Not that I couldn’t be as faithful without the ring. You certainly know that, Peter! I wish that everyone could see that I belong to you and that I promised to be faithful to you. You know, Peter, it is a peculiar feeling, but I believe that I would feel like having some kind of protection, because everyone could see that I have you. Can you understand this, Peter? If I didn’t know how much you love me, I would have never found the courage to write you this…

In Love,  Your Biene

 “May 31st

My dear Biene,

If I had to report on my search for work or my planned studies at the university, I would have nothing to write today. I hope you do not get impatient that the questions about my job and teachers’ training have not been settled yet.

Gradually I am beginning to worry about us and the more I think about the future the more anxious I get. You know, I have a restless heart that is incessantly driving me, even at times troubling and tormenting me, especially when things are not going the way I had planned. This restlessness engenders a yearning for inner peace and security. Dear Biene, you are my alter ego. In you I found everything I did not have. Without you I would be nothing. Because I love you so much, I also want you to be always happy when you are with me. Out of love you are willing to follow me no matter where I live. You emphasized in your last letter that you would even go and cut trees with me if necessary. But did you consider how much you would have to give up not just for a few days, but rather for a lifetime? You would no longer see your dear friends, your classmates, your brother, your father, and your mother. Later I cannot be the substitute for all these dear people. Instead I would like to be your husband and life’s companion. Dear Biene, to put it frankly I fear you will leave far more behind in Germany than what you will gain in Canada. You see, this is how I feel right now. You are on my mind all the time. You walk with me, you talk with me, and I hear warning voices. Perhaps I am totally off base, and one day we will meet again sharing the desire for happiness, security, and contentedness, for which your restless heart is yearning just as much as mine is. However, never would I want that my wish become an obligation on your part. Think it over thoroughly and give me your honest opinion. Please don’t be sad that I have given so much thought to this matter. I am only thinking about what I can do for you to make you happy…

Greetings from the heart, Peter

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

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

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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…

Biene Close to Despair

 

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Velbert, June 24th

My dear Peter,

Now I cannot be so long without any mail from you and therefore quickly write me again, and even if there are only a few words! You see, it is the only thing we have of each other. I told you that I would understand if you couldn’t write as often as before. Now I start worrying again and wonder what may have happened to you, if you are doing well or are perhaps sick. Since your last letter it seems like eternity, and I am fervently awaiting a letter from you.

I hope that you received my letters and my card from the Island of Juist. There we spent four carefree and happy days at the North Sea. Every year the Department of English organizes an introductory get-together for the participants in the first semester. More than ever before I had wished you were here to share all these beautiful experiences with me. I met many new friends, but as nice as they all were, nobody can replace you!

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The sea, when it is stormy, is so captivating and contributed a great deal to the atmosphere of friendship and harmony in our group, which was of course also the goal of this excursion. One cannot speak any idle words when walking along the beach, struggling against the storm, or viewing the playful waves in motion. If one talks at all, then only words, which come from the heart and reveal a small aspect of one’s inner being. I had to talk about you; for every thought is somewhat connected to you. All my companions wanted to look into the locket with your picture in it. Now they all know you a little, and the boys kept teasing me, ‘How is Canada?’ Whenever I saw one of them coming my way, I already expected a question like that. But I wasn’t cross with them; for they meant it well.

What can I tell you about the sea? You already got to know it certainly much better than I on your voyage to Canada. However, one thing you could not do like I did, that is running into the surf and then being carried by the waves. That was an incredible feeling! We were so relaxed that we sang from morning to evening. Our American exchange student, Pete, who had an almost inexhaustible repertoire of songs, taught us many of them, which we sang with never-ending enthusiasm. It was truly a genuine music festival! Peter, you would have very much liked it too. But I promise you to learn all the songs so that later on we can sing them together. O Peter, if only you had been present! Every time they were singing ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea, oh bring back my Bonnie to me!’, I ardently wished the wind just like in the song would carry you to me.

Now I wish from the bottom of my heart that you are doing well. And if something troubles you, dear Peter, please write it to me. I am waiting so longingly for your letter. I even asked after school at the post office, but it was all in vain.

Greetings in love and many hugs, Your Biene

 

Still no letter from Peter …

Velbert, June 30th

My dear Peter, I don’t know what to do any more! I feel so helpless and powerless, because I don’t know what I should do to get an answer from you. What might have happened that you don’t write to me? It is so terrible having to wait so long, when out of worry my heart is almost breaking. Oh had I only not written that I could understand if you wouldn’t be able to find much time to write. So I don’t know at all, if you don’t write on account of my remark or if there is a more serious cause. But since your last letter so much time passed by that in my inner turmoil and anxiety I turned into a veritable bundle of nerves and I am frightened by the darkest thoughts. Oh Peter, tell me as quickly as possible that all is well! Peter, let me come to you! There must be some work for me there too. I am really not afraid of anything except our separation. I did not want to tell you this, but for the moment I have lost all my courage. How much would I gladly endure, if only I could be with you! Dear Peter, if there is somehow a way, then let us take it. It should not be any more difficult than our long separation. How often did you tell me that we must take our ‘fate’ into our own hands! Surely it will turn out well, if we do it together. I firmly believe this.

Please, dear Peter, quickly write me or else I believe that you are gravely ill. I am constantly praying for you. And if I should have written something in my letters, which hurt your feelings, please forgive me. If I did, it would certainly be, because you are so far away from me and not, because I want to hurt you.

I love you, Peter! Your Biene

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Peter finally Breaks his Silence

July 2, Calgary

Dear Biene,

I cannot let you wait any longer. You are like me. You speculate and worry more than it is necessary. Today it was extremely hot again, and yet I had to work for eleven hours. We have to catch up now on the time we lost during the rainy days. But it is not because of my extreme tiredness after work that I did not write to you. The true reason is far more important.

Today, since I know for sure that fate wanted it differently, I can tell you about what happened. Every day I had been waiting for a special message from you. And when you wrote on Monday about your experiences on the Island of Juist and you asked me to write how I was doing, I was already a little concerned, but in spite of your urgent plea I decided to wait for just few more days. But then today on Friday I lost all hope that you actually received my previous letter.

On the German or Canadian side a letter carrier must have stolen it perhaps assuming that it contained something valuable. I am so sad, for he was right. In it I described to you that on the 18th of June, a year and a day after our first date a brick had fallen on my knee and that I was limping to the jeweler’s store. There I picked up the ring I had ordered for you. You can easily imagine the rest of the story. I wanted to give the ring to you, because I was convinced that you truly desired it with all your heart and everything you wrote afterwards was only a renunciation mixed in with painful regret. I saw you in my mind how it first you were perhaps a little angry with me, but then at the end how gratefully and happily you would have acknowledged the receipt of my precious gift. Yes, I am sad that the letter with the ring apparently is lost, but I console myself with the feeling of having turned a good thought immediately into action. Whatever happened on the postal route was beyond my control and we had to accept the bitter fact that the letter was lost.

For more than four weeks Biene and I tried in vain to track down the letter that had gone astray. Obviously it was almost impossible to locate a piece of mail, which I had failed to send by registered letter. After I provided all the particulars, such as type and size of the letter, postage paid and the date, on which I had put the letter in the mailbox, even the thorough and efficient German Post Office was unable to help. Suddenly a ray of hope entered our hearts when I pointed out the possibility that perhaps because of the extra weight and because of insufficient postage the letter had been sent by surface mail, and therefore was still on its way to Germany. This thought occurred to me when I checked the mail I had received from my friend Hans, who had never sent his letters by air. They often took more than a month to arrive. But by the end of July that last glimmer of hope had completely faded. We had indeed resigned ourselves to not seeing the letter with the engagement ring ever again. Besides other things were pressing heavily on our mind. During the long, desperate wait for each other’s reply it became abundantly clear to us and then, when we had resumed our correspondence, even more so that we needed to end our separation much sooner than originally planned. However, shortening the wait time meant that I had to have something concrete, on which to build our romantic aspirations. To find a meaningful job or to enter the teachers’ training program at the university these were the options I was contemplating.

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Then a letter arrived that looked strangely familiar. And familiar indeed it was, because it was the missing letter with the ring. In my excitement to fulfill Biene’s wish and dream and perhaps my attention numbed by the pain from my swollen knee, I had forgotten to write Germany on the envelope. Now had Canada Post promptly returned the letter, Biene would not even have noticed the small delay of a day or two. But the overly zealous employee tried to be helpful by second-guessing its destination. To him Velbert sounded Dutch, Elisabethstr. appeared to be British. So our dear postal employee concluded that the country in question had to be South Africa. Thus the letter had traveled half around the globe all the way to Johannesburg by air and had come back ever so slowly by surface mail.

Exactly two months after I had originally mailed this precious letter I put the unopened envelope into a larger one, added a passionately written letter and forwarded it all to Manchester, England, where Biene had already been working as an au-pair girl at the Landes family for a few weeks. But I am getting too far ahead in my story and I must regretfully leave her reaction, her work and her studies for another chapter.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXIX

28

Working from the Bottom Up

“Without ambition one starts nothing.

Without work one finishes nothing.

The prize will not be sent to you.

You have to win it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My First Job – Painting my Brother’s House

 

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The three Brothers from Left to Right; Peter, Adolf and Gerry

Arriving in the late afternoon at Gerry’s place on Fyffe Road in Calgary, I felt as if I was receiving a warm welcome way back home in Germany. Gerry greeted us in German. He introduced me to his wife Martha, who also spoke German in a strong southern dialect. The only one I could practice my English language skills with was their three-old son Wayne. Gerry, always straightforward and forthright, told me that he had some work for me. He wanted me to paint the house, while I was searching and applying for a paying position on the job market. I was eager to get my hands dirty and do something real useful after all this loafing around during the past two weeks. I really surprised him with my cheerful reply, “Why, can I start tomorrow?” Well, it turned that he had to buy paint, brushes and other equipment first, before I could start doing the paint job.

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Gerry and his Beautiful Wife Martha

My sister Erika, who had come by train a few days before us, had already run afoul of Gerry’s house rules, not the least of which was that he and Martha alone were in charge of their son’s upbringing. Any criticism no matter how constructive that might seem to be to our sister was therefore not welcome. As I have indicated in previous chapters, as long as I could remember, she was always inclined to speak her mind, indeed a valuable attribute of one’s character. However, when her tongue was faster than her mind that was supposed to control the former, the problem could easily escalate to a downright family feud. Fortunately for her, she soon moved out, as she had found work as a nurse’s aid in a rural hospital in the small prairie town of Bassano 143 km southeast of Calgary. She had found out that recognition of her German qualifications as an RN would depend upon the successful completion of her senior matriculation. So she had a long arduous road ahead. Tenacious and ambitious like all of us Klopp children she went back to school, attended night classes and studied hard to obtain her grade 12 diploma. This was all the more remarkable, as she did not have the advantage of having learned English in school.

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Painting my brother’s house was more involved than I had anticipated. First, I had to sand the old flaky paint off the wood sidings, which was a dusty and laborious task that would take days to complete. While the job was time consuming, standing on a ladder and holding the electric sander above my head to reach the soffit boards was very tiring and not altogether pleasant with paint and dust particles flying into my face. The thought occurred to me that Gerry definitely got his money’s or, more accurately stated, his food’s worth of work out of me. Yet, I was enthusiastic about a job, where one could see its result for years to come. The best part of it was that I could take as many breaks as I felt necessary during which I drank some refreshment, which my sister-in-law so kindly provided from time to time.

Everyone was at work. When Gerry came home from work, he checked the progress I had made during the past eight hours and most of the time commented approvingly on the quality of my workmanship.

On the second week since our arrival in Calgary I was ready to paint. I enjoyed that part the most, because with each passing day the new white color had advanced a noticeable distance on its tour around the house. Not familiar with the use of brush and roller, I stained myself at the beginning with the paint dripping and splattering on my hands, face and clothes. But as my work progressed, I gradually looked more like an experienced painter at the end of the day. By the time June came around I had put on the second and final coat and Gerry’s home turned out to be most beautiful among the bungalows on the Fyffe Road loop.

Occupational Dreams and a Trip to the Dairy Queen

Calgary-1960s

Downtown Calgary in the Mid 1960’s

Every morning before breakfast the newspaper boy came by on his bicycle and dropped off the Calgary Herald at the front entrance. Actually he only dropped it off on rainy days, which happened very rarely in this semiarid climate. On all other days he would not even get off his bike. He would grab a paper from his bag and in a precisely calculated arc would land it right in front of the door. Before you knew it, he was already on the way to the next house. Later in the morning, when I granted myself a break from painting Gerry’s house, I would rush into the house and grab the Calgary Herald, which my brothers had left on the kitchen table. There was only one section in which I was really interested. I did not care about local, national or international news. Instead I quickly thumbed through the thirty odd pages of this massive newspaper until I reached the classifieds. There I soon found out what was hot on the job market. Day after day I noticed that there was an incredible teachers’ shortage in the province as evidenced by the large number of teaching positions in practically all subject areas, but especially in math both at the junior and senior high school level. The children of the baby boomers were flooding the school system, while many teachers were retiring.

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Peter’s Nephew Wayne 1965

But I did not ignore the ads from the mining, oil and other resource based companies, which were trying to attract high school graduates offering free training in their respective fields with pay. Reading about all these promising positions was like entering a dream world. In a sense it actually was a dream world, more accurately put a fantasy world. I did not recognize in my unrestrained enthusiasm that it was a long, hard road from the effortless reading of an ad to landing the job of my dreams. I found out much later that the positions had often been filled at the time, when they finally appeared in the newspaper. However, as to the openings in the teaching profession, I had a fairly realistic picture in my mind. I further learned that the farther one was prepared to move away from the few major cities into isolated areas, where young city slickers would not be eager to live, the greater were the monetary and housing incentives that school boards were willing to offer. It was not uncommon in those days to offer $500 up front for each year a candidate would commit himself to teach with subsidized housing and isolation allowances to sweeten the pot.

Of course, in spite of Biene’s and my agreement we had made with each other to wait for two or even three years, deep inside we were always hoping for a quicker way of getting us two back together again. The first hint that Biene shared the same desire perhaps even more so came when I wrote her that I had almost made a foolish mistake in my career planning by responding to an ad from the IBM Company, which was looking for trainees in the fledgling computer industry. Indeed I felt, I would be the right candidate with my high school diploma and aptitude in math and analytical thinking. From Biene’s reaction expressing regret that I did not commit such foolishness, I could see that she too was counting on a shorter waiting period for our wedding date. In spite of these occasional flights of fancy that I allowed myself to paint a different future for Biene and me in Canada, I squashed any ideas that smacked of immediate gratification with regrets to follow in its footsteps. I realized that I could only be a good husband, father and family man, if I found fulfillment and satisfaction in my professional life. As one of Gerry’s friend so correctly once stated, work you enjoy doing is not work at all, rather it could become a source of relaxation and happiness. It was my hope and aspiration that one day teaching would do the same for me, and so also for Biene and the family.

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Peter’s Brother Gerry and his Wife Martha – 1965

One day, after I had finished my paint job to Gerry’s complete satisfaction, he drove the family and me to the nearest Dairy Queen. He mentioned to me that I had a special treat waiting for me. I did not quite understand what he was ordering and wondered as to why he kept repeating the word Sunday. ‘What a strange world, in which one had to order a dairy product two days in advance’, I thought to myself. But then what a delightful surprise it was first for my eyes, then for my taste buds, after Gerry handed me on a large cardboard tray with a gorgeous ice cream sundae served with syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts and strawberries! It was truly a heavenly treat, even richer, creamier and more delicious than my grillage torte my mother used to order for my birthday parties in Germany.

Splendour of the Rocky Mountains and Disappointment at the Employment Office

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On the weekend before I began to actively look for work, Gerry took his family and me for a ride into the Rocky Mountains. Even though the mountains were partially concealed in a shroud of low clouds and fog, the stark unspoiled beauty of the wild scenery was stunning. Half way up to Banff, Gerry suddenly stopped the car at a viewpoint at Lac des Arcs. There we took a long admiring look at the majestic beauty of the Three Sisters, a trio of peaks in the Rockies named Faith, Charity, and Hope. Then my brother handed me the car keys and encouraged me with his peculiar tone of voice that did not leave much room for refusal, “Now Peter, you drive.”

Except for one day of driving lessons in an army truck I had never sat behind a steering wheel before. I received a one-minute lesson on the use of the power brakes, gas pedal and the simple way of putting the automatic transmission into gear. As it turned out, driving an eight-cylinder American car was a piece of cake. I enjoyed it so much that I did not notice how fast we were going on the four-lane superhighway, until Gerry remarked, “Watch your speed, Peter. For a greenhorn like you this is way too fast.”

At the gate of the Banff National Park Gerry took over the driving again, and I had time to marvel at the mountains that began to close in on us from either side of the highway. Words cannot describe the splendour of the landscape with its rivers, mountain streams, lakes, and forests. I mailed Biene a booklet about the park, so she would be able to experience vicariously what I had seen with my own eyes.

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Peter at Lac des Arcs – June 1965

On Monday morning bright and early I joined the ranks of the job seekers at the Canada Employment Office. While waiting in the long line-up for my turn to register, I listened in to the conversations among the men in front of me. What I heard and what little I understood was not very encouraging. The government workers here received daily memos from companies, which were looking for skilled, certificated workers, preferable journeyman ticket holders with years of experience.

“How would I ever get experience, if nobody hires me?” I heard one man in his thirties complain.

“They drop your name and application form into a file and tell you that if anything comes up they will notify you. It’s like playing in the Irish Sweepstakes. If you are lucky, they pull your name out of the hat,” said another.

“Then tell me you know-it-all. Why are you wasting your time here?”

“Because I sometimes get lucky playing the lottery!” was his smug reply.

When I had finally advanced to the front desk, I had from all the talking around me the distinct impression that I would be going nowhere with my search for work at least not here, where the only people who had work were the government employees. In a sudden surge of sarcasm I felt that they were being paid for the number of applications they processed in any given day, for shuffling papers from one stack to another, and then burying them in their gigantic filing system, thus squashing the hopes and aspirations of people like me. I filled out the forms that the main clerk had handed to me and filled them out as well as I could. I wondered who would ever find the time to look over the detailed responses we were expected to provide. With a feeling of gloom and doom I stepped out of the Canada employment office into the sweltering heat.

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Happy Family Life at Gerry’s Place in Calgary

“Welcome to the Calgary slave market!”

Learning the Difference between Up and Down

Calgary Hudson’s Bay Department Store 1965

Leaving the office building, I noticed a commotion at the street corner to the left. Someone near me shouted, “Quick! They are hiring over there.”

I ran as fast as I could to see what was going on. Half a dozen men were standing on the back of a half-ton truck, which was parked at a slant with two wheels on the sidewalk. The brawny looking men apparently were the lucky ones, who had been hired. A short man with the looks of an aggressive army sergeant was carefully examining those left standing on the sidewalk as to their suitability for hard labour. His keen eyes immediately spotted me and noticed that I looked healthy, well fed, and physically fit for the kind of work he had in mind. He merely pointed to the six men on the truck and said, “Up you go!”

In utter surprise by this speedy hiring process all I could do was stammer questions in my peculiar Oxford English mixed in with a strong German accent, “What kind of work is it? What is the pay? Aren’t there papers to be signed?”

Instead of answering my questions he barked, “Do you want a job or not?”

When I climbed onto the truck, he only answered my last question in a vague sort of way, “We will do the paper work later.”

When the man, who turned out to be my future boss, had collected altogether eight strong men, he critically looked them over once more weeding them out in his mind and fired half of them before they even had done any work. I was not among those who had to jump off the truck.

“Welcome to the Calgary slave market!” whispered a husky young fellow with a heavy foreign accent into my ear. I had just become a labourer in the work crew of Milne Construction Limited.

Barely thirty minutes later we arrived at the construction site, where an upscale apartment building was to be encased by a wall of bricks instead of the usual wood panel sidings. Mr. Milne assigned me to the foreman for placement at the site. He was from Yugoslavia, as were most of the steady labourers, who spoke only a few words of English, and therefore, as far as I could see, had been enslaved to provide cheap labor within the narrow confines of a construction company. Two masons were already clamouring for bricks and mortar. It did not take very long to recognize that this was not merely an introduction to my work routine, after which I could go home to have lunch, put some work clothes on and report for work in the afternoon. No, I was expected to start my job immediately and provide mortar and bricks to the impatient looking masons. Apparently my predecessor had been fired or did not show up for work this morning. After I had with the help of a pulley hoisted up a pail of mortar, I picked up the first two bricks with my bare hands and laid them on the heavy board, on which the masons were standing. In no time at all I had figured out the rhythm of providing a pail of mortar followed by twenty or thirty bricks in thirty-minute intervals. By the time lunchtime came around, I was very hungry and thirsty. One mason with a heart seeing that I had nothing to eat threw me a bologna sandwich over to the pile of lumber where I was sitting. I wolfed it down with plenty of water from the tap. He also talked to me in detail of what my job was all about. This was not a union outfit. If I didn’t like it, the only way for me to file a complaint was to quit. Also this was the beginning of a new building project. So at first, work would be relatively easy. But he warned me that once the wall would grow higher, the masons would continue building it at the same pace. That meant only one thing, with all my climbing up the scaffold I would still have to provide the same number of bricks within the same time frame. Mr. Milne came by to tell me that I was hired at $1.80 an hour and could keep it for as long as the masons weren’t complaining about me. That was indeed good news. For the next day I decided to buy some durable work pants and a pair of leather gloves to prevent my hands from bleeding.

Peter during Happier Times in the Canadian Wilderness

A few days later my mason friend entrusted me with the preparation of the mortar. That gave me a little break, because during that time another labourer had to move the bricks to the ever increasing new heights on the scaffolding. I also received my first lesson on the proper use of language on a Canadian construction site. My school English, especially when presented with a strong German accent, would just not do around here. My friend almost had a laughing fit, when he heard me ask, “Sir, shall I fetch a bucket of water and shed it on the mixture to soften the mortar?”

Good-naturedly he replied but with the intent of teaching me a valuable lesson. “Peter, you don’t talk like that. Your Yugoslav coworkers will not understand a single word you saying in your stilted Shakespearian language. This is how you should put it, ‘Hey you! Should I get a pail of water, pour it over this f…g mix, and stir till it turns into that soft sh*t the masons like to work with?’ I got the drift. This was the real world with hardworking people with both feet on the ground without that highfaluting talk raining down from academic ivory towers.

Another time, when the midday heat was almost unbearable, I was dragging two heavy boards up the rickety scaffolding frame. I was standing on the third tier taking a short break to catch my breath. Standing near the new stone wall with its heat radiating back, I was about to lift the boards one level higher into the steel frame above my head, when the boss looked up and to his dismay saw me what he thought to be loafing on the job. Pointing to the load I was carrying, he hollered, “Up!”

Noticing my hesitation to respond to his simple command, he shouted all the louder, “Up!”

What he did not realize at that very moment was that I was engulfed in a state of total confusion. ‘Ab’ means ‘down’ in German. I was thinking, ‘Even if the order makes absolutely no sense at all, I must obey. After all he is the boss. He must have his reasons’. By now the boss was seething with anger about the delay and he screamed at the top of his voice one more time, “Up!”

What happened next, he had not expected at all. “There,’ I cried and let the boards drop to the ground. It turned out that Mr. Milne in spite of his stern, autocratic style also had a sense of humour. He laughed and laughed, as he walked away from the scene of my embarrassment, ordering a little more kindly, “Of course, Peter, it goes without saying, you still have to deliver these boards all the way UP there”, pointing to the masonry people on the fourth level.

The three brother at a pretend poker game

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXVIII

21

 

 Cross Country Canada

My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.

Tommy Douglas – 7th Premier of Saskatchewan

Late Start in Montreal

It was almost noon when after hours of waiting we finally got our turn to go through Canada customs. The officials were friendly and efficient. The long delay was due primarily to the large number of passengers whose innumerable suitcases, boxes and crates needed to be checked. Afterwards we stowed away our stuff in rental lockers and took a taxi to the City of Montreal. Our sister had already said good-bye to us, as she was going to board the next available train to Calgary. So Adolf and I were on our own in search for a car dealer. My brother needed a reliable vehicle that would carry us across the North American continent.

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Queen Elizabeth Hotel at Montreal – May 1965

Near the city center we got off the taxi and decided to make use of the much cheaper transit system or cheaper and healthier yet to just walk. Now I had a chance to take a few photos of the new office buildings that were popping up everywhere like mushrooms after a heavy rain. I found that the Elisabeth Hotel towering over a much smaller church building was especially interesting, as the structure symbolized the transformation of Quebec from a church dominated province to a secular society. I was getting a little worried, while Adolf dragged me from one car dealer to another. He had not yet found, what he had in mind and was already talking about taking the train as well.

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Typical Outside Staircases in a Residential Area

As we were roaming through the streets of a residential area searching for another car dealership, I noticed the peculiar construction of most of the houses. In order to gain more living space, they had no interior staircases but had metal stairs leading up to the entrance doors at the second and even third floor. I was thinking of the densely populated cities back in Germany, where floor space for renters was at a premium. How much more apartment space could be generated with this typical French-Canadian building concept.

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Proud Owner Adolf of a Used Pontiac

Finally Adolf had found a good, used 8-cylinder Pontiac at an equally good price of $2,500. The manager, apparently very pleased with my courageous attempt to communicate in French with him, made an arrangement with Adolf that quickly consolidated the sale. It happened exactly the way my brother had once explained to me on our summer wine tour to Trier. He paid the full amount in cash. In return M. Gagé allowed him to travel with the dealer’s license plates to Alberta to save him the high provincial sales tax. Those were the days when business transactions were concluded with a handshake based on mutual trust. M. Gagé expected Adolf to mail back the plates to Montreal.

I had never sat in the such comfort of a huge and powerful American car before. It was even equipped with automatic transmission quite rare in Germany during the mid 60’s. I really enjoyed the ride back to the storage facilities, where we picked up our suitcases and wooden crates with all our belongings. It was already getting late in the afternoon, when our cross-country Canada trip began.

Peter’s Immersion into the English Language

Looking across the Ottawa River into Gatineau QC

Heading west our first goal was Ottawa. On a secondary road following the densely populated St. Lawrence valley, we drove quite slowly. The leisurely pace allowed me to take a closer look at the landscape near the river. Hundreds of islands were glowing in the evening sun. Many a romantically inclined individual had built his dream cabin on a treed retreat surrounded by water away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby City of Montreal. The properties on the mainland were generously large, where people had built their homes according to their fancy. Some dwellings were constructed entirely out of wood, others were stone buildings, some were imposing castle-like mansions, but most were simple and of modern design. Adolf must have noticed my admiring glances and remarked that in contrast to the Old Country – he always referred to Germany as the Old Country – hard working people from all walks of life could afford to live in their own house with a bit of help with a mortgage from a financial institution. His remarks swept away any remaining doubts and worries about the plans I had made with Biene earlier this year. Now I was almost certain that barring any unforeseeable adverse circumstances there was no turning back. It was here in Canada where I wanted to put my roots down. Looking at the setting sun that flooded the valley and immersed it into liquid gold, I felt energized, optimistic, and adventurous all at once. I also realized that the obstacles ‘Fate’ would throw into my path would be there to test my resolve to stay. It was almost dark when Adolf pulled up at a roadside motel, where for $6.00 we spent a restful night in comfortable beds somewhere between Montreal and Ottawa.

Adolf and Peter Studying a Road Map

The next morning at a nearby coffee shop I had my first Canadian breakfast, which consisted of two eggs fried over easy, two strips of crisp bacon, hash browns with plenty of ketchup, four slices of toast, all sorts of jam in tiny plastic cups and the standard not-so-strong coffee. Hunger is the best sauce, as the English proverb asserts. So for me this simple meal was a culinary delight. With Adolf switching to English only conversation, my English immersion program began, when he explained the difference between eggs over easy and eggs sunny side up. Obviously such fine details about the different ways of frying eggs had not been part of our English curriculum at the German high school. But there was much more to learn, especially in the use of idiomatic expressions. The waitress came by our table and asked me whether I wanted her to warm up my coffee. I replied a little taken aback by this seemingly silly question, “No thanks, my coffee is still warm!”

Fortunately, my strong German accent made it clear to her that I had not understood what she offered and that it had not been my intention to insult her. With a shrug she moved on to another table and asked the same question. “You idiot”, Adolf scolded me. “All she wanted was to give you a refill!”

My brother and his buddy Waldemar enjoying a beer

Having received my first English lesson under somewhat embarrassing circumstances, we traveled on to Ottawa and then crossed the Royal Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River into Hull now better known as Gatineau. There my brother had a friend by the name of Waldemar Klein from Rohrdorf, who immigrated with him to Canada in 1953. His house looked like it was in need of repairs on the outside, downright ugly from a critical perspective. In Germany a residence including its surrounding hedge or fence and even the lawn had to be prim and proper. Much later I found out that some property owners deliberately keep the exterior of the house unfinished with unsightly tar paper nailed to the walls in an attempt to keep the property taxes low. This was obviously the case with Waldemar’s home. However, the inside presented an entirely different view. It seemed to me that every spare dollar was invested into making their home feel more comfortable, cozier and more beautiful. The modern kitchen was equipped with the latest appliances to make life easy for Waldemar and his wife. She spoke mostly French and very little English, which made communication almost impossible. Obviously, she did not like strangers to enter her home. When she had at last comprehended that Adolf was her husband’s old buddy form Germany, she invited us in for coffee and called Waldemar from work. He was making good money as an independent contractor installing windows in the new federal office buildings that were popping up all around the city center. When he showed up shortly after the call, the joy of seeing his friend Adolf was great. Over a case of beer they revived old memories and exchanged the latest information on the Klopp and Klein families. Then it was time to move on.

A Brief Visit to Ottawa and a

Four-Hour Drive into the Night

Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa – May 1965

We crossed again the Ottawa River and half an hour later we were standing in front of the Parliament Buildings that was not in session at the time. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings serves as the home of the Parliament of Canada. The huge square looked almost deserted. A lonely mountie, short for a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was kind enough to let me take a picture in his red uniform. Too bad that the tulips were not out in full bloom yet! They would have added some much needed color to the somewhat dreary early spring landscape. Just then the afternoon sun was breaking through the cloud cover reminding us with its warm rays that spring was not too far off even in these northern climes of Canada.

Main Entrance to the Parliament

Back in the car we figured we had about three or four hours of daylight left to cover until dark a few hundred kilometres on the Trans Canada Highway. It is, along with the Trans-Siberian Highway and Australia’s Highway 1, one of the world’s longest national highways spanning more than 6,000 km from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, NL. As we were rolling through the great Canadian Shield, the largest and oldest rock formation in the world, towns and villages became sparser and except for the road there were few signs of human encroachment on the stark beauty of the bare undulating hills, pristine forests, crystal-clear lakes and wild rivers. I was fascinated by the images of the constantly varying scenes and yet conveying the feeling of one unified untouched wilderness.

A Mountie in Traditional Uniform posing for a Picture

All of a sudden like in a bad dream barbed wire fences, military installations, artillery shooting ranges and barracks emerged in the distance. ‘What would it be like to be a Canadian soldier?’ I asked myself. But I instantly brushed aside this silly question, which had brought back some bad memories. Shortly afterwards we drove by a nuclear research facility at Chalk River. What was the purpose to have it operating out here in the bush far away from the big population centres of Toronto and Montreal? Was it concern for public safety that motivated the Ontario power corporation to experiment with radioactive materials? Or would there perhaps be less criticism, less public opposition out here in the wilderness? These were some of the questions Adolf and I raised and could not answer.

Route on the Third Day of our Cross-Country Journey

We were now following the Ottawa River in a northwesterly direction. It once had provided access for the intrepid voyageurs and enterprising fur traders to the vast interior of Ontario. My brother switched on the headlights, as it was getting dark. He also drove a lot faster now. The next service station and motel was still more than two hours away. One hour before midnight we finally arrived at a small motel at the outskirts of North Bay. Needless to say we were dead tired and slept like a log in our cozy motel beds.

Canada’s Natural Splendour

And the Price of Economic Growth

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Granite Lake, Ontario – One of the many Lakes Dotting the Landscape on Highway 1

The next morning we had to put up with an annoying delay. Adolf, having noticed disturbing vibrations from the front wheels, decided to have them balanced. Unfortunately, the mechanic of the small town service center took his time showing up for work on this Sunday morning. He gave us the distinct impression that he would rather go fishing than manning the lonely service station and doing repairs on a car that should have been fixed on a weekday. On second thought, we were lucky that we did not have to wait till Monday.

day 4

To make up for lost time Adolf especially on the long straight stretches exceeded the speed limit often clocking 130 km/h on the speedometer. I was not too unhappy about it, since the landscape, as we were approaching Sudbury, looked more and more like a moonscape, barren and desolate. The city named after a town in England had once been a major lumber center, but now was a booming mining community, where high concentration of nickel ore was being mined. Looking at the treeless industrial wasteland, where big processing plants with their tall chimneys belching out a mix of steam and smoke, I had a first real inkling of what man’s emphasis on economic growth could do to nature. I was not interested at all how many thousands of tons of ore were being processed in the Nickel Capital of Canada. One could even read these facts on picture postcards and travel brochures.

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Nuclear Research Station 

Adolf stopped for lunch at a downtown restaurant where the food was good and the prices were reasonable. While we were eating a juicy hamburger, I softened a little my critical stance on the devastating effects of industrial exploitation. I realized that people in order to live needed work. I also found out later that much larger regions, some greater in size than the two Germanys put together, remained untouched and unspoiled wilderness. I could see that Adolf was right after we left the dust and grime of the city, where a quarter of all its workers were employed by the giant nickel company Inco. Once we had traveled past Sault St. Marie, a steel manufacturing town just across from the State of Michigan, I was in for a visual treat. All of a sudden we were back in the forest driving past idyllic lakes and streams, then through the Lake Superior Provincial Park. All I remember is a blur of images and impressions of one the greatest freshwater sources in the world. Whenever we drove close to the shoreline of Lake Superior, fantastic scenery would present itself to our eager eyes. When I glimpsed a chain of islands large and small within an easy reach by canoe, many of them treed, I enthusiastically exclaimed, “Adolf, as soon as I have earned enough money, I am going to buy one these lovely islets for Biene and me.”

Adolf put on a sardonic grin and replied, “To earn money, you need a job, perhaps in a place like Sudbury.”

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My Brother Adolf Taking a Break at a Picturesque Waterfall

We stopped at one of the recreational areas with its robust wooden picnic tables near the edge of the water. It seemed like we had the entire park to ourselves, as it was still early spring for tourists to venture out to this remote natural paradise. In the cool of the approaching evening fog patches settled over both land and water creating a magical effect. The islands with their spruce tops sticking out in dark silhouettes against the orange evening sky appeared to be drifting like ghosts across the tranquil lake. Then we drove on to the small community of Wawa, the gateway to the hunting and fishing grounds of Northwestern Ontario. On this night we slept in a hotel for a change, having spent altogether $23.00 for gas, repairs, food and lodging.

Romantic Rhapsody About Canada

Lake Superior.JPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

On the Home Stretch

Kenora_ontario_skyline_2.jpg

Kenora Ontario – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

I have no recollection of Kenora, where we spent the fourth night. In those days it was just a small town on the main highway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. In the fifty years since then it has seen a major transformation from a backward lumber town to a modern city with a sharp focus on tourism and support for recreational ventures at the Lake of the Woods with its 105,000 km of shoreline making it the longest coastline of any Canadian lake. Its name did not hint in the least at the wonders it had to offer to the outdoor enthusiasts. There was an incredible number of over 14,000 islands on this sixth largest lake after the Great Lakes. Surely there had to be a separate island for each canoeist and camper to land on here.

Kenora_Swift Current

As we crossed the provincial border into Manitoba the next morning, the lakes became rare, the forest denser, the land increasingly more level, and the highway had fewer curves. Adolf and I began to get bored. We were both eager to get to Calgary as quickly as possible. When we left the trees behind and entered the open prairie, which was only now beginning to show some signs of spring, Adolf stepped on the gas to cover as many miles as the speed limit would allow. The grey monotony of the fields still waiting to be planted with wheat and the unfiltered harsh sunlight made our eyes burn. I was feeling tired, although I was only sitting on the comfortable car bench. I began to view the second last lap of our trip more as a burden than a pleasure. Adolf, my good brother in times, when my spirit was noticeably drooping, encouraged me, “You should come back here in June, when the wheat fields begin to green or better yet in the fall, when an ocean of golden stalks greets you with waves of ripe wheat stirred up by the wind and is putting on a show that you don’t want to miss.”

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Roadside Lunch

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He was right. I should not have allowed my enthusiasm for the land to sag so quickly. Looking back at the marvellous sights of the past few days, I felt thankful to Adolf for having taken me on this trip. A few kilometres past Port La Prairie we stopped at a roadside rest area to have a lunch break. I delighted in seeing the first signs of spring in the green grass already growing around our picnic table. Cooking a simple meal like chunky soup from cans was really fun on the little gasoline stove that had been useful so often since my boy-scout years in Wesel. After this short rest in the sunshine we put in six or seven more gruelling hours of travel time and eventually dropped in at a small modest motel in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. It was going to be our last night on our way to Calgary. Thanks to Adolf’s tireless driving often at speeds going over the posted speed limits we arrived at Gerry’s house on Fyffe Road two days earlier than we had planned.

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