Friday, March 10, 2006

I wrote a letter to Naomi that summer:
“It seems like distance sometimes encourages people’s possessiveness, but for me it teaches freedom – a greater ability to wish your happiness to be less related to me (though it’s always nice to be related to). A wish that you be blessed by other people and, through other people, by God. A wish for your peace, and joy.
“Songs have such pretty words. We listened to some albums today, old Judy Collins and Joan Baez – the words are truer now for me, and just as sweet. Was your visit with Judy [Clark] great?

“After church Wednesday night I went to Ted and Jane-Anne’s and we and some ‘Project Germany’ missionary kids from OCC (who are funny but great) sang some and then I spent the night (with the fish tank burbling away in Todd’s room). Next day Jane-Anne and I spent washing, the kitchen mainly, and dealing with Todd, who is sweet but difficult and whines a good bit. It was slightly depressing, though I kept reminding myself that I would do things differently, and that it’s so much easier when the babby, brat or husband is yours, and you love them like you should. Blessing: in the middle of kitchen cleaning Jane-Anne wanted to wash my feet, so she did. Great in terms of peace and humbleness, and feeling close. (Such a blessing!)

“The Goynes are neat. Matt used to say he would have to marry a Church of Christ girl, because without the C. of. C. you would lose your richest source of mutual humor. Sad, but sarcasm is the modern-day prophet’s language of sorrow and warning.

“Joni Mitchell is a gentle, patient nymphomaniac. Naom, you only misspell important woids, and my barely educated mind loves it. There are dreams for dreams (retaining sparkle) and dreams to live for physical real (A farm!
[i] A school!…)”

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

In the middle of July, Herr Schmidt and the guys at the next-door fencing fraternity, Franconia, had a bet and they both lost. (The bet was concerning the question, “What color are the flowers in the hallway of the fraternity house?”) So they split the cost of a keg (a Faß) and invited us to come to the party too. In German, with the help of Rosita, I was trying to explain to a semi-drunk fraternity member my freedom in Jesus not to demand my women’s rights. It would have made a great movie. I had a sweet Bierkuß from Rosita’s boyfriend Günter, and met “John’s woman.” (“I’m going to the comfort of my woman,” he liked to say.) Sally and Mikhael, and Russ’s sister Laura were there too, Laura of the New York jeans, the first jeans I ever met that faded purple instead of blue.

That weekend, Ted Thomas drove up to the house to pick me up at 6:00 am, and greeted me with, “I brought us an orange.” Not much conversation, but he did drop a Kurt Vonnegut quote, so it was convenient that I had already read Cat’s Cradle. “I wonder why my karass is catching up with me,” quoth Ted. Ted drove us to Frankfurt, we met Momma at the plane, and we traveled with Friedel to Gemünden in the VW. Mom’s best friend, Irene, and Momma and I walked out into the fields full of millions of wild flowers, buggy but gorgeous. They reminded me of Terrell, Texas. Of course I had to gather a bunch for her room. We had just enough time together to rediscover some of our old forgotten disagreements, when one of the men at the camp took me to the Bahnhof.

I made it back to Heidelberg just in time for Walter Schiffer’s feast at Burgfreiheit. Somehow he managed to produce lobster, and some suspiciously alcoholic-tasting punch. Walter Schiffer was quite a character. He was older than the rest of us, but a student. He was a corpulent, wealthy guy who reminded me a lot of the later Orson Welles. He was walleyed like Chill Wills, so you could never be sure if he was really looking at you or not. A year or two later he hosted a Heidelberg reunion party at his West Hollywood mansion. It was quite something.

Here’s a portrait of our summer group. From top left, Herr Dr. Herbert Luft, upright Herr Glenn Boyd, clever John Lee, angry Gary Collins, sweet Ellen, ironic Steve, passionate Russ DiNapoli, me, my German teacher Frau Sabine Luft, and intellectually playful Dr. Grover Goyne. Seated from left are Jana from Texas, the intrepid Meredith Houts, the joyful Betty White, Sally Nursall (who I think later married Steve), laconic Nita Boverie, charming Rosita, and Mrs. Betty Goyne, patient dorm mother and leader of ladies’ Bible studies (really counseling sessions) and the two Goyne kids.

Back to Gemünden the next week to spend a bit more time with Momma. Dieter and Eva Alten I had met when I was ten, and they were so reserved and yet so evidently in love with each other. Their son Fritz was big and shy and sixteen years old. Dieter told me something I hadn’t heard yet about my dad. He said they developed a nickname for him, because his initials were “J.C.” and because he handled the money for the missionaries. He became known as “Josef Zacharias, Ritter von der Verschlossenen Hand” (“Knight of the Closed Hand”).

Hannchen and her friend who worked in the kitchen would get dressed up in the late afternoon and go into town for Kaffee und Küchen, and we went with them once. In the evening, there was always a campfire and singing. The boys at camp were so full of personality, and unspoiled, like I would imagine American farm boys might have been in the 1920s. We picked raspberries in the field and some intensely sweet strawberries, with the ladies wearing the traditional dirndls. I mentioned a sort of let-down to Momma and she understood. It was the first time I’d been away from home that long. She said, “That’s natural, when you’ve expected someone’s coming and then everything’s the same.” I wrote a poem about a conversation we had on that visit

Harvey Pruitt and his gang were there from Texas, so I finally got to meet him. He informed me that the story my folks had been telling on him all my life was apocryphal. But it was a great story! I hated to learn that it was not factual. The story went that Harvey was on ship coming to Germany for the first time, in the ‘Forties, and when he was seated for dinner, the person next to him said, “Guten Appetit.” Harvey thought the man was introducing himself, so he responded, “Harvey Pruitt.” The next evening, the same exchange. “Guten Appetit.” “Harvey Pruitt.” The third night, someone had informed Harvey that his dinner partner was actually hoping that he would enjoy his meal, wishing him a “Good appetite.” So this time he pre-empted the stranger. “Guten Appetit!” he exclaimed, and the German stranger responded, “Harvey Pruitt!” Oh well, apocryphal or not, I’ve told it for posterity.

Back in Heidelberg, we had our final group dinner at the Ritter, the fanciest hotel in town. Each of us had a favor at our place – mine was a little blue pitcher – as a going away present from Herbert and Sabine Luft. Herr Luft read Bob Dylan’s lyric, “All I really want to do is (baby) be friends with you,” in his semi-stilted way.
Then Herr Dr. Goyne said a few words, then Steve, and finally, Betty. “I know none of the other girls are going to…” she began, and thanked Betty Goyne for her long evening talks with some of us girls. John teased, “Sorry we can’t say the same for you, Dr. Goyne.” John’s humor later eased us into Dr. Goyne’s final essay test with, “These are all true or false questions, right?”

At the 25th Anniversary Dinner of the missionary group in Frankfurt, I sat with Momma and had such a strange experience, seeing Daddy’s image flash in the home movies Otis Gatewood showed of the missionary activities in the ‘Forties. Otis was sweet but maudlin in his usual way. Then goodbye to Momma, and on my own for four more months. Or so I thought.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

I had to buy another Eurailpass to get me through the summer, so I traveled alone to Luxembourg and back in one day. I had six train changes instead of the one I had expected, but the day felt blessed, taken care of, with perfect timing and peace. I ate Goulaschsuppe and Brot at a train station. I read Your God is Too White and re-read A Second Touch by Keith Miller, and then a freak on the last train gave me a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House.

The next day, Nita Boverie and I left for Spain. She brought lemon yogurt for breakfast, and we bought first class tickets with a compartment to ourselves, complete with personal reading lights and footrests. Confusion at Pt. Bou around midnight. Our first real taste of Spain…now there were eight in a compartment to Barcelona, all smoking, with the bright overhead light on all night. They offered us their blood sausage but I declined. I felt so American, uncomfortable at having to touch knees. There were huge fields of sunflowers and dusty shacks alongside the train tracks, then finally the ocean.

We had to walk and walk with such heavy bags to our hotel, had a nap and then a quiet, shy dinner at the Cerviceria Bavaria where Nita introduced me to fried calamari… and that first experience has never been equaled (even in Savannah years later, where they were really good). Hilarious – we sat through Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman in Spanish, which was fine for Nita but like Greek to me. Hard to stay awake.

Next day we found the other girls, Betty and Meredith and Sally and Karen, and stood in line for hours in a big steamy ticket office to discover that yes, we could indeed get to Majorca, our desired destination, but only if we were willing to travel ten days from now. Very sad. On to lunch in the fancy restaurant next to the train station, and goodbye to Betty and Karen who were heading somewhere else. We found out that a song named “Gwendolyn” (Gween-do-leen!) was the winner of the EuroChart competition that year, the number one hit song of the summer.

On my birthday, August 5th, we bought reservations in addition to our Eurailpasses, and then sadly discovered that they meant absolutely nothing. When our train arrived, the Spanish folks glommed onto it like lemmings, and we barely got on at all. Slowly we adjusted to the fact that we would be sitting on our luggage or standing in a 4 x 12 foot green metal box, discretely curved, for the entire trip to Alicante.

For fourteen eventful hours, we went through pitch black tunnels with passengers attempting to crawl over us to get to the cold drinks car. They wouldn’t wait for the light to return, but continued their efforts even in the dark of the unlit tunnels, rather hilariously. We figured out that we were near the end of the train, which meant that most every passenger on that train was crawling over us at least once for the entire length of the journey, in search of a cold drink. At the last passenger stop, we screamingly welcomed a new cast of characters:

• Our own 5’4” Dickie Cavett, Joe Jeronimo
• His surly friend who looked like Joel Grey in Cabaret
• The nice old man accompanying them
• A small Don Juan named Jose Luis, alias Victor Mature
• His hare-lipped partner in seduction
• Elmer, our sometime Salvador
• And the terrific drunk who “guarded” the door
• Plus countless dozens who needed to use the WC, also part of “our compartment.”

I know it sounds like I’m making this up, like the act in the circus where clowns keep spilling out of a small car, but this really happened, and all those people were truly squished into this amazingly cramped space for hours on end with us three girls in our American jeans and our long American hair and no makeup. We later learned to our chagrin that women who looked like we did were considered whores in Spain. It was the women who actually dressed and made up like the ladies of the evening on the streets of America who were considered properly attired in Spain. Dangerous cultural disconnect!

The following are some of my sayings which were laughed at and appreciated by Meredith Houts. She was a great audience to have on a train in Spain.

“All those bananas!”
“Yeah, they really planned ahead.”
“Well, ten bananas don’t do much to help the seating arrangements.”

“Oh, what a birthday surprise…” (I sang this, shades of Leslie Gore)

“A watched watch never ticks.”

“We had to come to this place and time to be entertained all night by Andy Williams and Dixieland jazz on a Japanese cassette player.”

“I keep moving around on the luggage, but everywhere I go, I’ve been there before.”

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the train.” (Yes, the W.C. developed a leak in the ceiling, and soon the floor beneath our luggage was experiencing dampness as well.)

Elmer explained, after Don Juan made an unwelcome advance, “I told him, when you don’t read it in a woman’s face, you better keep out.”

As the guys left us at a 5:00 am stop, one of them handed me a small aluminum cross to keep as gift, and I thought, “Wow, he really got who I am! And I can’t speak a word of Spanish!” That was the first hint of an important revelation, that human persons could communicate spirit to spirit, heart to heart, without a total reliance on intellectual comprehension.

Finally, at 6:30 am, we arrived in Alicante! Off the train and onto the beach. Every hostel everywhere was full, so Nita broke out her dad’s American Express and said, “This one’s on me, girls.” The air-conditioned, carpeted miracle of Hotel Gran Sol was such welcome luxury. Six dollars a night, and such cool, such clean. We had breakfast, then a bath, then sleep, then dinner at dusk on the Boulevard. A little boy was selling gardenias and we bought some. Such peace and blessing.

Dumb, resourceful Meredith went looking the next morning and discovered the Residencia San Remo just before the checkout deadline, so we took ourselves out of the lap of American Express luxury and into a place with Character, and cheap too. We had our own private fountain, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. (It was my first bidet.) Poverty stricken again, we searched out cheap food. I bought some sandals, and some suntan lotion, and we found a piece of beach.

Nita was immediately stricken with disgust and paranoia because there were so many people on the beach. She decided to take the bus down the road to a less crowded place, were we drank bottled water and got a lobsterish sunburn. Cool, magical walk on the beach that night. We stayed four wonderful slow beachy days in Alicante.

A much easier train ride. We arrived in Granada at dusk and an old man propositioned us on the street. Why not? We followed him down back alleys and up stairs. Meredith didn’t mind that there was no lock on the door, and a bunch of creepy, salacious looking men in the lobby below, because it was cheap. Thank God, the other girls agreed with me and we moved on in spite of her. Back on the streets, a lady asked if we needed a place to stay. I felt bad for being suspicious when I saw her little girl run up to her. She clung closely to her mother as we walked, looking a bit ashamed of their situation.

There was no water in the pipes of Granada that night. The lady shared a glass of water from a jug with all of us. There were pictures of Richard Nixon and some movie queens on the peeling plaster walls, and squares of scissored newspaper in the bathroom for toilet paper. We took a taxi next day to the Alhambra up on the hillside, so cool and green and full of flowers. There were medieval Islamic mosaic fountains, but also crowds of Americans with their Instamatics and their cigarettes, taking pictures mostly of each other. After lunch, we saw Nita and Sally off on a train to Seville. I hated that they left. Now it was just Meredith and me, and we were off to Madrid.

Depression set it. We took a taxi to a hostel, had ice cream, walked to a park, rented a foot-pedal boat on the lake, had a big icy Limonade, got more depressed, wrote post cards (as above), had a Chinese dinner, felt sick and took a taxi to the hostel. I was so sick. Meredith wrote a note in Spanish to the manager explaining that I was sick, but the room service lady bawled me out in Spanish anyway because I had messed the bed in my sleep. Meredith was so kindbravecheerful, she brought me orange soda and mineral water and crackers, and a little bunch of paper roses. But I was So Sick. When I could finally get up for a little while, I took a bath and read TIME magazine. I was in bed for five days while Meredith toured Madrid.

My first day up, I tried to visit the Prado but it was closed, so Madrid for me was basically a bust. On the train, Meredith started feeling sick too. I slept on the floor, I was so miserable, between Meredith and a young Spaniard. We were mortified when we later realized he had probably understood most every word we said. (We had been discussing the private inner workings of bowels, etc.)

We saw the sunrise over the French Riviera, and had twelve more hours of misery to Barcelona. At least it wasn’t like the trip to Alicante. That would have been beyond intolerable. We purchased berths to Florence (Hurroar!) and had a delightful journey with a flirtatious porter. I made the decision to tell Meredith I was deserting her and returning to Heidelberg, and she understood.

Firenze was lovely and gorgeous. We could get clean again. Our hostel room had a balcony, and then we took a cool, dark walk through semi-deserted streets. We had dinner, with lasagna and red wine, and walked around the Duomo, perhaps our most impressive experience yet. We found some honeydew melon, then sleep.
Next morning, we wrote the book on How to See Florence in Five Fun-Filled Hours. We ran. We caught the “Angel with Mandolin” at the Uffizi Galley, and the gorgeous Botticellis; peeked inside the Duomo, found the “David” museum, bought a sweater in the marketplace, found a Christian bookstore where I bought a poster for my dorm room, and made it in time to the train station to send Meredith off by herself to the wilds of Greece by way of Yugoslavia. I bought some sandals Mom has asked to find at a shop called Lilly of Florence near the Ponte Vecchio, and I found a shirt for me.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

On the way home to Heidelberg, I met a great Japanese lady from Walnut Creek, California who gave me some lire for water and shared a tomato and salt with me. Oh, the compassionate grace of fellow travelers. And she let me read her TIME magazine, which I’d been missing, which had something about Stockton in it. Danny Blair would arrive with Chip and Sharyn in Milano in just one week, and I was getting excited…and anxious.

“Alt Heidelberg, du feine, du Stadt an ehren Reich…”
“Old Heidelberg, you fine [thing]! You city of an honored realm…”

I took a taxi to Eckenerstraβe, where Herr und Frau Boyd lived. The Moore Haus was closed temporarily, with no faculty and no students officially there, so we had to stay in an apartment supervised by the Boyds, Harding graduates who had been missionaries in Germany for years. Of course I rang the doorbell at the crack of dawn, and of course Herr Boyd was planning to sleep in just this once, but as always his hair was impeccable. That man has apparently never woken up with bed hair a day in his life.

So fine to be home and relax. I was still feeling sick, so for the next week all I ate was lemon yogurt and peppermint tea, and a few tomato sandwiches. It was nice to be with Sally. We had some good talks. One night, though, we went over to Jane-Anne’s and the two of them starting talking about ghosty stuff (I don’t remember the topic). We had to walk home on a moonless night, with the street lights making weird shadows as the leaves of the trees blew in a breeze. By the time we went to bed I was thoroughly freaked.

Imaginations were racing through my mind, and I was seeing images coming at me in the dark. I apologized to Sally for turning on the light. I sat up in bed and read aloud from my Bible for awhile. She didn’t seem to mind at all, and finally my peace was restored. This was my first experience with actual spiritual warfare, where I used my sword instead of ending up the victim.

The next morning, we went window shopping, and then went into a listening room at a record store (just like America had in the ‘50s) to enjoy Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat. “How can I tell you that I love you…I love you, but I can’t think of right words to say.” We went up the hill to have lunch at the Burgfreiheit and it was good to see the Schmidts again and eat their familiar cooking.

A few days later, on August 27th, it was finally time. I took the overnight train to Milano, spent the night coughing. I deeply appreciated a lady with pastilles trying to sooth my cough. A total freak-out when I saw their faces.

And there…the Travel Log ends. Not one word about the four months in Heidelberg with Danny and Chip and Sharyn. Apparently I was the same person then as I am now. When I’m in the midst of a relationship, I tend to turn away from writing. When that intensity wanes or ceases, then books become my friends again.
I don’t need a journal or travel log to remind me of our reunion that day. It was so incredible to see Danny Blair’s face again. He was feeling a bit shaky, being for the first time in a country where they didn’t speak English, not knowing anything about how to manage or what was expected of him.

We were sitting in someone’s living room (How did Chip and Sharyn know someone in Milano to visit? I don’t remember, but they always know someone to visit everywhere they go. Maybe it was one of Sharyn’s ESL students.) Danny and I wandered off from the living room, down a hall, into a dark side room, and slowly, tentatively drew together and took our first kiss. It was such a tender touch. We both sighed and said, “It’s been so long.” It was a chill bumps moment.

As we drove up from Milano toward Heidelberg, we stopped at Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland. Sharyn found a little store where they sold fresh mozzarella floating in a container of water, something I had never seen before. She bought some apples, some wine, a bit of bread, and we had a feast in our hotel room. Then when it was bedtime, Danny and I took one room, and they another.

It was too soon in the trip, we were still strangers to each other, and after just a moment of cuddling, we stopped and I said, “It would be sad,” and he agreed. Probably the shortest struggle for “sexual purity” in the history of mankind. We turned over and went to sleep. I still was thinking that our very limited physical relationship was a result of our strict upbringing and our respect for each other’s morality. It hadn’t occurred to me that any other dynamic was at work.

It wasn’t long at all before frustrations mounted. We had nothing to do until school started, and Danny seemed to feel so lost not knowing how to do anything, and I was feeling like such an “old hand” in comparison. I grew impatient with his dependency, and it all added up to hurt feelings. He felt I put him down. I felt irritated and frustrated that circumstances put me in the lead in a relationship that was already too passive for my personality. We couldn’t talk about it, because he didn’t “talk”. When the other students started arriving and he could escape to the men’s floor, he started back to doing dope, as he had our freshman year, but he didn’t tell me about it. So that put another wall between us.

Now expectation reared its ugly head and caused more pain. Here I was, in Europe with my boyfriend. It was my dream come true, but the reality didn’t fit the dream much at all. He was there, but he wasn’t present with me. He was there, but he wasn’t affectionate. He was there, but we weren’t communicating. It was actually better when I had the loneliness to deal with but still had hope and anticipation for the future. Now I had mostly disappointment. I craved his attention, but I had hurt his feelings and he had withdrawn to his hiding place of staying high a lot of the time. He could “maintain” so well that I didn’t even know it.

Just now I read through all his summer letters, and I could have seen this coming. He spent the summer working in a Christian bookstore where the boss and all the employees were members of the Church of Christ. He had written that he was feeling very pressured to maintain the correct image and not say anything to rock the boat. He warned me that after a summer like that…look out! He knew that would worry me, so said not to worry, that didn’t mean he was looking to do “no-no’s”. But then he blew it by mentioning that the thought had passed through his mind that there was great hash in Europe and it was really cheap. I shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised at what transpired…but I was far from a realist, and had no knowledge of addiction at the time.

One night, Danny and I went to spend some time with Chip and Sharyn in their apartment. That night’s musical background was Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” and “Mandolin Wind”, and a Judy Collins album, the one with the whale songs and Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” The evening stands out for me as the only time in that decade when I truly made an effort to communicate my heart to Chip and Sharyn. I tried to explain some of the pain I had experienced growing up, and why my relationship with Momma was the way it was.

I was boldly breaking the unspoken but powerful family rules by bringing out these emotions and memories. I was shaking as I talked. I’m sure I wasn’t clear or easy to comprehend, since I hadn’t really explored any of this before for myself, or talked about it with anyone. Chip and Sharyn, as best I can recall, didn’t know quite what to do with it. They didn’t argue or contend with me, but they didn’t know any way to respond.

[i] See Appendix for poem (untitled) Naomi’s Dream.
[ii] See Appendix for poem Peter Pan.

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