My brother and I had strict orders to play only in the back yard where Momma could keep a closer eye on us. But the back yard had become boring.
It was 1966, we were living in Meinz, Germany. Stationed at the air force base, there, we discovered that the housing was full. So, Dad rented a little house in a tiny suburb. Surrounded by German speaking people, Mom was a bit nervous when Dad had to go back to the states for his brother’s funeral.
My brother, Ned, and I were digging in the flowerbeds when Frau Gruber walked past our house.
“Guten Morgen!” She called out. I knew very little German, yet. I was five years old. Old enough to be in Kindergarten, but the buses did not like driving on the muddy roads in that area. Frau Gruber waved at us. She gestured while chattering away. It seemed she wanted us to go with her.
That sounded good to me. I was bored with the front yard, too. I grabbed my three years old brother and dragged him to the street. Frau Gruber smiled broadly. She took both our hands in hers and off we went.
It was a short walk to the local bakery. We climbed up the rickety wooden stairs and entered into a place that smelled like heaven. Freshly baked bread. Frau Gruber gave us candy and a sweet bun. The bun was not as sweet as it looked. Momma told me later that Germany was having a sugar shortage. But the smell of baked bread made me hungry, so I ate it. “Danke” I said and Frau Gruber beamed.
Frau Gruber took us in hand again, her black purse swung from her elbow, barely missing Ned’s head with each pass.
Several blocks later, we came across a tall wooden fence. We went into the gate and she settled us on a bench.
I was finishing my candy, which was sweeter than the bun, when I looked up and tried to find Frau Gruber. There she was. I could see her blue sweater and brown skirt over by two men. One of them was holding a very large, very pink pig. Frau Gruber nodded and pointed as if to say “Yes, that one.”
To my horror, one of the men shoved a metal instrument at the pig’s nose and the pig crumpled like a sack of potatoes.
I clapped my hands over my eyes and refused to look anymore. Ned pulled at my arm and tried to ask questions, but I ignored him.
It seemed like hours before Frau Gruber came back for us. In between times, I would steal peeks to see if they had finished yet. I got an eyeful of cleaning out entrails. That was enough.
Finally, Frau Gruber returned to us. Several paper wrapped packages were under her arm, but she managed to hold Ned’s and my hand on the walk back.
She still spoke German to us as if we understood. But she had given us candy. We will listen to anything for that!
It did not seem to take us long to get back.
I heard a scream from up the street and saw Momma as she ran towards us. Frantic tears streaked her face as she grabbed us up in big hugs.
“I have been looking everywhere for you!” She cried. “Where have you been?”
Before I could answer, Frau Gruber tried to speak but Momma cut her off.
“How could you take them away without asking me?” She demanded. Momma did not wait for an answer. “How could you do that? I don’t know anyone around here. I don’t know who to call in an emergency. No one speaks English, I don’t have a telephone. My children come up missing. What was I supposed to do?”
Then she turned her sights on me. “Don’t you ever do that again, do you hear?”
As Momma continued to pour out her anxieties, Frau Gruber slowly backed away. She smiled in apology and scurried into her house next door.
Momma took us into our house and we could not go outside again for a long time.
Ned may have been too young to remember the pig, but I do.
It was a long time before I could eat bacon again.
Author’s note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent and well meaning.
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