Germany

CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT

My life has never been dull, but I planned it that way. I believe I chose it from the spirit world before I was born. It’s been very challenging with lowdown times, along with plenty of excitement, and I’ve been grateful for all of it—especially for all the folks who chose to be a friend or an acquaintance. Some stayed a long time; others came and went. I am a kind person and attracted kind people, for the most part. I believe that’s the way life works—you get back what you put out. But that doesn’t mean any of us have a smooth ride—think back to the histories of family and friends…

I got my worldly view starting at age four and living in Bavaria, Germany right after the disastrous WWII. I had been blessed with a Southern Virginia loving family upbringing, I was totally accepting experiencing a strange, harsh-sounding language and bombed out buildings and learned to speak German fluently. My stepfather was a stern Army officer and I towed the line, for the most part. Another highlight were my teen years in the 1950’s living in exotic Tripoli, Libya, a country of desert sand, camels and a lovely seashore once trod by Romans centuries ago. I can’t say I understand the full implication of the history or philosophy in those ancient lands, but I can understand and relate to their humanity, which makes me more accepting of the upheavals that area has been suffering—with no end in sight.

My sister Tupper and I in Murnau, Bavaria, Germany

My sister Tupper and I in Murnau, Bavaria, Germany

These reminisces are probably typical as we age and are faced with health, financial and social issues. Since I’m a writer and knew that was my destiny from the age of ten, I tend to mull over my life’s ups and downs. Perhaps a reader will glean some self-wisdom from my words.

Viki Williams in 1956--the family Ford in from of our villa on Via de Gaspari, Garden City, Tripoli.

Viki Williams in 1956–the family Ford in front of our villa on Via de Gaspari, Garden City, Tripoli.

I’ve had some typical experiences—a marriage, the birth of a girl and a boy (both fabulous, loving humans), and a divorce. I chose to pursue a career in journalism, writing for both weekly and daily Los Angeles newspapers, before I wrote several books (Melaynie’s Masquerade – a 16th century historical fiction and several other books based on some true experiences – all available on Amazon:) As an author and a longtime newspaper editor, I felt the next best step was editing books. During the past 15 years, I have guided many wonderful authors, some of them first timers, through a wide variety of books.

Although I’ve generally been very healthy, I was challenged in the past few years with mobility issues that were getting worse, but I thought 2016 was going to be a turnaround year since I was getting a new hip on my right side. Instead, I’ve been dealing with various complications that sometimes come with surgeries, like losing my appetite for several months. The latest involved flashing lights and dizziness. Between various tests and doctors’ opinions (it wasn’t a stroke, as I first thought), I’m slowly moving forward, hopes high. Thank the Lord that we can’t see the future, for the most part. And we’re responsible for our attitudes. I’ve always been an optimist, thankfully, and that attitude has always suited me.

Besides an inner knowing that it will all work out, eventually, it seems I won’t be needing to go on a diet or take drugs for high blood pressure in the near future. Since my operation in January, I have dropped 45 pounds. It’s been awhile since I’ve been this slender. And my blood pressure went down about 30 points. The future looks bright.

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

As Christmas season and gift giving makes its merry way into the lives of those who celebrate it, I think about years past and what stood out about those times. To me, the holidays are sentimental. It reminds me of my parents, my siblings, my relatives and all the friends I’ve known over the years. As each year passes, there are more friends and relatives who are departing Mother Earth and this special time becomes more bittersweet.

I believe my childhood as an Army brat, traveling around the world, probably inspired me to keep in touch with as many old friends and relatives as I possibly could. I saw that my parents did it (my mother signed the cards and wrote the accompanying notes) and I enjoyed reading all the Christmas mail they got in return. I’ve been doing the same for several decades and continue to enjoy everyone’s news, even though I’ve graduated to modern technology and use Email.  This past year was a busy one of editing and I wrote about all the books I’d edited since they were quite a mix of subject matter.

There are a few holiday occasions I remember with a special fondness. My earliest Christmas memory is a postwar celebration in Murnau, Germany, in the 1940s. My mother was newly married. Instead of the train I remember asking for, I received a set of painted wooden doll furniture embellished with colorful Bavarian décor, which once consisted of a bed, table, two chairs and a chest. I still have the foot-high chest of drawers; it’s in excellent shape considering the years. It doesn’t contain doll clothes, just a variety of items like extra toothbrushes, spare night lights and a few remembrances.

Ella, my German mother-in-law, and me

Ella, my German mother-in-law, and me in Bavaria

Germany figures in several Christmas celebrations, like my last one in college. As an Army dependent, I had a free trip to my parents’ home in Mannheim, but it was space available from Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey. A large group of students and military personnel spent five days waiting for an empty airplane seat. An older Master Sergeant became my protector and one night took me to see the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade.” Once I made it to Germany, I felt like a debutante with all the social activities and attention from eligible Army lieutenants. Winging homeward to the US on New Year’s Eve from Rhine-Main Air Base, a few of us college coeds were invited by flirtatious Air Force pilots into the cockpit to see the Midnight Sun over Northern Canada.

There was another German Christmas in 1967, a couple of years after I was married. My husband’s Army parents, as well as my own, were  stationed in Germany. My folks were in Frankfurt and his were in Kaiserslautern. The photo here shows me with Ella, my delightful mother-in-law during a visit to picturesque Garmisch in Bavaria.

I recall my daughter Heidi’s second Christmas and the Fisher-Price dollhouse Santa brought. She was old enough to appreciate it, and I can still see it because it’s on film. I was about six months pregnant with her brother at the time. And below, I have a photo taken of my kids–Heidi and Hansi–with Santa Claus around 1975.

Heidi and Hansi with Santa

Heidi and Hansi with Santa

I can’t forget the memory of the last family Christmas I spent with my parents, sister and brother. My little family—husband and two youngsters–drove from LA to San Antonio, Texas, in a spacious Plymouth; the backseat was large enough for a crib mattress, an idea I’d gotten from a TV show. I bought a harness for both kids (three years old and eight months old) and strapped them to the seat belts, so they could sleep and also crawl around. It might not be considered safe now, but nothing bad happened.

That Christmas my mother’s kidney disease was just beginning to get worse, my brother was still in college and my sister was going to junior college in Utah. Two years later my mother had left the world for good.

A few years later my sister joined us for a California taste of winter. My mother-in-law rented a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which gave us a whole new perspective on the holidays. We bought a tree on the way there, a bargain since it was Christmas Eve, but then had to lug everything up countless steps to this aerie on a hill with a view of a small lake below. We did our decorating the old-fashioned way by stringing popcorn. Before we left a few days later, my kids tried out sledding for the very first time.

Dealing with my new divorce in the 1980s felt daunting, but my sister’s small family and my still single brother were supportive by joining me and my kids in Los Angeles for Christmas. Four small children and four adults filled my house with laughter, and my sister brought along the ingredients to make a lovely little gingerbread house.

Family Christmas 1981

Family Christmas 1981- Me, brother Darby, sister Tupper & kids-David, Hansi, Heidi & Heather.

A ROLLING STONE…

The world has grown more mobile since my youth. In the mid 20th century, many folks stayed in their hometowns for their entire lives. Being a military brat, like I was, meant you would be a gypsy. Sensing that fact, I’ve been documenting my addresses since 1950. One of my parents’ military friends, who knew I enjoyed reading, gave me a history book Love Affairs That Have Made History. For some reason I don’t remember, I decided to write down all my addresses on the front flyleaf and when I ran out of space, I added some on the back.

 

Mom's childhood home, the blue color is recent and I think it's been torn down.

Mom’s childhood home, the blue color is recent and I think it’s been torn down.

I was born in Danville, Virginia, during World War II and my first home was a bedroom in my mother’s family home on Berryman Avenue. It was a spacious 2-story wooden home on a corner with a cemetery across the street: my Motley grandparents’ final resting place. When Mom married Darby, her second husband, they began married life with me in Murnau, Germany, in 1947. It was a picturesque Bavarian village undamaged by the war, and even though my dad was only a Captain, the huge 18-room house we were assigned made us feel like he was a General. To the victor go the spoils comes to mind. Although I was quite young, I can still remember the large garage building, full of empty bottles (maybe they recycled during wartime). We even had a maid and a houseboy and a hill nearby to ski down. My sister was born in Munich, where the big military hospital was, and her first home was our “mansion” in Murnau.

 

My dad's tomato garden on the side of our German mansion.

My dad’s tomato garden on the side of our German mansion.

When we sailed back to the U.S. in 1950, we lived in an apartment building in Ft. Lee, New Jersey—401 Park Place, to be exact (I bet Gov. Christie knows!). The only thing memorable for me was my mother getting locked out on the roof when she was hanging clothes, and the fact that one of the famous Ames Brothers singing group lived in the same building. We were soon sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, for the next year and lived at 34F Pulaski Street. I imagine these military quarters were fairly basic, but we were there such a short time I can’t remember anything but being smart enough to skip second grade in elementary school.

Shortly after the Korean War started, my dad, who might have been a Major by then was given orders to participate as a Corps of Engineers officer in Korea. Years later he remembered the horror of war even in the midst of the Alzheimer’s that finally killed him. Mom, my sister and I moved to Dad’s home state of Florida, and we lived in a small stucco home in Jacksonville Beach (530 11th Avenue North). I remember seeing sand everywhere instead of grass, and the very wide beaches where you could actually park your car before going into the ocean to swim. My 4th grade teacher was a pioneer of sorts—she had us participate in a morning snack time of raw fruits and vegetables we were required to bring from home. Music was also a priority: each class member had to learn to play harmonica for our class band. We even had uniforms—colorful little satin capes and envelope caps, like members of the Army!

When Dad came back in one piece in 1952 from Korea, he was bearing Japanese gifts – a pearl necklace for Mom and painted silk parasols for my sister and me (I still have mine). It was time to head north—the Bronx in New York City. Dad was going to study for his Master’s Degree at NYU. City living was very different; at Fordham Hills Apartments, 2451 Webb Avenue, we lived on the 12th floor. I attended PS 33 for 5th grade from 1953-54. The school was located almost under the elevated subway and across the street from a Loew’s movie theater.

Elevators were commonplace in New York and my toddler sister escaped us one day and rode up and down on our elevator until I managed to track her down. The apartment buildings were on a hill and the sidewalks leading to a playground at the bottom of the hill were ideal for roller skating practice.

My dad’s next assignment was Ft. Knox, Kentucky. There weren’t any officers’ quarters available at first, so we had temporary quarters in what was called the cantonment area (T-7600 D Montpelier Street), which was once part of an old hospital with lots of empty, closed down corridors. It was a short distance from the famous Gold Vault (the US Gold Bullion Depository)—no tours, however. We were rewarded at Ft. Know, however. My baby brother was born there in the military hospital, of course.

Within a few months, we had graduated to large brick quarters at 1460B Fifth Avenue where we would live until November 1955. Although quite nice, these quarters were typical of almost any Army base. The street name sounded prestigious, and I remember the old leafy trees and quiet atmosphere. We had a nice basement where my dad could indulge in his photography hobby and I could put on dancing/singing shows with girlfriends from the neighborhood using my folks’ old 78 rpm records. One of my favorites was “Managua, Nicaragua is a wonderful town…” While we were there President Dwight Eisenhower visited and I actually had a peek.

I had started 8th grade when Dad got orders for Nouasseur, Morocco. The orders were changed quickly to Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. After a very long flight and stops in the Azores and Morocco, we landed at Wheelus and our first home was the Hotel Del Mahari for a few weeks. It felt like something out of the Arabian Nights with fountains and flowers and exotic smells, but we soon moved into a two-story villa with one apartment on each story in Garden City: 26 Via De Gaspari. We lived on the second floor, had three bedrooms, one bathroom, separate dining and living rooms and a large balcony with a view of the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound across the street. It had a one-car garage and a small side yard. The windows had roll-down wooden shutters, which helped keep sand out during the ghiblis (sandstorms).

Our two and half-year sojourn in Tripoli was the highlight of my youth, but I’ve written far too much in other areas of my blog to cover the same material again.

When the family headed back to the States again in 1958, we were bound for Alexandria, Virginia and Davis Avenue. It was suburban Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C. area. Dad would be stationed at the Pentagon working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We didn’t have a villa this time but a small stone-fronted two-story home with a good-sized back yard dominated by a weeping willow tree. My parents didn’t stay long; when I went off to study at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, they went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to the US Army War College for a year before heading off to Mannheim, Germany.

I joined them in Germany after college and started a whole new saga in my life that brought me to California, where I’ve been ever since.

 

 

A PROUD ARMY BRAT

Growing up as an Army brat was an incredible education. We (which includes brats with Air Force, Navy and Marine fathers) weren’t familiar with hometowns, where you lived in a certain neighborhood and went to the same schools for years. We kept our friends by sending letters back and forth, through US Mail. We learned to adjust and make friends fast since we never knew how soon we’d be transferred. We learned to make the best out of our lives.

I began my Army brat wanderings at age 4 at the Munchen, Germany, train station in 1947 when I met my mother’s new husband and my new father, Capt. A.D. Williams. The photo is below. I learned quickly what war looked like–Munich was full of bombed-out buildings from the recent war.

MunchenArrival-'47

Military life is very different than civilian life. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine fathers all wore uniforms, which had to be starched, ironed, and kept in excellent shape. My mother was expected to keep my dad’s things in perfect order, and she advised me, ruefully, never to let a man take me for granted. In other words, don’t volunteer to iron or you’ll be stuck behind an ironing board forever. Thank God, Permanent Press was available when I got married, and my husband had elected to stay only in the Reserve Army (two weeks of uniforms in the summer).

Way before the cheap giant stores we have now, the Army provided the PX (post exchange) a version of department store with mostly quality things at lower prices, and the Commissary (nicknamed the Co-misery by some) for reasonably priced food. Prices needed to be low since joining the service, whichever one was chosen, was not designed to make your parents rich. I still have some record albums (remember those?) from the PX in the early ‘60s that only cost $2.35! And a china cabinet full of nice silver and crystal from the PX that I got for wedding presents. I could entertain like my parents, but who uses silver trays and bowls, fancy silverware and crystal except for very special occasions? Or perhaps if you’re part of the British Royal Family!

Entertainment was always a priority in the service; officers and their wives had calling cards and went through all the proper protocol. Officers and enlisted men did not socialize with each other: they each had their own clubs. The clubs weren’t always very special, like the photo below shows. The Class VI store, on the other hand, was available to those, no matter what rank, who were old enough to imbibe alcohol in its various forms. Cocktail parties, dinner parties, special dinners/parties given by a certain command or military group were typical to celebrate holidays, promotions, farewells, etc. Each weeknight, if they didn’t have other social plans, my mother would put on a nice dress and heels and greet my dad with Martinis or Manhattans and sliced raw vegetables (pioneers for eating, if not drinking, healthy) for cocktail hour, from 5-7 p.m., wherever they were stationed. I can’t remember if he got comfortable first and took off the uniform.

Army posts offered tennis courts, bowling alleys, shooting ranges, gyms: you name it. There were always movie theaters and movies were very cheap. Because of my thrifty dad, however, I remember my mother making us kids popcorn and putting it into small paper bags to take to the 35-cent or cheaper films. In the summer, there were usually several huge pools to choose from, an easy bike ride away. And when you became a teenager, there was a teenage club with lots of activities.

Rules and regulations were to be obeyed without protest; everything had certain hours, posted in military time. My dad wrote me letters military style while I was away at college: paragraphs were numbered and if he was scheduling a pickup or a visit, it would be written as 0800 hours or perhaps 1600 hours, for instance.

My wedding day -- outside military housing in Frankfurt, Germany

My wedding day with parents & sister — outside US Army military housing in Frankfurt, Germany

If your dad got orders, it was time to leave, no matter how well you liked your home/school/ post. Moving wasn’t ever that easy, but there were Army personnel to pack up your household goods: until the Army got smart eventually and started providing furniture, dishes, bedding and the like at the new military destination, especially in Europe. Personal household items seldom arrived at the new quarters on time or in good shape, but that was to be expected or accepted, even if it ended up on the bottom of the ocean, which did happen, although not to us. If you were in Army quarters, you were expected to leave them spic and span. They were subject to inspection, and that meant bedsprings, tops of doors, ovens, etc. Remember the old TV ad for the “White glove test?” Wanting to save money, my dad insisted Mom do the cleaning instead of hiring a cleaning crew.

Army fathers (as I imagine all service fathers) were used to a regimented schedule. When we went on a vacation in the States, we got up at 4 a.m. (0400 hours) and hit the road. I got a laugh from the scene in the movie “The Great Santini” when the family got in their car to leave in the wee hours. In the 50s we traveled to Tripoli in what some joked was a putt-putt airplane, propeller-driven and loud. It involved several refueling stops and seats were not all facing the front, which made it easy for my sister to throw up on my brother. Military airplanes in the 50s and 60s made stops in places like the Azores, Morocco, England, Scotland, Newfoundland and Labrador (depending upon which direction you were traveling). Once off an airplane, you didn’t get your land legs back for at least a day. Until then your ears buzzed and everything seemed to move, even if you were sitting down.

Traveling by ship was more common in the 40s and 50s. I got my “sea legs” when I was four years old: from New York to Hamburg, Germany, and then by train to Munich. The best experience was the military Mediterranean Cruise in 1958–17 days of sightseeing and parties.

When an Army father retired, he usually picked someplace near a post or base since he could still use the PX, Commissary, medical facilities and space-available air travel. Many times the retirement choice would be the area of his last post or base. When he’d had enough, my dad and mom chose Texas for the warm climate and the close proximity of Ft. Sam Houston, where, ironically, my mother and I had been briefly during WWII when she’d been married to my birth father. My mother left this world and “retired” for good from Brooke Army Hospital at Ft. Sam Houston.

Military life as a dependent involved a great deal more than I could fit into this story, but my story gives a general idea.

Being an Army brat was a great adventure, despite the challenges. Living in exotic places was exciting but best of all were the friends you made and kept, if you chose to. My parents kept up with Army couples all over the world until they died, and I always looked forward to reading all the Christmas cards from everywhere. It’s a tradition I chose to cherish and carry on.

A German Romance in Mannheim by Victoria Giraud

As an old German song goes, I did “leave my heart in Heidelberg,”  as well as Mannheim, and I’d have to add Murnau in Bavaria. I lived in all three cities off and on from 1947. Of course I also share my heart with Tripoli, Libya. I will stop here before the list grows too long, typical for a U.S. military brat.

Germany came up again because of Dr. Christian Fuhrer, a professor in Mannheim who’s publishing a book on the history/memories of the American military in the Mannheim area, especially now that most of the Americans have left. Dr. Fuhrer is nostalgic but wrote today to say he was delighted when an American found my blog about Mannheim and then visited Christian recently in Mannheim. The American fellow had gone to Mannheim American High School, just like my ex-husband had. Life is incredibly full of connections and synchronicity.

I met my future husband in Germany at an official going-away party at the Mannheim Officers Club for my dad, Col. A.D. Willams, and there was a band for dancing. Hans asked me, his former commander’s daughter, to dance and there was no one else on the dance floor. I had been introduced, just moments before, by a lieutenant I had met previously.

 

The Secretary for the Manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club – Me in the 1960s!

The tall handsome blond with German heritage was light on his feet, polite, interesting and self-confident. That dance led to a serious flirtation that kindled almost immediately. It had happened just in time because my family was moving north to Frankfurt, about an hour’s drive, and I was moving with them. A recent college graduate, I had only been in Germany a few days. I could enjoy a vacation for a short while, but I knew I would need a job soon.

Within a couple of weeks I was in Frankfurt wondering what I’d do for work and where I’d find it. In the meantime, I was looking forward to a planned rendezvous with Hans, who was driving up to our new home and taking me out to explore Frankfurt, which had been his birthplace and where he’d lived until his mother married an American soldier after WWII. My mother, an accomplished seamstress who enjoyed and approved of Hans, had made me a stylish wrap-around silk dress for the occasion. I was looking forward to the historic sights and visiting a well-known restaurant Hans had mentioned, which was noted for its music and food.

The Sunday date arrived without a word from Hans, but I assumed he’d make it. We had already gone out a few times, and he’d never given the impression he wouldn’t keep his promises. Alas, he never called and he never showed up. No cell phones in those days and besides, it wasn’t proper to call the guy and ask him where the hell he was, especially when I didn’t have his number. My parents were very supportive as I moped around and kept looking at my lovely and unworn dress.

Although I was very disappointed, I tried to forget being stood up and concentrated on what I could do to make money, especially since my dad kept reminding me I had an education and now I had to find a job. Not long after, Dad informed me he had a driver going down to Heidelberg for the day and that’s where a central personnel office was located for those looking for a job working for the American Army in Mannheim/Heidelberg.

The trip to Heidelberg was a successful one—I met and became friendly with a young American woman looking for a job, and lined up an interview with the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club, who was looking for a secretary. I was feeling positive about the job, but most important to me at the time, I also finagled a way to connect with the errant Hans.

What happens when I see Hans again? Look for my the next blog.

APRIL IS A BLESSING

Of all the months in the calendar, April has the most beautiful name. It’s fun to say; it seems like a song. When I looked it up, I discovered the word was a short form of the Greek word for Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, also known as Venus. No wonder I love the name!

Who can argue with the beginning of marvelous Spring, at least in the Northern Hemisphere? Chaucer sang its praises in the prologue to his famous Canterbury Tales. I still remember the first four lines from my William and Mary college English course—we read Chaucer in 14th century Middle English and the first lines went like this:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droughte of Marche hath perced to the roote,

And bathed evry veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour…

Essentially, Chaucer is describing how April rains relieve March drought and soak the roots of plants to produce April flowers. I enjoyed the rhythms of the words and the challenge of deciphering what they meant. These words were already beginning to take on a more modern form and are recognizable.

As an English major, I also had a course in what was in the 1960s deemed Modern English Literature. Poet T.S. Eliot, an American who became an English citizen in the early 20th century and died in 1965, was considered a modernist and known for his famous  complex poem The Waste Land.

Eliot apparently wasn’t enthusiastic about April. Written in 1922, The Waste Land is a poem of disillusion and despair and is especially known for the lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.

The month of April has been a good one for me. I was married twice in April to the same man! Since Hans was stationed with the US Army in Mannheim, Germany (my dad had been his commander), we got married there in 1965. German law required a civil ceremony, which was accomplished in Mannheim-Kafertal on April 7. A few days later on April 10, we had a church wedding in Frankfurt, where my parents were stationed.

Seven years and a baby daughter (Heidi) later, my son Hansi was born in Los Angeles. It was April 11, 1972. This year Hansi turns 40 and he is also getting married—a great source of celebration! Even though I am divorced, I can truly say April is a month of love.

As a reminder that life has its ups and downs – April 15 is usually tax filing day. And this year April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Oh well, nothing’s totally blissful!

 

Me & Baby Hansi -- His Christening

 

America’s Servicemen—Ambassadors to the World

With American troops soon coming home from Iraq, it reminds me, as an Army brat, how American troops (and their dependents) have, for decades, affected the world in many positive ways with their presence. It hasn’t been all about making war; we’ve made peace and spread good will.  I imagine that many Iraqi children will grow up and remember generous American soldiers who were kind to them in some way.

My blog has attracted attention in many parts of the world, which reminds me how small the world truly is. Since I’ve written about my adventures in Tripoli in the 1950s, I’ve made friends both in person and on the Internet with Libyans, both young and older. Those who are old enough remembered the positive American presence in the 1950s and 60s.  I’ve also written about my years in Germany when my dad was stationed in Mannheim and Frankfurt.

A German professor from Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg Mannheim,  Dr. Christian Fuehrer, contacted me when he saw the photo I’d posted of the Officers Club at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim.  He’s writing a book tentatively titled, Americans in Mannheim 1945-2011, because the US has essentially closed the military facilities in the Mannheim area. “The book will be a tribute to the thousands upon thousands of Americans for whom Mannheim has served as a temporary home,” Dr. Fuehrer said and added, “It’s also a personal way of saying thanks for a job well done. Postwar Germany owes the American servicemen much more than simple words can ever impart.”

Wasserturm Landmark in Mannheim

I sent Dr. Fuehrer several photos: one of them of my father handing out certificates of appreciation to German and French employees who worked for the American Army. Dr. Fuehrer said that very positive American practice was eventually adapted by German businesses.

Dr. Fuehrer’s interest in Americans started when he was sixteen and was curious about the odd license plates on American cars. He rode his bike into Benjamin Franklin Village (BFV) and ended up getting involved in the American community as: a translator at the USO, a member of the BFV church choir, and an attendee and volunteer at American events.

He knew about American generosity from his mother, who was three when World War II ended. “American soldiers shared their rations with my mother and her family. The mentality of Americans seems to be—‘We’ll weather through it all, as long as we stick together.’”

Some of the history he’ll share in his book includes the fact that Gen. George S. Patton had his fatal 1945 car accident in Mannheim. In 1982 an American soldier “borrowed” a tank from Sullivan Barracks and drove into downtown Mannheim. He destroyed a streetcar, and several cars and injured a couple of people before he backed the tank into the Neckar River and drowned. It made headlines, needless to say.

Sullivan Barracks -- American Army in Mannheim

The Mannheim American school system served my brother and sister in the 1960s; in the late 1950s, my ex-husband, and even actress Faye Dunaway attended Mannheim American High School.

 

Americans are leaving Mannheim, but they’ll always have their memories. And thanks to Dr. Feuhrer, when he finishes his book, they’ll be able to read more about it.

Life as an Army Brat

I was a draftee in the US Army from the time I was born. The old joke tells it best—I didn’t enlist, I was drafted.

My young mother, Garnette, wanted adventure, but I don’t think she bargained for the extra baggage so soon. After high school in Danville, Virginia, she took off for nearby Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and got herself a job as a clerk-typist. She was a beautiful woman and had no problem finding Victor, an eligible Infantry lieutenant and a West Point graduate, no less. It was 1942 and the US was already at war. I’m sure there were a slew of babies “hatching” in the pouch and military fathers doing the honorable thing by marrying the mothers.

Victor & Victoria

Although the marriage only lasted through the war, I think my mother loved Victor. Being a Southern lady, she didn’t tell me I was the result of a romantic dalliance until I was 19. She’d already found herself another Army lieutenant as the war ended. After a Reno divorce (she had to live there six weeks: see the old movie The Women), they married and then honeymooned in San Francisco.

My stepdad, Darby, was my new commander-in-chief and he and Mom added two new draftees, Joan Tupper and Darby III, as the years went by. Being Army brats, there were always travel adventures for all of us: Murnau, Mannheim and Frankfurt, Germany; Tripoli, Libya, the Bronx, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri; Ft. Knox, Kentucky; Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, essentially. They traveled back to Germany while I was in college, and I joined them when I graduated. Who wanted to miss the opportunity?

Luckily, I loved moving and making new friends, even though I was a little bit shy in my younger years. One learns to be resourceful and comfortable wherever you end up. Orders are orders. Housing can be spacious or cramped. Before we got officer’s housing in Ft. Knox, we were in a cantonment area, (temporary quarters)—a one-story converted old wooden hospital with closed-off corridors near the famous Gold Vault.

Regular officers’ quarters were usually more than adequate. You’d never mistake them since they look almost identical in any US fort: solid and respectable-looking two story brick with basements and garages and a decent-sized yard. Some of these leftovers remain in the Army’s famous Presidio on the best real estate in San Francisco, now privately owned.

In Germany, right after WWII, as the occupying forces, we lived like rich folks in a two-story 18-room mansion in bucolic Murnau (undamaged by the war) with a separate garage, spacious grounds, a maid and a houseboy. Murnau is now a spa town and quite lovely. The skiing area in winter was about a 10-minute walk. If that wasn’t good enough, a longer excursion would have taken us to Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze in Garmisch. Quarters never got that good again, although our Tripoli villa was top notch. The photo below shows the home with the staked tomato plants in front. And my dad was only a captain!

Our Murnau home

I don’t think  “socialism” has particularly bothered me politically, or universal health care. Those were Army services. Housing and health care was provided, and you took what they gave you. I’ve never hankered after a specific family doctor. If any of us had a health problem, we’d accompany my mom to the dispensary, have our temperature taken and then wait. If it wasn’t serious, it might be many hours. Getting shots was not a choice; my mother hauled us into the dispensary every year as needed for what we needed, depending on where we were going next. As I often heard it said, however, “The Army takes care of its own.”

 

RE-ENCOUNTERING MY MISSING LIEUTENANT

I’ve always been resourceful, fairly patient and optimistic. In Germany, all those years ago, I didn’t accept that my love interest, the American lieutenant under my dad’s recent command, had really stood me up for our date in Frankfurt. Hans didn’t seem the type to be crass and impolite, but one never knows for sure.

I met Lois, a Californian who was visiting Europe, in the Heidelberg American personnel office. We were both looking for jobs and we hit it off right away, comparing notes on our lives and aspirations. She was a pro compared to me: she was 24 and I was only 21. She owned a small and sporty green MG, which she’d bought while exploring Europe that summer with a girlfriend. The girlfriend was going home to the States, but Lois had decided to get a job and stay in Germany. Lois had a serious boyfriend back home in Tracy, California, but she wasn’t through exploring life before she settled down to marriage.

By the time my dad’s driver, a handsome young lieutenant (I always noticed attractive men, of course), came to pick me up for the trip back to Frankfurt, I’d become fast friends with Lois. She had been staying at a hostel and would probably go back there for the night. I had a better idea. Why didn’t we stop at the Mannheim Officers Club since my driver and I had to go that way home? I told Lois about the happy group of beer-guzzling young officers I knew, and she was game. My driver was easy to persuade; I was 21 and not on a rigid schedule.

I would ride with Lois, I told the driver, and we would meet him at the officers club for a drink. We all arrived at the club before 5 p.m. and were sipping German beer served in a flip-top bottle (during Happy Hour, it only cost ten cents a bottle!) when I looked out the picture window of the bar into the parking lot. A blue Karman-Ghia had just parked and a familiar blond lieutenant got out of his low-slung car. As he sauntered toward the club, I noticed the mannerly middle-aged German waiter start pouring a Canadian Club and soda at the bar for his favorite customer (they spoke German with each other). It was Hans’ regular drink.

I wondered what Hans’ reaction would be when he walked in. He saw me right away and smiled as I pondered what he would have to say about himself and his behavior. He came over to our table right away and I made the introductions before he sat down.

“You are a hard person to find,” he said right away and explained his duty roster had changed at the last minute on Saturday, the day before our date. He had been forced to be on duty that Sunday. He told me he’d spent most of Saturday afternoon and night trying to find my dad’s telephone number at home. American Army operators couldn’t find it anywhere and he’d spent time calling anyone and everyone who might help. My family hadn’t been in Frankfurt for much more than a week and there was no formal telephone listing. He later showed me the slip of paper covered with names and telephone numbers as proof!

My Engagement photo proof

 

Not wanting to cut short our reunion and rekindled romance, Hans lined Lois up with one of his friends and the four of us decided to have dinner and explore the Heidelberg nightlife. I still remember the Pferdstalle, a club concocted from an old horse stable. I thanked the driver, who had to get back to Frankfurt, and told him to tell my dad I’d get a ride with my new friend, Lois, who I’d invited to spend the night after she drove me back to Frankfurt.

 

If the world creates lemons, don’t give up until you’ve made lemonade! That’s my conclusion now, but it wasn’t folk wisdom in those days.

 

More on Germany in my next blog.

 

Upcoming on Kindle – – my books and short stories

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

 

ROMANCE IN DEUTSCHLAND

When I met my future husband in Germany, I was first impressed with his self-confidence.  It was an official going-away party at the Mannheim Officers Club for my dad, Col. A.D. Willams, and there was a band. Hans asked me, his former commander’s daughter, to dance and there was no one else on the dance floor. I had been introduced, just moments before, by a lieutenant I had met previously.

Mannheim Officers Club

The tall handsome blond with German heritage was light on his feet, polite and interesting. That dance led to a serious flirtation that kindled almost immediately. It had happened just in time because my family was moving north to Frankfurt, about an hour’s drive, and I was moving with them. A recent college graduate, I had only been in Germany a few days. I could enjoy a vacation for a short while, but I knew I would need a job soon.

Within a couple of weeks I was in Frankfurt wondering what I’d do for work and where I’d find it. In the meantime, I was looking forward to a planned rendezvous with Hans, who was driving up to our new home and taking me out to explore Frankfurt, which had been his birthplace and where he’d lived until his mother married an American soldier after WWII. My mother, an accomplished seamstress who enjoyed and approved of Hans, had made me a stylish wrap-around silk dress for the occasion. I was looking forward to the historic sights and visiting a well-known restaurant Hans had mentioned, which was noted for its music and food.

The Sunday date arrived without a word from Hans, but I assumed he’d make it. We had already gone out a few times, and he’d never given the impression he wouldn’t keep his promises. Alas, he never called and he never showed up. No cell phones in those days and besides the fact it wasn’t proper to call the guy and ask him where the hell he was, I didn’t have his number. My parents were very supportive as I moped around and kept looking at my lovely but unworn dress.

Although I was very disappointed, I tried to forget being stood up and concentrated on what I could do to make money, especially since my dad kept reminding me I had an education and now I had to find a job. Not long after, Dad informed me he had a driver going down to Heidelberg for the day and that’s where a central personnel office was located for those looking for a job working for the American Army in Mannheim/Heidelberg.

The trip to Heidelberg was a successful one—I met and became friendly with a young American woman looking for a job, and lined up an interview with the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club, who was looking for a secretary. I was feeling positive about the job, but most important to me at the time, I also finagled a way to connect with the errant Hans.

What happens when I see Hans again? Look for my the next blog.

 

EBooks to be released this year on Amazon

 

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

 

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