Crow-Baby, Cry-Baby

Several weeks ago, on my routine early morning bathrobe-and-coffee-cup patrol around the garden, a series of raucous cries shattered my reverie, noises not terribly unlike those of the tiny fawn who once fell into our straight-sided ornamental pool and would have drowned had it not been for its frantic shrieks for help.

Instantly alert, I listened for a few moments and then began to prowl my paths in an effort to locate the source of the present cries. Determining that the sound was coming from somewhere in the tall meadow grass below the main rock retaining wall, I headed in that direction, only to have the air go silent. I stopped and stood silent, listening. Nothing. Nothing for more than a minute. I retreated to a shady area and sat on the stone bench at the base of the ancient cedar to listen again.

The cries resumed, at first mournful and plaintive, but gradually escalating to an ear-splitting screech. Once more I ventured down into the meadow. Again the air went silent.

I don’t have time for this, I thought, and returned to the house to put my coffee cup in the dishwasher and throw on my gardening clothes. My list of chores was long. It included fetching the dolly from the garage to move a dozen heavy sacks of soil amendment, well-rotted manure, and potting soil from the back of my SUV to the spots where they were needed. I grunted and tugged the dolly up and down runs of rock steps connecting the different levels of the garden, steps built many years ago with my own hands, but with no regard for how difficult they’d be to navigate with a loaded dolly. I was only vaguely aware of the squalls coming from the meadow area. I couldn’t ignore the cries completely, though. If you’re a mother, you know that feeling.

Again I ventured down into the meadow, and again the cries stopped. But now my quest had become a mission. I retreated once more to the shade of the old cedar and plopped down on a moss-covered boulder to take up my vigil.

Presently a huge black crow appeared overhead, silhouetted against the bluest of skies as it swooped in narrowing circles and landed near the top of a ninety-foot Ponderosa pine just beyond the meadow’s lower boundary. Moments later it flew away. At first I paid no attention to the crow. I kept my eyes riveted on the meadow grasses in my effort to determine the source of the distress cries. Then I heard it again. I looked up. Finally I understood. The crying baby wasn’t a fawn at all, but a crow-baby fledging from its nest high up in the pine. I relaxed. Nothing was wrong. I’m not needed here. I went back to my chores.

For two weeks I listened to the crow-baby and watched this rite of passage. At first crow-mama fed the chick in place, returning every five minutes or so, gradually lengthening the intervals to ten, then fifteen. In between snacks, crow-baby yelled, its lungs obviously developing at a faster rate than its wings.

But now crow-mama began landing on another branch a few feet away, challenging crow-baby to work a bit for its meal. Oh, how it screeched, its voice indignant and demanding. If you’re a mother, you know that behavior too. I was disappointed that she held out for less than fifteen seconds before she flew back to the nest and shoved the morsel down the chick’s throat.

Late that afternoon crow-mama finally convinced the reluctant chick to try a four-foot mini-flight to a nearby branch. So far, so good. Then she hopped to another branch ten feet away. But crow-baby was having none of that. On its own, it flew back to the safety of the nest and again took up its raucous lament. What a cry-baby! I decided the chick had to be a male. I could imagine crow-mama’s exasperation as she flew off in a wide arc over the neighbor’s property and didn’t return for nearly an hour.

Several days of rain and wind kept me out of the garden. When next I caught sight of crow-baby, he was flapping his wings hard and chasing crow-mama from the nest to the six-inch candle atop another Ponderosa pine twenty or thirty feet away. The two birds were nearly the same size now. Good for you, crow-baby. You’re finally getting the hang of it. But when mama encouraged her youngster to try another hop, crow-baby’s courage vanished. He returned to the nest and refused to budge. Soon he was yelling again, but crow-mama flew away and stayed away the rest of the afternoon. Serves the kid right, I thought.

The next day, I saw crow-baby practice a couple of times alone, flying from the top of one pine to the next, but never more than twenty feet from the nest. At his insistence, crow-mama continued bringing him his meals. Late that afternoon the two of them finally flew off together.

Over the weekend, I worked in the garden in welcome peace and quiet, glad to have witnessed the conclusion of this miracle of nature. I didn’t see a single crow. Nor did I hear any. Probably they’ve all flown down to Pioneer Park to mooch scraps from the picnickers gathered there to take in the weekend outdoor concert.

Monday passed uneventfully. I had errands to run.

Yesterday was Tuesday. I went out early to plant two azaleas I’d gotten on sale Monday afternoon at my favorite nursery. What? What’s that? Screech, screech, screech! That crow-baby was back, perched on the edge of the nest and yelling his head off.

Should’ve changed the locks.

The First Good-bye

We never did return to hike Crater Lake. Shortly after we got back from Canada, Daddy came home one day from work with a big smile on his face and announced: “Guess what? We’re going to Berlin!”

“Fishing?”

“No, Trish, not fishing. We’re going to Berlin to live. Just today, I received new orders, and I have to be ready to ship out at the end of August. The rest of you will follow me in a few months, probably November, after I get settled and find us a place to live.”

Mommy rushed over and threw her arms around Daddy’s neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. “That’s wonderful news, Art. It’s just what we’ve been hoping for.”

“Where’s Berlin?” Eleanor asked.

Daddy was prepared. He pulled our big atlas out of the bookcase and opened it on the dining room table. “Here’s where we are now,” he said, pointing with a pencil to the San Francisco Bay Area, “and here’s Germany way over here in Europe, halfway around the world. Berlin is the capital of Germany, and that’s where we’re going to live.”

“Why?” I wanted to know.

Daddy launched into a long explanation about how Germany had lost the war in Europe just like the Japanese had lost the war in the Pacific, both of them beaten by America and its Allies.

“And the guerrillas,” I reminded him.

Daddy smiled. “And the guerrillas.

‘Now there are occupation forces stationed in both Germany and in Japan to make sure the Germans and the Japanese don’t cause any more trouble. I’m going to be a part of the occupation forces in Berlin. I’m going to be assigned as a G-2 in the Intelligence Section.”

“A what?”

“G-2. That means an intelligence officer.”

I didn’t know what ah-cue-pay-shun meant, but I did like the shhhhh sound at the end of it. I didn’t understand what an intelligence officer was either. There were so many questions going around and around in my head that I didn’t know which one to ask first.

“How long will we be gone?” Eleanor wanted to know. She had already begun practicing the pieces for her Christmas piano recital at Mrs. Agabashion’s house next door.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably three years or so.”

“Three years? We’re not coming back for three years? But I’m going to be in second grade! I can’t leave now!”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, Trish. They have schools in Berlin. You’ll be in second grade there just like you would be here. And Eleanor will be in fourth.”

Eleanor and I looked at each other. Then we both stared at Mommy, who had said very little. She was smiling again. “It’ll be a great adventure. Not many families get a chance to live overseas in a foreign country. You two are the luckiest girls in the world.”

She turned back to Daddy. “When did you say you have to leave? The end of August?”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Certainly doesn’t give us much time to get ready, does it?”

“No, but we’ll manage. I don’t have your exact travel dates yet, but they should let me know by next week, so you’ll have plenty of time to get your passports and get started on your immunizations.”

“What are im-zu-nay-shuns?” I asked, drawing out the shhhhhh sound as long as my breath would last.

“We’ll talk about all that later,” Mommy said. “Right now we’d better get some dinner.”

The next few weeks went by quickly, almost too quickly, and before we knew it, Daddy was gone to Berlin.

Since we weren’t leaving until November, in September Eleanor and I started back to school at Washington Elementary. On the first day, I announced to Mrs. O’Connor—the same teacher I’d had for first grade—that I was going to live in Berlin, and she, in turn, told the whole class. She borrowed a map from the principal’s office so she could show everyone where Germany was and where Berlin was. I became a bit of a celebrity. None of the other kids had ever been out of California, let alone out of the United States. Even my best friend, Cyntha, was suitably impressed.

I was still enjoying the limelight when we had our passport picture taken. Then we went across the bay to San Francisco for our first immunizations. On the way, Mommy explained that immunizations were shots that we all had to take so we didn’t get any strange diseases overseas. I had no memory of the shots I’d had as a baby, so these came as quite a shock, especially the typhoid shots, which made my arm so sore I could hardly move it for a week. For each disease, we had to get a series of three shots, spaced two weeks apart. I never did cry, but I dreaded each trip to San Francisco.

In between shots, Mommy was busy all day every day making lists and shopping and organizing things into piles. At Capwell’s, using Grammy’s twenty-percent employee discount, we got new brown shoes and winter boots and wool skirts and slacks and jumpers and sweaters and heavy socks and flannel pajamas. Because the coats they carried for children weren’t warm enough—and were very expensive—Mommy bought a pattern and brown wool material from Grammy in the yardage department and sewed Eleanor and me each a winter coat with a red-plaid zip-out lining. Grammy helped by making the buttonholes and sewing on the buttons that Mommy covered with the same brown wool as our coats.

I was concerned about a number of things. “What about our beds?”

“We’re only allowed to take 2,500 pounds of household goods,” Mommy said, “so we won’t be taking much of our furniture. Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bryce and Margie and Brycie are going to move into this house after we’re gone, so we’ll leave most of the furniture for them.”

“But what will we sleep on in Berlin if we don’t take our beds?”

“Oh, they’ll have furniture for us to use, and I’m sure you and Eleanor will each have your own bed.”

“Big enough for me and Rusty?”

Mommy’s face fell. “We’re not going to be able to take Rusty with us,” she said quietly.

“Why?”

“Because we’re not allowed to take him. But don’t worry. He’s going to stay with Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bryce and Margie and Brycie. I’m sure Uncle Bryce will allow him to sleep on Margie’s bed at night. Besides, you know that Margie loves Rusty just as much as you do.”

I couldn’t believe it. “If Rusty can’t go to Berlin, then I’m not going either! I’ll stay here and live with Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bryce and Margie and Brycie and I’ll sleep in my very own bed and Rusty will sleep with me just like he always has.”

“I’m sorry, Trish, but you can’t do that. Sometimes we have to do things in life that make us unhappy. Sometimes we have to learn to say good-bye. It’s all part of growing up. Rusty will always love you in his heart, and you’ll always love him, but he loves Margie and Brycie too, and he’ll be happy. Remember, this is the only home he’s ever known.”

“It’s the only home I’ve ever known, too,” I blubbered. I ran into the bedroom, slammed the door behind me, threw myself on my bed, and cried my eyes out.

Mommy kept making lists. She packed and repacked our car several times. She spread the map out on the dining table and marked the route we would drive from Berkeley all the way to New York City, where we would get on the ship to take us across the Atlantic Ocean to Germany.

On our last day of school, Mommy made cupcakes so we could each have a farewell party to say good-bye to our friends at Washington Elementary. In my room, the kids made me going-away cards with crayon drawings of ships on the ocean or American flags. One boy even drew a city and printed B-E-R-L-I-N across the bottom. All during my party, Cyntha sat next to me and twisted the gold ring on her finger, the one with her amethyst birthstone in it. For a moment I thought she might even give it to me because we were best friends, but she didn’t. At the end of the party, she did put her arms around me and give me a big hug, though, as we both sniffled and tried to hold back our tears. After the parties were over, Eleanor and I gave our school a last look and walked home together. She even held my hand, something she hadn’t done since I was in kindergarten. I was glad.

That night there was also a party at our house. Grammy and Aunt Lucille came, and Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bryce and Margie and Brycie. Uncle Cecil and Aunt Jane and our little cousins, Tommy and Jimmy, came. Even Mrs. Agabashion, Eleanor’s piano teacher from next door, stopped in for a while. And of course the Bradleys all came. Nearly all the ladies brought food and laid it out on the table in the kitchen so everyone could help themselves. I fed Rusty part of my weenie, which I wasn’t allowed to do, but Mommy didn’t say a word.

After everyone had gone and Eleanor and I were in our pajamas, Mommy took one last picture of us with Rusty so we’d have something to remember him by.

“Come on, Trish, smile. When we get it developed, we’ll put this picture in a silver frame and  you can keep it right by your bed.” I did my best to smile.

Later, once we were in bed, Rusty snuggled his head right up on my pillow just like he always did. I buried my face in his fur and couldn’t keep from crying. He kept licking the tears off my cheeks because he liked the salty taste. He didn’t understand that we were saying good-bye forever.

The next morning, Grammy and Uncle Bryce and Mr. Bradley had to go to work, but Aunt Lucille and Aunt Charlotte and Aunt Jane and Jayne Bradley and all their kids gathered to see us off. Aunt Charlotte held Rusty on his leash, and they all waved as we pulled away from the curb. I watched out the back window until we turned the corner at Addison Avenue and I couldn’t see Rusty anymore. I really, really wanted to suck my thumb. Instead, I wrapped my fingers around it to make a fist and shoved my fist into my coat pocket. My heart hurt so bad that I wanted to die.

We met Uncle Lock and Aunt Dink in Visalia for lunch later that day and then continued on to Bakersfield, where we checked in to an auto court. I had on the same overalls I’d worn to school the previous day, a new pair from Capwell’s, bought specially for the trip. I took them off, dropped them on the floor, then put on my pajamas and crawled into bed. Without scolding me, Mommy picked my overalls up, lined up the bottoms of the legs, gave them a little shake and smoothed them with her hands so they wouldn’t be too wrinkled to wear again the next day.

“Oh,” she said as she bent over and picked something up off the rug. “What’s this?” Between her thumb and forefinger, she held up Cyntha’s little gold ring with the amethyst birthstone in it.

I jumped out of bed and grabbed the ring and jammed it on my middle finger. “She did it! She did give it to me!”

“Oh, Trish, I don’t think you can keep it. If it’s real—and it certainly looks as though it is—it was an expensive ring. Her parents are going to be very upset.”

“But she gave it to me on purpose! Otherwise, why would she have hidden it in my pocket? She wanted me to have it ’cause we’re best friends. Besides, you can’t send it back ’cause you don’t know her last name or where she lives.”

“We could send it to Washington Elementary, and they could return it to Cyntha.”

For once Eleanor took my side. “Cyntha’s probably already told her mother that she lost it, and she’s so spoiled that her daddy will buy her a new one.”

You could be right about that,” Mommy agreed absently. Already she had turned her attention to setting the alarm clock to wake us in the morning.

As I lay in bed waiting for Mommy to turn out the light, I held up my hand to admire my new ring. It wasn’t as pretty as it had been on Cyntha’s hand, though, because she didn’t chew her fingernails right down to the quick.

The next day Mommy drove nearly 500 miles, all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona, but she was so tired when we got there that she fell into bed and slept until ten o’clock in the morning. Then she spread the map out again and adjusted our route so that she’d have to drive only 300 miles or less each day.

We stayed in auto courts a lot like the one in Spokane the previous summer. Not fancy and not always too clean. Often, all three of us slept in the same bed. We carried a food bag with plastic bowls, plates, cups, and spoons. Each day Mommy stopped at a grocery store late in the afternoon and bought bananas and cereal and fresh milk for breakfast. Sometimes she also bought ready-made bologna or cheese sandwiches so we could have a picnic instead of dinner at a café. She kept a list of how much money she spent on gasoline and oil and how far we traveled each day and where we spent the night: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amarillo, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Springfield, Missouri; Saint Louis, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; Charleston, West Virginia; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and finally New York City. I remember we had a couple of flat tires along the way, but I don’t remember where that happened or how they got fixed. We did drive in the rain sometimes, but nothing severe like Daddy had driven through on our way to Canada. In all, Mommy drove nearly 3,000 miles. I don’t remember her ever being scared or even uncertain on the trip. She just did what she had to do, and Eleanor and I tried to help by not fighting too much.

We arrived in New York City during the second week of November and checked in at Brooklyn Army Base, Port of New York, where Mommy sold our Plymouth to a dealer for cash.

A few days later, along with dozens of other families, we climbed aboard a reconditioned Army troop ship. Mommy, Eleanor, and I were assigned to an eight-person cabin with another woman and her three children and a third woman who didn’t have any. Bunks lined both walls, end to end, and there was one small porthole high up on the outside wall. There weren’t any closets, so we had to keep our suitcases at the foot of our bunks. It was small and crowded. The bathroom was down the hall.

The next morning a brass band played loud Souza marches and “God Bless America” as we slowly inched away from the dock and sailed past the Statue of Liberty out into the Atlantic Ocean. I felt excited and scared all at the same time. Dressed in long wool pants and our new winter coats, we stood at the rail of the ship and watched while New York City got smaller and smaller, down to a little dot, and finally disappeared altogether.

We hadn’t been on the open ocean long before the waves got rough. The ship pitched and rolled, and most of the people left the deck and went down to their cabins. Finally, Mommy said we’d better go down too, but already the passageway smelled like throw-up. We could hear babies crying and people in the bathroom gagging. I didn’t feel so good myself. Stopping at our cabin just long enough to grab the blankets off our bunks, we climbed back up on deck and found three wooden deck chairs. Mommy wrapped our blankets tightly around us, snugged them right up to our chins, and then wrapped herself up too. With the icy cold wind blowing in my face, I felt better and not like throwing up anymore.

On the ship, our meals were served cafeteria-style in shifts, or sittings, each one announced by a loud horn. We had to sit in our assigned seats at the same table for every meal. That first day, hardly anyone showed up in the dining room, and after we ate, we went back out to our deck chairs and stayed there until a man told us we had to go below to our room.

The ship had a playroom for kids. It was equipped with some games, books, puzzles, and other toys—not much better than the little kids’ room at the daycare at Washington Elementary. Eleanor and I didn’t spend much time there because it was usually filled with babies and toddlers and a few of them were always crying.

A movie projector in the dining room showed the same movie twice each evening, once at seven o’clock and again at nine. We saw the late movie every night, regardless of what was playing. By the time it finished at eleven, we were more than ready for bed. Best of all, when we tiptoed in, the rest of our cabin mates were always fast asleep and it was peaceful and quiet.

Several times during the crossing, men gave long speeches in the dining room about what to expect once the ship docked at Bremerhaven. They carefully checked our passport and immunization records. They even taught us to say some German words like guten morgan (good morning), guten abend (good evening), bitte (please), and danke (thank you).

Twelve days later we docked at Bremerhaven, but we weren’t allowed off the ship for two or three hours while they checked everyone’s papers one last time. Finally, holding tightly to Mommy’s hands, we walked carefully down the gangplank. Being back on solid ground, I felt strange, dizzy, like I was a baby just learning to walk and might fall down at any moment. The feeling scared me, but Mommy said the dizziness would pass in a few hours. I hoped what she said was true. Forgetting how to walk just so we could live overseas in Berlin wouldn’t be worth it, in my opinion.

From the pier, big khaki-colored Army buses transported us to a railroad station. We were provided tickets and then boarded the overnight train to Berlin. The train was comfortable—padded seats and everything—but before it left the station, a man came around and locked all the doors and sealed the windows shut, just like we were inmates in a prison. Nervous, Mommy questioned one of the porters. “We’ll be entering the Russian Zone at Marienborn, Ma’am,” he said. “From there, absolutely no one is allowed to enter or exit the train until we reach Berlin.” It took quite a while for Eleanor and me to fall asleep that night. I don’t think Mommy slept at all.

At Berlin, Daddy was waiting with a brand new car, a Standard Vanguard, to take us to our new home.

42 Im Dol Strasse (Part 1)

The drive from the railroad station was a shocker. Block after block of bombed-out buildings. Streets swept clean, but piles of rubble towering everywhere. In between, tall jagged walls with gaping holes where windows should have been. Skeleton structures silhouetted against a flat, gray sky, blackened and dead. We said very little, only stared.

To lighten the mood, Daddy provided a history lesson: “World War II ended in Europe in May of 1945 with the surrender of Germany. The Allies—America, Great Britain, France, and Russia—met at the Yalta Conference in Potsdam, not far from here, to decide what to do with Germany, how it should be governed, and who would be in charge. The Allies couldn’t agree, though, so they divided Germany into four zones of occupation, one for each of the victorious countries.”

“What does vic-tri-us mean?” I asked.

“It’s pronounced vic-tor-i-ous, honey,” he said. “The victorious countries are the ones who defeated Germany in the war. There were four of them: America, Great Britain, France, and Russia. After they divided Germany into four zones—”

Anxious to show off, Eleanor interrupted: “Oh, you mean like California and Arizona and Missouri and—”

“Well, sort of. In America, you can pass from one state to another, just like you did driving from California to New York, and there aren’t any fences or walls. But here in Germany you can’t just go from one zone to another whenever you choose. There are walls and gates and guards, and you have to have a passport and special papers to go from one to another.”

“We had to show passports and special papers to get on the train at Bremerhaven yesterday,” Eleanor said. “And then they sealed the windows and doors shut so the Russians couldn’t get us when we went through their zone at night.”

“Even with the zones, a problem remained,” Daddy went on. “You already know that Berlin is the capital. Well, each of the Allies wanted Berlin in their zone because it’s the most important city in Germany. But under the new plan, Berlin ended up in the middle of the Russian zone. So they decided to divide Berlin into four parts too, each set off from the others by gates and checkpoints, where you have to—”

Eleanor was grinning now. “Show more passports and papers?”

You’re exactly right, more passports and papers,” Daddy said. “We haven’t had to show any today because the train station and our new house are both in the American sector. So are your school and nearly all the other places we’ll be going while we live in Berlin. In fact, we’re almost there. This is our street coming up. This is Im Dol Strasse.”

Tall pine trees lined the street on both sides. “This was a fancy neighborhood before the war,” Daddy said, “but most of the homes were destroyed when the Allies had to bomb Berlin in order to get the Germans to surrender. A few were only slightly damaged, though, and those have been fixed up so the families of the American occupation forces—people like us—will have a place to live.”

All I could see beyond the trees were more dead walls and huge piles of rubble. But a couple of blocks down there was one nice house, then another, then a very big house with a high brick wall and a guardhouse at the gate. “Is that our house?” I asked.

“No, Trish, that one belongs to General Lucius Clay. He’s the commanding general of the American forces here in Berlin. But ours is right next door.”

Daddy stopped in front of what looked to me like a fairy castle, with a tower and everything. For a moment I just stared, my eyes as big as saucers. I reached for the door handle.

“Hold on! You girls wait here in the car. I have a surprise.”

Mommy gave Daddy a blank look, but Eleanor and I clapped our hands and squirmed in our seats. “Oh, goody! A surprise! We love surprises!”

Daddy trotted up the walk and went in the front door. Moments later he came out with a dog on a leash, a dog much bigger than Rusty, a spotted brown dog with a black face and pointy ears, a stubby tail, a white chest, and four white feet. Eleanor and I jumped out, shrieking with glee. Mommy followed close behind.

“This is Skippy,” Daddy said. “He’s seven months old. He’s a brindle boxer.”

“Who does he belong to?” I asked suspiciously as Skippy danced around between us.

“Why, he’s ours, of course,” Daddy said with a big grin “All ours.”

We were so engrossed with Skippy that we hadn’t even noticed several people standing in a line near the front door. Daddy waved them over and introduced them. “This is Frau Erdmann, this is Gertrude, and this is Franz. They’re going to be taking care of us.” The two women were dressed in stiffly starched uniforms and aprons while Franz wore a heavy brown jacket and clutched his rumpled felt hat in a callused hand.

I moved down the line and shook each hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Frau Erdmann will give you the tour,” Daddy said as he headed back to the car to get our suitcases.

We followed Frau Erdmann inside. Skippy came too.

The front door opened into a round room. Its ceiling reached all the way to the top of the tower. “This is the foyer,” Frau Erdmann said in perfect English. On the left side, wide stairs circled up to the second floor. But at the top was a wall so you couldn’t go any farther. It looked odd, but Mommy didn’t question it.

We followed Frau Erdmann down a hall to the right. She opened the first door and announced, “This is the music room, Madam.” On one wall, a fire crackled in a black marble fireplace. Along another, a deep cupboard with etched glass doors stored shiny brass musical instruments. A thick red Persian rug covered the floor, where a small leather loveseat, two matching chairs, and two tables with lamps for reading formed a circle in the middle. Filling the corner between the cupboard and the window, a gleaming upright piano beckoned.

“Oh, my goodness,” Mommy said.

Eleanor stared at the piano, her eyes as bright and glittery as the fire. “Not now, sweetie,” Mommy said softly. “You can try it out later.”

Farther down the hall, double doors opened into a huge room with a shiny parquet floor, paneled wainscoting, and elaborate ceiling moldings. On the left wall hung a tapestry showing a shepherd and his flock in a meadow, with forested mountains behind. A parade of carved, straight-backed chairs lined the walls, their seats upholstered in red velvet. A dozen bronze sconces dripped with crystal pendants. “This is the ballroom, Madam,” said Frau Erdmann. “You’ll use it only for formal parties as the temperature remains quite cool.”

At the end of the hall another set of double doors revealed the dining room with its carved table and ten chairs matching those in the ballroom. On either side of tall windows on the far wall hung heavy, red velvet drapes, tied back with braided ropes, ending in long gold tassels. Two crystal chandeliers hung above the table, and beneath it another thick Persian rug covered the floor, soft as a kitten. From a pair of gilt-framed paintings on a side wall, gaunt, skinny-legged hunting dogs stared, lifeless pheasants dangling from their mouths. “Your meals will be served here,” said Frau Erdmann.

“Can I have that chair?” I asked, pointing to one where my back would be to the dogs and their awful dead pheasants. No one answered. Skippy wagged his stubby tail and licked my hand.

Frau Erdmann moved on to a third set of double doors. “And this, Madam, is the library.” Though smaller than the ballroom, this room proved the grandest of all, with two sets of French doors, one opening directly outside into the garden and another into a room with glass walls.

“A greenhouse?” Mommy asked Frau Erdmann.

“That is the solarium, Madam. It is used only in the summertime. Right now the furniture is stored in the basement. You will enjoy it in the spring. The cushions are upholstered in rose-patterned chintz fabric to match the lovely red roses that Franz cultivates in the garden.”

Beneath the twelve-foot paneled ceiling, tall, bronze-screened book cupboards lined the two inside walls. Thousands of books filled the shelves—many of them medical books, we learned later, but many classics too, in German, French, Latin, and English. Across the tops of the bookcases, a half dozen marble busts of statesmen and literary figures—men Daddy identified as Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, and others—sat frozen in time, staring straight ahead from lifeless eyes. More Persian rugs covered this floor, and four soft leather chairs formed a casual grouping in the center. Perpendicular to one bookcase wall, a carved mahogany desk had banks of drawers on each side and a carved panel closing in the knee hole. Perfect for a game of hide and seek or a pirate cave or a playhouse for my dolls. This was to become my favorite room.

From the library, Frau Erdmann led us back toward the foyer, bypassing a closed door on the right.

Mommy paused. “And that one?” she asked, nodding toward the closed door.

“That opens into the butler’s pantry, Madam, and then the kitchen is beyond.”

“May we see them?” Mommy asked with a friendly smile.

“Very well,” said Frau Erdmann. I don’t think she was anxious to show us this part of the house, but she opened the door and we all crowded into the narrow butler’s pantry. On either side, dark, shiny cabinets rose nearly to the ceiling. Beveled-glass-paneled doors protected carefully arrayed china, etched crystal glasses, and dozens of sterling silver serving pieces.

“Meissen, eighteenth century,” Frau Erdmann said as she reached for a floral-patterned dinner plate with heavy gold decoration around the edge. “Hand-painted,” she added.

“Oh my, how beautiful!” Mommy whispered. Now her eyes were as big as saucers.

Beyond the butler’s pantry, the kitchen was equipped with a hulking black iron stove on one wall and an old-fashioned icebox on another. Next to the icebox, white fluted ceramic legs supported a wide, shallow sink. In the center of the room, a round table was surrounded by plain wooden chairs.

“Is this the breakfast table?” Mommy asked.

“Your meals will be served in the dining room,” Frau Erdmann repeated. “This one is for the servants.”

From the kitchen, Frau Erdmann led us back to the foyer and then down another hall to two bedrooms and a bath. I remember little of the bedrooms except they were several times the size of our bedrooms on Spaulding Avenue. The bathroom, though, remains crystal clear. As large as a bedroom, it had tiny hexagonal white tiles on the floor and square white tiles extending halfway up the walls. Beneath the window squatted a gigantic claw-foot tub, and—most fascinating of all—there were two toilets!

“Why are there two toilets?”

“That is a bidet, my child,” Frau Erdmann said.

“What’s a bidet?”

Frau Erdmann just looked at me and then at Mommy, who stammered something about keeping your bottom clean.

I didn’t ask anything more about the bidet, but I wanted to. Why wouldn’t you just clean your bottom when you took a bath? Maybe it was for Skippy. Sometimes Rusty drank water out of our toilet on Spaulding Avenue if the lid was up and if someone forgot to fill his water bowl in the kitchen.

Mommy asked about the upstairs.

“Off limits,” Frau Erdmann said firmly.

“Oh I see,” Mommy said.

We spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking, getting plenty of help from Skippy, who had to sniff everything. Some clothes went into dresser drawers and other clothes went on hangers in a big wood cupboard with mirrors on the doors—an armoire, Frau Erdmann called it. There weren’t any regular closets. Eleanor and I each had three dresser drawers and our own bed, but we had to share the armoire.

That evening Eleanor asked Frau Erdmann if we should set the table for dinner. She gave us a funny look. “That is Gertrude’s job, but you may watch.”

First, Gertrude moved the extra chairs away from the table and placed them against the walls, leaving one at each end and one on either side. She placed an embroidered linen mat and matching napkin on the table in front of each chair and then arranged six sterling silver utensils on each mat. Seeing the perplexed look on our faces, she explained: “Dis ist salad fork and dis ist dinner fork. Dey go on left. Dis ist soup spoon. Next ist coffee spoon, and next ist dinner knife. Dey go on right. Above forks goes bread plate, and little knife ist for butter. In middle ist soup bowl and plate. Above dinner knife, water glass and wine glass.” Gertrude spoke English with a thick accent, but we had no trouble understanding her.

Eleanor and I looked at each other, and I could tell we were thinking the same thing. What a lot of extra stuff to wash and dry and put away! But who cares? That’s apparently Gertrude’s job too!

When we all gathered in the dining room for supper, I claimed the chair where my back would be to the paintings of the skinny-legged dogs and their dangling dead pheasants. We placed our napkins across our knees and waited, hands folded in our laps.

Gertrude arrived carrying a lidded tureen. She stepped to Mommy’s left side, set the tureen down on the table, lifted the lid, and asked, “Corn chowder, Madam?”

“Yes, please,” Mommy answered.

Carefully, Gertrude ladled some into Mommy’s bowl.

“Thank you,” Mommy said.

Next it was Daddy’s turn, then Eleanor’s, and then mine. We copied Mommy and said please and thank you. Then Gertrude replaced the lid on the tureen and returned it to the kitchen.

When we finished our soup, Gertrude came back. Working from our right side this time, she removed the bowls, plates, and soup spoons to a big tray, then picked up the tray and returned it to the kitchen.

Next came four salads, served from the left and cleared from the right. Two more courses followed: sliced roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy followed by a dessert of freshly baked apple pie.

“Heavens,” Mommy said, “we’ll all be popping out of our clothes in no time.”

“Don’t eat more than you want,” Daddy said. “Nothing goes to waste. Frau Erdmann scrapes the leftovers onto pie tins and sets those out on top of the low stone wall outside the kitchen.”

“For animals?”

“No, not for animals. For the many German people who have no jobs, no homes, and very little food. A few of them come each night. They clean up every last morsel and leave the tins on the wall, hoping for more leftovers the next night.

“Can we see them when they come?”

“No, Trish. We don’t even look. These are proud people who just happened to be on the losing side in the war, that’s all. We wouldn’t want to embarrass them by watching them eat like we would watch animals in a zoo.”

“Oh.” I decided I would always leave plenty of food on my plate for the starving Germans. But I also planned to hide behind the heavy drapes in the library some night and peek out the window to see what a starving German looked like.

After dinner we moved to the music room to sit in front of the fire. Skippy curled up at my feet as Daddy told us more stories about our new home. “Before the war,” he said, “I think this place probably belonged to a doctor, judging by all the medical books in the library. I don’t know his name, but he may have been Jewish and may have been killed by Hitler’s Nazis.”

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Hitler hated Jewish people and wanted to get rid of them, especially the smart ones like doctors and bankers and professors and business owners, so he began rounding them up and shipping them to concentration camps and—”

“I don’t think we need to go into all that,” Mommy interrupted. “Just tell us about the house.”

“Toward the end of the war,” Daddy continued, “Russian troops—remember, Russia was one of our allies. Anyway, the Russians were the first ones to fight their way back into Berlin. It wasn’t an easy fight and lots of their soldiers were killed or injured. They needed a hospital where they could treat the wounded, but the German hospitals had all been destroyed by the bombs. This house was still standing, so the Russians turned it into a hospital. When the war was over and Germany was divided into four zones—you remember that story I told you?

“Yes,” Eleanor said, “about the walls and gates and having to show passports and special papers?”

“That’s right. Anyway, when Berlin was divided into sectors, this house ended up in the American sector. Since the Americans didn’t need it for a hospital, they fixed it up for us to live in. At least they fixed up the downstairs. The upstairs is just as the Russians left it, and it’s off limits.”

“Now I understand that strange wall at the top of the main stairway,” Mommy said. “Well, the downstairs certainly has more room than we’ll ever need.”

“Tell us about Frau Erdmann and Gertrude and Franz,” Mommy continued.

“I understand Frau Erdmann was born here in Germany, but when she was young, she moved to London to study to become a chef, and then she worked for a British family for years, until she decided to return home to Germany not long before the war broke out. That’s why her English is so good.”

“Does she have a family here in Berlin?

“Not that I know of. She’s never mentioned anyone. She’s in her late fifties, so her parents are probably already gone. I like her. She has a sense of humor. But whatever you do, don’t go rummaging around in her kitchen. She does not like that! If you’re hungry and want a snack, you have to ask and she’ll get it for you.”

“I see. And Gertrude?”

“I don’t know much about Gertrude, except that she’s been approved to work as a maid for American families. She isn’t as friendly as Frau Erdmann and doesn’t say much about herself, but I think she’s pretty smart. She’s interested in what’s going on with the new government and listens to news broadcasts on the radio whenever she can. I suspect she’s a bit unhappy about working as a maid. Maybe she had a better job before the war, or maybe she was part of a well-to-do family and had servants of her own.”

“She certainly seems capable,” Mommy said.

“As for Franz, we share him with two other families. He takes care of all the yard work and handles the coal furnace in the basement. He’s also a handyman and can fix just about anything. He only speaks a few words of English, though, so you’ll have to get Frau Erdmann or Gertrude to translate if you want to talk to him.

“These people are very lucky, and they know it,” Daddy continued. “They each have a small room of their own in the basement, they share a decent bathroom, and they get three meals a day and a regular paycheck.”

“Now tell us about Skippy,” I said. “Where did he come from?”

“I got him a month ago. He was six months old, not a puppy. Well, he’s still a big puppy, but at least he’s housebroken. A German family owned him. But they were living in a tiny apartment and didn’t have enough to feed him, so they put an ad on the American news network, hoping an American family would give him a good home. I knew how upset you girls were about leaving Rusty behind, so when I heard the ad, I decided to surprise you. Skippy liked it here right away—plenty of good food—and he’ll like it even better now that you girls are here.”

“Is he allowed to sleep on my bed?”

“Well, I suppose so.”

That was all I needed to hear. “C’mon, Skippy, let’s get ready for bed.”