The Land of the Unknown

Every morning I get started with a cup of coffee while I watch the news. If I don’t have anything else “cooking” that day, I’ll watch “Let’s Make a Deal.” When they brought the show back with Wayne Brady as the host, it became a must see in daytime TV.  The format of the program showcases his incredible ability to improvise. I especially enjoy it when he sings a song which he makes up on the spot in any musical style to hint at the prize. What a talent!

Wouldn’t you just love to be selected to win prizes? All you have to do is decide whether you take the sure deal or the unknown deal. It amazes me when people typically choose the unknown prize. Time after time they turn down cash in their hands for a chance to win something worth more. Sometimes they walk away after being “zonked” and sometimes they walk away after winning a car. I often wonder what I would do.

I became a risk taker about twenty-five years ago when I walked away from a bad marriage with no job and no place to live. I decided I deserved a better life. During that time, I was able to travel because two terrific women called me into their lives as a friend and traveling companion. They both were travel agents, and I could go along on cruises with them for $35 a day. I didn’t have a steady job — I was freelance writing at the time — so I could go in a moments notice. I didn’t have the money, but I did have excellent credit. I never felt guilty about running up some debt because I figured these opportunities were put in my path because travel was something I always wanted. In two years, we took eight cruises together, plus I got to visit each woman at her home.

I did finally land a job with benefits, so now my traveling days were squeezed into a very small time frame of two weeks. I’ve never regretted taking this risk to travel because an opportunity like that never crossed my path again.

Because I didn’t put myself into a security box and broke out to discover the land of risk, I met people from around the world. I had the adventure of a life time as I visited most of the Caribbean islands and ports in Mexico. I even made it to Bermuda. By opening my world as I faced my fears , I became more confident. I stood up to my insecurities and conquered them. I empowered myself to feel the fear and do it anyway.

All of the positions I acquired in the corporate world were trail blazing too. The positions I filled were completely new. I had a new track to run on and I ran fast. Blazing a trail was fun! Because I took a chance on myself I did things I never thought I could accomplish — like writing eight novels. Like teaching English at the community college. Like being a guest speaker for the annual library fundraiser or speaking on radio about my stories.

So if I was picked as a participant on Lets Make a Deal, I probably would chose the unknown. If I ended up getting zonked, it still would be a once in a life time opportunity.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS

Chapter 22

London, England, December—Major Jamison instructed Danny to bring Heidi and the children to the base the morning after they landed in London. He needed to assess if Heidi made a good match for one of his pilots. Her being German certainly didn’t make his decision easy.

Three days after Heidi arrived in London, she spent several hours with the Major. He asked how she came to be in Switzerland. Heidi relayed the tale about her sojourn to Poland, then Budapest, and finally Switzerland over the four-years she served as the children’s nanny. She also told him about her work with the French Resistance aiding American and British pilots to return safely to their units.

After listening to her amazing story, Major Jamison interviewed the couple together. He concluded Danny made a good choice and approved them to be married. If the chaplain concurred, Heidi and Danny would be married again on the base chapel.

****

On December 15th Major Jamison requested Danny meet him at 1600 hours in his office. When Danny arrived, the major’s secretary announced his arrival over an intercom. “Sir, Lieutenant Peterson is here.”

“Send him in.”

Danny walked through the door which separated the two offices. “You asked to see me, sir?”

“At ease, lieutenant. Take a seat.”

Danny let out a deep breath.

The Major cracked a big smile. “This is for you.” He handed Danny an official looking envelope. Danny opened the envelope and scanned the document inside. A broad smile crossed his face.

“Sir, thank you, sir.”

“You found yourself a lovely woman, lieutenant. She is gentle with a very big heart. Be good to her.”

“Yes sir.” Danny saluted again.

The major returned his gesture. “If you might need a best man, lieutenant, I am available.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

“Dismissed. Lieutenant.”

Danny left the Major’s office with a broad smile. He ran to meet the bus to tell Heidi the news. He ran three blocks to the flat, taking two steps at a time up the three floors to their flat. The children were playing a game of marbles on the parlor carpet while Heidi prepared supper in the tiny kitchen.

David yelled. “Mutter, Papa Danny is home!”

Danny came up behind Heidi who stirred a pot of soup.  He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head before he turned her around to look her in the eye. “I got the official papers, sweetheart. We can get married!”

“When?”

“As soon as we can arrange the wedding.”

Heidi’s eyes glistened. “Oh, Daniel how wonderful!” She hugged him.

Ruthie came into the kitchen and pulled on Danny’s arm. “Danny, come see what we did today!” She led him to the parlor where a scrawny pine tree stood in the corner. The children had made ornaments out of colored paper. The also hung pine cones with butcher string on the tree. The tree was the saddest little Christmas tree Danny ever laid eyes on, but he made a big fuss over the children’s efforts. “Will you look at that?  Did you kids do this?”

In chorus they said, “We did Daddy!”

He hugged all of them at the same time. “I think your tree is the grandest one of all!” Danny winked at Heidi.

Heidi called the family to the supper table where bowls of potato soup waited for them. Danny vowed after the war was over, he’d never eat potato soup or powered eggs again. He promised himself a sixteen ounce T-bone as soon as he returned home. His mouth watered at the thought of real meat.

Danny started the dinner conversation. “Your mom and I want to tell you some news.”

David said between sips of hot soup. “What is that Daddy?”

“We’re getting married—again.” He smiled.

“Why?” Ruthie put her spoon down and stared at Danny.

“It turns out the army wants us to repeat the ceremony again.”

Ruthie appeared puzzled. “Why?”

Danny answered her. “The army ordered me and your mom to through the ceremony again because we had so much fun the first time. David, will you be my best man?”

“Sure!”

Heidi perked up. “And Ruthie will you be a bridesmaid?”

“Sure!”

David asked. “What about Jacob? What can he do?”

Danny rubbed his chin like he sported a goatee. “I’ll need to think about that, David. What do you think he should do?”

“Be quiet?”

Everyone laughed.

Danny turned to Heidi. “When do you want to do the deed?”

“Oh, that is easy. Christmas Eve—the happiest day of the year.”

Danny smiled. “I cannot think of a more perfect time. Shall I arrange the date with the Chaplain?”

“Yes.” She smiled as her throat tightened and her eyes watered. “Oh Danny! This is so wonderful.”

“You just wait, sweetheart. Things will only get better and better.”

*****

Heidi and her landlady. Mrs. Smithe, became close friends since she and the children moved into the boarding house. When Mrs. Smithe learned Heidi’s background, her love and admiration for the young girl, who saved three innocent, sweet Jewish children forsaking her own happiness, grew by leaps and bounds.

After Danny’s good news, Heidi couldn’t wait to tell Mrs. Smithe they would go through their wedding ceremony again to make their union legal in the eyes of the army. Heidi visited Mrs. Smithe for their afternoon tea the following day. Mrs. Smithe served Heidi tea into a rose-covered china cup.

“So, why the big happy face today, my dear?”

“Danny and I are approved by the military to get married!”

“That didn’t take long. I’m glad they didn’t make you wait too long to satisfy their silly requirements.” Mrs. Smithe sipped her tea. “Did you think about what you will wear to marry that handsome man of yours?”

“No really. We packed in such a hurry when we left Switzerland; I left my only dress behind. What I wear doesn’t matter.” Heidi lowered her eyes to the table.

“Doesn’t matter! Poppycock! You need to wear a beautiful dress  on your wedding day. You will remember this day for the rest of your life. I think every girl should look like the Queen of England when she gives her life to a special man.” Mrs. Smithe got out of her chair. “Wait Here.” She scurried back to her bedroom and came out with a garment bag. “This dress was supposed to be my daughter’s wedding dress.” Tears welled in Mrs. Smithe’s eyes. “She died during the Blitz and never got a chance to wear it.” Her voice quavered.

“Oh, I could not, Mrs. Smithe. If I wore your daughter’s dress, it would be too painful for you. You are too generous.” Heidi hung her head. “After all, I am German and–

Mrs. Smithe cut her off. “Never think I blame you for my daughter’s death. You are not a Nazi, Heidi. A Nazi belief never entered your head. You are a wonderful, unselfish girl who got trapped in a hideous situation. My God, David, Ruthie, and Jacob probably would have died at the hands of those Nazi thugs. I read accounts of the beatings and torture Jews endured by those barbarians.” Mrs. Smithe took a deep breath. “I also realize my daughter Catherine will be honored if you wear the dress.”

Heidi’s eyes glistened. She got up and hugged Mrs. Smithe. “Thank you.”

“You will be a beautiful bride, my dear.” The older woman said. “Now, you must try on the dress so I can make the necessary alterations.” Mrs. Smithe pulled down the zipper on the garment bag to reveal a beautiful white satin dress with lace and pearls.

Heidi put her hand to her mouth. She had never seen such a beautiful gown.

Chapter 13

Montpellier, France – December—A couple of months had  passed since Emma’s departure from Montpellier. Marta experienced conflicting emotions of anger and loss, and she didn’t possess an answer as to what to do. She confessed she had a whole in her heart, but she also was upset Emma would leave the way she did. Marta received several letters from Emma begging her to come back to Paris. She wrote she found a good job at the Post Office which provided enough money for both of them, so Marta could continue painting. In another letter she wrote she rented their old flat.

Marta still didn’t want to return to Paris. She made a home for herself in Montpellier and acquired a group of new friends—other artists and writers–who seemed to understand her soul. But as Christmas approached, Marta admitted celebrating the holiday without snow on the ground or an evergreen tree in the house would be sad.  On top of the absence of snow and a Christmas tree, none of her new friends understood Marta’s traditions.

Marta loved the peace and beautiful surroundings of the little coastal town, but she also longed to see the decorated store windows in the big department stores. She missed hearing carolers singing Christmas songs on the street corners and vendors selling roasted chestnuts. She enjoyed the friendship of the artists in Montpellier, but her heart ached for Emma. Was it  her pride and stubbornness keeping her in Montpellier? Or did she keep herself insulated in the south of France because maybe Emma went on with her life with someone else.

After a long day at work, Marta found two letters from Emma in her mailbox. She filled a small tub with warm water and Epsom salts, poured herself a glass of chardonnay, and then sat down in her favorite chair putting her tired sore feet in warm water. Marta opened one of the letters, only to find another envelope inside with the familiar handwriting of her mother.

December, 1944

Dear Marta,

Merry Christmas, my dear daughter. I pray you are safe. I hope you receive this letter because it will be the last one you will get from me. Our beautiful city is shaken from its foundation. Berlin is in a million pieces. The apocalypse is here. Bombers come day and night. We run and crouch in crowded air raid shelters because we elected a ruthless dictator who will not admit the war is lost. When we come out of the shelter, all that is left is columns of black smoke and debris. Corpses litter the street with their dead eyes stare into oblivion.  

I always prayed we would meet again before I die, but our beautiful home is now destroyed, I lost everything. I no longer possess a photograph of you or your father. Our old life does not exist.  Everything is gone. I am so glad you will never witness the dirty wretch I am. People are going mad, and I fear I might join them. Everyday someone in the neighborhood commits suicide.

Hitler broadcasts over the radio we must fight on. The SS goes through the streets and shoots little boys who hide from serving in the army. Insanity is rampant.

On the east side of the city limits, the Russians are closing in. Time is short before they enter the city and the real nightmare will commence. The Soviets hate us. With no food, no water, and no shelter, I am not strong enough to care any more. I wait for death to come.

I do not think the world will ever forgive the German people for this war, and we must all share a collective guilt for this devastation,  even though so many women never directly played a part in the events Hitler and his Nazis dropped upon us.

I will love you always, my dear daughter, but I cannot go on. Writing this letter took of all my strength.

Find happiness my sweet. I love you. Mutter

Marta sobbed. Her mother succumbed to death because her happy life didn’t exist any longer. Marta feared what the Red Army planned to do as they entered Berlin. Marta realized she had made the right decision to run from Berlin, but she never considered what her absence would do to her mother. She lost her husband at Stalingrad, and Marta could not return home to mourn with her mother. Now her mother waited alone for death to come.

After Marta composed herself, she tore open Emma’s letter.

 My dearest Marta,

Merry Christmas, darling! I keep hoping you will change your mind and return to Paris so we can continue our life together, but it seems my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Would it help if you knew I put up a Christmas tree for you? Would it help to know I pray for your return?   Yes darling, I do pray. My years in prison made me realize how important prayer is.

Do you remember the first Christmas we shared? Remember our little tree which looked like an unclothed orphan? Somehow you made it beautiful with stings of old jewelry and other shiny bobbles we found at the thrift store. You are an artist in your soul, and I wish I understood earlier how much you need your art. I guess you are a bird without a song if you cannot paint.

Since the Nazis left Paris, happiness has returned. The newspapers predict the allies will win the war before the summer is over. I wish you would reconsider and share this “free” air in Paris. The skies are blue again, Cherie. The white snow on the boulevard covers winter’s ugliness, and the Eiffel Tower is lit again in the French colors. Remember our first New Year’s at the Eiffel? You looked so beautiful in that white wool suit and your luscious lips covered in that bright red lipstick. Just thinking about the sight of you makes my heart flutter.

I miss you terribly, Marta. I want you to realize I didn’t run from you; I ran from Montpelier. I felt myself dying in your sleepy little town. I love Paris as you love Montpelier, but I cannot be a complete person just living here without you.

Please rethink your decision, Marta. Paris is a beautiful city to paint too.  I will love you forever.

Emma

Marta set the letters aside and cried. She wept for the good German people who got hypnotized and duped by a mad man because they needed someone to lead them out of severe poverty after the First World War. She wept for her father who swallowed Nazi propaganda and paid for it with his life. She wept for her mother who now despaired and waited for death,. She also wept for herself because she realized she became a displaced person without any true home.

After she dried her eyes when she couldn’t cry any more, Marta experienced an epiphany. She realized her choices made her as alone as her mother. She needed to make changes. The last thing she wanted for her life was to live as a sad, angry, old woman who lived in regret.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Land of the Unknown

  1. We did have fun in our traveling days…. who knows what may happen when we reach our “Golden Girls” days. I miss you my dear friend and think of you so often… Love and Hugs are coming your way!

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