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The Healing of  HERMAN NEUMAN

● Champion Trauma Survivor ● Inspirational Speaker ●
● Author ● World Traveler ●

Chapter 8 - Triumph

from Herman's Memoir
Heroes from the Attic:
A Gripping True Story of Traumas and Triumphs

After about one quarter century of absolute, lonely, miseries, my life would zoom rather quickly to the other side of normal. It would soon begin to range from prolonged office boredom to voyages to exotic far away places. However, I did not expect that it also would be interspersed with hints of my private ghosts. For the most part, at this time, I was still not sure what these were or to what extend they even existed. So far I had suffered the math test ghost, the public speaking ghost, and long forgotten shadows of others. But I did not think of them as being uncommon, as my unique ghosts, because I still thought that everyone suffered similar anxieties to varying degrees.

Siggi and I came into this world in a country at war with itself and with many other countries as well. We had lived in deep poverty, while suffering through scores of vicious court processes. Our Progenitors’ War continued well into our college years, when mother still sued father and father still sued mother. And Teufi sued all of us. After about more than a dozen years of these internecine feuds, there was nothing left to loot from us, and true to a parallel timeworn cliché, this war would literally not end until the fat lawyers sang.

* * *

Cruising on Rio DolceAfter our graduation, Linda and I moved to Seattle and began our new jobs; she with an engineering firm, I in an architect’s office. She finished four years of studies in three years, even while changing her major three times, and I earned a five-year degree without any scholarships. After having worked so hard, we both deserved an elevating experience, and therefore wanted to travel.

We determined that it would not take all that long to save enough for a trip around the world. And save we did. With this prospect, it was not too difficult to save all of Linda’s paychecks and some of mine, if we bought only the absolute necessities. I had always survived on next to nothing, and some of Linda’s ancestors had played bagpipes in Scotland.

* * *

While our lives were changing rapidly in America, we learned that those of our parents were improving as well. Siggi was going for his Ph.D., while Pa and Ma, bitter enemies for more than twenty years, had found new friends. Each other. Yes, each other! After all, they were born on the same day and that made them friends, even though at times, one had wanted to kill the other. One year after my graduation, Ma wrote me an earthshaking letter. She suddenly seemed to feel sorry for Pa, made excuses for his past behavior and even praised him. I believe that they had finally learned to enjoy each other’s company, because they could no longer bear the pain of loneliness.

The following are some excerpts from her letters:

"…I have to praise Herbert. He did only what he thought was right, everything else he did not care for."

"Now Teufi wants to get rid of him since at the present time there is little construction activity. She does not buy any more food for him and he says he is very depressed.

"He claimed before the court that his office was in her name and he only had an income of two hundred marks a month as her ‘construction supervisor.’ He paid taxes on this income but never received any of these wages.

"Now it goes with him exactly like the three of us in the past. He is living on the edge of a bed!"

Ma also sent me the following clipping from a newspaper, entitled, "Successfully Completed In America."

"Ami Neuman, a son of architect Herbert Neuman, has completed his examinations as a graduate engineer with great success in the University Pullman, (America). Our best wishes to the young building master."

Someone was subtly promoting Pa’s architectural skills by taking credit for my success, to show the world how capable we are, we Neumans. We are the best; we are international.

Through all the years, our parents had never gloated, "We hammered our sons into heroes." Not once did they praise Siggi and me personally for our great efforts or congratulate us that they were not able to destroy us. They also never asked, did we scorch your souls? Not once did they tell us that they were sorry for giving us such an interesting life.

* * *

After working full-time for about one and a half years in Seattle, Linda and I quit our jobs, because we had saved enough to begin our first major trip. We made arrangements to cruise for two months to Europe by way of the Pacific, then travel there for three months before cruising home for another month across the Atlantic and back through the Panama Canal. During these cruises we would also stop to visit many countries along the way.

I announced to my office that I was quitting but did not volunteer our plans, because I was still modest. I did not want anyone to think that I was better off than anyone else. I knew how rotten life could be and did not want to gloat that I was superior to anyone. However, my silence just stimulated people’s curiosity and upon persistent questioning, I revealed more and more of what my wife and I intended to do and was greeted with an unexpected reaction from a few of my colleagues. Envy.

As we were packing to move out of our apartment to begin our long voyage, Linda said to me:

"We are out of boxes. Would you please go to the store and get some more?"

"Sure Sweetie Pie, I can handle that," I told her. I went out to start our Volkswagen Beetle and wondered what I had to do next.

I somehow arrived at the supermarket. I could not remember where to find it, or how I found it, but somehow I returned home with cardboard boxes. After we finished cleaning and packing, we drove to Linda’s parents in the fun city of Elko, Nevada.

I was driving. My mind was empty. We arrived in Salem, Oregon, after dark and pulled up to a fast-food drive-in. Cars were buzzing all around us. I had a brief flash in my mind that these were kids cruising main street since it was Friday night, and that is what they do on such a night. They were searching for that elusive contact. Cruising was rooted in the ancient mating dance of the species, the modern day American Graffiti. This insight came and left again seconds later.

"What are these people doing? Why are they just driving around?" I asked Linda from out of my fog.

She gave me a worried look, saying: "Are you all right?"

"Sure," I think I answered. I think I lied. I did not understand the meaning of her question, or why she had asked it.

We bought something to eat and continued on our way south. There was little traffic on the dark highway. I was vaguely aware that I was driving and weaved down the road, while crossing the centerline repeatedly. Linda asked me again if I were OK. In spite of her continued requests to let her drive, I blithely continued, while barely paying attention to what I was doing. I was ignorant of her worries for our safety and told her that I was OK, because I did not know that I was not.

Unbeknownst to me, my mind shut down again like it had after my finger amputation hospital stay. At that time I had taken many medicines, and for this trip many different vaccines. Like before, I somehow functioned with very little situational awareness and with a blank mind. Even so, we arrived miraculously in Elko and stayed a few days with Linda’s parents before they drove us to our ship in San Francisco.

* * *

Our stateroom on the SS Oronsay, a tiny cabin much like a coffin, just big enough for sleeping, rocking and barfing, was located below the water line. This did not matter much, because we were headed to many exotic places and planned to stay on the upper decks during most of our waking hours. We were scheduled to cruise to Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong and around Australia. From there, we were to continue to India, through the Suez Canal to the Middle East and finally to Western Europe. However, sunken ships from the Arab/Israeli war blocked the passage to the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, we had to bypass India and the Middle East, two places that we really wanted to visit. Instead, we cruised around the Southern tip of Africa to get to Lisbon, Portugal, the final destination of this cruise for us.

Near the Asian coast we sailed roller-coaster-like through the fringes of a typhoon. My necktie on the doorknob was our rock ’n roll indicator. It seemed to swing with a more or less steady rhythm, thirty-some degrees to the left and likewise to the right. This was my second storm at sea, and I wondered how many more we would have to suffer through on this trip.

During this night, the tossing about of our ship caused me severe fright and such claustrophobia that I was able to stay in our cabin only for brief moments. I felt as if our ship had been abandoned, since I seemed to be the only passenger staggering around the lounges and hallways, while Linda stayed in her bunk bed below the pounding ocean. The doctor gave her an injection to ameliorate her seasickness. I wanted to comfort her but always had to leave our tempestuous bunker quickly, while she seemed to be too ill or too doped up to care if our ocean liner tipped over.

It did not help my confidence that crewmembers were raising the doorsills to the outside with boards, to prevent seawater from flushing the inside decks. I was sure that our ship would burst its seams, because even the floor tiles were popping off its bending steel structure. Everything seemed to creak, groan and crackle. There was no escape from it. Intermittently, our ship shuddered as if it hit a giant mogul on a downhill ski run. Every so often there would be total silence. I heard a crash. A piano ripped from its tie-down and smashed into a wall. Breakfast dishes set up in the evening jumped the rails around the tabletops and were sliding back and forth in pieces across the floor. Lone crewmembers scurried about.

Not being able to tolerate my confinement anymore, dwelling in the agony inside our ship, I burst to the outside even though this was strictly forbidden. When I opened the door to escape from my cage, an invisible force pulled it outward. It sucked the air from my lungs as well. Ducking into the storm, while clutching the handrails, I worked my way toward the front of our ship. Screaming and whistling, it plowed through the night. I worried about my hair, was it planted firmly enough or would my scalp become bare?

The bow smashed into a wall of water that rolled toward the stern. Our world tilted upward, then downward as we descended into the valley to crash into the next mountain. Liquid thunder roared through the night. White water raced past our ship into the blackness behind. Gripping railings, I tottered upward toward the stern. As I approached it, an invisible mountain rose into the black void beyond. I knew it was there, because the gale ripped white water from it that reflected the glow from our lights. While I clung to the rail, I craned my neck up from the bottom of our valley to find the peak of this rising mountain.

The bow dove down again as we plunged into the next valley, to labor up another slope. Reversing directions, the stern rounded the top of the wave, and the ship shuddered as its propellers rose out of the sea, revving up speed as they churned the air. Before we schussed down the next slope of water, I stared down into the abyss where moments before a mountain had been, the next one emerging to lift us again toward the sky.

I spent most of that night stumbling around our ship feeling like a caged lion. Grasping handrails, I climbed the ship’s ladders and experienced variable gravity. While the ship went downward, I floated upward as the support gave away under me. I felt almost weightless. Conversely, when the ship rose my weight seemed to double.

We were tossed through the night on a wild roller coaster ride. It gave me the greatest thrill of my life, while at the same time terrifying me as much as the conflagrations of my infant days.

But I did not barf.

* * *

Herman & Linda enjoying a meal in Tokyo.In Japan, we rode a bullet train, a rocket flying just above ground. We were awed by the ornate temples of Kyoto, where we also saw the three monkeys who heard, saw and spoke no evil. We toured the Golden Palace as well as admired Geisha girls while savoring exotic foods and sake.

We toured Hong Kong, a most vibrant city, in rickshaws pulled by barefoot coolies. We enjoyed a nine-course dinner, while delighting in the dancing of glittering girls, fiery dragons and smashing gongs. There could have been some male dancers also, but I do not remember.

We cruised around the houseboat city in the Aberdeen Harbor, where more than 200,000 people lived on wooden junks and sampans. Families shared their boats with pigs and chickens, and there were floating stores and floating schools as well. Boys dove from the high poops of their junks into the harbor poop to retrieve the coins that were tossed to them from our ship high above them. A mother in an open boat nearby, carrying her baby on her back, was cooking a meal over an open fire, all the while trying to catch our offerings with a butterfly-catching net that raised up with its very long handle.

We continued our voyage and passed near what is now called the Sulawesi Island, where we levitated peacefully in a lifeless space through the hot, still air over the glass-smooth Banda Sea. The pale-blue sea merged with the pale-blue hazy sky at an indistinguishable horizon. In the far distance the vague profile of a blue cone of a volcano floated into nothingness.

Our peaceful glide continued uninterrupted for more than two weeks, as the "Oronsay" steamed south along with the east coast of Australia for one thousand and two hundred miles between its coast line and the Great Barrier Reef.

* * *

Tabel Mountain rises above Capetown, South Africa.After sailing across the broad expanse of the Indian Ocean, we visited the ports of Durban and Capetown, South Africa. In Capetown we lounged on deck, watching the bustle in the harbor for most of one afternoon before going ashore. Capetown is located at the southern tip of the continent, where its high plateau terminates abruptly as a barren vertical cliff called Table Mountain. The sky was cloudless except for one fascinating cloud. It was like a white "cloth" on the Table that spread thinly over its flat summit and slowly slid down over its sharp edge. Partway down the cliff, this foggy cloth then dissolved into invisibility because of a change in temperature and humidity towards the bottom.

We also visited a Zulu village with huts built of whips and reeds. My eyes popped out while seriously studying comparative anatomy of the half-bare women going about their business. Balancing urns and baskets on their heads, they walked as regally as any queen, and when we asked some of them to dance for us, they danced with their children as well.

Apartheid, separation, in this case colored people from white people, was still being enforced in South Africa. While traveling there, I made it a point to sit on benches marked for "Non-whites Only" and purchased food at "Non-Europeans Only" counters. The race police did not seem to pay any attention to me. Maybe I confused them, because I was tanned by the sun and the sea and sported a mane that was tousled by stiff ocean breezes.

* * *

Recent American slave, Herman, on bench reserved for colored only people during South African Apartheid.

After visiting Dakar, and sailing through yet another storm, the "Oronsay" arrived in Lisbon on New Year’s Eve Day. There we boarded a train to travel to Rheinfelden to visit Ma. We slept on this train but were awakened before midnight by boisterous singing, celebrating the arrival of the New Year.

After crossing the Pyrenees, we arrived in Périgueux, Southern France. Here we were supposed to transfer to another train to continue to Basel, Switzerland, but failed to do so. We were completely exhausted and arrived nonstop late at night in Paris instead, hundreds of kilometers from our intended destination. From there, be boarded the next express train to Basel and arrived there early in the morning. We were so tired that we did not want to change to yet another train for the last few miles. Instead, we spent a few hours in a hotel to rest and bathe before completing our very long journey.

Although Ma had two bedrooms and had insisted that we should stay with her, we were unable to do so. Her apartment was brimming with junk that was powdered with ancient dust. Therefore, while in the city of my birth, Linda and I resided at a nearby hotel, Die Saengerhalle, the same hotel where Siggi and I had practiced in the dance hall with the orchestra.

This was also the hotel where Pa had resided for a period of time between WWII and into the beginning of our Progenitors’ War. While there, he had almost succeeded in killing himself during a three-day drunken stupor. Fortunately, or unfortunately, his friend, Dr. Lupfer, had found him stark naked and had revived him. This was now the base to which we returned intermittently during our travels around Europe via Eurailpasses. Intermittently, we would also visit Ma, but only for an hour or two at a time, because that was all I could withstand.

Ma was still living in the apartment where Siggi and I had lived before our exportation to the States. One day, while Linda and I were visiting in her cocoon, we heard a knock at its entrance. Ma clambered through her dark vestibule to answer the door, and I heard her talk to someone in a low voice. She returned without saying anything about a visitor, so I inquired as to who had been there. "Oh, nobody," she replied with downcast eyes.

When Linda and I ended our visit sometime later, we bid her farewell on the stair landing outside her apartment, where a door closed off the stairs up to the attic. I casually asked Ma if I could open it.

She squealed: "No, please don’t open that door. Please Ami, don’t!"

Now that I was enlightened, I made it a point to disobey her, because I suffered a short bout of delayed and suppressed teenage rebellion. Very slowly, to create, and stretch, tension, to rattle the skeletons in her attic, I slowly pushed down the door handle and slowly opened that forbidden door. On the bottom steps of the dark stairway stood a gentleman dressed in a black suit, holding a black briefcase, brazenly tipping his black bowler hat with a broad smile. He greeted us with a graceful bow, "Good day," and exhibited no embarrassment whatsoever. Without a word, without even discussing the meaning of this encounter, Linda and I departed.

* * *

While Ma continued to live in her own world at Werderstrasse 3, Pa and Teufi had moved a few miles to Weil-on-the-Rhine, apparently at a time when they still liked each other. Again, the architect’s office was in the basement of their new multi-family house that they had built with the help of our money, Siggi’s and mine. On impulse Linda and I stopped there to visit. Teufi greeted us at the lead glass doors of the vestibule and seemed embarrassed when she recognized me. She may have been wondering if I would I harm her.

Her chubby cheeks flushed as I remembered them from before, and she announced that Pa did not live there anymore. A new door to his own room had been cut into the clay tile wall from the staircase. The irony of the saying of "what goes around, comes around" in this case was that Pa resided now in one room by himself, because his sweetheart had thrown him out, but only after she had cleaned him out.

Teufi invited us into her apartment and retrieved Pa from his mattress to join us. With its dark wood paneling, her home was even more luxurious than ours had been in Rheinfelden. Since I felt no animosity towards anyone, not even towards my father or his Teufi, another defect in my personality, the four of us had a congenial visit. Teufi served us liqueur, and I never thought that she might have enhanced my drink until after I downed it. Then I remembered that she and Pa had talked about poisoning us, had wanted to render us stiff, while Our Trio was holed up in our Hardtstrasse prison.

We had a warm reunion.

This mystery may remain forever unsolved: How did our second mother receive everything we owned with maybe only one court process, while our first mother had not even been able to extract a meager living for the three of us with many such court cases? Was it because our first mother wore homespun knit stockings and our second mother wore lipstick and false eyelashes? Was it because Ma had gray hair and massaged everyone with brutal truth, while Teufi massaged lawyers and judges in the right places?

Linda and I were such free spirits that sometimes not even we knew what city or country we would be in on any one day. We crisscrossed Europe for three months with little planning. To us it did not matter where we were headed, because this continent is a playground, rich in history and overwhelming culture. We traveled around so much that we met by chance two Canadian girls in different countries doing the same. These coincidences are amazing when considering that Europe has several hundred million people, uncountable tourist sites and hundreds of trains running at any one time.

During our worldwide travels, we tasted a broad spectrum of many natural wonders, societies and cultures, and to describe this would fill volumes. We toured up the mountains in Japan and cruised down rivers in Australia. We visited palaces and castles, took in Renaissance paintings and admired Roman sculptures. We felt the spirits of the ancient Druids at Stonehenge and lingered in enormous Gothic cathedrals, such as in Cologne and Paris. We suffered concentration camps and museums filled with medieval torture devices. We dwelled in old villages and vibrant cities. We dined royally in castles and slept twice, unwittingly and miserably, in houses of prostitution.

* * *

We looked for sea monster, Nessie, in Loch Ness and listened to bagpipes in the land of some of Linda’s ancestors. We traveled from Sweden to Sicily, from Lisbon to Salzburg. We admired the fascinating exhibits in the Louvre museum and wandered in the streets of Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles, as well as many others. In the middle of Brussels, we took a photo of little bronze Mannekin Pis going full bore.

Herman dressed as a pirate.After we explored the rocky island of Capri and the city of Naples, we traveled to the Southern tip of Italy. We kept wondering why so many people, with so much luggage, were heading north, while our train was nearly empty. At the end of this train ride, we transferred to a ship, to sail between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea to Palermo, Sicily. We were trying to fathom why this big island was so empty of people until we found someone who also spoke English. He advised us to leave Sicily as soon as possible, because earthquakes had been or still were devastating this area.

We returned northward and strolled along the canals of Venice. Headless, naked rabbits and chickens were hanging in a butcher shop window, and a hungry cat was strutting through the open entrance door. While kitty was stretching to paw the choicest rabbit, I snapped a picture. The perfect picture of the cat-rabbit for Ma, for a cover of a cookbook, should she be inspired to write one someday.

* * *

In Amsterdam we lugged our suitcases from the train to find a hotel. Within a short distance a sign advertised Rooms, and we were relieved to be able stay here since it was getting late in the day. Our matronly hostess led us upstairs to our room, where I asked her about the tour boats that cruised around the city canals. While she was giving me directions, I leaned out to survey the scene below and was distracted by the image of a girl in a big mirror next door. Naively I assumed nothing.

After nightfall, Linda and I went for a walk. Along the way, we observed numerous girls sitting in dimly lit store windows. They all must have been hot, because they wore enticingly little. The men standing in line outside must have been cold, because they were waiting their turns to wiggle around the warm inside.

My eyes bugged out over a long-legged maiden who wiggled her big ballooning boobs to bobble them out of her bikini. I became confused. Linda pushed them, my eyes, back into place. I felt a closeness, the close comfort of my wife, as she pulled me by my hand. Hot and cold encounters can cause consequential thunder and lightning some time later. After indulging in this deep culture, the two of us returned to our room to spend a night, together, in what we came to recognize to be just another the adult club like the others in our neighborhood.

Our fate provided an encore of this kind of entertainment in yet another city, Frankfurt, Germany. When we arrived there one evening, we found an illuminated display in the railroad station that listed many of its hotels. However, it also showed that there was not one single a single vacancy. Since we could not afford to hire a taxi, we walked down the most promising-looking street and stopped in the first hotel. The female clerk at the reception desk said:

"Yes, we have rooms and I will take care of him," while pointing directly at me.

But she never took care of me.

Linda and I lugged our suitcases up dark stairs, down a dark hall, into a dreary room with a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling. After we deposited our stuff, we went back out to eat. Again, we went window-shopping as we had done before, and my eyes kept popping out. This was a persistent problem for me during some of our voyages.

It was obvious that our bed had already been slept in. To protect ourselves, we slept in our clothes and put clean "cases" on our pillows, two of my tee shirts and left them there. We also studied the wisdom scratched on the wall next to our bed. Most of it was written in correctly-spelled English. The mysterious Kilroy, who seemed to have preceded us to many places all over the world, also had left his famous greetings here.

* * *

During another trip to Europe several years later, Linda and I returned to he city where I was born to visit Ma again. She had a visitor sitting in her nest. Pa! That’s right; our father sat in the nest of our mother, Siggi’s and mine. Ma and Pa were happily nestled together in eclectic garbage. And they were not even beating each other with clubs or lawyers. They had no black eyes, cuts or bruises. Only empty pockets. This was the first time in my life that I ever saw my parents congenially together and having a light-hearted conversation.

Pa was jovial and as rotund as ever. He wore a snow-white shirt with very long sleeves, as well as fine suit pants that were far too long. He still looked like a banker, albeit, a shrunken one. He was the totally out of place, squeaky clean centerpiece in our cluttered insane asylum, nursing a bottle of wine that he had brought with him.

After fighting each other all of our lives, Siggi’s and mine, our parents were now the best of friends. They were each other’s only friends, companions in suffering. Pa had a minor problem in that he could not decide whether to love us or to kill us. Teufi had finally treated him as he had treated us, when she took his fortune and threw him out. Just like the babies that he had thrown out, and for which he was now yearning.

Ma told us that she had found him a girlfriend from a lonely-hearts column in a national magazine. She herself had kept boyfriends in attics. They told Linda and me that Pa was now living with this lady of Ma’s choice. She was quite wealthy and her name was Hella. She had a home near Munich and they were enjoying a luxurious life, even though Pa owned nothing. Even the suit that he was currently wearing had belonged to Hella’s husband, who had long since died. Graciously, Pa invited Linda and me to visit him, and we set a date.

When we arrived there, there was a surprise visitor, my half-brother Oliver, son of Pa and Teufi. He was tall, had long hair and was a rock musician with a see-through electric guitar. Oliver was much younger than I, and we did not have much to say to each other.

That evening I drove him back home. Teufi was not there, or she may have been hiding in a closet. Her apartment oozed wealth with its glass and chrome furniture, and a real tiger skin with a head, tail and paws clawed the wall. After Teufi had sold our house and architect’s office, she had invested a lot of her loot with two American shysters, Bobby and Bernie, who then robbed her of some of it.

After dark, I said good-bye to Oliver and drove back to Hella’s house. It occurred to me that I could have robbed Teufi of my tiger. While I was thinking about the fate of my tiger, a tigress appeared in my headlights by the edge of the road. She was waving a bare leg to entice me to pull over. I would have stopped to help her, had she not wanted to pull my tail. In good conscience I ignored her pull but was sure that my chivalrous father would have pushed and pulled her. Therefore, I was confused. Who needed help, push or pull, the tigress, my role model or I?

Linda and I stayed a few days in the guesthouse that Hella had built to accommodate refugees after World War II. Laws required everyone to share the burdens of this war. People who had not lost their dwellings had to shelter the homeless, either in their homes if they still had one, or to build new ones for them if one could afford to do so. Hella could afford to build one, because she owned a factory, as well as a villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

Hella served us a delicious dinner and a big bottle of wine. She asked Linda and me to drink to our friendship, and we did so with interlocking arms. Now we could address our potential future third mother, Siggi’s and mine, with the informal German Du, instead of the formal Sie, hey you instead of thou.

Later that evening, Pa cried tears about his mother, who had died before Siggi and I were born. Pa and Ma had never talked about her or most of our relatives when we were children. German and family history must be kept secret, because it could be detrimental to our psyches. Even old family photos that Siggi and I had found over the years had some of our relatives cut or torn away.

Herman's father who made his children homeless.Around noon of the second week of the Munich Oktoberfest, Pa and I drove there with Hella’s car. This Fest seemed to be the oldest, biggest, and longest recurring party in the history of mankind. Breweries had set up huge tents and tables where they served food and drinks. When we arrived there, this party was already revving up for this day, with big steins of beer and mountains of food disappearing into thousands of bellies. Inside the huge tent of the Lowenbrau Brewery, steer number fifty-six was skewering, and being devoured by barbarians sitting at long wooden tables. Father and I nursed a couple of fine beers and also helped make this steer disappear.

Pa showed off his son to the revelers around us and lied with a smirking face:

"This is my son from America. He is a reporter for Time magazine."

"Oooh, ahhh," those around us smiled and howled their replies.

In all the tents bands played oompah, and all the bodies bobbed and sang drinking songs with the oompah. The pressure of downed beer sent Pa and I weaving out to the pissoir, where Pa parted his coat and humbly bowed his head. I took his picture, because one always takes pictures at family reunions, especially during moments to be remembered. At this moment, my father was finally trying to get a hold of himself with hands that painted beautiful pictures and played melodious music, with hands that also beat wives and fondled stray buttocks, to still try to establish a firm aim for his life.

He opened his fly and splashed into the pee trough.

After he briefly reenacted his life, which had splashed out of control, we strolled among the tents, the crowds and the many booths. We took in the smells of hundreds of barbecued chickens, trout and the sounds hundreds of people and dozens of bands.

During this stay with my father, one of the longest ever, we still never talked about our good old days, about how he and his two wives had ruined our lives, Siggi’s and mine. We had never talked about it before and would never do so in the future, because I did not think of it. That is how devoid of hate I am and might be one big reason why I am still full of zest for life.

* * *

Linda and I returned to the Rheinfelden area for a reunion with another shred of my family. We toured around the Black Forest with my mother, who now had snow-white hair and had shrunk a few centimeters since the peak of her career. She sat by herself in the backseat. Advising as always.

She insisted that I take a picture of the domed church at the monastery in St. Blasien. I had hundreds of slides of other magnificent structures, great and small, from around the world and did not want this one. Or I could have succumbed again to a long-suppressed teenage rebellion. Once I had given my socks an additional twist to defy Ma, when she had told me that people would think that I had crooked legs if the knitted grooves were not straight and aesthetically aligned with each other. Her fashion requirements had to be resisted from the start. Otherwise she might require me to dangle a stylish whip from my belt, to be prepared, in case I might have to beat off the onslaught of nasty children, or lawyers.

A family working together on a manure pile.We continued our tour until I screeched to a sudden stop. There was a commotion in front of a Black Forest house-barn combination. Flowers were in full bloom in window boxes. A grunting manure pile scene similar to what Siggi and I had witnessed in Simonswolde. On top of the pile, between the barn-house and the street were two people wrestling, this time not a pig, but valuable cow manure like I was forced to do during my slavery days.

I squealed with delight. The husband and wife were grunting. I clambered for my camera to record an important event. The paramount example of grass-roots women’s liberation, of families sticking together, and hopefully not of enslavement.

Eighty-eight year old Ma in an "Old Age Home." The wife was wearing a knee-length plaid dress, he a pair of pants. Both wore rubber boots like Aunt Houwke and I used to wear in cowboy country. From a safe distance I snapped a picture as they flung wads onto a wagon, and I noticed that even German manure stuck together much better than my family and its American counterparts. I heard Ma mumble in the backseat, in deep thought, probing the deep mind of her nutrient-obsessed son:

"My son won’t take pictures of beautiful churches. He takes photos of manure piles."

Can you blame me if I am still full of it?

Full of zest for life. Full of zest to jog up and down canyons and to pitch nutrients on my garden.

* * *

In spite of aberrations in our mother’s personality, was she not our heroine, Siggi’s and mine? She literally pounded some of life’s most important lessons into us. Don’t think of yourself as a victim but deal with your reality, however brutal it may be. Always be honest, respectful and have self-discipline. British prime minister Winston Churchill said: If you are going through hell, keep going. Such a mindset helped Siggi and I to claw ourselves out of hell to become world travelers.

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