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
His Letter – Part I
January 6th, 1966 Calgary
My dear Biene,
Tomorrow we write our English exam. Before in a state of utter confusion I puton the test paper a thousand times your name down 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!
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!
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 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.
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 you 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
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 in private 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.
Will a Passionate Poem make a Difference?
Picking up the pieces of a shattered dream is better than having no pieces to pick up at all.
Poetry to the Rescue!
For three long months Biene had to endure the assaults from her parents, twin brother, relatives and friends on our plans to carve out a niche for our future in Canada. No doubt, while the arguments were partly driven by selfishness and the fear of losing daughter, sister and friend, they were also motivated by love and concern for her happiness in a distant land. Biene, endowed by nature with a big heart and a keen sense of perception felt empathy especially for her mother’s despair. Thus, she made compromises, which deeply affected me and touched a very sensitive nerve.
While Biene was struggling with real people, who were bent on imposing their idea of happiness on her, I in faraway Canada had to fight a different battle. Having no one to talk to and argue with, I battled with phantoms breaking through the crevices of my beleaguered mind, where dream and reality once so intimately interwoven were drifting apart with each new letter from Germany.
Then I remembered that two years earlier I had written a novella entitled “Carthage” (yet to be translated into English). The book written for Biene was my desperate attempt to declare my love to her and to win back her heart after the engagement with her Dutch fiancé had fallen apart. So as a prelude to a very long letter I composed a poem. It was written in the spirit of German classic literature and poetry that I was studying at the time and was definitely inspired by my worries about all the troublesome changes made to our plans. The poem was to remind Biene of our hopes and aspirations, which we had recorded less than a year earlier in our book of dreams.
In Part II of this chapter I will publish the original poem in German and for my English speaking blogging friends I will add a translation with no attempt to preserve rhyme or rhythm. My hope is that not too much of its emotional impact is lost in translation.
Sorge um einen Verlorenen Traum
O lass noch einmal jene Stunden
der Zweisamkeit vor Dir entstehen,
um die noch ungebrochene Blume
des stillen Glücks ein zweites mal zu sehen.
Ob du noch weißt, wie ich mit ungeübter Hand
Dir gold’ne Zeilen in das Buch der Träume schrieb,
den zarten Schleier, der versprach, ein ganzes Leben
in sanfter Milde zu umspannen, wo er verblieb?
Süße, schwere, einst entschwundene Wonne
drang in unsere Herzen mit dionysischer Gewalt;
denn wir als Glieder in der Kette, Ahn und Enkel eingereiht,
schicksalstrotzend, hoffnungsfroh fanden unseren Halt.
Mit ernstem Blick seh’ ich des Tages letzte Strahlen
in eisigen Höhen sich vor mir entfalten.
Wenn auch ein fernes Herz für mich noch schlägt,
Ich spüre Angst und Sorge in mir walten.
Fragend schau’ ich, den Hauch des Vergangenen suchend,
zum Abendhimmel hoch hinauf.
Teure Biene, komm und eil in meine Hütte
und schlag das Buch der Träume wieder auf!
Worry about a Lost Dream
Oh let once again those hours
of togetherness arise before you,
to see the still unbroken flower
of quiet bliss a second time.
Do you remember how I with inexperienced hand
wrote golden lines in our book of dreams,
the gentle veil, which promised to span a lifetime
in tender sweetness, where it remained?
Sweet and heavy bliss, once vanished,
penetrated our hearts with Dionysian force;
for we, as links in the chain of ancestor and descendent,
rebellious and hopeful found our strength and support.
With somber glance, I see the last rays of the day
in icy heights unfold before me.
Even though a distant heart still beats for me,
I sense fear and worry reign within me.
While seeking to catch the aura of the past,
I look questioningly up to the evening sky.
Dearest Biene, come and hurry to my hut
and open the book of our dreams again!
Peter Offers Three Choices
January 22nd 1966, Calgary
My beloved Biene,
I passed the exam, also the one in English. But this appears unimportant to me in the light of your coming this spring; I will write you the details of the exam some other time.
I fear that a few things I wrote must have hurt your feelings. I am sorry and apologize. You are in the least responsible. Rather the causes for all the troubles rest with me. That’s what I think; for I have critically examined myself. You know, when I am separated from people and I am sitting for hours at the same spot and study, then painful loneliness takes control over my heart. It comes from nowhere, from the silence of a tortured soul. However, I am aware that this pain can be alleviated by a sociable life and above all by the giving and receiving of love. You see, dear Biene, in our separation I often did you wrong, when unexpected news and such moods came together in a perilous brew. From now on I will make an effort to separate the two from each other.
O Biene I appear to me like a stubborn grumbler, because I must voice my objections all over again. I worked out with my brother that as a typist in an office you will barely earn enough money for the flight back home. And how do you propose to get to Canada, if your father is not willing to pay a single penny for the fare? Biene, forgive me please, if I seem to be so harsh; but you appear to dream about a happiness that still needs to be acquired with all our strength. The wedding is just the beginning of a lengthy struggle and not the final station of perpetual bliss. Whether we stay in the basement or whether we move (by the way I found a three-room apartment with a balcony, shower, bath etc., which will become vacant in the spring), we will be lacking everything. I am still eating from the plastic plate my mother once gave me when I was a boy scout. We will need tableware, cooking utensils and a few pieces of furniture. My brother is willing to pass on a few things to us. But it goes without saying that he can’t give away everything. I got to know many student couples, who started like this and have been quite happy all the same, because they could watch their day-by-day progress. But they did not start with debts, which would be the case, if we worked all summer not for our apartment, but for your return flight.
I see only three solutions out of this miserable situation: EITHER you follow completely your mother’s advice, come here for the summer, make your decision and work in a household, where you don’t have to pay for room and board, OR we get married after a certain waiting period and we let your father pay for the flights to and from Germany OR in case he doesn’t, you stay in Canada and we invite your parents to come. Later when we are financially better off we could fly together to Germany. I think this is a reasonable and responsible suggestion and I wished you would think it over during a quiet moment.
Peter’s Pleading Letter and Biene’s Reassurance
Dear Biene, I also want you to have your freedom to decide. During the first six weeks here a double burden will rest on your shoulders. I have no choice any more, since I have made mine already in December. So your yes will also be my yes and your no will be my no. Look at everything carefully when you come including the things that might shock you and then decide whether you can bear the absence of your relatives and friends for a long time. If you think you can, then throw our love onto the scales for the final decision.
The poem expresses the worry that dream and reality are no longer as close together as they once were in Michelbach and that the role in a family as wife and mother would no longer mean as much as then. How can I possibly explain that later after a few years, when we will be doing better, you would want to study from morning till evening and to withdraw as wife and mother from the family just to obtain a diploma? Biene, please understand me correctly. At the university there are many inspiring individual courses, which offer opportunities for intellectual enrichment. I would be the last one to oppose such desires. But a full university program as you desire indicates that you have begun to look at life, love, and marriage with different eyes. The goal that I once vaguely and exuberantly set in our book of dreams is still worth striving for and has already taken on clear and concrete forms. Yes, we evolve and we must work on us, but we should never ever attempt to change our character. Actually I don’t worry too much about you. For I know how much you are exposed to your mother’s influence. She planted contradictory ideas into your heart. Here her endeavors for your security are going too far. Perhaps in her fear about you she believes that one day I could abandon you or we could separate and then you wouldn’t have a profession to fall back on. Please reexamine earnestly if such wishes in you are genuine or if they merely represent a favor towards your anxious mother. For me this is a question of utmost importance and I hope it is for you as well.
Again I seem to be so stiff-necked, and it hurts to be like that. Just follow that one path that once had been the right one for both of us. In fact I am not commanding you to do anything Rather I am imploring you not to deviate from our life’s ideals. Even if we cannot reach them completely, the work and the endeavour towards them will provide sense and purpose of life. In an active and meaningful life true happiness will not be very far.
Give my kindest regards to your parents and your brother Walter
For now be lovingly embraced by your Peter
January 31st, Velbert
My dear Peter,
just a few lines! How much I feel for and understand your worries! Have no fear. All my dreams about our future are still the same. And I will try everything to realize them with you, believe me. As to the money my parents (my mother actually) are prepared to pay the return fare. But I will do it only as you suggested, because I know my father has enough money. If only I were already with you, then everything would be easier. I am waiting for more information from Cologne. At the moment I am completely exhausted; but I will soon answer all your questions. I am so happy that you passed your exams. Peter, I shall always be, God willing, a good wife to you.
I love you.
Biene Hitting Rock Bottom
“I think this is what we all want to hear: that we are not alone in hitting the bottom, and that it is possible to come out of that place courageous, beautiful, and strong.” – Anna White
Biene in Distress
February 6th,1966, Velbert
My beloved Peter,
I have not been feeling well for quite some time. I must come quickly to you. Every day I am expecting news from the embassy. I received my first salary today and now have saved up over a thousand marks.
At the moment I feel so depressed that I am not as strong as you would like me to be. But this time will also pass. I don’t want to see anybody and yet I have to put up a nice front every day, which is getting on my nerves. I feel totally run down. But Peter, I must quickly come to you. Do not be distressed; otherwise I become really sick. Hopefully my father didn’t write you anything bad. I can’t take it any more! Dear Peter, if you don’t lose your trust in me, I will find it also again in me.
After all I belong to you! Your Biene
February 13th, 1966, Velbert
My dear Peter,
In what kind of painful unrest must you have been through my silence! Peter, please forgive me. Now I feel better, and it seems to me as if I had gone through a dangerous illness. Peter, my nerves and my entire being were completely out of balance to the point that I had almost lost myself in something at the end, which would have ruined our entire life. But now I have overcome this weakness and I feel my faith and strength return again. How I yearn for that day, when the long wait will be over! O Peter, I am ashamed of myself that I almost did not succeed in fending off the insidious indifference, which suddenly appeared as an enticing way out. But now, Peter, you need not be worried about me any more. I only hope that you are fine and that no treacherous temptations seek to lure you, when you suffer too much from loneliness.
When I am with you, Peter, it would be perhaps best to go and see a doctor to get some professional advice. For I feel we should not have a baby for the first little while. Do you think, he might be able to help us?
My dear Peter, when you are lonesome, always think that one day it will be like in Michelbach again, where together we were happy and sad. And for our wedding, Peter, we two drink a bottle of Moselle wine just like we did on that evening in the thunder and lightning storm.
All my desires and dreams still live in me and still have the same power.
Yours in love, Biene
Three Options for Biene
February 25th, Calgary
My dear Biene,
Actually I was less disquieted by your second last letter than I had expected to be. Perhaps the reason for that is that the time for your arrival is approaching and that many problems will go away on their own. For unity with his nature a man can only achieve in marriage, and in it rests the possibility of our happiness. This thought allowed me to go steadfastly through the last couple of months, although I always felt the temptations, about which you have written me. You once spoke of the great assurance of the protective effect of my ring. I sometimes wonder, if in the presence of your parents, relatives, and friends you are still wearing it.
Even though I am no longer fearful about the dangerous uncertainty, my main concern in all letters was consistently ringing the alarm, namely that you want to come to me and leave your parents about your true intentions in the dark. I am sensing that this weakness will be the beginning of never ending problems. Therefore, I ask you to let me clarify this point for you. Let me write to your parents that
- you will fly to me in the spring and look at land and people,
- decide to marry me and stay
- or fly home and don’t marry me.
Please write me a clear yes or no. Each way shall be OK with me. Take your time. For it is an important decision. Dear Biene, what I need here is an emotionally stable wife, who rather spurs me on to stay than to beg me, driven by homesickness, to return to Germany. I would also like you to have the courage to fight for the love, which you esteem so highly, and defend it.
At Christmas you condemned my letter to your parents so quickly and asked me to apologize. I heard of women, who followed their husbands out of love, although they knew that they had done something wrong. And at Christmas I had only wanted your best! O Biene, could you only this time be resolute and tell me to write this letter to your parents. I would be a lot happier then. Otherwise your mother’s solution would be the best way out. All parties except you perhaps would be content. Of course, you will still have to convince the ambassador that you wish to thoroughly study the country first, before you decide to take Canada as your new home country and marry me. That decision would be all right for me considering that I have to jump over the next hurdle – English was the first – as student teacher at the local high schools. For to marry, then seeing my wife fly away again, spending huge amounts of money, never mind who pays for it, I see all this in its total senselessness in the highest degree as cause for inner strain, which I must avoid at all cost now and in the near future.
My dear Biene, you see therefore either way is fine with me. You can decide for one or the other without fear, because no answer will hurt my feelings. But in secret I still hope you would go for the first one, because I wish that you become my wife.
Always in love with you!
Peter’s receives Papa Pankin’s Letter
February 28th ,Calgary
My beloved Biene,
My brother Gerry just brought me your father’s letter. From his point of view he is completely right, yet I cannot agree with him, because his ideas belong to an antiquated world. He writes that a husband must be able to support (feed was the word he used) his wife. Today most marriages begin with both working together. He writes that Calgary is the end of the world, because he still believes that Germany is the centre of the universe. Just imagine, how strange, he believes that I am abducting you to Canada. I could only smile about this statement For isn’t it your greatest desire to come to me? I was also puzzled about his paradoxical attitude that I could marry you if I had a lot of money. However, since I am as poor as a church mouse, he believes it to be irresponsible on his part to lend us any financial support.
My dear Biene, do not worry. I am not angry at your father’s answer. I only wish that you come soon.
Yours in love, Peter
Biene is going to the Canadian Embassy
March 7th , Velbert
My dear Peter,
In two days I am going to Cologne. I am all excited and also glad. Do you remember the day, when you came from Cologne and we two traveled together to your mother’s place in Watzenborn. Our farewell was still ahead of us and now comes our reunion. How many days, often sad days, lie between! I am longing for the day of my departure and I am looking forward to seeing you again so much. As always I am also a little afraid. But it is a pleasant fear. What will be all ahead of us, Peter! Do you really believe that I don’t wear your ring at home? I never ever took it off, Peter. You must believe me; otherwise you really hurt me. Although sometimes it may have appeared to you that I was not as strong at home as I had promised in England, you must not lose faith in me, Peter.
Right now the first warm spring days have arrived and the pleasant anticipation to be with you is beginning to thaw my inner frozenness, which has held my feelings captive for the last little while.
As soon as I am back from the embassy, I will write you in greater details and will also answer your question to your last letter.
In love, Your Biene
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.”
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.
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.
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,
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
One more Painful Twist
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.
Biene’s Father Gets a Stroke
March 17th, 1966 Velbert
My dear Peter,
Today in anticipation of spring the sun was shining its warm rays into our office and distracted me from my work. Herr Richter, a very understanding and capable department head remarked that I was in my thoughts already in Canada. But as brightly the sun may be shining and as much I long to be happy and light-hearted, it does not look as cheerful inside me. My father is very sick. He had suffered a stroke and must get rest for a very long time. I am sure that the excitement about me contributed to his illness, but the main cause was clearly his unhealthy life style. Dear Peter, you can imagine how things are now with me. Now that I can come to you, I cannot stand it here at home anymore. Also the barely concealed accusations that I am responsible for my father’s illness are tormenting me. I had been so happy after my trip to Cologne. Now I feel the full force of despair all over again. After an encouraging and conciliatory talk with my mother I had immediately booked my flight with the travel agency for April 6 to be with you already for Easter. Everything appeared to be so promising and now … If my father quickly recovers, I will not postpone my flight; for I believe that the tension caused by my planned departure is harming him more than the certainty that I will be going away soon. I believe that it will be a relief for all of us, as hard as it sounds.
You are right, Peter. In England I was much stronger and also much happier. I could concentrate on myself and attempt to be myself, whereas here I am being torn apart by people, who love me, but wish to decide over my life according to their own ideas of happiness. Nobody can imagine that I wish for myself a totally different life and everybody tries to keep me away from my impending disaster. But they have no inkling that this way they make me and themselves unhappy. I know that it is right to come to you, even though many people think it is cruel.
I am looking forward to seeing you and spending the evenings with you in the tiny apartment. We will certainly then forget all the things which have burdened our hearts. And I hope that in your dreams you will no longer have to sleep with other girls. For me as well temptations have been a constant threat. In England I had my freedom and your love in my heart. That gave me so much strength that I could easily resist the temptations. Even in my dreams I wasn’t searching for a more beautiful reality. Everybody liked me and also everybody knew that I love you. Here at home unfortunately everything is different. I cannot bear it any longer that I must hurt them so much. And yet I love you and I have made my decision. Sometimes I am in a state that I want to numb my senses. But have no fear. I will endure the remaining time I am here.
Now I am almost finished with my letter and have not yet thanked you for your long letter, which gave me a much needed lift. I am happy to hear that you have so much success with your studies. I will make certain that I will not be a distraction to your final exams when I am with you. Now, dear Peter, let us hope that I may soon come to you.
Be now sweetly embraced and kissed
P.S. By the way my inner calendar is very exact. Perhaps it is not good at all to worry so much about it.
Paving the Way towards a Brighter Future
Peter’s Last Letter before Biene’s Arrival in Canada
March 25th , Calgary
My dear Biene,
I remember very well the time when I wrote you the first long letter. Just like three years ago I am sitting in the warm spring sun and hope that it will bring some warmth into my lines.
Your birthday letter has reopened the locked chambers of my heart with power and might, and a flood of new ideas is pouring out about our near future, our little apartment, our weekends in the city or at the lakes in the mountains. With so much joyful tension and anticipation I can barely concentrate on my studies and I am longing for a break from my intensive work.
Only at night time I am still being plagued by ‘nightmares’, which constantly warn me against the wedding soon to take place. They whisper threateningly that we both don’t have the assurance of the heart to throw ourselves into such an adventure. But in the light of a new day I always return to my confidence and trust. I have been searching deep within me and often discovered that the very weaknesses I had attacked most fiercely in you lie also hidden in me. You were in deep trouble, almost in a state of desperation. There weaknesses emerged in a way that greatly disappointed me. But after some time through self-discovery I was able to understand them. I wished you wouldn’t worry about this my disappointment any more. In the atmosphere, where nobody dictates what our happiness should look like, let us work on the healing of soul, spirit and mind and let us try to overcome our weaknesses.
I am little ashamed that you are a bit afraid of me. Perhaps I have sometimes given you cause for such fear through my seemingly cold behaviour. Perhaps you even believed that your father’s illness could provide the answer to my last urgent question. Now that I did not receive any reply, I had to assume of course that you are sticking to your original plans. In the meantime your parents will have received my letter, in which in very kind words I have adopted your and your mother’s position and reassured your parents that you would not be in any kind of danger. I hope my letter will contribute to alleviate their fears. I also wrote that I was sorry if they felt insulted by my letter last Christmas. Hopefully you will understand that I could not apologize for what I had written. The strength to overcome my reluctance to write and to fulfill all your wishes came from the returning trust that from now on everything between us will develop normally and we two will forget the ‘sick’ period of the last three months. Should we not learn to trust each other, then spiritually speaking we will have built our relationship on sand and I will have no more hope. I am looking forward to make a little paradise out of our apartment. We will achieve this with love, imagination, and our skilful hands.
Thanks for the many kisses. It’s too bad that I was only allowed to imagine them and did not receive them right away.
Please write when the plane arrives in Calgary, so I can pick you up.
Greetings in love
Biene’s Last Letters from Germany
March 26th, Velbert
My dear Peter,
Finally after a long time I have a quiet evening, which I want to devote to you right away. Normally there is always somebody here for a visit, even though I am not always in a sociable frame of mind and would prefer to be alone with my thoughts. Today it snowed so hard and the streets were so slippery that my friend Ulrike, who had come in spite of it all, immediately drove home again.
Now I sit at my desk, on which I had written so many letters. A little oil lamp, which a friend had given to me for my birthday, is spreading a soft light that creates a dreamy atmosphere. And so it also happens that I am playing my opera records. But ‘Don Giovanni’ will come last, when I am already in bed and have switched off the light. You must feel for sure, what I am thinking. Indeed it would be wonderful, if you were with me now. God willing it will not be long until I can come to you. Thank God, my father is on the road of recovery. We all are breathing a sigh of relief.
In the next couple of days I will finally book a flight. Yesterday my passport with all its pertinent papers stamped and cleared ready for the flight came back from Cologne. I am getting more and more excited. Hopefully at least you will stay calm before the exams.
I have to work for another five days. During the last month I have become so accustomed to my work that I thoroughly enjoyed it. This was especially due to the very pleasant department, in which I had been placed. I would really love to work in Calgary at an office of a large company, if that will be possible. Do you think, we will find something suitable?
My dear Peter, how can I possibly control my excitement, until I am with you? I feel it more and more. Dear Peter, I must not carry on thinking of all these things. Otherwise my fantasy will run wild and I will get sick with excitement, Hopefully I can soon pass the exact date of my arrival on to you.
My dear Peter, try also to remain as calm as possible. But I believe, even if I had to travel to the Shah of Persia, I would not be as excited as now at the thought of coming to you.
For now be lovingly embraced by your Biene
March 29th, Velbert
My dear Peter,
Very quickly the most important information! I just returned from the travel agent. The flight is booked and paid for. Next week on Wednesday, April 6th I take off at Düsseldorf at 13 hours and will arrive in Calgary at 22 hours local time.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words with the good news in your last letter. I also thank you for writing to my parents. I am so happy about it. Your letter was well received by them. My father is getting better. I just don’t know how to manage to visit your mother in the remaining days. Unfortunately, my parents had also in this regard thrown obstacles in my way …
Dear Peter, although I did not do everything right in your eyes, I ask you for understanding. Unfortunately, it is true that letters can only reflect a fraction of the life and character of a person. Now I have to close and say goodbye.
Pray that all will be well.
Biene’s Flight to Canada
1 a journey made through the air, especially a scheduled journey made by an airline
2 the action of fleeing, such as flight from turmoil
The New Oxford American Dictionary”
A Very Peculiar Itinerary
On April 6, 1966 Biene’s best friend Ulli pulled up her Mercedes at Elisabeth Street 9 to pick up Biene and her mother and drive them to the Düsseldorf Airport. Having taken the passenger liner Ryndam the year before, I was unable to give Biene any advice on the best possible airline route from Germany to Calgary. The Frankfurt International Airport would have been a better choice. For it was then and still is one of the busiest travel centres with non-stop flights to all major destinations including Calgary. As it turned out, Biene’s odyssey with two stop-overs, one in Paris, the other one in Montreal, was going to be the last endurance test on her patience , which had already been stretched to the limit of her strength during the past twelve months.
After the final farewell and one last appeal from her mother to keep her independence (meaning not to get married), Biene stepped onto the regional plane to Paris. She was travelling light, although in those days airlines were far more generous than today with the weight of your luggage. Her suitcase contained only the most essential articles of clothing and personal effects. Perhaps her mother perceived it as a hopeful sign. The sweet illusive prospect of having her daughter back by Christmas had made her departure a little easier to bear.
In the late afternoon, Montreal time, Biene had just made herself comfortable at the window seat on the plane bound for Calgary. Tired and a bit exhausted from the long journey across the Atlantic and the tedious passport control by Immigration Canada, she let her thoughts and feelings dwell on the joyful moment awaiting her at the Calgary Airport and on the time together with me in my humble basement suite. She could barely contain her excitement mixed in with the fear of the man whom she only knew, except for a very few visits, through their three years of correspondence. Yet, it was a pleasant fear, as she described it in one of her last letters to me. She managed to calm herself knowing that the love she felt for me would overcome all fear.
Suddenly an announcement over the intercom brought her back to the immediate presence. In a calm and reassuring tone the pilot explained that due to some engine problems he would have to fly back to Montreal. When Biene looked outside, her eyes became glued in horror to the engine on the left wing. A trail of thick smoke was pouring from the defective engine. Fortunately, a short time later the plane landed safely, but caused a two-hour delay for the passengers on their flight to Calgary.
In the meantime my brother Gerry (Gerhard) and I were getting ready to pick up Biene at the airport. The Chinook winds, which had brought spring-like weather to the city of Calgary less than a week ago, now yielded to the cold front chilling to the bones everyone who was foolish enough to venture outdoors. I was grateful to my brother and his wife Martha for providing accommodation for Biene until the time of the wedding. Biene seemed to have forgotten that this arrangement was part of the conditions we had to fulfill for getting her landed immigrant status. ‘Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis.’ Times are a-changing and liberally minded people may scratch their heads nowadays and ponder in mockery and disbelief over this old-fashioned provision by Canada Immigration of the 1960’s.
At the airport we found out to our great dismay that Biene’s plane was delayed by two hours. I admired Gerry’s patience for having to wait that long before he could drive back to his home in southeast Calgary. This being Wednesday he had to work the next day. And I had a psychology lecture to attend in the morning. Shortly after midnight we were standing at the gate, through which the first bunch of travellers were passing and were being received with cheerful hellos from friends and relatives. As their number dwindled to a trickle and the flight attendants were marching through the gate, Gerry noticed the grave expression on my face and in his own peculiar way to cheer me up remarked matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry, Peter. Biene is not coming.”
He had barely finished teasing me, when a figure, rather slim and bundled up in a black coat emerged all alone in the doorway. The fluorescent light gave her a pale appearance. But her smile upon seeing me was unmistakably Biene’s. Weaving our way through the remaining stragglers we approached each other faster and faster like driven by powerful magnets feeling the overwhelming forces of attraction every step of the way. Then we embraced and kissed each other, while Gerry looked on amazed at the sheer length of time we took just to say hello.
So it came to pass that exactly one year after we had kissed each other good-bye in Germany, Biene and I were wondrously reunited at the Calgary Airport.
End of Book I