Any part written in the first person singular has been contributed by my wife Gertrud (Biene) née Panknin
Being without a job and having no regular income turned out to be a more severe problem. Where would he find work in the Soviet occupation zone as a former police officer and a Wehrmacht battalion commander in Croatia? As such, the Russian authorities viewed Walter Panknin with suspicion and kept a close eye on him.
Papa once experienced joblessness after returning home as a young man with the rank of lieutenant at the end of World War I. How fortunate it was that now he could use the skills he had acquired while training to become a dental technician! He had also built up considerable work experience in Gassen in the 1920s. Good or bad times, there will always be a need for skilled people in the field of dentistry. Finally, a job related to these skills provided hope on Walter’s prospects of a steady income after his return from the POW camp at Bad Kreuznach.
But there was a major hurdle that the Soviet secret service had placed before my father-in-law. The Russians must have received the list of POWs returning from the infamous Rhine Meadows camps. Undoubtedly, they were especially interested in the higher-ranking officers. They aimed to extract valuable information from those with a Nazi background. They also wanted them to rat on former military friends and colleagues.
Every morning before breakfast the newspaper boy came by on his bicycle and dropped off the Calgary Herald at the front entrance. Actually he only dropped it off on rainy days, which happened very rarely in this semiarid climate. On all other days he would not even get off his bike. He would grab a paper from his bag and in a precisely calculated arc would land it right in front of the door. Before you knew it, he was already on the way to the next house. Later in the morning, when I granted myself a break from painting Gerry’s house, I would rush into the house and grab the Calgary Herald, which my brothers had left on the kitchen table. There was only one section in which I was really interested. I did not care about local, national or international news. Instead I quickly thumbed through the thirty odd pages of this massive newspaper until I reached the classifieds. There I soon found out what was hot on the job market. Day after day I noticed that there was an incredible teachers’ shortage in the province as evidenced by the large number of teaching positions in practically all subject areas, but especially in math both at the junior and senior high school level. The children of the baby boomers were flooding the school system, while many teachers were retiring.
But I did not ignore the ads from the mining, oil and other resource based companies, which were trying to attract high school graduates offering free training in their respective fields with pay. Reading about all these promising positions was like entering a dream world. In a sense it actually was a dream world, more accurately put a fantasy world. I did not recognize in my unrestrained enthusiasm that it was a long, hard road from the effortless reading of an ad to landing the job of my dreams. I found out much later that the positions had often been filled at the time, when they finally appeared in the newspaper. However, as to the openings in the teaching profession, I had a fairly realistic picture in my mind. I further learned that the farther away one was prepared to move away from the few major cities into isolated areas, where young city slickers would not be eager to live, the greater were the monetary and housing incentives that school boards were willing to offer. It was not uncommon in those days to offer $500 up front for each year a candidate would commit himself to teach with subsidized housing and isolation allowances to sweeten the pot.
Of course, in spite of Biene’s and my agreement we had made with each other to wait for two or even three years, deep inside we were always hoping for a quicker way of getting us two back together again. The first hint that Biene shared the same desire perhaps even more so came when I wrote her that I had almost made a foolish mistake in my career planning by responding to an ad from the IBM Company, which was looking for trainees in the fledgling computer industry. Indeed I felt, I would be the right candidate with my high school diploma and aptitude in math and analytical thinking. From Biene’s reaction expressing regret that I did not commit such foolishness, I could see that she too was counting on a shorter waiting period for our wedding date. In spite of these occasional flights of fancy that I allowed myself to paint a different future for Biene and me in Canada, I squashed any ideas that smacked of immediate gratification with regrets to follow in its footsteps. I realized that I could only be a good husband, father and family man, if I found fulfillment and satisfaction in my professional life. As one Gerry’s friend so correctly once stated, work you enjoy doing is not work at all, rather it could become a source of relaxation and happiness. It was my hope and aspiration that one day teaching would do the same for me, and so also for Biene and the family.
One day, after I had finished my paint job to Gerry’s complete satisfaction, he drove the family and me to the nearest Dairy Queen. He mentioned to me that I had a special treat waiting for me. I did not quite understand what he was ordering and wondered as to why he kept repeating the word Sunday. ‘What a strange world, in which one had to order a dairy product two days in advance’, I thought to myself. But then what a delightful surprise it was first for my eyes, then for my taste buds, after Gerry handed me on a large cardboard tray a gorgeous ice cream sundae served with syrup on it, whipped cream, chopped nuts and strawberries! It was truly a heavenly treat, even richer, creamier and more delicious than my grillage torte my mother used to order for my birthday parties in Germany.