Yesterday I attended the wake for my surrogate mother. Her daughter Debbie and I got acquainted during the summer of 1965, and soon we were together most every waking hour. We usually met at Debbie’s house because of my mother’s constant warning, “SHHHH, get out of here; your father doesn’t feel good.” On top of that in so many words she proclaimed Debbie was a girl not up to my standards. Needless to say, my mother made many bad decisions and I just went on being friends with Debbie.
Deb helped me scale the fears of going to a BIG junior high school. For eight years I sat in one room at a parochial school and studied everything from art to math. Just thinking of changing rooms between classes brought on a cold sweat. At the new public school there were no uniforms, so I also spent my summer sewing new dresses wondering if I would fit in with the rest of the girls. On the first day of school, I got panicky when I went to find my ride home in a sea of twenty or more buses lined up at the school curbs. But Deb found me and saved the day. She got me on the right bus so I didn’t have to drop a dime to call my mother and admit failure.
Four months later, I broke my tibia in a tobogganing accident at Girl Scout Camp and my world fell apart. I had the lead to the school musical, and lost my fame in a split second when we hit a tree on a snowy hill. My childhood dream included singing on Broadway someday, so this accident was devastating. I spent four and a half months in a toe to hip cast and needed to recuperate at home. But once again, Debbie came to the rescue. She visited me everyday bringing stories about school activities and friends to keep me in touch. She was my lifeline.
We carried our close friendship through high school and afterwards, and her parents treated me like one of their own. Her father called me, “Miss Barbie” and soon the whole family chimed in christening me with that special name. With the death of Debbie’s mother, her father, and both of my parents, I truly feel like an orphan.
I realize we are not built to live forever, but when the people we love leave the earth, it’s always too soon. I’m lucky Debbie is still here and after many years of separation, we’ve vowed to close the gap. We still need each other.
BOOK TWO – 1939
Lacrosse, Wisconsin — June — Josie, Donna, and Rosalie entered their school proudly wearing robes and mortarboards. Rosalie wore a beautiful rose on the lapel.
“Did Angelo give you that?” Donna Jean purred.
“No. Papa did.”
Josie and Donna Jean said, “Awww–he’s so sweet.” Both wished their fathers showed affection like Eduardo always did toward Rosalie.
“I wish Papa wouldn’t,” Rosalie said, “I’m a freak; nobody else is wearing a corsage.”
“Shame on you, Rosie. Your father loves you so much; he’s just showing you how proud he is of you. Remember, he never got a chance to go to high school.” Josie said.
Rosalie nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
The principal Mr. Cameron blew a whistle to get the attention of the fifty graduates. “Class, line up like we practiced yesterday!” Boys and girls assumed their position in a long line. The school band played Pomp and Circumstance announcing the procession should begin.
As class valedictorian, Josie led her class into the gymnasium. With every step she told herself not to be nervous, but a flock of butterflies suddenly woke up in her stomach. Her heart pounded against her ribs, and her hands sweated. Her feet grew heavy, like she waded through thick, wet, mud.
Josie took her place on the stage and gazed out at her friends. She sat when the last student took his seat.
The program began with Donna singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” After the audience sat, the principal greeted everyone. When he introduced Josie, she rose on rubbery legs and walked the few steps to the podium. She grabbed the sides of the lectern to steady herself, cleared her throat, and began her final words to her classmates.
“Fellow students, esteemed faculty, family, friends and guests. Today we leave this safe, comfortable school as changed people. We will travel different roads during the next few years. A few of us already understand where those roads will take us. Others will go on a journey of discovery. The most important thing about today is from this day forward, we will start to live our OWN lives.
Our childhood is over. Our parents are no longer responsible for us. We are now responsible for the world we will live in. But none of us came this far without help. In my case, and through the love and support of my father and mother, I will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall. Others of you will enter the workforce which makes our country strong. And still others will get married and add new citizens to our lovely community.
What I’m trying to say is this: To be here today, we all walked on the shoulders of many caring people. Our parents provided for us and encouraged us; our teachers taught us skills and gave us tools we’ll need as we make our mark in the world, and our friends supported us in their own special ways.
School days will be remembered fondly. We worked, yes, but we also enjoyed bond fires, the pep rallies before football games, the special dances, school plays, and other events throughout the year. I hope your days at Lacrosse High School provided sweet memories for all of you. My memories are burned into my heart.
Remember this: we will never be sheltered like we are here. No place will ever nurture us like high school has. We will never be at home like we are in this place. The world will be exciting, but it also can be cruel. I sincerely hope you will experience more of the former than of the latter.
So graduates of 1939 go forward and show the world what you are made of. You all possess something unique to contribute. We are fervent in our endeavors and our country will remain strong because of you. May God walk with you as you explore your future!”
Students shouted and rose to their feet. Josie descended from the stage and took her place with her classmates. Busting pride replaced her earlier fear. Her high school graduation proved to be the greatest day of her life.
Even though Josie enjoyed her high school graduation, as the hot summer wore on she became antsy to begin her new career as a college student. Since receiving her acceptance letter from the University of Minneapolis, she walked on air. A new life waited for her one hundred miles from home. Attending college would be her first experience of being so far from her family and friends for any length of time. Her excitement and fear of the future seemed equally balanced.
Josie and Donna Jean vowed to spend as much time together as they could before Josie left. With her wedding only a month away, Rosalie couldn’t promise because so many last minute details filled her days. Eduardo dropped his animosity toward Angelo when the boy asked for his permission to marry Rosalie. When Eduardo witnessed the love Angelo gave to his precious daughter, her realized the boy would walk through fire to protect his daughter.
On one hand, Donna and Josie envied Rosalie because she had chosen the pathway for her life. She loved Angelo more than her own life and they would someday raise a family. Josie and Donna wanted to explore professional careers before settling down with anyone but they both wished their future could be more nailed down. Exploring the unknown comes with corresponding uncertainty.
Donna Jean dated Danny Peterson throughout the summer. They danced to the big bands that came to town; they went to the movies most every weekend and afterward went to Lookout Point to “watch the submarine races.” Donna never dreamed about marrying Danny, even though her parents made it clear she would be on her own after graduation.
Donna graduated at the head of her class in business skills of typing and shorthand. Her father nagged her to go out and find a job the night of graduation. But Donna had no intention of wasting her summer in a stuffy office. She learned at an early age she possessed strong powers of verbal persuasion, so she cleverly argued finding work in September would be easier because every month that passed, the depressed U. S. economy improved. Her father couldn’t argue with statistic; after years of part time work, he once again found himself working a forty hour week. President Roosevelt’s New Deal seemed to be working.
Berlin, Germany-June—When Marta received her Abitur certificate – the designation for the successful completion of her secondary education–she wondered what she would do next. Her mother encouraged her to sit for the final exam to receive the official document Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife-which included a graduation certificate and a university entrance exam. Any girl who went beyond secondary education proved to be a rare gem, so Marta promised her parents she would pass the exam and enter Berlin University after she spent her summer in Paris.
Marta masked her feelings with a broad smile as she endured the kisses and well wishes of family and hordes of Nazi officials at her graduation celebration. To her the graduation party seemed to be more of an instrument for her father to exploit his importance in the Nazi party than a graduation celebration for Marta. Leisel’s party proved to be the same in this regard. Like Marta’s father, Leisel’s father also rose in the ranks quickly.
Marta’s excused her father’s pandering to the ranks because he approved her up-coming trip to France. Of course he did so with a great flourish during the party. On top of that, Klaus presented Marta with an eighteen carat gold “Love Knot” lapel pin. Accompanying the gift, he wrote a short note: “When you wear this pin, remember my love for you.” Both gifts were bestowed on her in front of the horde of Nazi strangers. Marta wondered if her father cherished the feeling of being a big shot more than celebrating her accomplishments. As a dutiful daughter, she stood on her tiptoes and thanked Klaus with a hug. He stiffened as his daughter showed emotion in front of his cronies.