Sunday, October 12, 2014

To the Countryside of Augsburg (Part I of II Parts; Part Two: “The Lady from Augsburg”)

We left the city limits, and no sooner had we left, Chris pulled the car over to the side of the street, looking at some potato fields, said: 
       “Chick, well, shall we go visit the people?”  She then, without waiting for my response, opened the car door, and started walking towards the fields, where one could see high reaching wooden skeleton like towers.
        “By the way,” I said, “…who are the people?”
         I was following behind her as she got out of the car and started walking into the semi-wet, somewhat dusty and lumpy field of dirt, and then she said, hesitantly: “I like it here…the sky is so blue” then looking at the bodies all about, their backs bent over she said “those are potato pickers…” it all looked so strange to me: why were we here in the first place? I asked myself.
       All the same, Chris looked comforted by being here, as it was strange for me, wondering why we were being here. On the other hand, it give me the impression she had a simple and commonplace side to her, like I had. 
       We stood in the middle of the field for a long minute, silent, even the sky seemed mute. There was something about this woman that I found very interesting, especially in this compassionate moment.  Ever since she had told me she was a German-Jew, and the tragedy of her family in WWII, and the closeness she had with her grandmother, who helped raise her,  I had taken an interest in her a little more in that she become more open to me, if not vulnerable fresh. I was discovering we perhaps had bonded together somewhat, were growing as they say, instead of going, wherever; in lack of a better phrase, we found something common between us, yet I couldn’t name it, and I was not sure why I felt this way in the first place, especially in this odd place of places, she had selected to show me, but I knew or at least felt, she had been through more hardships in life, than I had in life, being three years my senior likewise, born the last year before the ending of the Second World War and her father taken as a prisoner, Jewish intellectual, and never seen of thereafter—right out of his library at his home office; and thereafter, her mother and grandmother  escaping to London, avoiding the Nazi regime, that is to say, missing being captured by a thread, and perhaps avoiding a trip to Poland. Yet I suspect it was spring too, you know, timing can play a big part in any reminiscing, evoking old events in one’s life they now cherish; I said to my impulsiveness, ‘I’m just excited about being on a second date’ –where would it lead?
          “What are the towers for?” I asked.
        They were like observation towers in the middle of the potato fields.  Older women were picking or planting, or doing both, potatoes all around us, all at the same time, or so it appeared; —more than I had notice before at any rate. So, Chris explained the towers, “…they are for the boss to see what is going on in his fields, let’s climb up one,” she suggested.
        I continued to walk through the landscape behind Chris, we came to a wooden structure, which was one of the field towers, about twenty-five feet high, with a wooden enclosure on the four sides to the top, a skimpy looking ladder at that that went up to this boxed-in observation post; a peaceful silence still circled the aurora around us, filled the cool and freshness of the countryside air. Chris put her hands on the ladder pulling herself up from one step to the other; the brisk air reproduce a warm-chill inside of me, I held my jacket a little closer to my body, I was a little lost for the moment—like I was drifting at sea: my stomach and intestines stimulated somewhat, it would have been embarrassing had I tried to describe to her what I was feeling, but it was enticing.  She had a skirt on.
        Standing at the bottom of the ladder, as she was now in the center, several more steps to the top, I started to climb upward, doing so in as much as I wanted to, and not to,  I couldn’t help but see  from viewing her long lean legs, her sway, and the motion of her slim hips climbing those last few steps,  stretching one step the other; I quickly looked the other way, as Chris just happened to turn her face ninety degrees, looking down at me with a smile (she knew I was viewing her outlines); 
       ‘Ye!’ I said ‘can’t help peeking,’ I think I was really trying not to, but hick, why lie, I was all the same! I could never figure out women, was she doing this to entice me or what?  I mean she could have suggested I go up first, be the leader in this escapade.
       Somehow, I was not even ashamed (for the moment, as the old saying goes: I had no blood in my face, nor pride), nor did I feel guilty for getting caught—actually I felt good about getting caught: it made it more daring, or it made me look more daring, not sure, but after a moments discovery, I was a hero to myself for enduring that moment of misbehavior, and I kind of wanted to just grab her and…well, I’ll leave it at that.
       She could either have laughed or as she did, smile; I think she chose the more amusing one, if not more reserved, her approach in life was always that way. Women are like cats, sly and secretive, so I was learning.  Men are more like bulldogs, so predictable, so I was learning, also.  I was to a certain degree shy, not a sinful shyness, but a chivalry kind of shyness; it’s not what a knight would do. I suppose the modern term might be gentlemen, but that seems a little out of place for me, especially back then.
       “Come on up,” she commented.
       “How about the boss?”
       “I know the owners, don’t worry!”
       As I started to climb to the top, I noticed this was just one tower of several in the field; I hadn’t realized the field was so big before.  Perhaps someday I’d realize what this was all about, at the moment, I didn’t mind being a duck, and just going along with it, after all, there might be some reason for all this, and whatever it was, it was imprinted in my mind to have a good-fun day, maybe I’ll remember it thirty years down the road and find out the reason I told myself.  It was another side of the world for me, and she was taking me away from the military madness at the base, that we soldiers called Reese Caserne, which was great. I mean it was 1970, WWII might have been over for twenty-five years, but not the Cold War, that wasn’t over.  If anything, Russia and the United States were at odds with the rest of the world, so it looked as if, if not to the world, to me.
        Chris leaned against the wooden beam, and gazed about as if she was in heaven.  Something caught her eye, “We should go before it’s too late to get into the cemetery, and it’s not far from here.
       Matter-of-fact, it’s just up the street some and across the field.”
       If anything, I had found someone as restless as myself; and so maybe this was what it was all about, the long ride into the countryside, away from the metropolitan city I was stationed in, Augsburg, to visit her grandmother, buried in the cemetery, where she wished to be buried when she died.
       “Sure, let’s go,” I agreed.
       This time she went down first, I think she was letting me know the show was over, ‘Damn,’ I said quietly, she looked up at me, just a glance: now she had gotten to the last step (smiling); now we both knew for sure what was up.
        We both stood alongside the car, she had a 1970, Ford Maverick, Chris turned an enquiring glance at me again, blushed a little, after that said,
       “That was fun!” adding “you have something on your mind?”
       “Never mind,” I said (hesitantly), the said, “well that’s true, I want to kiss you.” 
       “Yes…a...kssssssssssssssssssssss…” said Chris staring at me now.    
       She caught her breath, her hand crept up to her mouth, she touched it, and with her eyes wide open she looked deeply into mine: I gave a sigh.
       “One feels like that,” she questioned me.
       “Like what?” I asked.
       “Like… let’s go to the cemetery.”
       I think she meant, nostalgic.

       Chris stopped in front of the cemetery, by a half opened gate, an old gate with a Star of David on top of its archway. Trees were bountiful in the graveyard, moss-topped stone graves were everywhere: old, aging, and chipped vaults, sepulchers everywhere, and high grass that hadn’t been cut for ages—in places the undergrowth higher than the headstones, and we made our way through the dense of the mud and the leaves and tossed about branches.  Chris opened her dress pocket pulled out a book, and kissed it, standing in front of a gravestone, her grandmother’s name etched in it, then placed the item on the stone.  There was no discomfort in her face, but as we stood there, she seemed to be in a silent prayer—a world away from this world, as if aching to be with her; I was catching a deep breath, I started to walk away, and in the next moment, she did also. It was as if her grandmother was talking to her, had been talking to her—or someone, as if she had something personal to tell her…
       From Chris came: “I have a blood disease called Leukemia. The doctors give me five years to live.  I am thinking about going to the Minnesota Rochester Clinic, “knowing I was from Minnesota. 
       “To be quite honest, I didn’t know we had a clinic in Rochester.”
       “Oh yes, it is world famous, and maybe it can help me.”
       “That would be great…maybe we would end up seeing each other in my home state.”  She smiled at me.
       It had been on one hand a comfort to know there was more to this visit; she was looking at the face of death…imposing on it.
       “Surely they can do something for you,” not quite knowing the severity of her illness, and now becoming a little more vested in her health.
       “Dear, it is called blood cancer, it spreads, and in really there is nothing one can do about it.” 
       I reached deep down into the back of my mind, I could not quite understand cancer, and how it worked, I was but twenty-three at the time; I tried to dodge this sensitive area: I diverted myself from a quarter of the conversation… by looking out the window, and remaining inaudible, if not disengaged, but a good listener, and that is perhaps what she needed.
       “It sort of confuses me, you look so healthy,” I commented, after a long hush.  
       “Better still let’s leave this alone I just needed you to know where I am at,” replied Chris.
       Preoccupied still as I looked out the window into the fields and houses nearby, I did not see Chris check my expressions out, she was going on to another area of thought, was my best guess, and so I continued with my window observations, as if in a state of disassociation.
        “Well”, she finally said, “it was a good and bad day, all in one. And so, let’s make the best of it while we can.”
        I coughed to clear my esophagus, but I think it was really for clearing my head. I turned away from the window, towards her so she could easily look and focus on me, should she care to.  She smiled, it was what she wanted, what she was looking for: that is, the opportunity tell somebody neutral whatever was on her mind, like free-association, she wanted to tell and not edit herself for once, she wanted to be loved I suppose, if only for a short while; I continued to look out the front window now (she could see only my profile), quietly, and listened quietly to the sounds of the tires on the road, and I just remained present for her I guess; I was someone to help her absorb her own air, the sounds of the wind shifting by the car windows, that is all she wanted for this moment from me I believe, that was life to her the simple things, air and wind, and breath, and smells of the countryside, the smells of mud and winter’s evaporation, this moment of life was real for her, if not precious; and the smile, she needed to smile, so I leaned back in the car seat and smiled also. Smiling always does seem to make the world more endurable.

Note: The story is taken from Chapter VII, of the book, “A Romance in Augsburg,” written 2001, and reedited, October 1, 2014, as a short story, by its author; non-fiction, that took place in 1970. No: 1024