Friday, July 4, 2008

A Mystery

(Part II of my grant proposal. The full title of the grant is "A History, A Mystery").

In the retelling of his military experiences, some of my father’s fondest memories are of the time he spent in Germany during WWII. He spoke often of how beautiful the country was and how kind and generous the townspeople he encountered were to young soldiers of another country, a country at odds with their own. My father especially thinks fondly of one town in particular, but its name is a mystery. For many, many years, my father could not recall the name of this town, he would just tell us, “If I ever see the church again, I’ll know.” In the fall of 1985, my mother and father traveled to Germany to visit my brother—another young soldier in another era on another tour of duty. While visiting, my parents and my brother toured the beautiful countryside of Germany. All the while, my father kept speaking of this unknown town and hoping that they might just stumble across it. After several days of travel, they had to rush back to the military base in Augsburg as my brother had commitments to keep. There was no longer leisure time to spend exploring cities and towns. As they hurried home, my father turned to look back at the town they were leaving. There on a hill stood the church he remembered from so long ago. It was with such regret that he’d missed his opportunity. So many times since that trip, my father has lamented this misfortune. They never had chance to return, but my father now has its name---Andechs. At least, we think he has its name. In recent emails between my dad and my brother, there is some disagreement. The limited photographs found on the internet of Andechs have caused my father to doubt this is the right town.

As a young soldier, his time spent in Germany seems etched more deeply in his heart. Perhaps it was his youth and inexperience with the world that created such great impact or perhaps it was just the kindness of strangers experienced a world away from home. Whatever the reason, this country remains embedded in his memory. In recent months, I’ve prodded his memory for more stories.

“We’d been stationed outside of Munich. A motel with a courtyard had been converted into quarters for the men in my battalion. The Germans couldn’t get coffee at that time, it was a rare commodity. So, each night after mess, I would get the coffee grounds left over from the day’s meals. I’d take the coffee grounds into town a little way to this church that sat on a hill. To one side of the building was a little door. It reminded me of a theater ticket window, where a little door on the top would open. I’d knock on the door and soon after, that little door on top would open. Through the door, I would hand the used coffee grounds to the person inside. In exchange, I would receive a small portion of schnapps which was made right on the premises. It was really good schnapps. Every night until I was shipped out, I would make this trip to the church. Each night, the exchange of coffee-for-schnapps would be made.”

So, therein lays the mystery. I would love to return my father to Germany in an attempt to solve this mystery once and for all. I would love to find that little door.


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