I simply cannot deal with politics at the moment. How often can you explain that the Bush/Cheney Administration is the most corrupt, disgusting, warmongering, criminal, secretive, lying, greedy, rapacious, murderous, uncaring, unAmerican, and evil bunch ever to come into power? I have decided to add a new dimenstion to this blog, a short story. Anything to take my mind away from the awful events of the moment.
The summer weather in Stuttgart is unpredictable; either unseasonably cold or unpleasantly warm. On one such latter afternoon we were sitting in our Landlord's garden sharing a bottle of chilled wine, making conversation. The Landlord was proud of his garden and remarked, immodestly I thought, on how beautiful it was. It was beautiful, although more Japanese than German; a melange of rhododendrons, azaleas, pines, ferns and other plants that grew essentially as they did in the wild. The casualness of the garden was in dramatic contrast with the exaggerated orderliness of his home and daily routine. Perhaps that is why he enjoyed it so much. Wild strawberries were blooming, their tiny white flowers adding color here and there to the lush green carpet at our feet. It was a pleasant, quiet and private place. The strawberries made me think of the Markthalle, which in turn made me think of huckleberries.
"I was surprised to learn that you can buy huckleberries in the Markthalle. You'd never find them in a market back home."
"Oh, yes. Yes, we have them," the Landlord replied. "But they are very expensive."
"I know. We bought some this morning. I love huckleberries. I haven't eaten them since I was a child. We used to pick them every summer and my mother would make huckleberry pie. I loved it. But that was long ago. I haven't had them since. Until now, that is."
The landlord's wife, a small quiet woman who rarely spoke, surprised us by announcing: "There are lots of them in the Black Forest. The people there pick them and bring them here to the market. There are more than you can pick."
I laughed. "When I was a boy, if we found a huckleberry patch we never told anyone. We kept it secret and we'd go back year after year. My father always warned me to watch out for bears. Bears love huckleberries. But I never saw one."
"There are no bears in Germany," the Landlord observed matter-of-factly. "Not since before I was born."
We fell silent, each staring into the lovely little pool they had created. Water trickled slowly into the pool over moss covered rocks then re-emerged as a miniature waterfall, cascaded downward and suddenly disappeared. Sunlight filtered through the pines, sparkling as it hit the moving water and dancing in tune with the softly moving branches above. The landlord's wife began to speak again, quietly, as if to herself.
"During the war we were often hungry. Once we went into the forest to look for huckleberries. It was somewhere near the Swiss border. I was a little girl, only eight or nine years old. It must have been l944. I remember because there were planes overhead and I was afraid. The Americans had been bombing Stuttgart and much of it was destroyed. The windows in our apartment were shattered. We carried water from a well. There was no electricity. People were living in the streets. It was a terrible time. I went to the forest with my mother and my two brothers. We were all picking huckleberries. There were other people there too, in the same area. But there were lots of berries. The bushes were high, above my waist, and they were spread out all over..." she paused. I poured her a second glass of wine.
"As we picked we began to get separated. Without realizing it I was soon off by myself, quite a long way from my mother and everyone else. Then suddenly I saw this horrible person. He was hiding under some bushes. He looked awful! Like a skeleton. At first I thought it was a dead body, it was so thin and bony. But then it smiled and there was huckleberry all over its mouth and teeth. It was grotesque! I was terrified. I didn't know what to do. I stood there, staring. The face was like a skull. There was hardly any hair. I wanted to scream but couldn't. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. It motioned for me to come closer and held its finger to his mouth so I would be quiet. I was so frightened I couldn't bring myself to go near. I started to back away but its eyes begged me not to go. It kept motioning insistently that I come closer. I was transfixed. I didn't know what to do. I took a step forward, but then I turned and ran. I ran as fast as I could to find my mother. 'Mama! Mama!' I cried over and over. 'Mama! Mama!' Finally I heard her voice and I ran to her, crying in terror. It was a horrible experience! Even now, thinking of it, I am frightened."
"It must have been awful!" my wife exclaimed. "But what happened? What did you do?"
"I did a strange thing. I was so frightened I couldn't explain what had happened. When I reached my mother I said, 'Mama, I'm frightened of the planes. They're going to bomb us! Let's go away from here! Please, let's go!' But of course Mama wanted the huckleberries; we were so hungry. And she didn't know what had happened. She said, 'Don't be silly, the planes are not going to bomb the forest. Go and pick berries.' But I clung to her skirt and cried until finally she sat down and held me in her arms. Later we picked berries again. But I didn't leave her side. I stayed as close to her as I could. But still I said nothing. I couldn't wait to get away from there."
"But what happened to the man in the bushes?" I demanded. "Who was he? Why was he there?"
She stared deeply into her husband's eyes for a moment, then down toward her feet. "I don't know," she said softly. "I never told anyone before."