Chapter 5 - Exploitation
from Herman's Memoir
Heroes from the Attic:
A Gripping True Story of Traumas and Triumphs
Siggi and I arrived in Everett, Washington, at four o’clock on a Sunday morning. We had slept only fitfully that night, feeling elation and trepidation. When we got off the train, some of our relatives were waiting for us on the station platform. There were two aunts, two uncles and several cousins and at six feet I towered over them.
"Oh, what big boys!" exclaimed Aunt Houwke.
"Strong enough to shovel my manure," undoubtedly thought Uncle Fullo.
"Ja, groote boys," echoed her sister Aunt Helene, mixing Low German with English. Cousin Frauke raised her arm to greet me.
"Wo geiht Di denn?", she asked confidently, how do you do?
"Gaut," I replied. I did not expect to hear Low German in America and looked her over like a youngster looks at a circus clown, because Frauke was much shorter than I.
After introductions and handshakes, everyone got into two big, racy cars. I wanted to be an American. Our aunts and uncles did not look like look like American. They looked like little North German farmers.
Siggi climbed into Uncle Deepo’s light-blue spaceship-like Mercury, and I was invited into Fullo’s older-looking Chevrolet. We did not say good-bye to each other, because we assumed that we both would go to the same destination. After about a half-hour drive, Uncle Fullo made a sharp turn off the county road. Our heavy chrome bumper scraped the pavement as the tires began crunching up the steep gravel drive to his house, while Uncle Deepo’s family continued down the highway. They honked good-bye and Fullo returned their signal. I saw their taillights disappear around the bottom of the hill. There went Siggi, where to or how far, I did not know. I hoped that we would soon be reunited, because we had always been very close, had done everything together, and greatly depended on each other. Our souls were fused by our mutual singular suffering.
On the hillside the house was wrapped in darkness. I wanted to explore it, but my adrenaline was spent, and I soon asked to go to bed.
"I’ll show you your room," suggested Houwke. "Follow me. We built it especially for you. It’s not quite finished yet."
I felt a twinge of guilt, because somebody had built a room just for me. I was not used to such royal treatment.
Houwke led me out to a room in the attached woodshed, where I climbed into bed and fell asleep.
* * *
What is that knocking?
"Rise and shine!" came from the door, so I immediately and obediently crawled out of bed. It was still dark, and I did not understand why I had to get up so early, especially since I had barely slept that night. In the past I was roused in the dark only when sirens had scared us. Now I was wondering if there was a gunfight or a stampeding buffalo herd.
I dressed, looked out of the mirror hoping to see moonlit mountains and prairies, but instead I saw a tired kid straightening his hair, and then went back to the house.
"Good morning," Houwke greeted me with artificial cheer, while handing me a bundle of faded cloth. She herself was in stocking feet and dressed in faded pants and a flannel shirt. I found this really odd, because I had never seen a woman wear man’s clothes before. They always had worn dresses or skirts with blouses.
"Here, you can wear this for now."
I took her present back to my room and changed into my new clothes: a flannel shirt and torn blue pants with a front flap held up with integral suspenders. They belonged to Fullo, because its legs were far too short and almost two of me could fit side by side. I wondered why she asked me to wear these rags, because as poor as I had been, I had only seen such ragged clothes on the poverty-stricken Luitje family. In the movies cowboys always wore tall boots ’n big hats, and certainly not rags, especially not on Sundays.
This clown tiptoed back to the house in his stocking feet, quiet with embarrassment. At this time Houwke was out on the back porch, putting on some rubber boots and asked me to do the same, while pointing to a used pair nearby. I figured that these belonged to Fullo also, because they pinched my feet severely.
"Let me show you our cows," she said gleefully.
I wondered why I had to wear rags to look at cows. Even though it was still dark and raining, Houwke led me down the hill across the highway into a barn, where she turned on its lights. I followed her past the stanchions on each side, to the opposite end of the cow barn, where she opened a pair of big doors so the waiting herd of Holsteins could come rushing in. These were black and white on top, and plastered with a mixture of mud, and this cannot be described in lesser terms, because it would become a very significant part of my life, it would become my life, cowshit, below. As they lined up in the stanchions to feed on the hay and grain that had been laid out for them, we locked in the heads of the cows.
Only now did it slowly dawn on me that Siggi and I had traveled this far to milk cows, wet and significantly muddy cows. We had arrived in the greener pastures of the Evergreen State, and our future did not look rosy any more. It was to be pervasively muddy and green.
Fullo would not allow me to bathe or shower.
Houwke instructed me in the fine art of milking. To do so, I had to bow down between huge, warm, wet bellies and wash a nutrient mixture off the udders, with a rag soaked in a bucket full of hot chlorinated water, which after a few washings transmogrified into manure tea.
My Lake Titicaca, my dream.
After washing the underside of a cow, I fastened a rubber belt around its blimp-like belly from which I hung a milking machine. Then I sucked four teats into the machine’s rubber-lined cups. These massaged out the barnyard by-product, delicious milk. I used two such machines that I had to move from cow to cow. In the meantime, Houwke sat on a hard, little stool in between bellies and milked a few udders by hand and also stripped the last remaining drops that the milking machines were not able to extract.
After emptying each cow, of milk that is, I poured it into the open buckets waiting in the middle of the barn. All of the cows aimed their backs to this area. This was very significant, because intermittently they took turns decorating these pails and everything else with the color theme of this state. As turbulent as my life had been, I never had to dance around flying nutrients before. I realized that my present cowboy reality conflicted with my long-time cowboy fantasy, and that Fullo’s grungy, rubber-booted outfit was also much more practical here.
When the buckets were full, full of milk, I carried them, two at a time, up the hill to the milkhouse, where I emptied them into big cans, to be picked up by the creamery truck. After we finished milking, we let the cows out again, and when I thought I was finished with my work, Houwke told me to take all of the milking equipment back to the milkhouse and wash it. Afterwards I was to harvest the main product of their farm, in terms of weight, volume and stink by myself.
She instructed me:
"Clean up the barn. Scoop up the manure and dump it outside that door. There’s a wheelbarrow out there. There’s lime in that big box. Spread it around the barn when you’re done with the manure."
She pointed out through the big doors and said:
"Also scoop up the cow pies in the loafing shed. It’s pretty dirty. Then spread some wood chips around in there."
She lead me up to the milkhouse where she continued her instructions:
"Wash the milk equipment. Put two handsful of chlorine powder into the water. To kill germs."
"I will go and make breakfast," she continued.
"OK," I mumbled, intermittently and unenthusiastically.
Just a couple of days before, Siggi and I had arrived from another continent. Just a few hours ago we finished crossing a continent. We had been torn from our homeland, tossed around the Atlantic and traveled across America into the unknown. I had no idea for how long we would have to continue to work like this. Like always, to protect my soul my mind focused only on the moment, because now our future appeared to be grimmer than ever.
After I finished my chores, I instinctively left my boots on the porch and went back into the house. Houwke advised me to wash in the kitchen sink:
"Wash your hands. You must be hungry. I’ll cook you an egg and some oatmeal. The girls are still in bed. They’ll eat later."
While I was dutifully following her orders, Fullo, sitting at the kitchen table, kept glowering at me. I was wondering what I was doing wrong.
Finally he snarled: "Don’t use so much water. From now on you’ll wash in the tub outside."
"Ja," I mumbled obediently, instead of pounding the milk out of him.
I had noticed a pre-cast concrete laundry tub on the covered porch. It became my personal bath facility during my entire stay here.
Houwke served me the oat mush. I sat alone at the table, gazing at the food, forcing myself to take a bite. It tasted like cardboard. Instead of being famished, I felt nauseous. Instead of feeling like a proud, self-reliant American cowboy, I felt like the tattered, stinky Unknown Guellefahrer.
* * *
Later that day Fullo asked me to ride with him back to the city of Everett. As tired as I was, I was curious to get a closer look at America. Along the way we passed a factory with big smokestacks, where the air stank and was pungent with acid. Fullo explained that this was the paper mill where he worked at night as a steamfitter.
I studied the houses. They were different from the ones in Germany where everything was built with masonry and cement.
"What are these houses built with?" I questioned Fullo who owned a red brick house.
"Out of wood."
"What about the roofs?"
"Those are tar shingles," he explained.
Most of these houses were grimy and needed painting. I was disappointed. Americans were supposed to be rich and these were not, although they owned so many big cars. In town Fullo led me into a huge store, where I admired the posters of cowboys with big hats, heavenly girls with big smiles and juicy red lips. Uncle bought me overalls, a couple flannel shirts and a pair of rubber boots. I was too shy and too intimidated to ask him to buy me anything else.
Upon returning to the farmhouse, I found Aunt Houwke and my cousins, Frauke and Jolene, in the woodshed outside of my room cheerfully rummaging through the two wooden trunks that Siggi and I had brought with us. Ma had them especially made for our journey, and they contained all of our belongings. I said nothing, while they examined each item they removed from our boxes, and I even smiled weakly to accommodate them. I acted as if they were welcome to rob Siggi and me. I did not want to make them feel guilty, since I could be stuck under their control forever.
They were in a jovial mood, as if opening Christmas presents. Out came a set of old china that had belonged to our grandmother and they claimed it. Little cousin Frauke needed a trunk for her summer camp and was ecstatic when she claimed Siggi’s box for herself. It had survived the long journey undamaged, but the one with my stuff was smashed and almost useless now. It was held together by straps of steel, compliments of the shipping company. Frauke transferred Siggi’s worldly goods into my shattered trunk and asked me to take his to her room, and I complied.
I did not realize at that time that Ma must have known that Siggi and I would be separated, or she probably would not have packed our stuff in separate boxes.
* * *
I milked early in the morning and again at night. In between, I worked around the farm as Fullo assigned me various tasks, which I mostly did by myself since he slept until noon and later drove to his job in the mills. I had no contact with Siggi and assumed that he was also coerced to do much of the same kind of work.
One of my earliest tasks was to clean some old wood-framed windows that Fullo had brought home from work. He handed me some tools with the order to remove the paint that totally covered their small panes. I attacked it with a steel brush and scraper, but it not want to come off easily, mainly because I thought that I had to be careful not to scratch or break the glass. When it was time to milk that evening, this job was unfinished. The next day Fullo inspected my work, and with a grim expression he demonstrated how to vigorously remove the paint from the glass.
"This is how you do it. I don’t care if they get scratched. We’ll install them in the new milkhouse. I want the paint off by tomorrow," Fullo ordered me before he left again for work.
During dinner that evening I did not speak a word, and a heavy air filled the house. After eating, I went back out to finish my assignment. I heard Jolene ask Aunt Houwke why I had to work so late and she replied:
"He has to do penal work."
I finished my chore at dusk and went to bed.
* * *
The following Sunday the whole family got ready for church. I did not want to go, and as an atheist Ma had never required us to do so. I had been bored with sermons and looked forward to having a couple hours of free time, two hours of personal time a week for myself when I was not tired. However, Fullo handed me a suit, while saying:
"I bought this suit for you. It cost me twenty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents. I think it will fit you. Put it on and get ready for church."
I was dumbfounded, and as always, I was too shy to resist the orders from my elders. Fullo had scolded me for using too much water to wash his cow poop off my hands before eating, and I did not dare to ask him for permission to take a shower. So far I had not noticed him taking one either. It was too clammy outside to wash anything but my face and arms in the tub. Over time, I grew accustomed to the smells around me and did not realize that I became a walking font of barnyard aroma seasoned with powerful nervous sweat.
I changed into my new salt and pepper tweed suit, added more dabwilldooya to my hair, and looked into the mirror. How ugly! My pant legs bubbled out at the knees the first time I sat down and remained that way. Self-consciously I rode to church in the back seat, while my cousins teased me, deepening my consternation. When I should have been excited to be in America, I rarely spoke and only gave terse answers as always.
I followed my relatives into their church and down the center aisle. We were late. Frauke lead the way, followed in single file by her family, and I, the tallest, brought up the rear. Feeling hundreds of eyes on me, I fixed my stare on Fullo’s feet trudging ahead of me. Chains far stronger than iron would hold me to my masters. With their incessant enthusiastic whippings Ma, Aunt Adele and a few of my teachers had forged a chain of timidity and submissiveness. Then Pa and his lawyers had forged a chain of intense poverty. Finally, after arriving on Fullo’s dairy farm, my social isolation, unique body odor and physical dependency also helped to keep me captive. Although I did not realize it yet, it was mostly my life-long state of mind that would keep me confined in my new slavery.
I slid down into the pew as far as possible, because I did not want to be noticed. I felt totally out of place. The minister droned from the pulpit, and I only understood an occasional word of what he was preaching. After the sermon, the worshippers gathered in front of the church where Houwke proudly introduced me:
"This is our big boy from the Old Country."
I shook hands.
"How do you like our country?" someone asked me with a big smile.
Instead of spinning cartwheels of joy, I am in America, I answered, "fine" and shrugged my shoulders. I did not yet know that, henceforth, I had to attend church with my masters every Sunday morning. However, because I balked they permitted me to stay home during the winter evening services that they also attended.
The symbols of my slavery were subtle, as well as obvious. Houwke had cut Fullo’s hair for decades and was doing a nice job on his block. But she always gave me unique bowl cuts that I would be uncomfortable with, to show the world that I was a slave. Nobody but I sported such a cut, which also accentuated my customized ear.
My barnyard décor, my mindset, my quintessence of a perfect slave were my heavy ball and chain. I could not saw them off. They forced me to be more comfortable with cows than with people, people who might be able to help and advice me. My master was a Brahmin, even though he was a boor. I was an obvious slave, even though I was an unrecognized hero, and I reckoned that Siggi plight was much the same.
* * *
A short time after we returned from church to the farm, Uncle Deepo’s family arrived there with Siggi. During this visit, it became evident that he would remain on Deepo’s dairy farm, and I was to stay with Fullo. But nobody told us this and, like always, Siggi and I did not question authority. Long ago, others had made decisions for us without our knowledge, and we meekly complied with their wishes. I now realized that we were trapped and Siggi must have too. We had no money to leave our masters and did not discuss such subjects during this visit or our subsequent, infrequent contacts with each other.
Our lives had not improved by coming to America, and in many ways they became much worse. We lost our freedom completely as well as our Stadtmusik, the music that we so loved to play. Now we had to rise early every morning, seven days a week, to work. To work until we were dead tired at night, without just reward, without hope, while being exploited for the enrichment of others. We accepted our present predicament again with absolute passivity. This was the only way we had known how to deal with our lonely, life-long mistreatments.
The cows ignored our superb education, Siggi’s and mine, and people did not know that we were multi-lingual jetsetters in disguise. No one had taught us lessons that would really have been of great help to us, we had to learn much through prolonged, painful, personal experiences, even on the simplest level, because we never had one single mentor.
During this Sunday visit, there was no discussion about our future. Siggi and I did not ask how long would we be separated? Would we have to do farm work all of our lives? How much would we get paid? Would we get time off?
I still did not think about why our mother permitted Siggi and me to travel so far from home. We did not question anyone, even though we were now of an age when important plans would normally have been made. We had no short or long term goals for our education, girls, job training, etc. None of this even entered my mind, because our parents never discussed things like that with us. We were not guided in this kind of thinking. In Germany we had learned that America was "the land of unlimited opportunities," but all of this did not seem to matter much, because we had no hope that our plight might somehow end.
During the next two years, with one exception, the only time when Siggi and I would see each other, but rarely alone, was during the occasional visits between these two families. Every few weeks or months, they took turns visiting on Sunday afternoons. Why I did not know, because Fullo did not like Deepo. Fullo even told his family that after I was "gone" he would not visit Deepo again. I did not know if he meant after I was dead, deported, drafted, enlightened, or how I would be gone.
Not only did Siggi and I have little contact with each other, I had almost no social contact with the outside world. Unbelievable as it might sound, I did not even know how to use a telephone, and I was actually afraid of doing so. Besides, Fullo would get mad if someone made long-distance calls from his house, costing him money, so anyone rarely did. Siggi and I had never used a phone before, had no money to pay for such calls, and at the end of our long days we were too tired to write to each other.
* * *
I had to milk cows twice every day. They would lumber into the barn to their respective stanchions that were identified with names chalked on little blackboards near the ceiling. Evidently these critters could read, because they always returned to their own places, where I locked them in, side by side, so I could serve and service them.
Sometimes one of the cows would step on my foot, refusing to budge, while I tried to extricate myself. They obviously were in collusion, because the harder I pushed their masses apart, the more they pressed me between their bellies, and the more the hoof could crush me. At times, I had to wait to be released again. While waiting, when fat maggots were in season, embedded in the backs of the cows, and because I did not have a French textbook or Shakespeare’s works with me, I entertained myself by squeezing them to pop out nine millimeter bullets.
Besides milk, I became acutely aware that cows also produced a lot of soupy poop. After each milking, I had to scoop this stuff into a wheelbarrow, roll it up a plank and out of the barn to tip it onto a sloppy big pile. Sometimes the wheel borrow tipped over prematurely. Then I had to fork or shovel up this manure again under the principle, that if at first you do not succeed, try again. And again. Especially during Winter, because these docile beasts spent much more time in their nutrient-shedding shed to keep out of the rain.
I always had to be tested for everything that I was forced to do, but did not want to do. I was happy to have completed the manure-diving part of my Guellefahrer exam with flying colors, when my feet sank deeply into the water-soaked pile. Green slop oozed over the top of my knee-high rubber boots. I instinctively kept my balance by leaning on the fork, while extracting my feet from the test pile, but, alas, without my boots and without one sock.
Safe manure-driving was the second part of my test.
When the pastures were not too soggy, I had to grunt the manure pile, one ten-tine hand fork full at a time, into a manure spreader. Then I pulled these precious loads of nutrients with an old tractor, to spread them over the pasture. To get to its far end, I had to drive through a creek. As the tractor was climbing up the bank on its opposite side, the spreader got stuck in the stream. I depressed the gas pedal, but instead of causing a forward movement, the "horses" reared up. They pawed at the sky, and I almost fell backwards out of my saddle.
"Schitzma!," I whispered not. Instead, I screamed the more traditional, the situational befitting "Oh shit!"
I had no idea that this tractor could be a wild mustang. If I had not pressed down my stirrups quickly enough, it would have pressed me deeply into the manure to create a literal representation of my life.
However, only my masters must have known that I was struggling with a lot of stuff and did so in lonely silence. But they did not seem to care. That is why no one ever presented me with achievement awards or fancy titles that are nowadays absolutely necessary for maintaining one’s self-esteem.
Furthermore, there was still no one to free me from my stinky heroism or help unite my family.
Mother stuck in her heirlooms.
Father stuck with his devil.
Siggi and I stuck in our slavery.
He and I had never been allowed to say "shit" but were now forced to wallow in it. I could not understand why Ma had threatened to whip us if we spoke this word, and then had sent us to another continent to become an integral part of it. She knew about such matters, because the entire barn-house combination in which she grew up must have smelled of it.
* * *
About a couple of weeks after I arrived on his farm, Fullo mentioned that I should enroll in high school. This surprised me, because I had not thought about it and did not expect it. Our conversation was brief, as always:
"You should attend high school," Fullo told me.
"Oh, OK," I agreed.
"I will take you to school to sign up."
A glimmer of hope, that familiar feeling of uncertainty.
The next day we drove to Everett High School, where he dropped me off. A student who knew German consulted with my counselor to decide what level of education I had reached in order to choose my courses. I enrolled in German to learn English and to earn a good grade as well. And after a few months in America, almost without realizing it, I would think and speak entirely in my new language.
I had had four years of French, one year of which I had to repeat, because I had flunked it. When my advisor learned of my French fluency, he enrolled me in the last subject that I wanted to suffer again. But I was too shy to say so, even though I thought that if I flunked it now, I could flunk out of school for the final time. I was now enrolled in a course where I had to understand two foreign languages, French and English, and where no one spoke my native tongue. Even so, I managed to earn an average overall grade.
This high school was much easier than the Gymnasium, and therefore, I had to do very little homework. Furthermore, I could graduate in about two years instead of five. The Gymnasium could even take longer if I would have to repeat a grade. Or I could flunk out permanently.
I began to learn about American culture on my first day in school. When the teacher walked into our classroom for the first time, I automatically rose from my chair to greet him with respect, but I quickly slumped down again when everyone else ignored him. German students always rose when greeting or addressing adults. When another teacher dropped an eraser, this monkey retrieved it for him as he had been taught, while all other students ignored him this time as well.
The student sitting across the row from me saluted me with his middle finger and tried to do so unobtrusively. I did not know if he complimented or insulted me, because I had not yet learned the meaning of this gesture. However, I hoped that he meant that you stand proud like a hero. I automatically stood up several more times before overcoming my habit of showing respect for my elders.
I also discovered that the students in my new country had fun, much fun. In the schools of my old country the only fun that we had had was that we could gawk at members of the opposite sex with agonizing self-control, draw and paint in art class and go on field trips twice a year. As isolated as I was in my new country, it did not take me long to find that the fun seemed to be endless here. However, for my fun I could only attend a few school assemblies. During one of these, the band played, and we rocked around the clock for one period. I rocked to great heights, and then dropped back into manure when the school day ended.
I observed other students enjoying themselves beyond belief, but I was not allowed to participate. I could only watch boys squeal hot rods, kiss girls and go steady. It took me a few months to learn that sometimes they even made babies. Everyone responded to raging hormones, while I was forced to suppress mine. Everyone went to movies and dances, played sports and games, belonged to clubs and wore school sweaters with pins and letters announcing that they were heroes and heroines with intellect, culture and machismo. I could only be an unknown hero, and I kept this to myself. I kept to myself, because I was always plastered with one of Fullo’s dairy products that nobody seemed to like, and furthermore, I always had to return immediately to the farm after school, to dive again into the same.
At the end of our school year all students signed each other’s yearbooks. There were none such in the German schools, and I felt that yearbooks were a nice tradition to remember the past. They also seemed to be the culmination of yearlong popularity contests, because some of the students had lots of clubs listed with their pictures, and they collected many comments and signatures therein from their friends as well. My yearbook photo text said that I belonged to the "Boy’s Club." I did not even know what kind of club that was, what it did, but I had not joined it.
* * *
Public nakedness was foreign to me, because there had been no showering facilities in our schools in Germany. Since they also had no lockers, we always carried our school supplies home everyday. We wore our sports clothes under our street clothes that we hung on hooks during physical education classes. Everyone but Our Trio bathed or showered at home only about once a week. This was probably because water, sewer and energy were very expensive in most of Europe.
Initially my physical education nude parties in America shocked me. I noticed that the other boys strapped on pouches, presumably to support their jocks. I had never seen jock bras before, and I always had managed to hang in there, no matter how rough my life had been.
I always faced a corner to shield my jewels from view. I could not bring myself to crowd in with naked male bodies, yearned for naked female bodies, and I did not like the locker room aroma. Therefore, like always before, I quickly dressed myself. This was my only chance to shower, and I was too embarrassed to do so.
One of the naked students came back out of the shower and collapsed on the floor. His entire body was shaking, and I tried not to stare. Maybe he did some kind of ritual, similar to a tribal manhood initiation, such as jungle bungee-vine diving. His shaking shook me up too. I had a lot to learn and thought that I had made a wise decision not to shower. Oddly, everyone ignored this shaker, and I continued to wonder about the strange customs in America. I became nervous, because I might also be called upon to become a naked shaker on the hard tile floor.
Later I learned that this student suffered from grand mal epileptic seizures. He was a quiet boy, like I, and had immigrated from Northeastern Europe, where he had witnessed terrifying events during the war. This had shorted out his nervous system, and since no one could help him during his seizures, everyone just ignored him.
* * *
It was not long before our class was required to take something that was called an eye cue test. I did not know what an eye cue was. How could I be tested for something that I did not know what it was? I was too timid to ask. There were so many things that I did not understand, and I would have to ask incessantly. While I tried to understand the teacher explain our instructions, I gathered that my brain was to be tested, but my English was not yet proficient enough to fully comprehend the examples on the test form. My school records probably still show that I am a complete idiot.
In my old country I had never heard of intelligence tests. IQ tests were built into each essay and each math test, because if you flunked you were dumb, too bad for you, and if you passed you were smart. But test results could also be a measure of how badly a student’s soul was battered and not how smart he was, and the teachers would probably not know the difference.
* * *
The next time the Schitzma families visited each other, I learned that Siggi was attending high school in Sultan. Fortunately, he would do quite well and would even be elected student body president during his senior year. In contrast, I was never allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities, because this would take my time and cost Fullo money. I was socially, spiritually, emotionally and physically isolated on Fullo’s farm far outside the city, where we had few neighbors. I knew that gas was extremely expensive, because he always asked the gas station attendants for "two dollars worth of regular." This bought about half a tankful and money did not earn interest in a gas tank.
Fullo also would not allow me to use his car for myself, even after I received my driver’s license long after my arrival. The only reason I was finally permitted to get it was to be the chauffeur for Aunt Houwke and my cousins. Even though Aunt Houwke had been in the United States for about thirty years, she had never learned to drive. Cousins Jolene and Wuebkea were too young to drive; Greetje had left home before I arrived here, and Frauke was too short to reach the pedals. Since the girls rarely went anywhere except to school by bus, I had very little practice driving a car.
Once, Frauke and Jolene wanted to attend a high school football game at night and my chief master, my uncle, must have been in a very good mood that day. Since they had no way to get there, they asked me to drive them to the game and then to some friends’ house afterwards.
I was cruising down a dark, lonely highway when Frauke burst out: "Turn right here." I slammed on the brakes while turning right. The back end of our car swerved clockwise until we were square with the road, sliding directly towards another car stopped at our turnoff. I glimpsed the terrified face of the other driver in my headlight.
An invisible hand stopped us within inches of a collision.
All sphincters must have relaxed again, because we had performed this maneuver with such precision that only my guardian angel could have done it. But I took credit for it. I floored the gas pedal, to gun down the road, because I had gotten used to life-thrilling maneuvers. With my greasy pompadour, I was cool, but my passengers, however, were shocked speechless, maybe because they might have suddenly lost some weight.
* * *
Uncle Fullo was built like an oak barrel, somewhat like the ones that everyone has halves of, to fill with dirt to grow weeds and sometimes flowers. Fullo was also filled with something heavy, because the short legs under the cask bowed into an O. On top of this barrel was a round head, securely fastened with a stout neck, which allowed little motion. Once I touched one of the stubby arms that were stuck to each side of this barrel, while we were reaching in to repair his old tractor. Oak was hard, and therefore, I was surprised that Fullo was soft and warm, like humans.
Despite Fullo’s hard and inflexible appearance, he could be an agile orchestrator in the cow barn. The bow of his legs gave him an unexpected spring. He proved this when he flew into a rage after a cow whipped her moist, green tail across his face, while he was squeezing out her last drops of milk. I did not know if she did this intentionally, but she aimed at the right target. Nor did I learn if Fullo ate it, or if he had closed his eyes and mouth during that critical moment, although he did wipe his face with his sleeve.
Somewhat green-faced, he jumped from his stool and yelled at this dumbfounded cow, thinking that she would understand him. He emphasized his remarks by splitting his wooden milk stool on her hindquarters. She responded energetically with airs above the ground, shooting ammo out of her back, while an agonizing roar exploded from her front, together with a long tongue and whitish slobber.
The herd produced a quick response. Each cow always seemed to keep fresh ammunition in her oversized chamber. Milk flow stopped, tails went up, and significantly, moomookakapoopoodoodoo exploded in all directions. Each cow quickly unloaded via a second tail, a transient green one, arching toward the ground. Blobs splashed off the floor, texturing everything, including walls, cows, people and buckets. It was flying everywhere even though there was not even a fan in this barn.
The oak barrel danced, flailing its stub-outs to escalate their tempo. It beat the cows and roared like a bull, confusing them further. Pandemonium rose to an ever-higher crescendo. Cows were bawling, bucking and kicking. Machines were crashing. Milk was spilling. Freshest of products were steaming up the opera barn.
Never having practiced such skills, I did not feel qualified to participate, and therefore, I quietly stole away, lugging two open and newly decorated buckets filled with seasoned milk up to the milkhouse and emptied them into the shiny new milk tank. After the orchestra was exhausted, I returned to finish drawing white money out of green cows, while they initiated me into the bovine orchestra, The Evergoan Orchestra. During their last opus, final movement, the bovines had loaded the hairy ends of their tails with proprietary products and were waiting until I had to approach them. Then they nervously whipped their brushes to paint me green, so I would fit right in and not stick out like I had in my Stadtmusik orchestra.
After the cows were empty, the oaken maestro disappeared and left me behind to continue his dirty work. Fortunately, he worked nights in the mill, and therefore, conducted manure performances only on occasional weekends. As always, I released the orchestra from the barn afterwards, and performed my obligatory scooping of their pooping. However, and maybe even significantly, Fullo would still not let me bathe or shower.
* * *
Once I heard Fullo reprimand little Frauke for wasting money on a toothbrush. A toothbrush was a waste, while spitting out teeth later in life was not. Halitosis would not matter. Even though Fullo owned a farm and several houses, I believe all mortgage-free, he bathed only once or twice a year, and then in someone else’s water. This was also the frequency of my bathing and the freshness of my water. Since I was a shy, obedient slave, and Fullo had scolded me for trying to wash off cow smell before eating, I bathed only when I was told to bathe.
One day, while sitting in class, I discovered unadulterated cowsh, oops, pardonnez moi, Ma, engrais de vache on the back of my bare arm. I would have bored into a funky dung pile to escape my embarrassment had there been one. Nauseated, without saying a word, I swayed out to the restroom instead, where I dropped to the floor and hung my head into the toilet to barf. Strangely, after I took a few deep breaths, I recovered. I washed the poop from my arm and returned to the classroom but was too shy and ashamed to tell our teacher:
"Hey, Teach, s‘cuse me for leaving class. I had to refresh myself in the toilet."
I was seated directly in front of him, to better hear him, and I still remember him saying to the ceiling:
"In America people shower every day."
At that time I did not even realize why he said that, because my masters rarely bathed and they were in America. I did not even realize at that time that this teacher was talking to, and about me, because he was not looking at me while he had spoken those words. This proved again that my mind was still hiding in a dark dungeon to protect itself from human activities.
However, there was one other teacher who suspected that I wanted to escape from something or someone and offered me help. As always I sat near his desk. Mr. Wickstrom mentioned that he could employ me to work for him in his greenhouse. I just mumbled that I could not and did not explain that I would not be allowed to do so, and that I would have no means to get there.
In the mornings I had only a little more than half an hour to hurry from the barn to the house, wash my face, hands and arms, change clothes, eat and walk to the school bus. Since it dawned on me that people might notice that I radiated a unique aura, I decided to leave the barn five minutes earlier in the mornings so I could better purify myself. However, Fullo scolded me for doing so. He would not allow me enough time to wash myself thoroughly, so under duress, I graciously gave him back my daily five minutes. It was no wonder that my empathetic cousins gave me deodorant and after-shave lotion for Christmas, with appropriate comments.
Cousin Greetje, Fullo’s oldest daughter, came to stay with us during her vacation. Her boyfriend, Jack, on furlough from the Navy, also visited for a day or two. He did have the courage to take a shower. While he was whistling in the water, Houwke admonished him through the bathroom door:
"Don’t use so much water."
"What?" Jack replied.
Houwke did not repeat her request. She may have been asked to keep a count meter in her head, one cup, two cups, three cents, four cents,…
* * *
Siggi’s and my slavery on the dairy farms would continue for more than two years, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year, minus one day for me to have some time for myself. To stay in bed and barf in privacy. I did not know how many free days Siggi was allowed to have. We were now of the age during which one incessantly washes thousands of teats and grunts around mountains and rivers of cow products.
During the winter months the low temperatures and chlorinated wash water split open some of the teats of the critters like overcooked wieners. These same causes, as well as ice-cold metal equipment, likewise unzipped my fingers. A few times I could see my white bones and barely hold a pencil. When I told Houwke that I was ready to scream, she instructed me to "put on some bag balm." Therefore, I embalmed my hands liberally with udder grease, and this helped to keep them from splitting.
Milk cartons claimed that the milk came from contented cows and was grade A, but they did not stroke the egos of the milkers. They gave no credits such as "Painfully Harvested by Ami," or "Tenderly squeezed out by Siggi." I did not think that Fullo’s cows were contented, at least not during his presence. One day, when I was milking alone, I had a chance to test this theory. Blackie was a very nervous cow, and the only way she could be milked was by chaining her back legs together. I did not do so this time, and while tenderly talking to her, telling her that Fullo chained and milked me also, I attached a milk machine to her udder. Even though her eyes got big at the start, she never even kicked the bucket.
* * *
Thanksgiving was unusually cold, below freezing. In the morning, Aunt Houwke, Frauke and Jolene were beginning to prepare turkey dinner, while Fullo and I humored his cows. I assumed that he would be ecstatic about his night off from the mill. I was not ecstatic about my day off from school.
I returned from the milkhouse to the barn with two empty buckets and placed them inside the door. I put my split, freezing hands into my pockets and walked to the other end of the barn to check a milk sucker machine. Uncle Fullo was sitting on a stool between two cows, pressing an ear against a belly, as if to listen to the rumble of its stomachs. His short arms were straining to reach the money spigots below. Evidently there was too little money coming out of this cow, Beulah. Fullo’s face became more flushed when he saw me. He jumped off his stool and dropped his bucket.
"Why are you standing there with your hands in your pockets?"
Crack! An oaken fist hammered my already damaged delicate skull. Stars flashed through the opera. Again, I was startled that the barrel could move so fast.
"I wasn’t standing. My hands are freezing," I stuttered with a trembling voice as I raced out of the barn toward the house.
"Fullo hit me. I’m leaving," I announced there.
I wanted to call Siggi and ask him to run away with me from our masters. My cousins, afraid of losing their houseboy, started bawling, did not help me, and talked me into staying. This was easy, because I knew of nowhere else to go.
That afternoon the whole family sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. Uncle Fullo solemnly tore a page from the calendar hanging on the wall behind him and read its lengthy religious lesson for that day. Then everyone, including me, bowed his head and gave thanks to our Lord for our blessings.
* * *
Fullo and I were in the barn. Again. I checked the udder of a cow to see if it were empty. It was hard, rock hard, and there was little milk in the machine even though it had been milking for a long time. I asked my mentor:
"Why won’t the milk come out of this cow?"
Fullo came over, lovingly stroked her bag, yanked and pulled a teat, forcing out a stringy chunk.
"She has mastitis," he concluded. "I’ll milk her by hand."
He yanked her teats vigorously, and when he was finished, he placed the resulting product by the entrance. It was always my job to carry the milk buckets up to the milkhouse and empty it into the tank.
"What shall I do with this milk?" I asked him later.
"Pour it into the tank."
"But isn’t it unhealthy?" I ventured.
"Waste not, want not," the ancient wisdom came back.
His greed prevented him from discarding infected milk. I followed his order and emptied this strepto-bacteria-loaded milk into the funnel bowl that had a fibrous paper filter wedged over its coarse bottom screen through which the milk drained into the tank. When I came back later to empty another bucket, the funnel was still full, as expressed in optimistic terms. Mastitis chunks and other stuff clogged its filter. Unwittingly, I became an accessory to an immoral, if not illegal, deed. I returned to the barn to inform my master:
"The milk filter is plugged. What shall I do now?"
"I’ll show you."
I followed Fullo back to the milkhouse, where he wrapped a stubby arm around the still full filter bowl to lift it off the milk tank. He hammered its bottom with a piece of iron specifically not designed for such purposes, to loosen the crud stuck to the filter. He beat ever more vigorously until I thought that he hit his pocketbook when the paper filter broke loose, suddenly emptying unmentionable additives into the milk tank.
Since I was a pessimist, I stayed far out of Fullo’s reach. I was convinced that more than two hundred gallons of milk now had become super organic, and he would take it out on me. But I was wrong. Fullo, even though he was also a pessimist, optimistically put a new paper filter into the bowl and trolled it around the tank to recover the stuff that was peacefully drifting in the pure-white milk. Afterwards, he added a handful of chlorine powder and some water, thus converting water and poison into money. Although the creamery tested each shipment of milk for bacteria, butterfat and proprietary additives, I never learned about the results from this particular tank of milk.
To keep healthy and strong, Fullo’s entire family and I drank his wholesome raw milk everyday. It did keep us well indeed; we rarely were sick, even though at times, I wanted to be.
* * *
Because I worked hard and could not eat all I needed, I lost weight. My ribs protruded, and I was hungry all the time, and at six feet, I weighed only one hundred fifty pounds. Once after a dinner, Aunt Houwke asked Jolene to finish some peas, which she declined. When Houwke offered them to me, Jolene said, "I’ll eat them ‘cause I don’t want him to have them." However, I became very resourceful. I robbed my masters to satisfy my cravings for delicacies. I ate their cow grain, and the linseed meal and milk replacer that we fed to their calves and evidence indicated that rodents were stealing from these sources as well.
I eventually would learn that Siggi was not allowed to eat all he needed either, even tough he was still a growing boy. When he came in from the barn in the mornings, he found his breakfast bowl already filled with corn flakes and milk. This generous meal was often mushy before Siggi could get to it. By that time, everyone else would usually have already finished and cleared the table. Siggi was also too shy to ask for seconds, because for so many years people had abused and trained us too well to be too humble and too subservient.
I did not even think, or dare, to ask for a day off work, but I did have one extensive vacation during the two years I was with Fullo’s tribe. One Saturday morning, shortly after he had bought a used car, we prepared for our trip by milking and grunting dairy products out of the barn. After these important preparations, his whole family drove to Yakima on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, to return again in time for our evening chores.
Siggi had a much bigger change in his farm routine. During his last summer in high school, Maxo, the same Maxo who never even had to say, "Here kiddy, here kiddy," to entice us to come to America, used him on his tideland to help build a dike around several hundred acres. For this work Maxo bought Siggi a 1949 Ford for about two hundred dollars. This provided him with some mobility, a big step toward freedom. I did not find this out until a long time afterwards, when he visited me one evening and we drove to see a movie. The next day my cousins informed me that we had sinned. Long ago their church had apparently received a memo, a revelation from God, classifying watching movies as a sin.
Siggi made good use of his car when Maxo became mad at him one day. He parked in a secluded spot by a river and slept there. But because he became hungry, cold and tired during his night out and did not want return to his in-the-manure position on Deepo’s farm, he humbly slinked back into Maxo’s comforting arms the next morning.
One of my few fun hours during my servitude with Fullo that could have been a lot more fun, if I had been less soiled and less shy, was when Frauke paired me with her girlfriend for a hayride. Thus I met Vera, whose black eyes were on fire when she looked at me. My eyes returned her fire, while little Frauke encouraged me:
"Kiss her. Come on, Ami, kiss her."
I did want to squeeze the breath out of her. And maybe even take a chance of causing collateral damage, but we had no privacy to do so. I again had to employ super-human self-control, to prevent such damage, and possibly a long-term relationship with someone I would love.
* * *
However, in school I did cause collateral damage, to myself. In my English class I was required to present an oral book report. I chose to read The Wall by John Hersey. But when the deadline for my report neared, I had only read part of it. Nervously I informed my teacher that because I had to work before and after school, I would not be able to finish it on time. I was still learning English, and therefore he allowed me to report on only part of it.
When I picked this novel I knew nothing about its contents. It was written in the form of a diary but with a number of people contributing their experiences to the daily entries. When the main subject came into my focus, it was too painful for me to believe. It was about Nazis rounding up Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and hauling them off to concentration camps.
I always had had stage fright. Now this imported insignificant slave stood before intensely staring students, trembling, sweating and mumbling with a thick accent, stuttering about the evil deeds of his people. I will never know what I said, or if anyone understood me, because I was in another world, in a terrifying world.
I tried to keep from getting too depressed by reading every chance I had. I found Einstein’s Universe in the school library and read it mostly during my half hour trips on the school bus. Although I did not understand some of the theories, they fascinated me greatly, and I thought maybe I could someday become an astronomer warping into a gentler life on another planet.
In Germany I had learned about the ancient Greeks, Romans, European peoples’ migrations, barbaric invasions and crusades. I always felt that history books were sterilized, with great importance being placed on names, dates and places. Too often the biggest killers, the invaders and conquerors seemed to have been the ones to be remembered with statues and in history books. However, I had not yet learned anything about modern history, the most violent times ever, other than what we had personally experienced during World War II and its aftermath. I knew nothing of its eco-political causes. Germans had not dwelled on this time period, their painful past, and I somehow could sense this from their silence about it.
My Everett High School world history teacher dropped the final WW II bomb on me, twelve or thirteen years after its official end:
"The Nazis sent millions of innocent people into concentration camps. And killed them systematically."
After this class, in spite of my pain and shyness, I told this teacher that I knew next to nothing about concentration camps. So he showed me a photo of a mass grave filled with emaciated bodies. My heart stopped and my soul convulsed.
"This is what the Nazis did?"
"Yes," he said.
The teacher recognized my agony, closed his book, and said that he had to go to another class. I stuffed another painful vision into my brimming memory hole, to be locked away with all the others. At this time I did not wonder about what roles any of my relatives might have played in the Nazi schemes, because I knew very little about either one of them. Even my American relatives never brought up these subjects. Only many years later would I learn a little about how Pa thought about the Nazi tyranny from an undated letter that he had written to Ma sometime after the war:
"When I listen to the war crimes trials in Nuremberg and read in the newspapers about it, the redness of shame, anger and hate rise to my face to be a German, who for twelve years had to live with the craziest of all sadistic systems in the world. It is indescribable how these gangsters reigned and murdered…"
To protect my soul from other people’s activities, I automatically tried to keep unpleasant thoughts from my conscious mind. It was their mistreatment of me that prevented me from thinking and researching subjects that could help me do well in school and in life. Our parents had taught us very little. On the contrary, it was mostly the effects of their Progenitor’s War that always had put a damper on my thoughts and initiative.
* * *
During summer, Siggi’s and my workload increased greatly. As always, we started our days early in the morning with a kicking contest, man versus cow, and finished each day the same way. In between we fixed fences, made hay, delivered calves, de-horned them if they dared to grow frontal spikes, and removed balls to create a gentler neutral sex. To do so, Fullo and I would chase his bull calves into the barn and tie them to a post. While teetering on a milkstool, he twisted haywire around the scrotums of these critters. Once, one of them became too wired and kicked the scrotum of his master. The personal pain that I felt for this critter neutralized what Schadenfreude I might have savored from the agony of our common master.
After the little bulls went haywire, newly-born steers gingerly would tiptoe out of the barn and for days must have contemplated the changes in their nature.
"Doesn’t that hurt? What will happen to their pouches?" I questioned my uncle.
"Oh, they’ll just fall off," he answered casually.
A few of these fall-offs would arrive back again during the next week or so, when my canine friend, Sheppy, brought home black, shriveled pouches, reminding me that I always had to fiercely defend my own.
Even so, one day I almost could have lost my own. Dairy cows are bred annually, so they produce calves, milk and money. Presumably, breeding is pleasurable for the cow, the bull and especially for the farmer, because it re-invigorates the flow into his bank account. That is if the bull did not kill him first. Holstein bulls are huge and infamously aggressive. One spring day, Fullo had one delivered to his farm. Bully weighed more than two thousand pounds, excluding the twenty feet of chain fastened with a ring through his nose. Thus equipped, he might raise the fad of body piercing to a higher level to gross out the squeamish. He was allowed to run loose in the pasture with the cows, while always dragging his chain with him.
When later in the spring, Bully finished his necessary duties as a pouch potato, Fullo casually said to me:
"Take the bull back to Jones’ farm."
"I am scared to," I courageously mumbled in reply.
"You old grandmother," he growled back.
Always remembering Fullo’s oaken fist, his intermittent reinforcement to properly guide me, I had no choice but to return this stalwart bull by myself to a farm several miles down the highway. Stalwart Fullo told me that he had something else to do in the meantime. Therefore, I went into the pasture by myself, cautiously sneaked up to the bull from behind and grabbed the end of his chain that was dragging on the ground. Casually whistling, I led him through the gate onto the highway. The bull plodded along obediently until we came to the other side of the barn by the road, when Bully’s harem came prancing to the fence, singing in chorus. They ogled us with big eyes, and their ears propped forward, while they were shouting moo, moo, and mooooh. Since I did not understand their language I could only guess what they were bellowing.
They must have asked Bully to return, because he pulled me in their direction, presumably to do some sniffing, to check for open cows. I pulled vigorously on his chain to cool his desire, while looking for a safe place to run when he might realize that I prevented him from servicing open cows. He must have detected one, because he suddenly lowered his head, pawed at the ground, while snorting spit and blowing his trumpet.
He was preparing to attack, but not some open cow.
Quickly I wrapped his chain around a power pole and cowered behind it, while he attacked it with his massive head. As he became evermore enraged, I became evermore fearful for my life. I was afraid that if we stayed there much longer, we might get hitched. A frightened slave might get hitched, together with an angry bull, to a pole that carried power. And there was no one in sight to witness this union, to shoot the bull, to save me, or to immortalize yet another act of my reluctant heroism in living color.
I suddenly remembered that Siggi had told me that Deepo’s bull had ripped his nose to get free from his chain. Fullo’s Bully could suddenly do this now. Therefore, I slowly unwound the chain, and dragging its end, I ran as fast as I could down the road with Bully in pursuit. The Holstein party in the pasture pranced and danced along the fence, cheering him on, boosting his courage to invigorate his escape with me to our freedom.
I felt his chain slacken, his snorting draw closer.
My heart was pumping, my lungs were heaving.
As I ran out of breath, I jumped aside the instant before his head would have rammed my already abused behind. His mass moved past my ass and suddenly my chances for survival greatly improved. Still blind with rage, he continued down the highway, dragging me along. He must not have realized that the pain in his nose was caused by my pulling it from behind. Afraid of my uncle, I desperately clung to his chain but could not keep up his pace.
I was flying now.
To hell with uncle.
Since I was now out of immediate danger of becoming ground up bones, meat and gristle, my fear became rage. Rage directed at Uncle Barrel and not at his twin, Bully. I let go of his chain, not to be jerked around any longer. He kept running toward freedom, dragging the chain between his legs. Relieved and exhausted I kept walking, while the bull disappeared around a bend in the road.
Timed as if he had been watching us, Fullo drove up in his pickup.
"Where’s the bull?" he asked in rage.
I just pointed. He squealed away, leaving me to follow on foot. Down the road, raging Uncle Barrel caught up with raging Bully, leaving a raging grandmother behind. Fullo must have opened the gate to Jones’ pasture and guided the bull through it with his pickup. When I caught up with him, Fullo complimented me again: "You old grandmother."
I will forever remember the raging adrenaline rave from my slavery days, when a chicken honored a torero as a grandmother, but did not give him a certificate of achievement.
* * *
Besides farm work, I had to perform other tasks such as painting Fullo’s houses and slaughtering his cows. I detested painting and I detested killing. I disliked painting, mainly because I had to use solvent-based lead paint that gave me headaches. Also, the paint was either too thick or too thin. It did not want to stick or was too runny and dripped down my arms and unto the floor.
Every so often, my uncle Fullo butchered one of his cows and graciously permitted me to help him. When one of those days arrived, my uncle and I returned to the barn after milking and breakfast to slaughter Beulah, whose udder was almost dragging on the ground, plum worn out. He released this docile creature from her stanchion.
"Hold her head still. I’ll hit her," he told me.
I hugged her tightly.
"Whack," Fullo clenched his teeth and hit her on the head, the way he had practiced this on me. But this time he used a sledgehammer. I let go of Beulah’s head, who groaned as her tongue slurped out and her eyes rolled in their sockets. She had feelings the same as I. But she now also had a headache, while I was getting queasy. She staggered but did not fall. Fullo humanely gave her another blow to give her brain another shake. After she dropped, we dragged her head to the nutrient gutter, where Fullo slit her throat to drain out Beulah’s life.
When they could have been making blood sausage, the girls were home baking.
We hoisted Beulah with a chain to hang her upside down. Fullo expertly cut off her head and gracefully heaved it out of the barn door with a grunt. My best friend, Sheppy, came running, and rudely dragged it around a corner. My master sliced open Beulah’s largest organ, her hide, from top to bottom down the middle along her belly. He ordered me to help undress her, while he skinned down her left, and I came down on her right.
After Beulah spilt her guts, I dragged them outside, and also her hide. I would have to give these parts a decent burial sometime later. At one time Ma, Siggi and I would have eaten some of these parts, but presumably, we were now living in better times. We left Beulah’s quarters hanging in the barn until Fullo took them to a butcher on his way to the mill, to have her cut into smaller pieces, wrapped and to be frozen in his freezer.
* * *
Besides Sheppy, I did have one other friend, but did not want her to be my friend. She was a heifer that I had stolen from her mother in the pasture right after she was born. The cow had not liked this and kept trying to chase me away. After several attempts, I was able to sling her calf around my neck. While its mother still seemed to be confused about the whereabouts of her offspring, I ran as fast as I could to the safety of the barn. The calf’s contact with my neck right after her birth may have caused her to bond to my back instead of to the udder of her mudder.
Over the next few weeks, this calf came running to me with joy whenever she saw me. To get my attention she would often push her head into my back. One day, while I was walking through the pasture, and she had grown much heavier than I, she came up from behind me when I was unaware of her. Suddenly, one or two hooves landed on my shoulders. She was walking upright on her hind legs, and I thought this to be really funny, so I kept walking with her. Line-dancing through the pasture.
Because someday the whole herd might want line-dance with me, I had to convince this heifer that I was not her mother. I more or less line-danced her into the barn, bribed her with grain to put her head into a stanchion to lock her in. Then I cut off her horns with a big surgical tool designed specifically for this purpose. Since I was no surgeon, I must have cut too close to her head and a fine stream of blood spurted from each wound. I felt sorry that I had done this, but she left me alone after our bloody experience.
* * *
Beef was not enough. Fullo also asked me to butcher chickens, some of the most innocent of all creatures. Once I was to butcher about six of them for freezing. Of course he assumed that I knew how to do them in, because one did not need to tell a torrero-ized "grandmother" how to kill chickens. I laid one down on a board, stretched out her neck with my left hand and chopped with my right. I worried about my hand. Fullo must have too, because he advised me that my technique was dangerous.
"Hold her by her legs, upside down," was his suggestion for my next victims.
"What if she moves her head?" I questioned.
Her wings fluttering vigorously, I clutched my victim’s yellow twigs, inverted her, and let her head rest on the surgery table. This calmed or scared her into almost complete limpness. One little round eye stared up into my eyes. Blink. Few people know what a quick wink from a little round eye can do to a six-foot man. I blinked. Chop. I missed her neck. I missed her head, chopped off her comb and before I noticed this, threw her away. Like the first hen, I expected her to bounce around and drain her blood. She did not do this but ran around the yard instead, with all of her friends chasing her, the rooster and I as well.
Each wanted her blood. Like some people, they also knew that "you have to get them while they’re down." With pain and guilt I raced around after the flock trying to catch my crown-less victim. Flapping wings, screeching and cackling confused us all, and I could not catch her. This was an emergency. This hen and I were in pain, and the other chickens were bloodthirsty. I picked an apple from a tree and aimed for her eye and luckily knocked her over. She shook and twitched, then moved no more. This relieved me greatly, and I laid her back on the operating table to sever her head.
I chopped off the remaining heads with my method, regardless of lack of insurance for my endangered fingers. Then I plucked feathers from these chickens so my aunt could prepare them for the freezer.
* * *
As my high school graduation drew closer, I saw no options for my future, mainly because I still did not dare, or did not know how to think in a focused manner. Maybe this was so because I was afraid that I could never be better than the dirt bag I mostly had been so far. I was still completely penniless and had only the clothes on my back. Since I had no car and lived out in the soggy country, I was unable to look for a job to escape my slavery, and there was still not a single person to help me. I felt as if Siggi and I were destined to spend the rest of our lives in the deepest of cow doodoo and always be under the thumb of other people. I had spoken little in the past and spoke even less now. Ma wrote to my American relatives after my arrivals there that:
"Ami and Siggi, especially Ami, have chronic silence, exactly the opposite from me… He would be a good Catholic father to take confessions, he is as quiet as a grave."
Furthermore, I was totally ignorant about job training in America. I thought that it was similar to Germany, where everyone followed one of two rigid systems of development, from school to apprenticeship and then journeyman. Ma had chosen the other path for us, to attend a Gymnasium. This path allowed one to attend a university if one could pass the final exams of the Gymnasium. I had no idea that in America anyone could easily get menial jobs with very little training and no tests. Had I known this, I would soon have made an effort to find some kind of job at any cost.
* * *
One day, I meekly announced to Fullo that I wanted to take the grade prediction test that was offered toward the end of my last school year. It was required in order to gain admission to Washington’s colleges. Even though I had no chance to attend college, and even though tests petrified me, my guardian angels must have decided that I should do so, because I made this request instantaneously without even contemplating its implications. This lengthy test was to be administered on a Saturday, a day without school buses.
Coincidentally, Aunt Houwke and two of her daughters wanted to attend a church party on the night before this test and demanded that I drive them there. I courageously declined, because I did not want to be tired while taking this test. But after some prodding, I consented to go if we could return by ten o’clock that night, and they agreed to this.
Ten o’clock came and went, and they showed no intentions of going home. Enraged, I went to the car, started it, squealed two-hundred fifty horses out of the parking lot and through the city as fast as they could run.
However, as a docile, beaten down slave I did not think of it.
Without booze or any other kind of external stimuli, my relatives lingered until midnight and were the last ones to leave the party. During the two years I was with them, they almost never left the farm in the evening, except that on rare occasions the girls had stayed overnight at a friend’s house. When I drove home that night, I was more worried than mad, and my passengers probably knew this, because no one spoke a word. Were their thoughts the same as mine: "Mission accomplished?"
The next morning, while I was hurrying from the barn back up to the house, Houwke shouted after me:
"Don’t think you can have the car after you drove on two wheels last night."
I said nothing.
She had not said this at midnight, because I had driven within the speed limit. Teary-eyed, I kept on walking without looking back. At the house I washed myself, changed clothes and began walking to school. I was tired, hungry, stinky and depressed and would be very late. Fortunately, a classmate who was also heading for this examination, soon stopped and offered me a ride. I did not tell him about my predicament, because I always and always kept my problems to myself.
* * *
I did not think that I did well on this test, and my scores confirmed it. They predicted that I would fail college English and do poorly in other subjects as well. The day I received my scores in the mail, I went down to the barn as Frauke waddled up to the house.
She yelled down at me across the highway, "How are your test scores?"
"Not very good," I replied glumly.
A smile lit her face.
"Now you can’t get into college, ha ha, ha," she cockily returned. Those were her actual words, and as Dave Barry says, "I am not making this up." But like so other many people before, she would be wrong about my abilities and my future and possibly thought that now she could keep her servant forever. Or she could have been wallowing in Schadenfreude. I could not foresee my future either, but when you’re only a Guellefahrer slave, life can possibly not get any worse!
* * *