The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

Tag Archives: Gertrud (Biene) Panknin

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XL

11

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A Young Man’s Anxiety about the Future

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

-Noam Chomsky

Loving the Real Person, not the Fantasy Hero

March 11th, Calgary

My dear Biene,

You know me as a very cautious person, who often perceives the future as more ominous than it is. Yet now I can state with a clear conscience that I will certainly pass all my final exams in April. My academic achievements are already way above the average. In Math I collected so many percentage points that I wouldn’t need to take the final in order to pass the course. The last exam day is April 29th. Now if we were really reasonable, it would be best if you came in May, when all my studies will be over. But my desire is to see you again much sooner. Also I think it to be in our favour if you keep your fingers crossed right here close to me. It will certainly help.

Quite frankly I am getting quite a bit scared. I am really looking forward to your coming, but the burden of new responsibilities gives cause to think about many things. You must understand, Biene, why I had asked so strongly for preparedness for our great adventure. The inner bond between us must rest on solid ground. Biene, it is not the money that bothers me, but the fact as I had said before that you want to go away again, even if only for a short time. I don’t know, Biene. Call it selfishness, if you wish, but I feel it is not right what you have in mind out of love for your mother. Yet, I don’t want to dwell on it any more. I believe that your trip to the Canadian Embassy in Cologne will shed considerable light on this matter. In suspense I am awaiting your answer.

Dear Biene, I believe you that you are wearing my ring. Lately I really had to restrain myself. Often frightening thoughts are surfacing and I don’t know why. So the thought that had been tormenting me in my subconscious suddenly had slipped out. I felt a certain kind of relief afterwards, until I realized that I felt better at your expense and a few days later felt very sorry about this question.

The hero and angel from England will not appear at the Calgary Airport. But I consider myself lucky that the illusion of a superwoman has been taken away from me! Do you not also believe that it is the greatest mistake a man can commit in his ecstasy to no longer see his partner as a human being? I think that life taught me a very valuable lesson in this regard. Dear Biene, take also great care not to see more in me than reality will permit.

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Peter makes a Confession

Believe me, dear Biene, I am a paragon of faithfulness in my outer conduct towards my female fellow students. However, do external actions describe the entire human being? Was I permitted to absorb with burning desire the images of womanly shapes, which enticingly passed by before me in the great lecture hall of the university?  Was it OK to sleep in my dreams with other girls than you alone? Biene, when I thoroughly examine myself and notice in the depth of my inner being the flickering of thousands of secret desires, I must confess that I have betrayed you innumerable times. To admit this dark side to oneself takes a long time. Some, alas too many deny its existence. I don’t know what kind of impression I am making on you now. I don’t know whether you are relieved to hear it or whether you will pass a moral judgment over a completely amoral matter. I said yes to myself and henceforth I am getting along with myself much better. I believe that this attitude is also the precondition to get along with others.

Recently I dreamed about you in my sleep for the first time. I wonder why I did not do this before. After all you and our future have constantly been on my mind with anxious thoughts so much so that I lay awake often for hours after my evening studies. The dream was not something of the past. No, one Saturday morning you entered my room. I threw all my books into a corner. In a long walk we passed wonderful hours ambling through the Calgary Zoo. Finally I woke up caused by the disappointment that you had suddenly disappeared.

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Tackling a Delicate Problem

The Idealist is Voicing his Opinion

Dear Biene, regarding children you found a seemingly good solution by suggesting that we should go and see a doctor together. I would like to broach this hot topic right away. The doctor will help you in no other way than to recommend to you to swallow that notorious pill. Allow me to tell you, dear Biene, why I harbour such a profound resentment against any such plan. Please do not consider me old-fashioned, when I launch an attack against this form of birth control, even though it is being hailed as a great medical success story.

I do not wish to talk about the obvious health related consequences at this time, but more importantly rather discuss the hidden psychological effects on our life together. In my view the interplay between tension and relaxation determines our creativity. Ideas are sparked by the inner tension and within the subsequent state of relaxation rests true happiness. If now by using the pill our relationship deteriorates into something rather common or even vulgar, where inner tension never surfaces and, if it does, is immediately dissolved, then – so it appears to me – our life will taste no better than lukewarm water. Therefore, Biene, let us be ‘old-fashioned’. Watch your internal calendar and if your biological clock is halfway accurate, we will find a useful solution. I strongly believe it would be far better for us to become parents than to lead such a distastefully ordinary life.

As to my studies you should know that I have practically regained the lost  years of my German army time by having started my studies here in Canada. Since I am taking senior courses in German literature, I am ahead of my Canadian fellow students in my academic placement by at least two years. So should I have to interrupt my studies next year, I could already expect to earn a fair teacher’s income.

My dear Biene, should I have used another hurtful word in my letter, please do not be offended, but let your anger burn and your wrath be directed at me.

Always in love with you,

Your Peter

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Peter Contemplates a Second Opinion

March 15, 1966 Calgary

My dear Biene,

How I hate this tedious letter writing! What is being revealed in our lines is but a fraction of who we really are. And the long wait makes our hearts heavy and sad.

There are two new developments which I would like to quickly share with you. My kind professor of German literature spent two hours to discuss our problems with me in his office. For the beginning of our married life Dr. Cardinal advised against my idealistic plan of getting by without any form of birth control. He acknowledges the same danger I described to you, the danger of a shallow life style, followed later by  a complete disinterest in raising a family. Yet, according to him, this problem is more characteristic of the common person of vulgar disposition totally immersed in the pursuit of pleasure.

My professor believes that you and I have sufficient moral backbone to return to our ideals, when we will have acquired a solid financial base for raising a family. We should not shy away from taking advantage of what modern medical science can offer us. On such a complex and difficult issue I think I will have to sleep on it for a while.

Dr, Cardinal expressed his envy in a good-natured way for our happiness. He said that he regrets that he married so late and had listened to his mother. Her opinion was that at the age of 23 he was still too immature to get married.

He also believes that it is sometimes necessary to foster illusions with your parents to alleviate the pain of the final farewell. In that sense he is partly in agreement with you and even justifies your actions. As you can see, Dr. Cardinal has been like a father to me. He asked me to pass on his kindest regards and he is looking forward to meeting you.

Now quickly to the second news item: I have been very busy looking for a small apartment for us. I found out that the Italian family upstairs will be moving out soon. I had a good look at the apartment and immediately fell in love with it. Mind you, it has not been painted for years, but I saw the potential of what we could do with it. The rent is only $55. It is like a large doll house, but large enough for two people. There is also a basement suite available in the neighbourhood, which I will have to check out in the next couple of days. As you can see, I have been busy in the search of a more pleasant living space for the two of us. If only the dumb thoughts and worries about our future would leave me alone!

Always in love with you! Your Peter

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXVII

16

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Beautiful Rocky Mountains in the Mid 60’s

Staying the Course

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal

Peter’s Tug-A-War with Biene

January 6th, 1966 Calgary

My dear Biene,

Tomorrow we write our English exam. Before in a state of utter confusion I write your name on the test paper a thousand times  and fail to write a satisfactory essay, I want to quickly take a big burden off my chest.

I would like to clarify just one more time our present situation for you so you have something to cling to when new challenges arise. I can understand your father’s attitude perfectly well, because he is indeed losing his only daughter. But understanding must not lead to self-sacrifice. I am standing on the left, your parents on the right; you are in the middle and can only go to one.

My dear Biene, let me recount one more time how everything has evolved. Perhaps it will help you. Last summer waiting anxiously for a sign of life from me, you became desperate and asked me to let you come. Did you then openly talk to your parents about our plans to get married? When after work I came home dead tired and often with bleeding hands, when there was no word from the university, then your parents would have perhaps persuaded me to return to Germany. Later on when during my studies one success after another made me feel strong and confident, I believed that it was time to think of your coming to Canada. You didn’t only joyfully agree, but encouraged me in every letter to ask your parents for your hand in marriage. How well they were prepared I found out in your brother’s reply. You too were surprised at the unfriendly reaction and yet should have expected it. Then you became admirably brave and said, ‘I come in spite of it all!’ I remarked to my brother Gerry that they can all respectfully bow their heads before you. That’s how proud I was of you.

Then I waited for a reply, even though it was very difficult for me. Nothing was forthcoming for a very long time. But what did I hear sounding across from England? ‘Don’t wait too long, Peter’. So then I went from the university to downtown Calgary and started the lengthy application process for your immigration. A lot of things had to be done, because they never had a case before, in which a student was going to be the sponsor. While I was doing all this, you were dreaming about our wedding. Is it possible that you wrote nothing about this to your parents? This would have been the simplest thing in the world. For what one writes with calm reasoning, becomes clearer and more distinct in one’s mind than if one had to present the matter face to face. I can only explain your parents’ consternation in the light of their lack of awareness of our wedding plans.

You write that I should apologize to your parents. I read my letter over and over again. I cannot take away one iota. It is correct. If I apologize, your parents will despise me for my weakness. But this does not matter. What is more important that you desire that I apologize and with that you indicate to me – tears are almost welling up at this thought – that you no longer stand completely on my side. For above all, these plans were yours and mine. I gather this from your request not to write about them to your parents. O Biene don’t you see that your battle is already halfway lost!

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Dear Biene, you are so sure about the future, yet you do not dare to tell your parents that you want to marry me this spring. I love you for your big heart in dealing so compassionately with all people. But you must understand that you will hurt your parents a thousand times more if you tell them the full truth only at the end. What will you say to them when the registered letter arrives from the Canadian embassy?

You wrote about the shocking experience of your mother in her youth. Did you notice in regard to us the unintended irony of this tragic event? She was so much in love with her fiancé that she wanted to force her parents by means of a baby to agree to the marriage. Did the thought not cross your mind that you could be at this time in the same situation? And Biene, I have to tell you this; I would have never done ‘it’ under any circumstances no matter how passionately my blood was pulsing through my veins. For then I would have taken your freedom away to follow me to Canada. I do not blackmail, I do not sweet-talk, and neither do I make any promises that I cannot keep.

Decide if you want to come in the spring or if you prefer to stay. in Germany. You know I cannot ask the immigration officials twice. They cannot change the immigration requirements and conditions.  You agreed to them and your parents should know them too.

One more time Fate is anchored within you, not in the time or the circumstances. So write to me soon and openly how things are at your end and how accurately your parents are informed. Forgive me, if I only saw the dark and unexplained content of your letter. Forgive me too, if I used too harsh a word or two and hurt your feelings or if the cold facts gave you pain. But until you can courageously face the present reality, especially when talking to your parents, I will not have a single peaceful moment. Quite frankly our situation appears already doomed to me. Biene, don’t you think a man just like a woman may also prepare himself inwardly for the wedding and may look forward to it? Yet I suffer with a burning fire in my chest tormented by the worries about our future. It cannot go on any longer like this! Make an end to my pain. My heart is longing for an end, happy or unhappy, it does not matter. Do not write any more what sounds nice, but give a true account of how things really are in Velbert, what you have accomplished and how I could help.

You have too much feeling. Oh, if you were already mine!

Your Peter

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Biene’s Urgent Plea for Understanding

January 11th 1966, Velbert

My dear Love, I am a bit exhausted and my nerves are on edge. But don’t be afraid. I never lose my confidence and courage, whatever happens. Nothing can prevent me from coming to you.

First I must tell you this. The letter from the Canadian Embassy arrived today! I filled out the form at once and it is now on its way back to Cologne. But Peter, I had to do something you may not understand. But I had to do it to take a burden off my mother’s heart. I have asked the ambassador whether it will be possible to grant me a visa and a work permit for one year, before I will come to you forever. I have arranged with my mother to go to you till Christmas and then come back home to make the final decision. It breaks my mother’s heart. She cannot bear the thought that already this step I am going to do might be the final one. She must get acquainted to this thought by and by. Peter, please understand I have to grant her this favour. I must try everything to leave her at least in the hope that I am not bound to stay with you if I should not be able to stand the new life.

Peter, once together with you, I can reassure her in everything and she will get acquainted to the thought that I will stay with you. Peter, believe me, I only want to do the best and therefore never let doubts enter your heart! I need courage and I only can get it through you, when I know you are not troubled. Look, Peter, I come to you, I think, in April by airplane taking only small luggage with me. Coming back after Christmas I will take everything with me, for then I will stay forever. Peter, understand this change of plans, if the embassy should grant me my wish.

In one point I won’t be able to grant my mother’s wish and that is that I want to get married to you at once. Don’t think that I was not sincere with my parents. O Peter, I was! They knew everything of us for a long time and all the same they reacted like this. I cannot be frank anymore, because the more I tell them, the worse it gets. O Peter, understand my situation. I cannot bear their tears, I cannot see them suffer and they are so downhearted, because they love me so much. Although I love you more than anything in the world, I suffer too with them and I cannot help it and yet I am happy, because I love you. Peter, it is so difficult to understand.

Sometimes I really wish I could hate my parents, because everything would be easier. I have to work because my father won’t give me a penny. Nothing can move him, although I have told him everything. I cannot bear the thought to take our last money you have here. I want to be able to pay at least the fare. Besides I learn a lot. I have nearly the function of a secretary. I have to type, to write letters and to translate many English letters with many difficult technical terms. It is a real good experience for getting a job in Canada. Don’t you think so? Have confidence, Peter, because nothing is hopeless as long as we love each other.

I love you so much! Your Biene

A few days later she added …

My dear Peter, I only now realize with a great shock how my last letter must have created a storm of anxiety in your heart. O Peter, I hope you remained calm at the exam. Peter, I was not aware at all what I had done to you. See, there are so many things that I have to deal with, but yet you must never doubt that I am coming to you. Even my parents know that. They only want to make sure that I keep my freedom as long as possible, because they cannot believe that I will be able to endure life with you in Canada. Nevertheless I am going to be your wife as soon as possible. And when I am with you and my parents sense that I am happy, then they will find it easier to bear the separation. When I come to you without bringing anything, later on we still get eventually something. At least I want to be able to pay for the fare.

Dear Peter, I am asking you now just for one thing, although my letters do not always radiate confidence, you must not lose your trust in me. Unfortunately, I cannot describe everything. It is always way too much. But I love you so much that it would cost me my life, if I didn’t come to you soon.

Your Biene

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Banff – Historical Photo 1966

Peter Strikes a more Conciliatory Tone

January 13th 1966, Calgary

My dear Biene,

Much has been happening on my side, and if you hadn’t written so quickly, I would have sent you a letter anyway in the next couple of days.

Warm thoughts about you flow again through my heart. Although truth sometimes hurts, it is never as cruel as nebulous uncertainty. Many people don’t manage to bear the tragedy of life with assured hearts. They actually prefer to indulge in fuzzy daydreams and attempt to escape the challenges of life. You know now that I don’t belong to this kind of people and would not want to be categorized as such. Dear Biene, please take these philosophical considerations seriously; especially as they relate to our own experiences.

But first of all let me tell you what I think about what you have written and then let me know whether you agree. I would congratulate you very much, if the ambassador would grant your request for a work visa. Please don’t count on a positive response. For he knows the regulations and he cannot change them.  If you cannot support our original plan and wish to spare your mother any more grief, then the only way out is to make a new application from your end.

But now to your plans! Believe me, it would turn out to be a heavy burden for our entire future, if you were going to fly home and then come back after your final farewell. Not even a rich man would throw so much money out of the window and yet at the beginning we will belong to the poorest of the poor. You work and sacrifice your health to pay for the flight, then again you work throughout the summer just to fly back home and would not have any money to fly again. Did your mother not consider that they rob you of your youthful energy, which should be devoted to us both? Is this true motherly love? I really don’t want to get angry again, but I am facing a human puzzle. What grief will you cause all over again, when you have to say your final farewell! And as my wife you will fly back to Germany. Your mother will feel like having been deceived, and I will be disappointed that you rank your love to your parents higher than your care for our challenging start in life here. Your parents want that you can make a free decision. Why not? Here is a new suggestion. I go one more time to the immigration office and ask for an extension of our wedding date so that you can freely decide whether you like it or not. In case you cannot stand it or the strange environment drives you back home, then take my money as much as you need and fly home again. I am prepared to give my word to you and to your parents even in writing if necessary.

The chest with your belongings may be shipped after you have made your decision to stay. Biene. Is this not a good suggestion, if the deadline for our wedding is extended to three months? Would you be so kind and make your parents aware of this proposal? By their reaction you will know if they really want your best or whether they are simply trying to keep you near them for the foreseeable future. They pay nothing for your wedding. Do they also want that you pay for the return ticket? The $500.00 could furnish our apartment or house, if I was going to remain and teach in Calgary. Enough of it!

At Gerry’s family (Fyffe Road) a little baby girl by the name of Jaqueline has been born. My brother voiced his opinion in his humorous manner and said, ‘Now Martha has got what she wanted and hopefully from now on she will let me sleep in peace.’ I had to laugh at the way he said it.

Always in love

Your Peter

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Rocky Mountains 1966

What Biene had Arranged with her Mother

January 14th ,1966,Velbert

My dear Peter,

Finally I can take all your fears away. My mother is looking at my departure in a calm and collected manner, because she now knows – which wasn’t clear to her before – that I can return any time in case of an emergency. She had been in the mistaken belief that I would commit myself to some sort of obligation, which would not allow me to come home so soon. My dear Peter, do not take it as my giving in or as a sign of weakness that I promised my mother to come home for Christmas. That way saying goodbye will not be so difficult. She can now hope to see me again in the not so distant future.

Also she has now gotten used to the idea of us two getting married. Only my father remains unbending. He says that he does not want to cast me out, but he would not financially support me in the least. My dear Peter, this is in complete contradiction of what my parents have promised me in the summer. I can only explain it by their desire to console me in my desperation, but they never counted on all this becoming a reality. I know now that they believed that while I was in England I would take my mind off our plans.

See dear Peter, I gathered from remarks that my father will write you a letter. I hope he will not hurt your feelings. That’s why I prepared you for it. Whatever he may write, don’t let him offend you.

I enjoy my work at Yale & Towne, an American company, located here in Velbert. Because of my knowledge of English, I do a lot of translations of mostly technical nature,  but also take care of my boss’s correspondence. So in a way I perform my duties almost as a personal secretary. Once I am in Canada, I would like to work in an office and later, when we are doing financially well, I would also like to enrol in a university program to obtain at least the lowest possible teaching diploma.

My dear Peter, I only hope that you are calm again and you have forgiven me. Certainly everything will turn out good in the end.

In love,

Your Biene

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXVI

7

Storm Clouds over the Rocky Mountains

Storm Clouds Gathering over the Rocky Mountains

The Bombshell from Germany

Broken Road

It can be easy
to breeze through life
when you are cruising along
on the wide open, straight path of the highway.

But often times
it is the bumps and dips and obstacles
on the broken roads
that lead to the best and most beautiful things in life.

Quote by kind permission taken from the post “Broken Road” in Jodi’s blog

THE CREATIVE LIFE IN BETWEEN

Disquieting News for Peter

For three months from the time I had written my first letter to Biene’s parents to the moment she had returned to Germany, Biene and I were united by a common goal. We had mutually agreed on the details of a carefully laid out plan. It was simple and straightforward. Biene would come to Canada, marry me within a month or so and would take on together with me the challenging, but rewarding task of building our future together. We both received letters from Germany, which all expressed the same thought, total opposition to a foolish undertaking that would not only make us unhappy, but Biene’s parents as well.

Working together from a common base, even though thousands of miles apart, we fought off any attempt to make us give in to all kinds of threats, financial blackmail, or urgent pleas to come to our senses. The only person who showed some understanding to our plans and had struck a more conciliatory tone was Biene’s mother. But she would only go so far as to make a vague promise to let her daughter go one day. As long as Biene was in England, Biene and I were of one heart and one soul. We were both far removed from the place, where our controversial wedding plans were being challenged and hotly debated. Under the barrage of criticism we suffered together, we responded together and promised each other not to soften our resolve to get married. Above everything else stood out Biene’s urgent plea to set all the wheels in motion for her coming and to tell her what steps she needed to take in her dealings with the Canadian Embassy in Cologne. Then on the 23rd of December after a tearful parting from the Lande family, Biene finally flew home to join her family just in time for Christmas.

In spite of complete lack of communication from her for more than two weeks, I was still feeding on the strength and inspiration of Biene’s comforting last letter from England. However, in my worries about her impending troubles at home I also became increasingly more sensitive and vulnerable, feeling lonely and helpless in the drab and dreary basement room. Three days before New Year’s Eve I finally received her first letter since her arrival in Germany. When I had finished reading it, my hands were trembling, and my heart was pounding. I could not believe what I had just read. I was in such a shock that for the longest time I was unable to think clearly. In a state of utter despair about the events that threatened to derail all our plans I was pacing to and fro on the basement floor not knowing what to do. After I had sufficiently calmed down I reread the letter in search for some comforting clues I might have missed at the first perusal. Like a drowning person who clutches at straws trying to keep afloat I searched for a hint, a hidden meaning, or even the mere absence of an entire sentence that Biene in her own emotional turmoil may have intended to write, but had failed somehow to put it down in writing. But there was none. My devastation was complete.

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Highway 1 near Banff in the Mid 60’s

Roses and Violets

December 26th Velbert

My dear Peter,

…With mixed feelings, but also in joyful anticipation, I arrived at the Düsseldorf Airport, where my mother, Walter and my friend Ulli received me with roses and violets. I was deeply touched! At home the same warm atmosphere welcomed me, which our apartment is always radiating. And when I then entered my room and found your letter on my desk, it seemed to me as if I had never been away. Yet the exciting new tidings stirred up my emotions. The photo of us in Michelbach rekindled all the memories and let me think of so many things. Only now did my mother notice that the other letter was addressed to her. Oh Peter, you should not have written the letter to my parents. I had wanted to prepare them slowly for everything. I know, Peter, that only out of love to me you wrote the letter, and yet, Peter, you should not have written it. See, Peter, I always told you that my parents are acting out of love, and therefore we must not hurt their feelings. Your words hit my mother hard, because it sounded like hell was awaiting me here at home. In some way you are right, Peter. However, I implore you to apologize to my mother as quickly as possible. I know how proud you are; yet I ask you to do this for the sake of our love. So far my mother has supported our side to the extent that she was even able to change my brother’s mind. He was actually prepared to help us in case I wanted to come to you for a year.

Then Biene wrote that her mother had confided to her the story of a shocking tragedy. Out of religious reason Biene’s mother was not allowed to marry the man she truly loved. Because she was not yet of age, she wanted to force her family to consent to the marriage by having a baby. So Biene’s sister Elsbeth was born out of wedlock. But before she gave birth to the baby girl, her fiancé died in a fatal accident.

Biene also let me know in her letter that she had found employment with the American company Yale and Towne, one of the largest lock manufacturing companies in Europe at the time. She was hired as an office assistant responsible for translating technical documents into English. She had signed a contract for a period of two months with a monthly salary of 450 marks. So she would be able to save up enough money for the flight to Calgary, if her father was not going to provide any financial support. She also added that because of her work she would not be able to write me as often as before. Then she returned to the main issue.

In conclusion I earnestly ask you just one more time to write a nice letter to my parents and also to Walter. Don’t mention much about our plans for the moment. I will prepare them for everything.

In my thoughts I am already living with you, Peter. Don’t lose your confidence in our future.

In love Your Biene

Did you receive my Christmas card, on which I forgot to write By Air?

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Hoodoos above the Bow River

Biene’s Dilemma

It was New Year’s Eve. I kept reading her letter over and over again, but it did not help to calm me down. In fact the turn of events stirred me up more than her brother’s argumentative diatribe in the fall. In my tortured mind I saw everything that deviated from the course of action we had agreed on as a betrayal of our dreams. Through the dark lens in my anguished soul I gazed at gloomy images that made everything she described feel like a bad omen. The heart-warming reception with roses and violets at the airport was for me a well orchestrated attempt to strengthen the threads in the web, out of which Biene would find it difficult to break free. I also found it strange that one letter on her desk turned suddenly into two letters and that her mother would recognize it only now, which was clearly addressed to Frau Elisabeth Panknin. Nor could I understand why my so lovingly written letter could have insulted her so much. It contained only kind words. I admit I did plead with her to let Biene go in peace. But to make this single sentence, which expressed my deepest love and concern for Biene, the actual cause of a complete turnabout in her attitude towards our wedding plans was in my view a travesty of her true intentions.

Ultimately it bothered me the most that Biene told me that because of her new job, which had not even started yet, she would not to find the time to write as often as before. Clearly she wanted to keep me in the dark. That was my painful conclusion. I felt a surge of angry revolt take hold of my heart. I threw myself on my bed and stewed over the new situation for a very long time. There was not a single word about getting married in the spring. On the contrary, in an effort to appease her family she had already made a major concession. She wanted to come for a year to find out if she could stand it to live in Canada. The once comforting words she once wrote from England were beginning to mock me, “Even if you were as poor as a church mouse, I would still come to you, because I love you.” Had our love not been tested enough? Why all of a sudden was there talk about a trial period to see if she could be happy in Canada?

What I did not realize while I was tossing and turning on my bed was that she was confronted with one the greatest dilemmas in her life. On the one side was her mother, who loved her dearly and who did not want her to go away into a distant land, to marry into an uncertain future and become unhappy. On the other side was I, the man, whom she loved and wanted to marry. For her there seemed to be no other way to get out of this conflict than to play a dangerous game of deception. If she had only revealed to me that she needed to keep her mother in the belief that she would be able to retain her independence and freedom, while she was only visiting me until next Christmas, I would have cooperated and she would have spared me the distress I was in. A short message would have sufficed to keep me in the loop. All I needed was a word of reassurance that nothing would change in our plans. But no matter how often I read Biene’s letter, I found no such comfort and I was deeply worried.

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Banff National Park – Mid 1960’s

A Troublesome New Year’s Eve

Then I considered that we originally had promised to wait two or even three years for each other and that only the episode of the engagement ring had rushed us to cut the waiting period down to less than a year. Biene had greatly suffered when she was without any sign of life from me for more than three weeks and had pleaded with me to let her come. I could see now that in my desire, which was just as strong as hers, to be together with her I had foolishly given in, when our future was still uncertain. Thus, the original plan, which was sound and would have given her parents plenty of time to get used to, had been rendered unrealistic and indeed ridiculous in their disapproving eyes. In a flash I felt responsible that my very own weakness had brought about the mess that she was in right now. Angry with myself I considered writing to her parents according to her wish, which she imploringly expressed several times in her letter.

The Chinook winds that had started to blow earlier this evening were now howling at full strength around the building and made the basement window rattle. In the distance a few firecrackers announced the start of the New Year. Lying on my back, while others were celebrating, I composed in my mind the message that was going to bring our derailed original plans back on track. I would apologize to her parents. I would tell the story of her engagement ring and would describe Biene’s desperation, when she did not receive any letter from me for such a long time. I would tell them that she had urged me to let her come to Canada as quickly as possible and that I had agreed on the condition that I would have to be admitted first to the Faculty of Education or have a well paying job. Finally I would kindly propose to her parents that I would wait until the successful completion of my teachers’ training program in exchange for their kind approval of us getting married after I had become a teacher. With these thoughts going through my mind I sat down at the table and feverishly reached out for pen and paper. I was just about to write down the opening sentence, when I suddenly remembered how in anger and frustration I had once reacted by writing a spiteful response to the prospective in-laws, which only served to harden their already inflexible position. No, this time I would sleep on it for a night or two. And if I couldn’t sleep, I would rather suffer through a wakeful night than committing another blunder.

Late in the morning I awoke like from a nightmare. But I was relieved to know that while the letter that I was going to write would have brought complete satisfaction to her parents it would have caused most certainly grief and misery to Biene and to me as well. Who could expect us after all the emotional upheavals we had already gone through to wait another year or even a third year to be reunited? I could see clearly now the trap I would have walked into, out of which there would have been no escape. Wisdom dictated that I waited until I had more information from Germany. Having scored a major victory over myself and restrained my impetuous inclination to surrender to her parents’ wishes, I felt much better and with relative calm resumed my studies the following Monday.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXIII

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My apology to all my dear readers and followers, who have been missing this post last week. I  skipped over to Chapter 34 by mistake and left out the events that had brought new energy, hope and joy to Biene and me. At that time we had new idea that dark storm clouds were brewing on the horizon of our love story.

First Semester at the University of Calgary

UAC1

Brand-new University of Calgary – Author’s own Historical Photo

“I will ask no more of life than this that I might love you through all my days, and that you may find peace and joy in the constancy of my heart.”  Robert Sexton

Faithfulness Revisited

While searching for a quote that described best my feelings about love and faithfulness, I came across many quotes about fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness. These virtues have always found strong support across the ages from philosophers, theologians, and rulers, as long as they were part of an individual’s commitment to an ideal, religion, or country. When I narrowed my search down to the love between a man and a woman, I discovered to my dismay that there were two camps of opinions, which differed from each other like day and night. The dark side would have scoffed at Robert Sexton’s quote as if he was promoting boredom and loss of freedom in human relationships. It ridiculed commitment through faithfulness by quotes, such as ‘The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity’, ‘A bridegroom is a guy who has lost his liberty in pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Absence makes the heart go wander’. The list is almost endless.

Biene and I were poorly prepared and had nothing except our love to repel the onslaught of subversive opinions and temptations. To this day I am grateful to Biene’s sister Elsbeth for trying to warn Biene about the dangers of a long separation. Even though we were not too happy about the doubts she had cast into our hearts, she at least forced us to confront the issue. By being made aware of the perils for our romantic relationship so far apart from each other, we were able to recognize situations that could potentially destroy it.

Before Biene went to England, she had to learn first hand how a commonly held opinion could put belief in faithfulness into question as something both unrealistic and old-fashioned. A nice young man, a fellow student of the Wuppertal University, no doubt infatuated and attracted to her natural charm and beauty, pursued her and in vain tried to weaken her resolve to wait for me. She was dismayed to see that so few people believed in the power of love, which would give us the strength to be faithful. Incidences of this kind prompted her to ask for a ring as a form of protection against aggressive suitors in Germany and  in England.

I for my part had no such outer sign, with which I started my studies in Calgary. But I thought being male I would find it easier to avoid the pitfalls of temptation. For in the mid sixties it was the man, who would normally invite a girl to a date. While being very worried about Biene in this regard and actually sharing my concerns with her, I myself felt secure in my belief that my female fellow students, who may have taken a fancy to me, would not pursue me, as Biene’s aggressive suitor did in Wuppertal. As it turned out I was quite mistaken. I had to learn and I learned quickly that their methods were not as obvious, rather a lot subtler in their outward manifestations.

For the eighteen-year old female graduates from high school, the faculty of education was the most favourite department to enrol. Very few were willing to face the exacting demands of engineering, nor were they welcome in this male dominated field in those years. But there was also another reason why they were outnumbering young men in the teachers’ training program almost at the ratio two to one. This was still the time when well-to-do parents would send their daughters to college in the hope to marry them off to a professional young man, who would be acceptable within their socially elevated family status.

Missing Biene

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Another historic photo of the University of Calgary in the mid 1960’s!

At the end of the frosh week, during which we new students received our orientation and introduction into the life on campus, the university had organized a dance in the huge gymnasium of the Physical Education complex. Six bands were playing alternately rock and more traditional music. They made sure that there was never a break for the indefatigable couples on the dance floor. Having no friends to hang out with, I felt lonely and wished that Biene were there sharing this special moment with me. With all the tables taken I had no place to sit down. I leaned against the back wall taking in some of my favourite music I remembered so well from my birthday parties. But I was not in the mood to enjoy it. So I left, took the next available bus and returned to my humble basement room. To overcome my feeling of loneliness I wrote a letter to Biene.

September 19th Calgary

My dear Biene, now you will get to know how things turned out with my search for an apartment and with my introduction to the university. For days I have been running around in the northwestern section of Calgary, until I finally decided on a small basement suite. I am exaggerating if I say suite, because it is only one large room. Table and chairs, bed and cupboard, as well as a gas heater and some basic cooking facilities are included in the rent, which is thirty dollars a month. To be totally independent, I decided to exclude bedding from the rental agreement, which would have cost me five dollars more. Now it is gradually turning into a really cozy place All day long I scrubbed the dirty walls, mopped the linoleum floor and cleaned the windows. My old wooden crate has been converted into a cooking stand so that the table remains free for my studies. Oh and then came all the shopping I had to do: bedclothes, blankets, cutlery, bowls and plates, a small radio, etc. Now I am satisfied and wonder whether you would like it.

An old lady also lives down here in the basement adjacent to my room. She is very pleasant and enjoys the sound of my guitar, which I sometimes play for relaxation. I could hardly suppress my astonishment about her ignorance of geography. When I told her that I had come from Germany, she asked me, where that city was located in Canada.

Yesterday we had our orientation complete with welcome speeches and formal ceremonies for the frosh. The professors spoke so clearly and distinctly that all my fear disappeared from my anxious heart. I have already made the acquaintance with a couple of classmates and hope to meet them again later on. To understand them is quite a bit harder for me, because they just don’t make the effort to speak clearly and distinctly.

Yes, dear Biene, if you were here, my happiness would be complete. How much I miss you, I again felt last night, when after the formalities the six largest bands of the city were playing music in the gymnasium, where everyone was dancing except you and me …

The very next day the fall session began. Since I was in a first year program, most of the lectures were held in auditorium-sized rooms accommodating more than a hundred students at a time. Courses like calculus and psychology that were being shared by other departments were especially crowded. Having chosen a senior course in German turned out to be a blessing. Dr. Cardinal, a very likeable professor, was teaching The Age of Goethe to our small group of three students. Here my mind could at least take a short break from the great demands in the other subject areas. Ever since Biene and I had decided on starting our life together as husband and wife in Canada, I knew that I had not merely entered a race for the survival in the academic training program, but also committed myself to an all-out effort to achieve an above average standing. For only with a grade point average of close to an A could I hope to receive substantial government grants and scholarships for the second year. I had poured my entire savings from my army service and my summer earnings as a labourer into the cost of tuition, textbooks, rent and living expenses. There would be little left for me to finance another academic year except with the help of financial support from the Alberta Government. Thus, in spite of my limited English language skills I set my goal to nothing less that a B+ over all standing. To achieve this, I had to get near perfect scores in German and Calculus, while maintaining a minimum of 70% final grade in the other subjects. For the first couple of weeks this appeared to be an unobtainable target. I often communicated my concerns and worries with Biene. I told her that I did not want our life to start in poverty with no chance for a prosperous future. Even just to finish the year with merely passing grades looked like a great challenge to me in the beginning. Then came another shock. I had set my hopes on studying lecture notes and textbooks and on doing well in the multiple-choice tests that were becoming very popular in the mid sixties. Instead we were required to write one essay after another. I felt that I could not compete very well in this challenging field  with my Canadian fellow students. A visit to the office of my English professor was going to shed some light onto the nebulous trail of my academic future at the U of C.

Facing the Challenges of the English Literature Course

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University Campus with the Calgary Tower in the Background

I took some comfort in the fact that the English literature classes were small. The one I attended had only twenty students under the loving tutelage of Dr. Alexander. In my mind I called her Dr. Nightingale, because she was frequently teasing her students for not knowing the European songbird that had taken such a prominent place in John Keat’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. I went to see her one day after class in her office to get advice as to how to cope with my language problems. Apparently having a good knowledge of the European high school system, she pointed out that I had studied the principles of essay writing for much longer and in greater depth than my Canadian fellow students. What I would have to do was to concentrate my efforts on expanding my active and passive vocabulary and thus build up my confidence.

I became very eager to prove my ability to write well after this encouraging and heart-warming interview.  Near the end of one of the Friday morning lectures Dr. Alexander announced to the class that for Monday she planned on giving us a written test on one of two topics having to do with poems of English Romanticism. Having all weekend to prepare myself I chose the topic I felt most comfortable with, I first wrote the essay on a piece of scrap paper, then memorized the three pages sentence by sentence. When I could recite the entire text out loud, I was looking forward to take the test. All I needed to do now was to rewrite the essay from memory on the official exam paper on Monday. How proud I would feel, if I could report to Biene my first A in English 240!

Well rested and as I thought well prepared I sat at my desk in the small lecture room waiting for Dr. Alexander to come in, while others were chatting about all the fun they had over the weekend. A bit annoyed that they were partying while I had been studying so hard, but at the same time quite relieved that with their poor preparation I would have a better chance of getting a high mark on the test, I attempted to tune them out and tried to focus on the precious content I had stored in my memory. By now I was well known to the other students for my strong, not necessarily unpleasant German accent and my often-stilted way of expressing myself. Some asked, “Well, Peter, I bet, you studied really hard for the exam.”

“I studied hard enough to get by with a passing grade,” I replied trying to be modest.

Then our professor walked in with her endearing smile. Without further ado she handed out the papers and then announced, “You will write on the second topic”, whereupon she sat down apparently quite content to spend the lecture free morning watching us write.

In the meantime I felt the emotional shockwaves of her incredible announcement racing through my mind. Believing we had a choice between the two topics, I had studied for the first one. For several minutes I stared at the blank paper in front of me. The pen I held in my right hand did not move for a very long time. Then finally I began to calm down. Under pressure and time constraints, where others would fall apart, I had the ability to make the best out of a bad situation. In a creative surge I took the parts of the memorized essay, which at least by some stretch of imagination bore some resemblance to topic two, reworded them and recombined them with ideas which I had picked up at the lectures. In spite of the initial delay I was able to hand in my finished work at the end of the fifty-minute session. With some apprehension I was awaiting the return of my paper. Great was my relief when I read the professor’s comment, ‘Well written! But very weak conclusion! 67%.’

Walking the Line

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Historical Photo of the University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s

After a few sessions in the Calculus Course I realized that I had underestimated the scope and depth of this extremely demanding subject area. I was of the mistaken belief that I could easily sail through its content with a minimum of effort, as the course appeared to be merely a review of what I had already learned at the German high school. Also the lecture hall for the Math 211 students was overcrowded with more than two hundred students in attendance. The course was compulsory for all first-year students in the Departments of Engineering and Education. Then there were the obligatory tutorial classes, which were much smaller and more conducive to the nature of a question-and-answer period. The tutor, a young graduate student by the name of Jenkins, was very keen on telling us off-colour jokes and even more questionable mathematical riddles very much to the embarrassment of the female students in the class. When asked to explain how to go about solving a particular math problem, he appeared often evasive and rarely was of any real help to anyone. So we got into the habit of helping each other.

This is how I got to know Brian Fisher, with whom I immediately struck up a friendship that was going to last a lifetime. I helped him to get through the course with a passing grade, while he freed me from my social isolation  His mother was a very caring person. Seeing that I had been on a hunger diet she insisted that I should join the family for Thanksgiving. For the first time in my life I looked at an oven-roasted turkey, smelled the aroma of the carved up slices on my plate that together with the mashed potatoes drenched in mouth watering gravy, the cranberry sauce, and the mix of carrots and peas presented a most wonderful culinary delight. This was truly a treat for someone like me, who out of budgetary constraints was content with a diet alternating between chicken noodle soup on one day and chunky dinner out of a can on the next.

In the meantime the calculus course had become increasingly more difficult. We were now struggling with the concepts of mathematical limits and the first derivative. At the end of the tutorial class a female student intending to become a music teacher approached me rather timidly and asked if I could give her some help with a problem that Mr. Jenkins had been unwilling or unable to explain. Why the curriculum required that primary, music, art and all other teachers not embarking on a career in secondary math had to take this course, I could never figure out. I was able to give her some valuable clues without providing the answer. On the next tutorial class she cheerfully told me that thanks to my help she was able to solve the problem and asked me a little less timidly this time if I could spare a few minutes again after the tutorial to assist her with a question she had some trouble with. As I showed her the steps that would lead her with some work of her own to the answer, I noticed how excited she had become during my lesson. And when I saw her joyfully singing and prancing down the hallway, I realized that she had more on her mind than just receiving extra help from me. So I told her there and then that my fiancée was coming to Canada next spring and that we intended to get married soon after her arrival. Disappointment was written all over her face. But she managed to say, “I am so happy for you two.” I had to repeat the story a few more times during the course of the year, when I felt I was being approached by some other girl with similar intentions. I had no trouble doing so and did it each time I felt in my heart that someone has been trying to cross the line. Before I immigrated to Canada I had often listened to the popular Johnny Cash song ‘I walk the line’ on the American Forces Network in Munich. It has been one of my favourite tunes and lyrics to this very day.

Discussing Marriage at Lunch Break

Student Peter

Peter in front of the University of Calgary

On the wall of my basement room hung a timetable, a rigid what-to-do list that was to govern my life for the next seven months. On weekdays I got up at six and after a cornflakes-and-milk breakfast spent sixty minutes to have an early morning study period. Then I took the bus for my first morning class at campus. I had one hour for lunch that always consisted of the same homemade bologna and cheese sandwiches washed down with the watery coffee from the vending machine. During this time, when I managed to relax a little bit, I often met with three students on alternate days, as they all had their own schedules to follow.

On Tuesdays and Fridays I sat together with Brian Fisher, since we both attended the same afternoon tutorial class for Math 211. It made me feel very good to be able to help him with many of the questions from the weekly assignment sheets. In turn I got gradually used to the informal, casual way of English conversation. On the other days I met with two women, both married, one from Great Britain, whose husband had recently been promoted to a managerial position in an IBM sponsored business in downtown Calgary, the other Mrs. Karen Bolso, an immigrant from Norway. Both were attending the same late morning psychology lecture. In a country that was built on the skills and talents of hundreds of thousands of immigrants the voices of three individuals producing an interesting blend of Oxford English, Scandinavian and German accents were not unusual in the student lounge. All three of us, coming from Europe, had interesting stories and experiences to share. The British student, whose name I can no longer recall, had recently followed and joined her husband in Calgary and was pursuing a teaching career to get out of the house as she put it, while her husband was busy setting up calculating machines, the forerunners of business computers. Her main point of advice relating to happiness in marriage was that the two partners should come from the same ethnic and cultural background. Their children would integrate quickly with their new environment, but the parents would take a long time to adjust. “Like oil and water Canadian and immigrant spouses just do not mix,” she stated her opinion with a slightly superior air.

Mrs. Bolso, whose marriage was on the rocks, protested and said, “Well, let me tell you something. I was married to a Norwegian, and yet things did not work out at all. When I arrived as his bride from Norway, he lavished gifts on me, bought me a diamond ring and a fur coat with money he did not have. He had bought all these luxury goods on credit, even though he held only a low paying job. He could barely put enough food on the table for our two children and me. I would rather have a husband, who would show his love in a financially responsible manner. Your theory is all wrong!”

Then it was my turn to voice my opinion. I spoke quite eloquently presenting an entirely idealistic viewpoint, which, as I could see from their reaction, took them by surprise. “Even if a partner could afford the most expensive diamond ring, a fancy car, and an even more fanciful house, it would be all for naught, if love and faithfulness were not present to hold the two together.” Then I thought it would be a good time to talk about my invisible engagement ring, the story about Biene, my fiancée, who was going to join me here in Calgary next spring. After many exclamations of ‘O, how wonderful’, ‘You must be so happy’ and the like, we moved on to other topics.

For the evening my timetable allowed me one hour for preparing and eating a frugal meal for supper. Two hours of studying followed till nine, after which I granted myself a little bit of time to play and practice a few tunes on my guitar. But if I had gotten stuck in my attempt to solve a particularly difficult calculus problem, there was no time for relaxation, until I had found the solution. One evening I had been working over a thorny differential equation. Stubborn as I was when working on problem solving, I did not want to give up. It was way past my bedtime. Midnight was rapidly approaching. Finally common sense prevailed and I decided to go to bed. But the brain having been overstimulated did not want to come to rest. So many possible solutions were gliding by in front of my inner eye that it took another hour before I managed to fall asleep. Before the alarm went off, I woke up with a jolt. My body had rested, but my brain had not. I jumped out of bed, ran up to the table, grabbed paper and pencil, and before it would fade away, I jotted down the solution, which my brain had worked out correctly in my sleep. Having no coffee maker, I put an extra spoonful of ground coffee into the cooking pot, added water and brought the brew to a boil over my two-element stove to make myself a cup of strong coffee. What a life!

Empathy for Peter

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Brand New University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s

In Educational Foundations we studied the great philosophers of education from Socrates to Piaget. For this course also the university had set up tutorial classes to facilitate the exchange of ideas in small discussion groups. I spite of my language difficulties I felt I had a noticeable advantage. I was about five years older and therefore more mature in many aspects of learning. I also brought a wealth of life experiences, which enabled me to enrich the class with new and fresh ideas. To the amazement of my much younger fellow students I was not afraid to criticize the great thinkers of the past. There was venerable Rousseau for example, who advocated locking up disobedient children in a dark room instead of using corporal punishment. Remembering all too well my own ordeals being locked up as a young child in the dingy storage room of Mr. Stoll’s carpentry shop, I declared that in my opinion locking up a child was one of the cruelest forms of punishment and that ultimately spanking justly applied without causing physical harm was to be preferred.

Some other time we were discussing the importance of the family in early childhood development. Having a much broader concept of education in mind, I emphasized with as much conviction as I still have today, “The family is the smallest unit in a society. As healthy cells make a healthy body, so family units that are intact and provide a caring environment for the children are the building blocks for a strong society. Take away the health of the family and the state will sooner or later suffer and begin to disintegrate.” I am sure that I expressed these thoughts quite differently, but the idea came across with electrifying results. The students were most likely wondering, where this immigrant student had all his ideas from. Little did they know that I had studied Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and that the ideas about the importance of the family were as old as the Roman Republic!

One day our tutorial instructor felt the need to divide us into groups of four or five students each. To develop a feeling for empathy, a term that can be easily defined in clinical terms but is otherwise quite an elusive concept, we needed someone in our group, who would be willing to take on the role of a client and come up with a story, to which the others as would-be councillor would react with supportive questions and remarks. A lot of time was being wasted, because nobody wanted to be saddled with the difficult role of the client. After a long pause, I said, “OK, I’ll do it. Just give me a little bit of time to think.”

Then I began without referring to any specific time or place to tell the story of my father, how close we had become before he had left home, how he gave me a guiding hand with my schoolwork, how much I was shaken up by my parents’ divorce, how I had to wait for five long years before I could see him again, how I spent many happy hours at his new home, then how suddenly and unexpectedly I had lost my father all over again and this time forever, when he died of a massive heart attack. By the time I had spoken the last sentence, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in the tutorial room. All other groups had stopped their exercise to listen in to the extraordinary story that was grabbing everybody’s attention. Then the students were getting noisy with shouts of praise and admiration. After the tutor regained quiet and order, he said to me, “It seems your creative story caused quite an outpour of empathy. How did you think it all up so quickly?”

In a strange mix of pride and self-pity, I replied, “I’d wish it had been just a story.” With these words I quickly left the room. In my heart I was thankful to tutor and students for respecting my privacy and not asking any more questions in the sessions that followed.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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 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

rocky-mountain-high

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.

camp fire

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

All_Gizah_Pyramids

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.”

212

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

Calgary-Pallister-Hotel-1960s-1024x597

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

214

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.

X325

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 …”

X336

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.

Saluton

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