Saturday, November 24, 2012

Marina Oswald's Landlady

When I cleaned out a closet this week I found a long letter from Ruth Paine.  After Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Ruth Paine was described as “Marina Oswald’s landlady.” 

In 1963 Oswald was living in an apartment in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, while his wife and children were in suburban Irving in the home of Ruth Paine.  Reporters who were unfamiliar with the city surmised that Oswald moved to Dallas to be nearer to his job at the Texas School Book Depository.  Actually, the commute was equally as easy from Irving as it was from Oak Cliff.  Lee and his wife were separated. 

Ruth Paine was a Quaker who took Marina Oswald and her babies into her home to protect the young Russian woman from her abusive husband.  She permitted Lee to come and stay for just one night on November 21, the night before he killed the President. 

He had hidden his rifle inside a rug in Ruth Paine’s garage.  As a Quaker, Ruth was a Pacifist;    
she was horrified when she learned the murder weapon was in her home. 

My family moved to Irving in 1966.  Ruth had not seen Marina since the Secret Service took her into protective custody after Lee Oswald was arrested.  When I met Ruth she had established a Montessori school for the poor black children who lived in the slums of West Irving, hoping to give them a step towards a good education.  

I never was a close friend of Ruth’s, but we had a mutual friend, June Allyson, a dumpy little woman in her late 30s (the same age as me), rather plain to look at but full of energy and enthusiasm which made her a fun companion.  When June was devastated by divorce, Ruth took June and her children into her home, just as she had provided a refuge for Marina Oswald.

Ruth’s home was a handsome brick “Texas ranch” with an in-ground swimming pool.  Conspiracy theorists hinted that she bought it with “hush money” for her part in the assassination.  Ruth herself told me she bought the house with an inheritance she received from her father. 

In 1970 Ruth decided to move to Philadelphia.  Her husband, from whom she was divorced, came from a Pennsylvania Quaker family.  Ruth wanted her small children to grow up near their grandmother. 

Ruth went to Philadelphia to look for a new home, leaving our mutual friend, June Allyson, to housesit.  All that summer I took my children to Ruth’s house to visit my friend June.  My children and I swam in Ruth’s pool with June and her children. 

Ruth returned to Texas to finalize her move, while my family packed up and moved.  Wally was transferred to his company’s home office – in the same city where Ruth was moving, Philadelphia.  We went to a lovely old three-story house in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.  

That fall Ruth wrote to tell me that June had been killed.  She  was crossing a busy street in Irving when she was hit by a speeding car. 

Ruth wrote to me, telling about June.  She also told me that both her children were enrolled in Friends schools in Philadelphia and she had  been appointed as principal of her son’s Quaker school, the Greene Street Friends School.

At Christmas time Ruth came to dinner at our home in Drexel Hill.  We stood beside the Christmas tree and talked about our sadness at the loss of our mutual friend, June.  That was the last time I saw her. 

Now it is Thanksgiving time again.  Kennedy has been dead for almost half a century.  When out-of-town visitors come to Dallas, I urge them to go visit the Sixth Floor Museum and look out the window where Oswald aimed his rifle at the President passing below in the open car. 

After less than three years in Pennsylvania, my family returned to Chicago.  Wally and I divorced, remarried, and then lost our second spouses.  Wally is dead, too.  I lost my wonderful husband John 20 years ago, but he left me happy memories. 

I have a good life,.  I live in a retirement home in Garland, Texas.  Even though I go through dialysis three days a week, I have pleasant companions and days of good health, when I have fun..  On Friday a friend and I went to a wonderful concert by the Garland Symphony.

I saw on television that Ruth retired and moved to Florida.  I hope she has had a good life, too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

3 X 22 November

This year Thanksgiving is November 22.  That day is also my son Karl’s 58th birthday.  Also, the 49th anniversary of the day President Kennedy was shot. 

Yesterday my son David rented a car at DFW Airport when he arrived from California.  This morning we will drive to Decatur, Texas, for dinner with my friend Sally and her family.  I will give thanks for friends, especially Sally, who has been a devoted friend since high school.  (We graduated in 1946!)  Karl will not be with us. 

In 1963 Karl was nine years old.  I was down in the basement of our house in Birmingham, Michigan, hanging up balloons for the after-school party, when the door bell rang.  I ran upstairs.  My next door neighbor, Dottie Kendall, had come to tell me about the tragedy in Dallas.  I ran to the radio in our high-fi cabinet, and we listened together as Walter Cronkite told us that the President was dead.

After school, ten little boys in Cub Scout uniforms, arrived, all of them jumpy and upset.  One little boy said, “Mrs. Gaarsoe, did the Communists kill the President?”

Being a former Texan, I thought I knew Dallas.  I told him, “No.  Dallas is a very conservative city.  There are people in Dallas who hate the President just because he is a Democrat.  They wanted to see him dead.”

I was wrong.  Kennedy was killed by a nut, Lee Harvey Oswald.  He went to Russia where the Communists wanted nothing to do with that psychopath.  Contrary to what some people believe, the Russians were happy to send him and his Russian wife back to the U.S.  He was not a Communist agent, but as a loose cannon that they wanted to get ride of.  

Two years later Wally was transferred.  We went to Michigan with two small children.  We left with three.  David was less than a year old when we moved to Dallas. 

One of the first places I went after we moved into our house in Irving was to a DAR meeting.  I bought a new hat, a fake fur pill box, to sit among those conservative old women and hear a woman lecture us about the Russian conspiracy to kill Kennedy.  She said ominously, “Mrs. Paine had a Russian typewriter.”

Ruth Paine was described by the media as “Marina Oswald’s landlady.”  While we lived in Irving, we became acquainted.   This slim, dark-haired young woman – a newly-wed, younger than me – was a Quaker, a Pacifist, who devoted her life to helping people.  She felt sorry for this young Russian girl who was abused by her husband.  .Ruth took Marina and her babies into her home out of the goodness of her heart, without any compensation. 

In my next blog I’ll tell how Ruth happened to write two letters to me, which I found last week when I cleaned out my office closet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Letters from the Past

On Friday I posted the blog about David and me returning from our trip to Europe.  I thought that was the end of my story of those adventures. 

Then I cleaned out the closet in my 2nd bedroom, the one I use as an office.  I found boxes and boxes of old letters.  We used to write letters the way young people today text messages on their telephones.  My letters were longer and more detailed than my blogs. 

Among other things, I found a stack of post cards sent to Wally during that trip.  I do not remember mailing him any cards.  Yet here they are.  They give a whole different view of our trip.  I will post them on a blog.   But later.  I have several other things to tell you about first.

I have only gone through a fraction of the letters stored in my closet.  Who knows what events I’ve forgotten and will come to light when I open all those faded envelopes? 

I found a letter my grandmother wrote to my mother when my parents were visiting my family in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, at Thanksgiving time.  I do not remember my parents being at our house for Thanksgiving.  In truth, I do not remember my father ever coming to Pennsylvania.  Yet here is my grandmother's letter.

When I read the letter to my sister-in-law, Mary said, “I wonder why she didn’t go with them.”  My grandmother usually was with my mother, except when Mother stepped into the bathroom. 

This is what my grandmother wrote, exactly as she wrote it, misspelled words and all:  “Don came and took Cotten (her sister) and I to their home for “Thanksgiving Dinner.”  the first that Mary had cooked – her turkey was fine – but she did not know how to make gravey – I helped her with that.  And all of us enjoyed it.”

Mary has no memory of that meal.  Was it in the house she and Don built in Arlington?  She does not remember Aunt Cotton ever coming to their house.  And maybe Mary knew how to make gravy.  My grandmother frequently insisted on helping where no help was needed.

In her letter my grandmother continued, “Don brought us home and when I would not go home with Cotton and stay she decided to spend the night with me – and slept with me – would not sleep in your room (my parents’ bedroom) – the men across the street worked on an old car alnight and skept us awake -- but moved it out Friday – so all it quiet again at night.”

I can just see those two old women.  Aunt Cotton, who was in her 90's, had lived alone since the 1920's yet was concerned about her “little sister” staying alone while my parents were in Pennsylvania.  My grandmother resented every minute of it!   The two were always quarreling yet talked to each other every day.

My grandmother added a post script: “Lyle came by and visited Friday and took Cotton home.”

In my closet I also found two letters to me from Ruth Paine.  It will take another two blogs to explain how I happened to receive letters from the woman described in the press as “Marina Oswald’s landlady.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Going Home

David and I flew back from Frankfurt to Chicago.  As I sat crammed beside David in the narrow coach seats of the plane, I had hours to reflect on what we had seen and done. 

It had a different trip from the one I hoped to take.  I wanted a second honeymoon with Wally in Paris.  I got a three-week ramble around Germany, Austria, and The Netherlands, as well as France, and my companion was a 13-year-old child, my son David.

I had vivid memories of World War II.  I had not wanted to go to Germany. On this trip I discovered window boxes overflowing with flowers in pretty German villages and met friendly Germans. 

I was terrified when I killed the motor of the rental car while going up a cliff in the Alps, but Hay! I never would have had that kind of adventure in Chicago.

I was 49 years old, and I had never lived alone.  I lived at home with my parents until I married Wally, and I had been with him for the next 26 years. 

Except for a few nights in Paris, I scarcely thought about my husband during the entire trip.   The man had a contrary streak in him.  If I made a suggestion, he insisted we do something different, and we always did what Wally wanted to do.  If he had been with us, we would not have seen or done a quarter of the things David and I did.

From the first night we landed in Frankfurt and Karl failed to make hotel reservations, I was on my own.  I determined where we would sleep and eat and where we would go the next day.  David had no choice.  He had to go wherever I took him. 

At 13 David was still a little boy, small for his age and not yet a rebellious teenager.  I tried to do things he would enjoy.  Without him I would not have spent the day in Paris at Les Invalides.  I enjoyed that, especially meeting the German woman beside Napoleon’s tomb.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked David, as the stewardess took away our luncheon trays. 
“Oh, yes!” he said and closed his eyes to take a nap.  

I wished we had time to go to Italy. I wanted to see Florence and Rome.  And Venice, where Katherine Hepburn fell in the canal.  I also wanted to go to Norway, as my daughter Martha had been an exchange student.  I determined to go back to Europe.  When?  As soon as I could. 

At O’Hare Airport, Wally was waiting when we landed. 
“Did you have a good time?” he said.
“Yes, we did,” I said.

The next year we were divorced.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Army Security

The recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi provoked raucous protests by Republicans about the lack of security to protect our diplomats at that post in Lybia.  The uproar reminded me of the total LACK of security on the U.S. Army base where my son Karl was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. 

The front gate was always open.  An MP would step out of a little kiosk and wave my German rental car through without a challenge.  I drove in and out many times.   

The day David and I were to leave Frankfurt we drove to the base in the morning to say goodbye to Karl.  My biggest problem was finding a parking place.  The only empty spaces were the ones reserved for generals in front of the main building, the art nouveau “sky scraper”.which before World War II had been international headquarters of a German arms manufacturer.  When I finally found a parking space at the far end of a lot full of hundreds of cars, David and I had quite a hike to get to the front door.

We jumped on the crazy elevator with constantly moving platforms which took us up to the ninth floor offices of Army Intelligence.  Here was where Karl spied on the Russians.  David and I walked right in and asked, “Where’s Karl?”

The sergeant behind the desk looked up, only slightly surprised to see us there.  He said, “He isn’t here today.”

A man standing beside him that said, “He is out in the trailers this morning.”
“The trailers?” I asked.
“There are a bunch of trailers behind the building,” the unidentified man said. 

David and I rode down those nine floors on another of those terrifying platforms.  Sure enough, behind the main building were a long row of white trailers without any identifying markings.  They were strung together like boxcars on a train, only there were no railroad tracks. 

David and I walked through trailers on a narrow aisle between hundreds of desks with electronic equipment.  I assumed this was apparatus for surveillance on the Russians.  There was no one to confirm or deny this assumption. 

After going through six or eight trailers, we met a young serviceman – I think he was a corporal – coming the opposite direction.  He said, “What are you doing here?”

“We’re looking for Karl.”
“He isn’t on base today.”

David and I gave up.  We went to the PX where I had a cup of tea for five cents.  At that time, a cup of tea or coffee off-base was a dollar.  I understood why Karl and other servicemen stayed on base and saw very little of the surrounding German city.  After drinking a second cup, David and I got in the car and drove to the airport. 

Even at the time the whole incident seemed bizarre.  It had been over 30 years since the U.S. Air Force bombed German cities into rubble and our Army invaded the country.  In the long arc of history, that was a short time to turn enemies into friends.  Yet I was never afraid to take my young son any place in Germany.  David and I met wonderfully friendly people throughout the land. 

Remembering that gives me hope that the U.S. can emerge from this whole rotten situation in North Africa and the Middle East and become friends with Muslims throughout the World.  I wish I could live to see it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pity Poor Royal Brides

Czar Nicholas II was a totally incompetent ruler, but while, most royal marriages were political alliances in which the couple had no choice, Nicholas and Alexandra were truly in love. 

Royal marriages were arranged as treaties between countries.  Usually the bride and groom had no choice.  History is full of these marriages, and many child brides became unhappy wives.

Ferdinand and Isabella wanted an alliance with England against France, so they shipped their pious, Catholic 15-year-old daughter Catherine off to Protestant England to marry the heir of Henry VII.   She did not speak any English and clung to her Spanish ladies-in-waiting for support.  In spite of that, the marriage seems to have been happy until Catherine failed to produce and heir and Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn. 

Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her youngest child, 14-year-old Maria, to France, where she learned the language and became the fun-loving Queen Marie Antoinette married to a dull, dim-witted husband.  The French revolted; Louis XVI and Marie lost their heads. 

American’s remember England’s George III as the hated “tyrant” of the American Revolution.  He was only 22 when he became king, a young man under the influence of his mother.  He wanted to marry an aristocratic English lady, but Mama objected.  She imported a German bride for him. Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a little, ugly girl, portrayed in cartoons as monkey-faced.  George was a good and faithful husband.  They had 15 children.  But as an old man he issued an edict dissolving all the marriages in England.  By that time he was insane, confined in Windsor Castle, and no one paid any attention. 

Czar Alexander II of Russia demanded that his son choose a German bride.  Nicholas went off to the wedding of Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt to his uncle, the Grand Duke Serge.   Nicholas met Elizabeth’s younger sister, Alix, and fell in love.  Their deep affection for each other sustained them until the day they and their children were taken into a cellar in Siberia and shot to death. 

From another book I learned that Elizabeth’s life was even more tragic than Alexandra’s.  She didn’t have the glory of being married to a czar, and unlike Nicholas, his uncle was a brute and a pervert.  Elizabeth’s marriage was a sham.  Unhappy and childless, she became a nun and devoted her life to helping the poor.  When the Bolsheviks seized power, they killed as many of the royal family as they could catch.  They murdered Elizabeth and threw her body down into a well.

No one I know is of royal blood.  We choose whomever we want to marry.  Yet how many of these marriages, begun so hopefully and based on love, end “‘til death do us part” with a lifetime of devotion like Nicholas and Alexandra? 

We do not get executed like European royals, but a common cause of murder in the U.S. is spouses shooting each other.  The lucky ones simply get divorced.  Over half of American marriages end in divorce.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nicholas and Alexandra

“Nicholas and Alexandra” is one of my favorite movies.  The film tells the tragic story of the last Russian czar who, with his wife and their children, was murdered by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. 

Alexandra was the daughter of the ruler of Hesse-Darmstadt, a city only a few miles from Frankfurt.  David and I had one last free afternoon of our trip to Europe, so we drove out to Darmstadt, hoping to see the castle.  I had visions of seeing the room where the ill-fated couple met and fell in love. 

I could not find the road to the castle.  I ended up out into the countryside at a little village. As in most German towns, houses and church clustered at the base of a hill topped with a castle.  Not the castle I was looking for, but a ruin. 

I drove up the hill and parked in a grassy meadow.  David and I were the only people within earshot.  A herd of goats wandered around chewing on grass and weeds growing among the stone ruins.  David had a fine time climbing on the ruins, while I walked around, trying not to step in goat droppings and praying that David did not fall from that crumbly tower.  The afternoon was warm and sunny, a pleasant way to spend an hour or so, just not what I expected to do that day. 

We drove back into Darmstadt and found a shop, where I revived on an excellent cup of hot tea.  Maybe David had tea, too.  I don’t remember. 

I asked the shop keeper how we could find the “schloss” (German for both “castle” and “palace”).  She told me it was only a few blocks away.  After paying the bill, David and I drove to find a big brick palace, a duke’s attempt to mimic Versailles.  A uniformed guard at the gate greeted us kindly and told me, yes, the palace was open to the public but unfortunately it had just closed for the day.  If we had come 30 minutes earlier . . . .

The castle would open again the next morning, but we could not return.  Our flight back to the U.S. left the next day.  I was bitterly disappointed.

Today I took off my bookshelf “The Tragic Dynasty, a History of the Romanovs” by John Bergamini.  I read the pages about Nicholas and Alexandra and learned that I had been mistaken about the part the palace in Darmstadt played in Alexandra’s life. 

She did not grow up in Darmstadt.  Her mother died when she was six, and she grew up in England with her grandmother, Queen Victoria.  The young people met at the wedding of her sister Elizabeth to his uncle Serge, but the wedding was not in Darmstadt but in St. Petersburg.

Nicholas and Alexandra became engaged at another family wedding, not in Darmstadt but in Coburg.  During their engagement they got to know each other while visiting “Granny” (Queen Victoria) in England. They weren’t even married in Darmstadt but in the chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. 

All I thought I knew about Darmstadt proved to be false.  So what?  Now I don’t regret not seeing the castle.  David enjoyed playing in the ruins among the goats more than he would have being drug through a palace with heavy German furniture and faded portraits of long-dead Dukes of Hesse.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Greetings in Germany

David says the thing he remembers about our trip to Europe was, “How friendly everyone was every place we went.” 

Because of the Nazis, I felt uneasy about going to Germany, but every place we stopped in Germany, people were kind to this little kid being drug around Europe by his middle-aged mother.. Even the Austrians and Belgiums, two proud and stiff people, were polite.  

The way people greet you makes all the difference.  On the night we returned to Frankfurt, David and I drove to the little hotel on a side street where we stayed before.  It was late at night.  After the terror of driving for hours through white-out fog, I was exhausted.  When we walked in, the same desk clerk was leaning against the counter, eyes closed, asleep standing up.  Our footsteps woke him.  He looked up, recognized us, and smiled. 

He did not speak English, but his genuine smile said it all.  He was glad to see us.  

Such a smile makes your heart sing.  For several years, a long time ago our family lived in Texas.  Once a month I left David, just a toddler, with a babysitter and drove into Dallas for lunch with Ilene Timmerman.   In the afternoon I returned to pick him up.  My little boy would be solemnly playing with toys in the middle of the floor.  When he saw me, he jumped up and ran to me, arms outstretched, an angelic smile on his chubby little face.  That is one of my happiest memories.

Now the radio blasts out Beethoven at 6:30 a.m.  I wake feeling, “I don’t want to get out of this warm bed.”  My cat Charlie jumps on the bed and meows in my face.  He isn’t saying, “Good morning.”  He just wants me to get up and turn on the faucet so he can have a drink.

I force myself to climb out of bed and get dressed.  I go downstairs to breakfast.  Our waitress Felix brings me a cup of tea and gives me a smile and a hug.  At once the day becomes bright and wonderful. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

In a Fog

Last week I went into Dallas to order a new custom-made sleeve to support my swollen right arm.  Afterwards I lingered too long looking at the Valazquez portraits at the Meadows Museum.  I drove out into a city with such poor street lighting that it was as black as New York after Sandy’s flood.   

In the center lane on Northwest Highway I was completely surrounded by speeding cars.  I drove mile after mile, pressing down on the accelerator as I tried to keep up with the car in front of me, while a pickup loomed up like a black monster in my rear view mirror.  No chance of moving into the right lane, as lines of cars sped. forward just as fast in that lane, too.  As miles and minutes passed and my terror mounted, I thought, “Maybe I’ve died and gone to Hell.”   Hell for me would be to spend eternity trapped in speeding traffic.   

I’ve been in frightening driving situations before.  On another black night I listened to travelers’ warnings on the radio as I drove across the New Mexico dessert on an icy highway barely visible through blowing snow.  No one else was so foolish as to be on the Interstate on such a night, and if I had slid off the highway and crashed, there were no lights on the horizon to indicate even one remote ranch house to go to for help.

That night in New Mexico, I was alone and in a deep depression.  I didn’t care what happened to me.  I did not see that in the coming years I would have a great, wonderful, happy life.

On a terrifying night in Germany, Karl and David were with me, and I was responsible for their lives.  After we left the Romantic Road and went through the mountains to the autobahn, we ran into fog.. I hesitated on the ramp leading down to the highway.  Karl said, “Mother, you drive like a little old lady.”

“Karl,” I said, “I am a little old lady.”

I took a deep breath and pushed my foot down as hard as I could.  A deep, white blanket of fog  concealed everything except two little red spots of taillights as Mercedes and BMW’s sped past me.  I tried to follow those bits of red lights.  They were the only guides I had to curves in the highway through the mountains.  But the speeding cars disappeared into the fog.  I crept along in at 80 mph and prayed that any German in a Porsche going 125 would see my feeble little taillights before crashing into me. 

There was no way I could get off the highway and wait for the fog to clear.  Karl had to report to the Army in Frankfurt the next morning.

I drove for hours in that thick potato soup of fog, hours of constant fear and terror.  The fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the exits at Frankfurt.  I missed the right turnoff, and we had to work our way back through the city to drop Karl at his barracks after midnight. 

They say, “God protects fools and little children.”   I am not a child.  But what do you think of an 83-year-old woman who has had the experiences I’ve had and continues to endanger the lives of herself and others by driving at night in rush hour traffic? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Castles on the Rhine

Leaving Rotterdam, we crossed The Netherlands and into Germany.  We drove along the banks of the Rhine River on “The Romantic Road.” 

I did all the driving.  David was too young to have a license.  With his Illinois license Karl was permitted to drive Army vehicles, but the Army forbid his driving civilian cars.  David sat quietly scrunched up in the Opal’s narrow back, while Karl’s role was criticizing my driving. 

On the sunny side of the river, vineyards rose in neat tiers of vines almost to the top of the mountains.  For years my favorite drink with dinner was white Rhine wine, but I never thought of where the grapes were actually harvested.  I marveled that farmers could tend vines on such steep slopes. 

Wild forests covered the mountains on the shady side of the river up to castle walls.  And there seemed to be a castle on top of every mountain.  The views were spectacular, ever changing, like in a Cinemax movie.   The settings were romantic, like a book of fairy tales where every page has a different picture.  But I couldn’t help thinking that these many castles, with their thick stone walls, were built when every village distrusted everyone else and lived in constant fear of attack by its neighbors.

Most of the castles were in ruins, but when I saw a sign saying “To the Marksburg” I turned off.  And went straight up the mountain. 

I was on one of those heart-stopping, narrow, twisting mountain roads, with many switchbacks. I rounded a curve and yelled, “Holy Moses!”  Coming down the mountain towards me was a huge bus full of tourists.  The road was so narrow, I didn’t see how we could pass.  I pulled the car with its right wheels on the edge of the cliff.  Somehow that bus driver squeezed that mammoth machine between the solid rock of the mountainside and my little car without scraping a border or a fender or pushing me over the cliff. .  

At the top there was actually an open space with a parking lot with half a dozen cars.  Karl, David, and I left our car and ran towards high, forbidding walls.  We passed under a portcullis, through an arched stone passageway, and into an interior stone-paved courtyard where a uniformed attendant sold us tickets and told us to hurry ahead to join the last tour of the day.     

We were given a complete tour of the castle, up and down narrow, winding stone staircases, through rooms large and small and along the battlements.  I looked out a narrow slit of a window. Far below the village beside the river was exactly as if I was looking at it out of an airplane.  

With many small rooms, I could see how in the 17th Century the castle was a prison, but I was surprised when told in the last century it had been an old folks home.  At 50 I was already coping with pain in arthritic knees.  I could not imagine elderly people living in those cold, damp rooms with uneven stone floors, and especially going up and down the many twisting stone steps. 

Since we were the final tour of the day, I drove down the mountain without meeting any other vehicles coming up. We had seen up close what it was like to live in a fairy tale castle, and it did not look like one bit of fun.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shared Sorrows

Reit and I sat on the beach watching ships go out into the North Sea headed for who knew where – the ferry to England and merchant ships perhaps to Buenos Aires or Jakarta or Galveston.  It was a quiet time, when nothing much happened.  Yet that was one of the most memorable events of all my travels, more memorable than the Louvre or Versailles or Chartres Cathedral or any of the other great “sights” of Europe. 

Why?  Although Reit spoke English haltingly and with gestures to indicate words she did not know, we understood one another.  Talking with someone “from the heart” is as rare as being given the Hope diamond.

My heart ached for her when she told about the death of her son Tony from a drug overdose.  Losing a child must be the worst thing that can happen to a woman.  Reit’s voice betrayed her sorrow, yet she calmly told me how Tony wasted his young life. 

My heart ached for her, as I, too, have a son with problems.  Not David, but Karl.  He does not smoke, drink alcohol, or do drugs.  He is still alive.  But he creates situations.  No one can “get along” with him.  He does things that alienate everyone. 

Before David and I went to Europe, I wrote asking him to arrange a place for us to stay in Frankfurt.  The day we arrived, we spent the afternoon sightseeing.  After dinner Karl said, “I have to go to class.  I hope you can find a place to stay.”

While David and I were in Rotterdam, Karl wrote that he was coming to meet us, due to arrive on the 8:00 p.m. train.  It took an hour for Kees and I to drive from the apartment, through a tunnel under the Maas River, and into the heart of the city and the railroad station.  Kees and I waited on the platform when the 8:00 p.m. train arrived on time.  Karl did not get off the train. 

We got back to Oldegaard Place at 10:00 p.m. and left again at 11:00 to drive back to the station.  Karl stepped off the train at midnight.  Without a word of apology for the inconvenience he caused, Karl talked excitedly about the big cathedral he had seen from the train window. 

“That must have been at Cologne,” I said.
“No, it wasn’t,” Karl said.  “It was Koln.”
“The German is Koln,” I said.  “The French call it Cologne, and we do, too.”
“It was Koln,” Karl insisted.  “It was not Cologne.”

That was Karl.  He had an answer to everything and refused to consider any other alternative.  Not a tragic life, like Tony’s.  But he makes it impossible for anyone to live with him.  He now lives alone in a dilapidated trailer in Rogers, Arkansas.  He has not called to wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” or sent me a Christmas card in eight years.

That’s my sorrow.  But, like Reit, I accept the situation.  I can not change him.