Stage play and a bike trip

A way back I promised more on scouting.  The American Boy Scouts organization on the base was a good thing.  It helped most of us towards understanding others around our immediate area and how to relate to the surrounding community.  We never really got to do much of anything off base like camping or other outdoor activities.  Most parents were wary of giving permission for their kids to leave the base.  Who knew, maybe there were bands of German perverts ready to pounce on American kids.

I still went to local meetings but when Mr. Espana introduced me and a few others to the group of local German Boy Scouts I began to miss meetings.  The group downtown was a very friendly lot.  They held dances, took day trips, did lots of bicycling and other healthy activities.

One evening we visited a local theatre for a stage play.  Since the American boys had all studied German under the expert tutelage of Mr. Espana we comfortably enjoyed the comedy.  Afterward, there was a reception for everyone so they could meet the actors.  It turned out that almost all of them were members of the scouting crowd.  We were greeted as close friends and we all toasted each other and got a little silly on Apfelsaft.  I had discovered that if you drink enough of the cider its slight alcoholic content will begin to affect you.  German labeling laws were quite a bit different than American ones I’m happy to say.

Our group of Americans was introduced to three very attractive females at the reception:  Anna, Model, and Kitzie.  I made the mistake of calling Model with the emphasis on the first syllable and she quietly corrected me by pronouncing it heavy on the second syllable as in mo-Del.  I apologized and she passed it off with a wave of her hand.  They were sort of assigned by the leader as our guides.  This is a very platonic assignment (which is the closest word) we were advised by Mr. Espana.  It meant simply that they were there to keep us clumsy Americans from making any socially unacceptable mistakes.  It was definitely NOT meant to make us look like bumpkins – but to allow us to be assimilated into the group easily.

I had already seen first hand how some of us kids behaved on road trips with a school group.  Most of us behaved nicely, but there were a lot that just didn’t care how they were being judged by the people they came into contact with.  Disgusting talk, loud, boorish attempts at forcing their will on others, displays of wealth, and just generally embarrassing behavior simply didn’t fit into my game plan.  I wanted to be friends, not the dominant male of the group.

This was only ten years after the end of the war and feelings towards (or against) we Americans ran high in either direction.  Lots of Germans still saw us as their conquerors, not friends.  I was determined to dispel that feeling as best as I could.  Kitzie sort of attached herself to me.  I was always on my best behavior around her and always acted with the utmost decorum.  I wanted to be able to introduce her to Virginia and not have them start a knife fighting rumble.

Just before our first bicycling trip, I bought a brand new bike.  It was a new kind (for me) called an English Racer and had three gears.  It also had brakes on the handlebars instead of stopping by back-pedaling.  This caused a few bumps and bruises until I learned to hit the back brake first before the front one.  I also dropped painfully more than once to the center bar by forgetting where the brakes were entirely and backpedaling.  The pedals don’t stop you that way – they just free wheel backwards.  If you aren’t expecting that, you slip down fast and make contact.  Ouch!

The trip was going to cover almost a hundred and twenty kilometers (around 75 miles).  We would visit three major villages and return back where we started.  Our route was down one bank of the Mosel River and back on the other side.  The starting point was Trier.

We initially started as one big gaggle, but eventually strung out into smaller groups.  I ended up with a group of about ten with me being the only American.  We laughed and chatted our way downriver.  My fellow travelers were eager to try out their school English on me.  They already knew I could speak German, so they taught me some of the local alterations for some words.  This, in later times, would come back to haunt me in a way that approaches the bizarre.  My speech, I was told, was called Moselle Franconian with bits of Luxemburgish thrown in.  I had never given thought that there might be variations across Germany until then.

I compared their language variations to the many variations in American speech patterns.  Several of them who spoke very decent English could hardly understand my depiction of a Deep South accent.  They were amazed when I told them that there were hundreds of variations in American speech.  None of them had ever considered just how large the US was.  When I compared our recent bus trip to Berlin, which took us just over seven hours, to driving across the whole US which could take up to six, perhaps seven days or so, they were stunned.  The rough distance between the two towns is around three hundred thirty miles.  Do that ten times and you could cross the US.

At night, we would end up at an inn, usually attached or next to a nice restaurant.  A lot of good German beer was passed around (I only allowed myself one liter thereof) which made things get merry in a big hurry.  I learned several good drinking songs in the process.  Kitzie, who had decided that she wanted to stay near me, was a willing companion in swinging our mugs and whooping it up with the other singers.  I am sure that if I asked her to join me in my room she would have done so, but I, at that time, was firmly attached to Virginia.  Kitzie seemed to understand.

I sure wish society would come up with some method of signaling to both males and females that a given boy or girl is already taken; something that would apply before a wedding ring.  Us teens had developed the concept of Going Steady.  This was usually consummated by the guy giving his girl a ring of some type which was usually hung around the neck.  If near parents, it would be quickly tucked into a bra.  Once again, the boy had nothing to show for his fidelity to one girl; other than stamping “Property of _________” on a guy’s head, that is.

Women have their engagement rings, but men have nothing like that other than a sense of honor – well, some of us do anyway.  Kitzie and I would have been great together I think but I had given my ring, and my heart, to Virginia.

As fall approached, more thought was given towards indoor activities.  School dances were more plentiful as well as other activities in the Teen Club.  Halloween gave us kids loads of reasons for small, local parties usually held in someone’s quarters.  I hosted a few at my house simply because our quarters consisted of two complete sets of quarters.  My dad, by now, had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and rated larger quarters.  We had moved from our cramped housing on the second floor (no elevators) into ground-floor quarters that took over the whole center section of the building.  We had two of everything and six bedrooms with this arrangement.

The entire housing area consisted of fifty, four story buildings; each with three stairwells.  The apartments were arranged two to a floor with varying amounts of bedrooms.  The first stairwell held all the A and B apartments, the second C and D, with third hosting the E and F apartments.  Thus, to find any given person’s house all you had to know was what building, what stairwell, which side of the landing, and what floor.  A very simple plan: our house was in 49-CD-1.  This meant the center stairwell, both apartments on the ground floor.  You can imagine the consternation when someone would ring the bell on the C apartment, carry on their business and move to the D apartment and have the same person to come to the door.

In almost every case, Virginia and I would host the party jointly.  We had accumulated about eight or nine couples that formed the core of our social circle and enjoyed each others company.  One special night was reserved by us and three other couples for Thanksgiving.  During the summer my mom as well as our maid had been giving me cooking lessons.  I got rather good at it, but Virginia was a master at it.  We prepared a great deal of food for our very own super-formal dinner.

My parents agreed not to come any further than the divider door between apartments so we could have some privacy for our gala event.  My bedroom and my younger sister’s room were in the half we were to use so I prevailed on her to spend the evening at a friend’s house.

Virginia and I decorated the living room with all sorts of Thanksgiving items we had found downtown that closely matched those found everywhere in the U.S.  Lots of bundled grasses, leaves, and other harvest vegetables were arranged about the room.  We had so much fun preparing for the dinner that we almost fooled ourselves that we were a happily married couple.  It certainly was nice to fantasize about it anyway.  An arm around her waist, or a quick peck on the lips from her was all we allowed in the kitchen.

Two of the couples I will have more on later: Carol and Benny; Shirley and Art.  The last couple was Roger and Cleo.  Cleo was a soft-spoken girl that had taken up nursing as an aide over in the base hospital.  She had met Roger while he was sorting mail in the hospital mail room.  They had seen each other, of course, at school but each never knew the other worked at the hospital until they met one day in the lunchroom.  Romance soon followed as they became members of the Photo Club along with the rest of us.

Our dinner was fantastic.  We had everything from a soup course to a chocolate torte cake with raspberry sauce for desert.  It took us almost two hours for dinner and afterward we adjourned to the living room for coffee and dancing.  Lights dimmed low and went out except for a couple over the record player as we settled down and just talked as we sipped.

Shirley, Art, Benny, and Carol challenged the rest of us to a game of Charades – which we won handily (no “Brazil” this time).  Once that was over we just settled down into chairs and talked again.  All of us had come from a service background so we had loads of things to talk about.  Shirley’s dad had been stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Libya and we all listened as she described the incredible shopping and photo opportunities that abounded there.  This was Art’s father’s first posting outside the States so he regaled us with stories of his exploits in Los Angeles and Hollywood.  He even claimed to have run across Gary Cooper once.

The time to break up the party came sooner than we wanted, but we all head to be in school the next day so everyone helped clean up and, two by two, departed.  Virginia and I went back into the living room and sat on the sofa completely exhausted.  She dropped her head into my shoulder and whispered in my ear “come dance with me”.

I pulled us to our feet, rustled ‘our song’ from the pile of records and began slow dancing.  During the course of the song, our lips met and we simply stopped moving and held each other.  We ended the song with a double-tapped to our tongues and whispered our love for each other.

I helped her into her coat, donned mine, and we set out for her house across the housing area.  It had started snowing during our dinner party and was just beginning to stick to the ground.  Our tracks were the only ones in the snow as we walked hand in hand.  She was beautiful, the base was beautiful, and all was right with the world.  I swear there was music playing in the background.

T.O.M.

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