No Friends Like Old Friends

I don’t think I blogged about a big event I helped sponsor in June. My grade school class celebrated our fifty year reunion. Yes, you read that right– it has been 50 years since we graduated eighth grade after being together since first grade. Most of us even went on to high school together.

the class0001

Surprisingly, most of the classmates who attended had come from great distances. We had two from California, one from Arizona, three from Florida, one from Connecticut, one from North Carolina, and a host of others who drove over an hour to get to our location. Four of us “locals” never moved away from home.


It was a wonderful time to grow up in a small town, and for those of us who stayed here, we now appreciate the innocence we all had at age thirteen. We were safe from most of the ugliness the larger world had to offer. And yet, we weren’t pampered. Good behavior was expected on all levels of our lives. If anyone got in trouble at school, they would receive a worse punishment at home.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I’m not exactly sure. I want to share this experience because I think this gathering was unique. I don’t know of any other grade school class who ever got together in such a big way. We all formed strong bonds as children limping through eight years of Catholic education, having to attend mass every day for the duration. And everyone who lived through the reign of Sister Eloise the principle was a strong kid!

By eighth grade we all had our favorite musical group and used to argue which band was better than the other. In 1965 we had a lot of choices — Beatles, Stones, David Clark Five, Beach Boys, Kinks, and the beat goes on. We played on a playground without equipment, except for the supplies we brought from home — chalk for hopscotch boards we drew on the asphalt and ropes we used as jump ropes and double dutch ropes. If somebody brought a ball and bat, we’d divvy up sides and play a hotly contested baseball game.

It was surprising to me that we all got along so well after so much time elapsing and so many changes happening to all of us. It didn’t surprise me that half the women were teachers and the other half nurses — and then there was me, a communication specialist turned author turned caregiver. Married classmates typically had two children. Most everyone attended college, most graduated. Three girls accomplished this feat as adult students — Debby, Debbie, and me.

In fifty years so much has changed. We never dreamed we’d carry a phone in our purses or pockets. Heck, that was science fiction! We never thought we’d have a zillion channels on the television; the three major networks were the only ones to chose from and they only came in when the weather was good. All of our families had little money, but we never thought we were poor.

Maybe we didn’t produce world class scholars, professional athletes, Nobel prize winners or scientists — we’re just a group of educated, well-adjusted, and happy adults–thanks to involved parents and dedicated teachers. Who could ask for more?



Chapter 23

Paris, France – September—Almost a month passed since Marta’s brutal rape: she healed physically as the bruises diminished, but the nightmares persisted. She returned to work appearing like the same girl, but her changes ran deep. She appeared skittish at any small noise. She constantly checked her surroundings, insuring her personal safety. When left alone in the apartment, she double-checked the locks. The only problem still existing proved to be the absence of her period.

Marta began to think perhaps she should have followed Emma’s caution to see a doctor the night of the attack. Could she be pregnant? And if she happened to be in such a state, would she be shunned by her friends? If others ever learned about Franz, would she be seen as a collaborator instead of a victim of rape? After all, any good woman said no to sex out of marriage. But Marta did say “no” again and again.  Her racing thoughts made her crazy. She gave up eating breakfast because of the nausea every morning. By mid-afternoon she would sleep in a broom closet. Marta didn’t want to face the truth and chalked up the symptoms to stress.

Every night after supper, Emma and Marta washed and dried the dishes. The chore always evoked lively conversation before they settled down to listen to the radio.

Marta began the conversation with hesitation. “Emma, I need to talk with you about something important.”

“Yes?” Emma scrubbed a stubborn spot on the soup pot.

“I need to talk about a problem.”


“I am ashamed to say.”

“Just tell me.”  Emma glanced up at Marta whose forehead wrinkled with worry. “What is wrong, Cherie? Did you encounter Franz on the streets again?”

“No.” Marta’s eyes fell to the floor. She didn’t want Emma to witness her moist eyes.

“Did you get in trouble at work?”

Nein... I mean, no.”

“Was the soup too thin?”


“Well what then? Do not keep me guessing.”

Marta took a deep breath and blurted, “I think I am pregnant.”

Emma dropped the large spoon she held. The loud clunk on the wooden floor made Marta jump.  “Oh no, Marta.”

Marta looked at her feet and picked up the spoon. When she stood, she gazed at Emma.

“How late are you?”

“Two weeks. First I blamed the healing process my body endured; then the stress of it all, but I am never late, Emma. Never-

Emma took Marta in her arms. “That bastard! I wish I owned a pistol.”

Marta dropped into a kitchen chair.

Emma stared at the girl she loved more than her own life as her brain worked to solve this problem. “What do you want to do if your suspicions are right?

Marta appeared like a whipped puppy. “My mother brought me up to be a mother, but how can I be a mother to a monster’s child?”

“You cannot. His seed is satanic.” Emma said. “We will need a doctor to confirm if you are indeed pregnant. If you are, then we will worry. A few ‘working’ girls with whom I am acquainted understand such things. They are very discreet.”

“We might go to the doctor down the street.”

“I do not think he does abortions.” Emma said.

Marta stared at her. Hearing the word abortion brought her situation into focus. She never seriously considered abortion, but hearing the word made her situation real. “I do not think I can go through with an abortion. The baby is blameless; the father is the devil.”

Emma couldn’t believe Marta would consider anything other solution. “I do think you need to consider what might happen if you carry this child to term. What will people think of you? Worse yet, what if Franz finds out you are carrying his child? He might take the child. Plus, we receive so little rations, how will we feed another mouth? Who will care for the baby during the day when we are at work?”

Marta cried. “I do not know! I do not know!” She screamed. “Maybe I should go home to my mother.”

Emma’s softened her voice. “No. No. You cannot return to Germany! Your mother will think this is your fault. Your father will kill you. We will solve this problem together.” Emma hated pressuring her. She engulfed the girl in her arms again. “I am sorry Marta. Whatever you decide, I will stand beside you. I promise.”

A silence hung in the air like wet laundry the entire evening. Marta retreated to her favorite chair, curled into a fetal position and closed her eyes. Why was Franz Reinhart assigned to Paris? Did he request to be here to ruin her happy life?

Somehow she needed to toughen up and take action.

Chapter 24

Minneapolis, Minnesota – October—One day about two weeks in to October, Josie picked up her mail and recognized Donna Jean’s familiar “loopy” scrawl on a business envelope. She smiled and wondered what her wild friend wrote. She ripped open the envelope and looked forward to a juicy tale from back home.


October, 1940

Dear Jos,

How do you like this? A typewritten letter from me! I’m using my lunch time to slip a piece of company stationary in my new Smith Corona to tell you I sure miss you. Summer provided long, hot days and I kept thinking about the fun we enjoyed at the old swimming hole. I’m being quite selfish, of course. I understand you want to get through your studies as quickly as possible to join the “real” world as a fully qualified registered nurse.  But I do think, we all need some fun, too.

Things for me are good. Work is going great!  I got promoted to Senior Secretary, and I got an office with a window and a decent boss. Best of all I got an extra twenty-five cents per day! Not exactly a fortune, but I can buy an extra beer per week. (ha,ha)

The pay raise allowed me to afford a bigger apartment in a nicer part of the city. The place is perfect for me–a bedroom, a kitchen (your mom taught me what’s done in there) a living room, and my own bathroom. No more going down the hall and having to share the toilet with grubby men who don’t clean up after themselves!

The place is freshly painted stark white. Thank god for Rosalie. She’s a genius for taking old stuff and making something new. She made some pretty pink bedroom curtains out of some old sheets which matched a “rosebud” quilt we found at the thrift store. Her Mom gave me a gray carpet that used to be in Rosalie’s old bedroom. Now my tootsies no longer need to step on the cold bare wood floor in the mornings.

The real drag is that you’re not here so I can show off my place! So, plan on staying with me at least a couple of nights when you come home at Christmastime. We’ll indulge ourselves with an old-fashioned PJ party and gossip about the latest romances around town, curl each other’s hair, and maybe even get out the Ouija board so we can see what the future holds. Since Mary and Johnny are now engaged, she and I are getting closer. We are both are office working girls, so most days we meet for lunch.

Your whole family is so great to me. Your Mom gave me dishes, pots and pans, along with some cooking lessons. Your dad gave me a kitchen table, a bed and small dresser he refinished.  Your brother Peter helped Danny move all the stuff into the new place, and for a change, things worked out for me. Your folks are so special, Jos. I hope you realize how lucky you are. My own parents still aren’t talking to me.

The only sad news is, Danny’s been drafted. Just my luck. Leave it to him to be chosen in the first peace-time draft in American history. I never got serious about Danny, but I will miss him. He’s grown on me over the months we’ve been dating. But since he got the news he’s leaving soon, he’s gotten so serious. I just hope he doesn’t propose before he leaves. I don’t want to send him off with a broken heart.

Write when you can spare a minute.  Say “Hi” to Anna. All the best for a productive semester.

 Love Always, Donna

Josie smiled as she thought of her vivacious friend. Danny getting drafted. Yow! What a drag! Then she thought of her baby brother, Peter and prayed the government wouldn’t take him too.



Success is Found in Failure

It’s a beautiful day again today, which means I always feel guilty for staying in the house. I’m pretty much a “hot house flower” because I have such a limited temperature range. I’m comfortable and happy between 60 and 80 degrees, of course the humility has to be lower than 50 percent. Today is such a day. But I’m throwing off the guilt and will try to finish this post quickly to go out and enjoy the day.

If there is any regret in my life, it’s that I didn’t take up my Aunt Mary’s invitation to live with her in San Diego when I was about eighteen years old. But youth is wasted on the young and I made a decision to come back to Wisconsin. What a dope, right? The place offered the weather I loved everyday.

I like to believe I’m a risk taker, but that quality is cultivated by failing, and at eighteen I wasn’t ready to fail at anything. So, I came home and lived the life other people wanted me to live.

I threw off that mantel after a close friend died at age 38. I was about 33 at the time, and a stay-at-home mom, with a desire to do something more than stay at home. I created a successful doll clothes sewing business for Cabbage Patch dolls. I went to area craft fairs and made hundreds of dollars. But like all fads, in a couple of years the dolls ran their course, and I knew it was time to find another endeavor. So far, I hadn’t failed.

I entered college at 35 and heard from my mother, “Well, this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.” My husband didn’t want me to go either because my study time took away from my household slave labor work. He also didn’t give me any money to pursue my degree, so I needed to find a part-time job–which required even more time away from home. I believe he thought if he made my desire to graduate college difficult, I’d quit. The opposite happened. I dug in my heels and went forward.

On campus I found Barbara again. I wasn’t somebody’s daughter, wife or mother. I was just me, and guess what? I liked that person. I jumped over all the hurdles people in my life put before me and graduated Magna Cum Laude in four years. To date it is my proudest achievement.

I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time fearing failing. Initially, failure is tough to take, but in that effort there’s always a nugget of courage. Trying again and again to achieve the goal is success in itself.




Chapter 18

 Berlin, Germany – August 1939—The few words Marta wrote about her escapades in Paris cheered Liesel. Every word Marta wrote transported her to the lovely city. Rereading Marta’s letter helped relieve a bit of her boredom. Only two months passed since she left Berlin? On top of missing her two girlfriends, Leisel’s father added to her disappointment when he forbade her to sit for the university entrance exams. He viewed this action contrary to the beliefs of the Nazi hierarchy. Instead, he announced Leisel would attend finishing school at Schwanenwerder near the Wannsee Lake outside Berlin. At the beginning of September she would spend six weeks at this prestigious finishing school. The emphasis of the program prepared high society girls for marriage.

Leisel did a slow burn when he told her the news. “You want me to go to a bride school? Honestly, Vater. How cruel can you be?”

Colonel Fuchs slapped her. “Frauline Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, is the best. I am giving you the best a German woman could receive. You will be away for six weeks learning the skills to become a good wife for an SS officer.”

“I do not want to go!” Leisel screamed.

“I do not care what you want. You are my daughter and you will be schooled properly. You must learn domestic chores like washing, cooking, childcare as well as home design. “He clicked off activities as if they compared to math, science, and writing.

Leisel suffered in silence. She fought tears wanting to roll down her cheeks. She never wanted her father to think her weak. She stared ahead and closed her mind.

He yelled. “You will also learn social niceties to hold lively conversations at cocktail parties.”

Leisel decided to give her argument to sit for the entrance exam one more try. “Father my excellent grades in secondary school put me at the top of my class. I am more valuable than just a breeder of Aryan children. Would you not be proud of me if I qualified for higher education? Would you not be proud of me as a professor of astronomy at the University of Berlin? Would not a career like that fill you with pride? I want to teach, Vater. I will be successful!”

As she protested Herr Fuchs faced turned beet red, and he yelled. “I forbid any more talk about the university. You will attend finishing school. I will hear no more on the subject.” He stomped away.

As soon as he left, Leisel eased herself onto the floor and let her sobs come to the surface.

Her mother went to her to try to ease her pain. “Liesel, darling. Please don’t cry. Your father wants the best for you. He worked hard to secure a place for you at this special school.”

“Oh, Mutter, how can you be so blind?” She screamed and ran upstairs to her bedroom. She threw herself on the bed and cried. Her mother followed her and after Leisel calmed herself, she embraced her daughter. “Do not be so upset, my darling.”

Leisel wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. “Don’t you understand, Mutter? Father wants me to be a breeder of children and a slave to a home. He believes education at the university would be a waste of time because I am a girl. He never considered my feelings on this issue. He never even told me of his intentions until now.”

“Now Leisel, that is not true. He wants you to enjoy a good life. Being qualified to become a wife of an SS officer is important in our new society. This school will give you ample opportunities to pick the man you want.”

“Do you not think I can get the attention of any man on my own?”

Her mother stood. “Yes, I believe you might. But this school assures you of a good match, and you’ll only be away such short time. You must do as your father dictates.”

Numbness pass through Leisels body like a wave in the ocean. She accepted her father’s edict as a prison sentence.


Her mother tried to quell Leisel’s unhappiness. She made a fuss of having tea and cookies with her every afternoon and would praise Leisel for the smallest accomplishment. Her mother used their time together to sing the praises of what a wonderful experience the bride school would be for her. Leisel hid behind a mask of interest, but her mother’s daily compliments fell on deaf ears. Leisel wanted so much more for her life.  Now she would be required to attend ceremonies, swim at a private club where SS officers went, and dance at weekly parties all so she might snare a handsome SS officer. She lived in a world she didn’t want and worst of all, she saw no way out.

Leisel wrote to Marta and told her about her father’s plans for her future. In the spirit of finding a husband. She asked Marta if Franz wrote to her while she visited Paris. Leisel wrote Franz would be a boy her father would approve, so if Marta had no designs on him, she planned to entice him to be her beau before she left for school in September. As long as her father required her to marry an SS officer, Franz would be her choice after his year in the academy. She didn’t tell Marta she thought Franz possessed a smoldering sexuality which attracted her. His shoulders widened, and she loved the color of his eyes that variegated from deep blue to the color of glaciers. He was so appealing in his uniform, and Leisel thought seducing Franz might be a fun challenge.

When Marta answered Leisel’s letter she didn’t share her thoughts about Franz. Marta responded she didn’t carry a torch for him, so if Leisel wanted to start a relationship with him, she should. She would need to find out for herself what a crude bully Franz Reinhart could be.


Colonel Fuchs hated he treated his only daughter so harshly, but he didn’t understand her ridiculous endeavor to continue her education at the university. He wanted to smooth over her disappointment, but he truly felt he was doing his best for her future. He couldn’t stand how she stared ahead and acted like he was invisible. Any suggestions he made to her fell on deaf ears, even when he encouraged her to take part in the Hitler youth activities to build new friendships, seeing Marta and Heidi chose activities outside of Germany.

Colonel Fuchs took Leisel to the community center where an outdoor party for Hitler’s youth was going on. “I expect you to be home at eleven o’clock sharp. Here is some money for you bus fare home.” He handed her a few coins. “Now go and have a good time with people your own age.”

“Yes, Vater.” Leisel took the coins, got out of the car, and didn’t look back. Her smoldering anger made being civil to her father nearly impossible. She followed the sound of a polka band and entered a garden where paper lanterns hung around the periphery of a plywood dance platform. Teenagers sat at wooden picnic tables covered with red flags sporting a black swastika in the center. A few people shared mugs of punch as they sat on park benches situated under the trees. The sizzle of bratwursts grilling on the outdoor fire pit filled the air with a spicy aroma. A table close by the grill offered hot potato salad and cold punch. Leisel took a seat on a bench which provided a good vantage point to view the crowd. She didn’t recognize a soul and her shyness paralyzed her and she positioned herself against the fence.

The boys attending the dance wore Hitler-Jugend khaki uniforms, in contrast with the girls who wore frilly, colorful party dresses. Couples appeared happy as they waltz by. Leisel began to wonder why she consented to come to this party. Clearly, she didn’t belong.

She stood what seemed to be an eternity and no one approached her to dance or join their party of friends, so she decided to leave. As she strolled toward the exit Franz Reinhart laughed with three other comrades at a table near the exit.  In the moonlight he appeared so handsome. His blonde hair and ice-blue eyes made him a perfect specimen of the Aryan race.

Leisel gathered her courage and walked toward Franz and his friends. Her shapely legs and swaying hips always got the boy’s attention. She faked a smile and tilted her head as she said, “Hi Franz.” Her body quivered with uncertainty. Usually she never approached boys.

Franz didn’t look up from his food.

“Don’t be an ass, Franz.” The boy sitting next to him slugged Franz in the arm. “This beautiful frauline greeted you.”

“Shut up, you dum kopf!” He glanced at Leisel and said in a flat voice, “Hello Leisel. What brings you over here?”

“You’re the only person I recognize, Franz. My father made me come.” The second the words flew from her mouth, she hated herself.

“Oh.” He went back to eating his dinner.

Leisel turned and walked away with tears in her eyes.

One of Franz’s friends said, “Man you are the dumbest shit on the planet! That girl is prettier than anyone else here. Go after her.”

“She is Marta’s best friend. Believe me when I say her legs are sewn shut.”

“You are a crude bastard. Is sex all you ever think about? Given half a chance, she probably is a hungry lioness who would like to devour you. It is two months since Marta shut you down. If a beautiful piece of strudel like her said hello to me, I wouldn’t stay here with the likes of you.”

“Hmmh.” Franz stared at his comrade.

“Go get her, man. Be nice.”


“Because I’m sick of listening to how Marta wronged you. Start over. What better justice than to replace Marta’s place with her best friend!”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Franz wiped his face with the back of his hand. He caught Leisel before she boarded the bus. “Leisel, wait!”

Leisel turned around. “I’m leaving Franz; I do not belong here.”

“Aw come on, Leisel. I’m sorry. My parents made me come too, and I took my wrath out on you.” He smiled at her. “Would you do me the honor of dancing with me?”

Leisel blushed. “Thank you, for the apology, but I do not want to dance now.”

Franz found her unwillingness to dance a challenge. “Your hair put up that way is very attractive. You look sophisticated.”

“So nice of you to say.” She smiled.

An uncomfortable silence settled between them like a heavy fog. Franz led her to the center of the party.

“About that dance.” He pulled her into his body and twirled her onto the dance floor. He stomped around like trained elephant with heavy feet. The fast polka made Leisel hang on tight to make the best of his clumsy dancing.

“You are very light on your feet, Leisel.”

“You, too, Franz.” she lied.

When the music stopped, she gasped for breath.  “Would you be so kind to fetch me a cup of punch? The dance made me so thirsty.”

“Let us leave this place. Neither of us wants to be here. So let us leave this dead tanzenir and go for a drive.”

“My parents would not approve. I must present you to my father first.”

“Forget your father. Presenting a beau is old fashioned. Consider this our first date.” He grabbed her hand and steered her toward the exit. His forceful decision overcame Leisel.  Why shouldn’t I succumb to this handsome Nazi boy? Isn’t that what Vater wants for me? She didn’t protest when he took her hand. She looked into his large blue eyes some something inside of her came alive. “Well, if you promise to get me home by eleven o’clock, I will go.”

Franz licked his lips. “Great!” He led her to his father’s Volkswagen and jumped into the driver’s seat expecting Leisel to climb into the passenger seat by herself. “Are you coming?” He yelled through the open window.

Leisel hesitated. Gentlemen opened doors for their girls. If her father witnessed Franz’s behavior, he would ream him with a stern rebuke. She jumped into the passenger’s seat as Franz started the car. The thrill of defying her father energized her. Driving away with a “bad boy” like Franz made her sit on the edge of the seat.

“Relax, Leisel.” Franz said as he glanced at her. “You’re safe with me. We will find more fun at the place I am taking you–guaranteed.” He flashed a smile which melted her.

Disobeying her father like this thrilled her. “Where are we going, Franz?”

“A quiet little place where we can talk. Besides, they serve me beer because they think I am twenty-one.” He grinned before he added. “And you are with me, so they will serve you too.”

She nodded. Leisel never drank alcohol, so this trip would be one initiation into adulthood.

They entered a building which looked like a shack in the woods. The interior carried on the rundown theme with a small counter with stools and a few tables. Franz led Leisel to a table in the corner. The bartender greeted him and brought two large steins of beer to their table.

Franz smiled. “Dunke” Then he lifted his stein gesturing Leisel should do the same. “Skol!” He clinked his stein to hers.

Leisel followed his lead and took a big gulp of the bitter brew. Her face contorted.

“What is wrong?” Franz laughed. “Do not tell me you never drank beer before? What kind of German woman are you?” He paused and took a gulp of the brew. He wiped the foam off his face with the back of his hand. “Don’t worry, Leisel, you’ll get used to the taste. When I tried the beverage the first time, I did the same. After a while, you’ll crave the brew.” He took another hearty gulp from his stein.

Leisel forced a smile and tried again. The beer didn’t settle any better the second time but she took a big gulp anyway. In a few minutes, her head started swimming, and she giggled. “This drink makes me happy.”

Franz smiled. “Drink some more, my sweet frauline.

“I better not.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Leisel?” Franz teased.

“My father squashed my my dreams with his edict I attend a bride school. He keeps me under lock and key. I am accountable all of the time.” A sly grin passed over her face, “But not tonight. I am here with you tonight drinking a stein of lager and I do admit, the beer makes me feel good.”

Franz laughed. “You’ll get used to the taste, sweetie. Do you want to dance?”

Leisel remembered being embarrassed by his lack of finesse on the dance floor. “No. I’d rather talk to you.” She slid her chair closer to him, so she could whisper into his ear.

“Sure. If that’s what you want.” He finished his stein and ordered another. In thirty minutes, Franz downed three steins of beer. He said very little in between sips while he surveyed other girls in the bar.

Leisel worked on her second beer and wondered why she sat with a boy who didn’t seem interested in her. Did he find her boring? Did she not live up to his standards? The awkward silence which settled between them reminded her of the way her mother and father didn’t communicate. Her “date” with Franz seemed to be a disaster.

Leisel tried to start conversation again. “Marta and I keep in contact through letters. Did she write to you?”

“No. I hate the bitch.” He growled. “Did you learn how she treated me?”

“Yes. But even so, hate is a strong word, Franz.”

“So what? She treated me like a peasant.” He took another hearty gulp of the beer. “Her father and I planned everything. He gave me his blessing. And what does she do? She heaves my ring across the yard and runs off to crazy France! I am better off without that hudin.

Listening to Franz bad-mouth her friend made Leisel uncomfortable. Marta hurt him, but to put on such a display seemed to be overkill. She said in a soft voice, “Truthfully, Marta lacked the fire you need from a girl, Franz. She never seemed interested in boys at all.”

Franz looked at her with icy blue eyes. “She put herself above me. Do you believe that? I am one of the top candidates for the academy.”

“I say she’s the loser.” Leisel put her hand on his face. “You are so strong and handsome. I think she’s crazy to turn you down. I would never treat you so badly.”

He stared into her sapphire blue eyes. “You are really beautiful, Leisel. How would you like to go on a real date on Friday? I will take you out for dinner and dancing. I promise I will be in better humor. I apologize for my anger tonight. I’m just in a bad mood and none of this is fair to you.”

A broad smile spread across Leisel’s face and her eyes sparkled as she admitted they would make a beautiful Aryan couple. “That would be wonderful, Franz!” She slurred her words.

She glanced at the clock across the room which appeared out of focus. Only fifteen minutes remained before her curfew. She stood holding onto the edge of table to steady herself. “I really must get home, Franz. If I miss curfew, my Vater will be very angry with me.”

“If you insist.” He took her hand and guided her to the car which looked like a mechanized beetle. Leisel’s fair skin appeared translucent in the warm moonlight. At that moment, Franz thought he never dated such a beautiful girl. He wrapped his arms around her and pinned her up against the car. He bent down and placed a serious kiss on her lips. “You are so beautiful Leisel. I think I am falling in love.” He kissed her harder, with an open mouth. Stale beer lingered on his tongue, but she still responded to his kiss. He pulled her body closer. A large bulge in his trousers sent a sudden chill down her spine. She squirmed when he put his hand on her breast. He writhed against her, and when his hand slid up her leg and rested between her legs he aroused in a way which scared her. Her body grew hot and her breathing became more rapid than usual. She wanted his touch. She wanted him to be her first, but not in a parking lot. Not tonight. She needed to get home. She pulled away from his embrace. “Franz, we should stop. I must get home.”

He stepped back and glared at her. “You’re nothing but a little cock tease. You work me up and now leave me like this?” He grabbed his crotch.

“Franz, please do not be crass. I like you. I want us to go on a real date. I want to become your girl, not your whore.”

“You want to be my girl? Really? Why would you let me go so far?”

She began to cry. “I guess I am a little drunk. I did not intend to lead you on.”

Anger poured out. He stomped around the front of the car, ripped open the door and flopped behind the steering wheel. He started the engine and drummed the steering wheel with his fingers as Leisel climbed into the passenger seat. He left the parking lot with the tires throwing gravel in all directions. Neither of them said a word as Franz sped toward Leisel’s house. He parked in front of her house and growled. “Here you are.”

“Aren’t you going to walk me to the door?” She asked.

“Why should I?” He still stung from her rejection.

“Because that is what boyfriends do, Franz.”

“When I become your boyfriend, frauline, I will walk you to the door.”

“I am sorry our first evening together disappointed you.” She opened the door. “Please behave like a gentleman and walk me to the door.”

Franz exited the car, slammed the door, and made a sweeping gesture with his hand for her to get out. She stood and grabbed his hand while she rocked unsteadily on her high heel shoes. He rushed her to the door. “Good night, Leisel.” He turned on his heel to leave.

She ran after him. “Don’t be like this, Franz.” She put both of her hands on either side of his face and kissed him with an open mouth. “Please don’t be angry with me. Leave Marta in the past. I guarantee you will not be disappointed next time we are together.” Leisel turned and went into the house, leaving Franz staring after her.


Chapter 19

Minneapolis, Minnesota – September, 1939—Josie stood in lines during her first week on campus. Lines for registering. Lines for class selection. Lines for buying books. Lines for cafeteria meals. Lines. Lines. Lines.

A girl named Anna from a very small town called Hayward, Wisconsin turned out to be her roommate. Five foot two Anna seemed like a ball of fire—strong and full of energy. She wore her strawberry blonde hair in a ponytail, and like Josie, she didn’t bother with make-up. Anna’s perfect oval face and flawless porcelain complexion attracted special stares from boys as she strolled through the corridors of the different buildings. From their first introduction, the girls connected like close sisters.

Josie acquired all of the classes she wanted and purchased the required books and unused school supplies. Anna and Josie used the few days before classes began to map out the locations of their classes. They tramped from building to building, getting lost more than once, but they corrected their course in order to boost their confidence for the first real day of classes.

The semester began at a snail’s pace, but in a few weeks, the pace quickened and Josie and Anna studied every waking hour. A dorm full of active, noisy girls didn’t lend itself to serious study, so the library became their home away from home.

Josie’s mother wrote every week, reporting on the activities of the farm. Betsy took sick, and they called the vet twice, but now Josie’s prize cow continued to improve. Josie’s brother Peter took a job at the local Autolite factory and her older brother Johnny enlisted in the Army Air Corps to become a pilot.  Johnny would leave for basic training around Christmastime to train at Randolph Field in Texas. Her mother also wrote his girlfriend, Mary came to the house deeply upset with his decision.

Donna and Rosalie wrote about the latest news from their perspectives. The letters helped Josie overcome the homesick bumps in the road her mother prophesied. She gained confidence with Anna by her side as the days passed. Before they realized it, several weeks of classes proved to both of them that they were in the right place.



The Final Chapter on Teaching

colorful libraryThis is the time of year we all get excited about the holidays, except if you are a student and are coming down the home stretch with final exams leering in the near future. Last night was the last class that I will teach for the year; the two remaining class periods will include a practice test and then a FINAL exam.

We covered our final chapters last night, and I gave the students one final opportunity to raise questions on topics they still have failed to grasp. I can’t say I was surprised at some of the topics — like antecedents, appositives, comma placement, reflexive pronouns, and infinitives. I was surprised, though, when I learned some were still having trouble with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. God knows why these parts of speech are so problematic.

I sure wish there was a magic bullet for these students. English, even when it is your first language, can be so tough to understand. Truthfully, I think the originators of the language wanted to keep outsiders out–kind of like an exclusive club with its secret handshake. Just when a person grasps a concept, there is always an exception. It’s a wonder how immigrants ever pick up our language. I’m happy I didn’t have to learn it; I was born with it. So I can be patient with students struggling with concepts we learned early on in the class.

The saddest part of this class session is the final curtain has fallen on my teaching. I need to devote more attention to Ken, as well as my writing. I have “fallen off the wagon” with my novel, and I want to devote myself to producing another good story by next spring. I also don’t want to deal with the cold and snow when my old bones creak. I would have been a very good bear in winter because I’d just like to hibernate until spring.

Yes, I’m closing this chapter of my life. I’m ending yet another career. Not surprisingly, the constant thread running through my varied careers has been writing. From now on, I will grow where I’ve been planted. I will write until I have passed this life and go on  to the next. Writing and reading take me away from my small living room in a small house in Mid-west America. I can travel anywhere I want to go from my recliner when my real life commands I must stay put.

Do I regret not teaching any more? Yes and No. I’m a little burned out when it comes to trying to excite students who have no curiosity. Students who watch me with a blank stare are impossible to reach. They have no desire to learn, and I wonder why they are in the classroom in the first place. No matter what I try, I don’t seem to be able to light a fire in these individuals. But I will miss those students who look at me with bright eyes and truly do their best work. Seeing their progression is a wonderful thing because I know they will succeed at whatever they decide to do after they leave me with a few more arrows in their education quiver.

Testing and Learning–Are They The Same?

failure-successMy writing class had another test last week and as usual, I put off grading them until Sunday afternoon. I don’t like tests myself, and I hate the results I see when I have to grade them. Like most other tests, I was disappointed in the outcome. The highest mark was 85. Five students out of fifteen passed. The rest did horribly.  Everything on the test was in their books. There was no surprises. I cautioned them, “this will be on the test,” as we went through the material together. When asked, they say the test was fair, so, why the high rate of failure?

Students say they want to pass, but I think at this point it’s just lip service. Most of them are in class everyday, but somewhere along the line there is a disconnect. They tell me they love coming to class because I’m their favorite teacher, but yet, I get these kinds of results on my “fair” tests. I wish I didn’t have to give tests to measure their progress at all, but there is really no other way to make sure if they are learning what I am teaching.

These adult novice students have a lot of stresses in their lives with family responsibilities and full-time jobs. Many of them are single parents;  all of them have seen hard times or are living them.  I understand that, but right now, their world is too narrow to see the bigger picture. What these students haven’t learned yet is this:  Everyone who wants to improve must sacrifice on many levels.  I think this is where the disconnect is happening. They are too early in the educational process to realize if their desire is to graduate, they must move their education to the top spot in their priorities.

Twenty-five years ago I learned this the hard way, too. In fact, I always share with all of my classes that I have gone through what they are experiencing now. I was an adult student with full-time school, job, and children, but as I got deeper into the educational challenges of my curriculum, I realized I wasn’t super woman who could do it all. I had to make a choice. Did I want a degree bad enough to make changes in my life?  Those changes involved other unwilling participants who were involved in my life, and needless to say, they weren’t happy about what was going on. They had lost their personal slave who did everything for them.

Now I’m on the other side of the hill–teaching. I do my best to reach out to my students and warn them of the upcoming potholes they will deal with on their journey. But like so many other travelers, they want to blaze their own trail and will eventually fall into the hazards I tried to point out.  My biggest dream is they will take away something more than grammar and writing lessons as they go forward.

Only the believers will succeed, and their sacrifices will be many, so any adult student who walks across the stage on graduation night to accept his or her diploma has my love and respect. They deserve it.

A Day in The Life of an Adjunct Instructor

great teacherIf you have been following me for a while, you know I have been teaching writing as an adjunct instructor at the local community college for the past two years. I’d like to share something that happened in my class yesterday. I have a couple of darling male students who wanted to play the game, “Stump the Instructor.”  I realized what they were doing right away because I’ve been down this path before. I’m happy to tell you, the game was over as soon as it started when I flat out told them, “I don’t know everything. Look it up.”

I continued the class by telling him, “I don’t know everything about everything. But I know more about writing and English grammar than you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here.”  Done.

I think teachers who set themselves up as omniscient beings are asking for trouble. Even grade school children go to work to prove their parents and teachers are wrong about something. This is the very reason I tell my classes I don’t know everything. I tell them I make mistakes once in a while. I do so because it makes me human, and a better teacher.  My role is to coach and guide them through the class, instead of parking myself on some know-it-all pedestal. I want my feet firmly on the ground to connect with my students. I do this by sharing it wasn’t so long ago I was sitting in their seat. I tell them I was an adult student just like they are now, and say I understand they have other responsibilities in their life, which can throw a monkey wrench into their worlds once in a while. In the next breath, also share I graduated from college Magna Cum Laude in four years with two children and a part-time job. In other words, I subliminally say, “There are no excuses. If you want an education,  you will find a way to get it done.”

I know one of the best things they can do for themselves is to show up. When they are in class, they have the benefit of my experience. I give them tips on how to approach an exam, how to take good notes, and encourage them to ask “why?” As we go through the textbook from week to week, I try give them memory aids I’ve made up. Like ABIOOTU, which is my made up word for all two-letter prepositions. Then there’s the tried and tested, “I before E, except after “C” jingle.” And once in a while, I come up with something new. I before E

Yesterday as I stood at the white board explaining the difference between infinitives and prepositional phrases beginning with the word “to,” I had a spontaneous inspiration. I said,  “Here’s a Barbara tip  — the “V” in the word INFINITIVE tells you “to” is paired with a VERB, where as, the word PREPOSITION has an “N” so in this case, “to” is paired with a NOUN.” I realized I am a  frickin’ impromptu genius!

I love when my creativity has the chance to inspire others who want to learn. I even love teaching  students who still are lumps of clay, not sure if they want to learn. But I despise students who come to class only to collect their financial aid and have no intention of learning because they not only want cheat the system. Little do they know, they are cheating themselves, too.

So on it goes, from one class to another, from one textbook chapter to the next. Learning happens somewhere in the process. I can only hope that some of the things I try to teach will stick.

The Wonder of Stars

planets and stars

I enjoy the Science Channel. I think I’m intrigued because I never took a science class in school, and I learn something from every program. It’s new, exciting and usually beautiful.

I can hear you now, “How in the world did you get through college without ever taking a science class?”

Well, my elementary education took place in a Catholic school where funds were limited and teachers worked more as a calling than a profession, so subjects that were expounded upon in the public schools, like physical education, science, and mathematics were gently touched in my school.

That’s not to say we graduated dummies. We all left with a strong sense of the basics—reading, writing and arithmetic (not “new math). Our “saving grace” (excuse the pun) was we learned how to study. So, when we did go on to high school, we all did well. We soon realized hard work, combined with the basic skills we got at St. Sebastian’s, would get us through any class. And as proof, most of my 34 classmates went on to graduating from college—many the first in their families.

But by the time I got to high school, I was intimidated by Science and advanced math. I also knew that college wasn’t in my future at that time in my life, so I usurped the science department and immersed myself in the business department. Mistake number one—limiting myself.

Now, I am so sorry I let my fear of the unknown drive me away from science. As I watch the interesting programs on the Science Channel, I realize what I missed. Who knows? My childhood fascination with the planets and stars might have turned me into an astronomer—of course, I would have had to get over my math phobia, too.

Holy cow . . . that was a nice tangent, wasn’t it?

What I meant to tell you about was the program I saw last night. I learned EVERYTHING in the universe is part of the STARS, and that includes us! Wow! Think about it! The energy, matter and chemicals that we are made of came from outer space! WE are a product of the amazing universe! We’re Star People!

Of course, it took billions of years to make planet Earth from an exploded star, and then a few more billions for the comets to come along. And then a few more billion years for humans to appear on the scene. But think of it! How great is it to know that we are all part of the vast universe in which we live.

I wish everyone on the planet could have seen that program. Just think. Maybe we’d be less apt to destroy our environment for our own purposes if we understood we are literally destroying ourselves with such ignorance. Better yet, if we all saw ourselves as part of a great universe, we might even think twice before picking up guns to destroy one another. We might even realize we are more alike than different because we come from the same place.  I’m just saying. . .