Part three of “A FIRST DATE DISASTER WITH A HAPPY ENDING”
If you red my previous story, you know I had received a letter with one word, “YES.” I immediately wrote back, “Great,” and I wrote when I was returning to the garrison. I asked her to meet me at the usual time by the clock.
Back at the garrison, I had a pleasant surprise. A package had arrived from my parents with my civilian cloth. I no longer had to run around in uniform when I was off duty. No G.I. wanted to dress in uniform outside the garrison. I proudly put on my best suite, tie, and walked to the clock. In those days, Army regulation stated that when you left the garrison, you had to wear class “A” uniform, a suite and tie, or a sport coat and tie. Since I was a tailor by trade, my cloths were all custom tailored suites, sport coats etc. of the best kind.
All dressed up, smiling from ear to ear with happy anticipations, I awaited my bride’s arrival. I spotted her coming up the street from a mile away. I expected to receive a happy heroes’ greeting. But, much to my surprise, her stride slowed down with every step she got closer to the clock. There was no excited greeting. Her hello was rather cool. I was taken aback. What had I done wrong? Had she regretted her yes? We walked the street of Heilbronn for a while. Our one-sided conversation was awkward to say the least. With my stomach in disarray, I pulled all my courage together and asked, “You want to get engaged on Christmas?” The answer was, “If you want too.” That sounded like the second half of the, “I don’t know.” At that moment, I could’ve used a stiff drink. My mouth was dry; but I dared to ask the next question. “Don’t you think I should meet your parents?” The answer was another nonchalant reply, “Yeah, you can.” Okay, I thought, not all is lost. I guessed the wedding is still on.
I pushed for a date. We agreed to take the bus to Weinsberg on Saturday at five o’clock. That’s where Heide’s parents lived. It was a forty-five minute bus ride. At that time, her parents still lived in a refugee camp. They had one room in which the bunk beds were separated from the living area by a curtain. The camp itself was actually off limits for American personnel. But since German was my mother tongue, no one was the wiser.
After we had agreed to visit her parents, Heide said she had to go home. I had the feeling that she couldn’t get fast enough away from me. It was puzzling to say the least. It usually was my curfew that set the time for parting, you know, Army bedtime.
Well, Saturday came. I arrived faithfully at the bus stop at four-thirty. The clock moved on, four-forty, four-fifty, five minutes to five and no Heide. It was baffling. Then the bus came. What to do? Something inside of me said, go take the bus and see her parents. Well, I did. When I arrived at the gate of the camp, I told them that I was visiting Mr. and Mrs. Riechen. They directed me to Heide’s parent’s barracks. With a nervous stomach, I knocked. Her Dad answered the door and said, “Oh you must be Ali. Come on in.” It was a one room, impeccably spotless domicile with not a cup out of place. I respectfully greeted Heide’s Mom and her little sister Karin. Her Dad said, “Make yourself comfortable,“and went to get a bottle and two glasses out of the cupboard. He placed them on the table and said, “Let’s have a drink.”
I don’t remember whether it was cognac or some kind of other German Schnaps, but it went down well. It loosened our tongues. I think my future ‘Father In Law’ was as nervous as I was. But the drinks, that kept coming, took care of that. When Heide’s Mom finished what she was doing, she joined us at the table.
Our conversation became lively. Of course, they were curious to hear about life in America. Heide’s friend’s parents had already relayed the conversation we had along similar lines. But her Dad wanted to know what it was like, entering a strange country as an immigrant, without speaking the language? Of course, being twenty-two years old when we arrived in Philadelphia, it was all a great adventure. But for my parents, it must have been a lot more difficult. My Dad was forty-nine, and my Mom was forty-two. However, I never heard them complain. My Dad had a cousin in Philadelphia who had a circle of German friends that of course helped my parents to get acclimatized. So, my rendition of life in the USA was quite upbeat. Actually, I had some funny stories to tell.
I recalled my limited bag of vocabulary that I had brought with me to the US. I knew the word bread, which was good I could buy bread. I knew the word Chesterfield, because in Germany we called a certain style overcoat Chesterfield. I guess you can figure out what kind of cigarettes we smoked. I’m sure you get the picture. Monday morning, after my Uncle and Aunt had left for work, Dad said, “Okay Allo, you speak English. Let’s go into the city.” Well, I had a hard time figuring out how bread and Chesterfield would get us into the city. But, I got us there and back without getting lost. Eating wasn’t a problem. In those days, Philly had plenty of Horn & Hardart restaurants that sold their sandwiches and platters from automates.
If you’re puzzled to read in one place my name as Ali, and in another as Allo, here is the answer. My old friends in Germany called me Allo and so did my parents. My coworkers, and my Army buddies called me Al, and Heide told her parents that my name was Ali. She had understood Hallo instead of Allo. There was no way she would have anyone call me Hallo. So that is how I ended up with three different names and still do so to this date. (My real name I won’t tell you.)
Here is another funny story. Dad worked in a tailor shop on Walnut Street near twenty-first. And I worked at a tailor shop on Walnut and Fifteenth Street. So we agreed that I would wait in front of the shop where I worked, and he would meet me there. I had told him to make a left when he came out and walk to where I was waiting. Oh well…I waited, and I waited, and who didn’t show up, was my Dad. I went to his tailor shop but that one was all locked up already. What to do? How do you find a lost father in big city? I took the trolley home, thinking that my Uncle would know what to do. I should have known better. He had gotten lost in New York when he picked us up at the pier. His language skills were so perfect, that his eight year old daughter had to translate. Anyhow, when I came home without my Dad, the alarm bells rang in the search for the lost Dad. Two hours later, the door bell rang. In front of the door stood my Dad laughing.
After the shock of having a lost Dad and Husband, we found out what had happened. After work, they let him out of the backdoor because the front was already locked up. My Dad faithfully made his left turn…You guessed it. Left out of the front, is not left out of the back. Consequently, he walked the streets of Philly for a couple of hours trying to find the Reading Terminal. After asking with hands and feet for direction, and pointing at his ticket, he was irrevocably lost, until, a guy with a grin on his face listened patiently. When Dad finished his sign language, the guy said in our hometown dialect, “Hey, where did they let you loose?” After a good laugh, the stranger took Dad and brought him to the train.
Between the drinks, and some good laughs, our relationship came to a full turn.
Of course, Heide’s Dad was no stranger to leaving home, friends, and family. Crossing the border into West Berlin by night in nineteen-fifty-five, and then passing from one refugee camp to another until they could settle down in Heilbronn, was no picnic. But, let’s leave that for later.
After two hours of story telling, and a bottle of German Schnaps, Heide’s Dad and I felt no pain. That’s what Heide walked into when she finally arrived. Her Dad said to her, “He is all right.” I had won his approval and her Mom’s love. From then on, I could do no wrong. She was an excellent cook and knew how to spoil me.
So, what happened at the bus stop, you say? She blamed her tardiness on a hair problem. Supposedly, she couldn’t get her hair fixed up. It was entirely the hair’s fault. Yeah…was it? Month later, Heide confessed that she was too chicken to watch me meeting her parents.
And the incident at the meeting after my return from Bad Tölls, the reason for that I only found out after we were married. She had fallen in love with a guy in uniform, and now I had waltzed up in a custom tailored suit that didn’t even look like everyone else’s cloths. And the moral of the story? Brothers in arms, wear the uniform until you’re married.
P.S. Part four will follow.