Smoking, Rock and Roll, Fasching, and a hay ride

As I previously mentioned, cigarettes didn’t really attract me.  I was curious as to how they actually tasted though.  In an effort not to repeat the Big Booze Caper, I simply asked my mom if I could try one.  She smoked Kools, which were mentholated, and smelled strongly of, well, menthol.  Menthol, of course, was used to rub on a chest cold.  I couldn’t resolve the reasoning behind putting menthol directly into a cigarette and sucking it down into your chest from the outside.  But I persevered and she relented.

I lit up and took a huge drag directly into my lungs.  My eyes lit up like a pinball machine, my brain signaled that it was going to force me to my knees (and did), while my poor lungs tried their utmost to eject all that crap I had just put into them.  I was speechless – literally – for about two minutes while trying to catch my breath.  Finally, with tears in my eyes and completely closed up sinuses, I managed to gasp “that’s not too bad”.  I never smoked again until I joined the Navy at nineteen.

A short mention about Rock ‘n’ Roll: I was for it.  When I first arrived in Germany, Elvis hadn’t hit the European airwaves yet, but his contemporaries had.  Such artists as Bill Haley (and the Comets), The Platters, Bo Diddley, Chubby Checker, The Beach Boys (yes, they were together in 1955 and made “Kokomo”), and all the others that created songs in which you could actually hear the lyrics.  There were a few in the “Thwee Liddle Fishies” class, but not many.  Fast bops, slides, floats, and twists were guaranteed to make you perspire, but it was the very, very slow ones that made your knees turn to noodles and your breath come slow and shallow.  Neck tucked close into each other’s shoulder, arms wrapped tightly behind each other, and barely moving your feet to the music was really the soul of rock and roll.  It was meant for lovers.  Ballads far outnumbered flashy, guitar twanging, music.  I think the real reason parents were so much against rock and roll was that it had such a strong influence on their teen’s libido.  My goodness, they would say, look at them touching each other right out there on the dance floor.  How shocking!  My dad used to have to resort to banging a fist on my door to get my attention when I really cranked up the music.  His stock phrase of “turn that crap down!” came back to haunt me in later years as I blurted out those very same, exact, words to MY daughter up in her room.

My love and I had a favorite song; our song.  I suppose it is okay now to reveal what it was.  The song that really stilled our feet while on the floor was “Earth Angel” by The Penguins.  I had a copy and Virginia had a copy, both 45RPM (the ones with the big hole in them).  Never would a single night at either of our houses go by without that song being played by us.  No matter where we were we would always share a kiss when we heard it.

I eventually wore out my copy and was unable to find another one until CD’s started being produced with “oldies” on them.  Humph, I’m NOT an oldie, thank you very much.

Virginia and I had morphed into a couple.  We stopped being two different individuals and began to see ourselves as two halves of the same whole.  We had the same likes and dislikes. I tried very hard not to be clumsy both socially and physically and I like to think that I succeeded in both categories.  I was now able to talk to her, and parents, in whole sentences complete with subjects, verbs, and a few undangling participles thrown in.  I began to lose my physical gawkiness by way of taking ballroom dancing in gym.  I was hooted at mercilessly by my peers but I didn’t care at all.  By the time we graduated to mambos and tangos I was really fleet on my feet.

I only remember one time I got really flustered and that was at a birthday party at Wayne’s house.  We played charades and the subject was ‘song titles’.  I got handed my strip of paper and, as I unfolded it, I began to flush, I backed up and started stammering “no, no way, n-n-n-no way”.  Virginia picked up on this and clapped her hands in glee “He got mine!  He got mine!”  The paper read ‘Brazil’.

I am sure that Cary Grant or someone like that would have smoothly acted his way out of this situation but I locked up.  I was completely frozen.  Every thought left my mind as I immediately thought of the only way to convey the name of that song to my teammates.  The first syllable was simple, really; mime putting on (our taking off) a bra.  The second could be dealt with if necessary.  If it were just between Virginia and I, there would not be any hesitation, but as the rest of the girls started smiling, snickering, and clapping hands to their mouth to keep from bursting out in full cry, I stood rooted to the spot and let the entire two minutes expire.

When the timer went off, Wayne grabbed the paper, looked at it, bopped me on the shoulder and said “you idiot, what’s so hard about ‘bra – zil’?  At that, the girls burst out laughing and my humiliation was done to a turn.  I slunk away to my seat in disgrace; foiled by a bit of lace.  Back at her house, Virginia showed me, using a live training aid, what I should have done.  I should have done that to her back then – that’d show her.  There is nothing more useless than having a good retort – but an hour late.

One of Germany’s favorite seasons is Fastnacht (or Fasching) which begins on Fat Thursday and runs through February fifth.  It is the German version of Mardi Gras with costumes and all.  In a manner similar to our American Sadie Hawkins day, the women take of and run everything on the first day, or Weiberfastnacht (or ladies Fasching).  It is during this time that the town of Stadt began to come alive with the sounds of oompah bands and the clink of beer steins.  It would go on this way every night for the whole week.

Virginia and I loved to get mixed up in this celebration to the extent that we would get dressed up in costumes and join the merrymaking in the streets.  Strangers would ladle beer from huge vats by their side in doorways into your mugs as you passed.  If you weren’t careful imbibing, you’d really end up in your cups – and I’d already done that once.  We would be hard pressed to find any empty seats anywhere just to sit down and rest.  One time we got separated and couldn’t manage to get back together for almost an hour.  Fortunately, she was dressed as a brown fox and I spotted that long furry tail from across the street easily.

Our night would end in one of the local dance halls doing just that – dancing.  Our favorite was the dance called the Zwiefacher, which is a sort of waltz with an extra measure thrown in.  Neither one of us was very good at it, but we tried hard and got a lot of laughs.  By the time we got home, we were completely worn out.

Our parents got into the swing of costumery (is that a word?) for the Officer Club Fasching Ball on the base.  A lot of thought was put into their costumes.  My mom was decked out in fishnet stockings, a tight, and very short, black skirt and a highly peek-a-boo blouse.  She had on heavy eye liner, rouged cheeks and vivid red lipstick.  My dad had drug out one of his old summer uniforms and laid on every bit of brass he could find covering both shoulders.  He had added rank insignia all the way from his Lieutenant’s bars to actual General’s stars and added a huge ribbon across his chest that held up a six-inch across golden plate that was originally a souvenir of Mexico.  Attaching gold braid over each shoulder as an aiguillette completed the look.  He also sported blue trousers with a large red stripe down the outside seam.  He was going as a South American General with his consort.

Virginia’s parents were just as creative as mine were.  Her mom dressed up as a winged fairy complete with a very tight, light green lame’ gown and a push-up bra; she had even added ‘feelers’ sticking out of her beehive hairdo.  Her dad used one of his bear rugs and allowed him to be virtually sewed inside it.  The head sat atop his head and, with the bared fangs, looked pretty real considering how tall (and large) he was.  He just had to be really sweating in there.

I would have paid good money to get a peek at that Ball if our parents were any indication.

In our wanderings afield (literally) Virginia and I met a great many people.  One of our favorite places to visit was the farm of Wolfgang and Hilde.  Their farm was spread out across a small hill outside town and commanded a magnificent view of the river valley.  It is this view that first attracted Virginia and me.  We found a nice rocky outcropping with a flat area on top and would come out there every chance we got during the summer.  To throw a picnic lunch together, adding a camera or two, and bicycling over there was a real treat.

On our second trip there, a fellow about our age rode up on a huge horse, dropped to the turf and hailed us.  Over the course of fifteen minutes we learned that his name was Peter, he was eighteen, and his family owned the area we were picnicking in.  In the States, this would have been called trespassing and I’m sure we would have been run off with a shotgun, but in Germany, where the laws were a mite different, we were seen as friends.  Hiking across fields is not frowned upon at all as long as you take care not to damage crops or annoy the animals.  Most gates had signs on them advising such things as ‘leave open’ or ‘please close’ and one should take care to do just that.

In any case, Peter invited us back to the family home to meet the rest of his clan.  He had a sister (Anna) and a brother (Sig – short for Sigmund) and their parents were the aforementioned Wolfgang and Hilde.  Over time, Virginia and I were pretty much absorbed into their family.  I spent many hours helping with chores while Virginia learned how to prepare a lot of different German dishes in the kitchen.  I learned how to milk cows, pitch hay, drive a tractor, and handle horses – even the two huge Percherons Wolf owned.

Wolf, as he was known to everyone, had a huge garden close to the house that contained all sorts of melons.  The usual watermelon was not present, but other types were.  He didn’t worry about anyone slipping in and stealing them because that sort of thing just didn’t happen.  A portion of the garden was allotted to corn.  His corn stood very tall and had huge ears on them.  I remarked that they would be very good eating.  Wolf looked at me a bit puzzled and said that nobody ate the corn except his pigs.

I expressed surprise at this and told him that roasted or boiled ears of corn was a great thing in the States.  I helped him gather about ten ears and we took them to the kitchen.  Virginia and I had to convince Hilde also that ears of corn tasted good.  Finally, she located a big pot which we filled with water, added a dash of salt and put the dehusked corn into.  As it merrily boiled along, all of us got ready for dinner.  When we all sat down and began the meal all eyes turned to Virginia and I as we each grabbed an ear of corn and buttered it.  By the time we had eaten a couple of rows Peter had tried his and urged everyone else to give it a try.  Soon the entire family was happily slurping down corn on the cob.

Wolf’s comment was so typically American that I couldn’t help laughing: ‘learn something new every day’ (‘lernen jeden Tag etwas Neues’) was what he said.  At least there is one family in Germany that eats corn on the cob instead of feeding it to the pigs.

It turned out that hay rides existed even in Europe.  Peter and some of his friends invited Virginia and I to go on one with them one autumn evening.  The ride followed tradition because when we arrived, there was a huge four-wheeled cart with stake sides filled almost to the brim with hay.  Attached to the cart’s tongue were two of Wolf’s huge horses.  We had some refreshments in the house before we trooped out into the yard and jumped into the hay.  Altogether there were six couples but the cart was pretty large and we all fit in with room to spare.  Sig, Peter’s younger brother, picked up the reins and off we went.

Before too long, the sun had finally set and a huge harvest moon peeked over the rim of the surrounding hills and flooded us all with its silver light.  All of us lay back and watched the stars come out one by one while the horses clopped around the farmland.  From time to time, we would field a question from one of the other couples, or ask one ourselves of them.  It was so relaxing to lay on top of that sweet-smelling hay.

Virginia put her head on my shoulder and nuzzled up close.  I inhaled the delicate smell of her hair and perfume until I was almost dizzy.  I was truly, deeply in love and expressed that emotion often with tender kisses and touches.

The ride seemed to end much faster than the two-hour interval would indicate as we fetched up back at the farm house at what seemed just minutes from leaving.  We went into the house and had some more refreshments, plus a little of Hilde’s special apple strudel.  Soon it was time to say goodbye when Virginia’s dad pulled into the yard and tooted the horn.

T.O.M.

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