Meeting Daddy

I was never an orphan, not even a half-orphan, but until I was five, I remember only Mommy and a photograph she called Daddy. That silver-framed photograph sat on a nightstand in the bedroom I shared with my older sister, Eleanor, in a small, stucco-clad bungalow on Spaulding Avenue in Berkeley, California. Sometimes Mommy told us stories about Daddy, about how he was in the Army and was far away across the ocean doing a very important job in the war in the Philippines. I asked a million questions about where is the Philippines and how did Daddy get there and what is a war and what were its jobs and why did Daddy have to have a job so far away and why didn’t he send me a bike for Christmas. Sometimes Mommy tried, but after three or four answers, she usually ended up by saying, “I don’t know, Trish. I just don’t know.” Other times, she just turned away and blew her nose in her Kleenex.

I had stared at that photograph of Daddy so long and so hard that I didn’t really have to look at it anymore, I knew it in my head. But knowing it and having a real daddy weren’t the same thing. The Bradley kids next door had a real daddy who came home from his job every afternoon and played with them and kissed them and told them to eat their spinach and bought bicycles for them. My daddy was different. In my head, I tried talking to him, but he would only smile his same little smile from the photograph and wouldn’t say a word, not even my name. I didn’t know if his voice was high and squeaky or deep and scary or soft and sweet. Sometimes in my head I tried to get on his lap and snuggle up close to see what he smelled like or if his chin was scratchy like Mr. Bradley’s was on Sundays. I tried really hard, but I just couldn’t feel him and I couldn’t smell him and I couldn’t hear him. In some ways, I felt like an orphan, or at least a half orphan.

Most nights, before she tucked us into our beds, Mommy listened as we recited a little prayer that always ended with: “Please, God, bless our daddy and bring him home safely to us.” I had memorized all the words perfectly, but they meant little to me, no more than “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are….” I’d never heard the term “missing in action, presumed dead.” Even if I had, it’s doubtful I would have fully understood its meaning.

In 1943 and 1944, during the middle years of World War II, our lives on Spaulding Avenue were predictable. Before dawn, every morning except Sunday, Mommy turned on the light in our room and shook us awake. We had to dress ourselves and we were always in a hurry. Eleanor knew what she was doing, but I often put things on backwards, and sometimes my colors clashed. My favorite outfit was a pair of red-striped seersucker overalls under a bright yellow dress, with a pink cardigan sweater on top to keep warm.

“That doesn’t match,” Eleanor said, her voice snotty and condescending.

“Does, too!”

“Does not! Red doesn’t match with pink. Mommy said so.”

“Does, too,” I replied, raising my voice half an octave.

“If you don’t change that sweater, I won’t tie your shoes!”

“I don’t care. I can do it myself.”

But I couldn’t and she knew it. I had one pair of shoes, white high-tops with laces all the way up. I was trying to learn. I knew how to shape one lace into a loop and hold it between my right thumb and pointing finger, but the next step stumped me. My left hand kept forgetting which way to wrap the other lace around, and pretty soon my right hand would drop the loop and I’d be right back where I started.

“You girls hurry up and get out here,” Mommy called from the kitchen. “Your oatmeal is getting cold.”

Eleanor tossed her curly hair and flounced toward the kitchen. I stuck my tongue out at her back, shoved my stocking feet into my shoes, and shuffled to the kitchen, laces dragging.

“Eleanor, honey, would you be a good girl and help Trisha tie her shoes?”

“Yes, Mommy,” Eleanor replied in her best mommy’s-little-helper voice. Then, with a big smirk on her face, she knelt down and tied my shoes. She was a big girl, and I was nothing but a baby who couldn’t figure out how to tie a bow.

Not content with one win, Eleanor added, “Trisha has on her pink sweater with her red-striped overalls. I told her not to, but she wouldn’t—”

“Stop it, you two! We don’t have time for that nonsense! Finish your breakfast and get your teeth brushed or we’ll be late again.”

If it was spring or summer, we had Cheerios or Rice Krispies with sliced banana on top, but in the wintertime we always had oatmeal with raisins. As we ate, Mommy brushed Eleanor’s curly hair and twisted her top hair into a knot. Sometimes she braided the sides into pigtails. I didn’t have enough hair for pigtails. Mine was blonde and very fine, and Mommy said it had a mind of its own because it mostly stuck straight out. Even with water, it wouldn’t stay smoothed down for long, so Mommy kept it cut short all around—a Dutch bob, she called it—with bangs trimmed straight across my forehead.

The reason I only had one pair of shoes was because they were rationed. I liked that word ration, the way it whooshed out between my top and bottom teeth. I’d repeat it over and over: ration, ration, ration. But I didn’t really understand why Mommy had to stop at the post office every week to sign for a little paper book that had rows of coupons in it that were torn out whenever you bought anything at the store. Well, a lot of things, anyway. Kids’ shoes were rationed. You only got enough coupons to buy one new pair for each kid every six months. Even if you wore holes in the toes, you weren’t allowed to get a new pair ahead of time. Mommy said our government needed all the leather it could get to make combat boots for the soldiers away in the Philippines fighting the war.

“Why don’t they just make more leather?” I wanted to know.

“It’s complicated, honey. Leather is made from cow skins, but our milk also comes from cows, so they can’t go around killing all the cows to get their skins or we wouldn’t have any milk.”

I didn’t like hearing about killing cows to get their skins. “Maybe I’ll just go barefoot when my shoes wear out.”

“You can’t do that. You’d freeze your feet off in winter.”

“Would not!”

“Would so!” Eleanor nearly always got the last word.

Around seven-thirty, Mommy dropped us off at a child-care center just over a mile away. Dozens of other kids got dropped off too, from babies all the way up to six-year-olds, because just about everyone’s mommy had a job. The kids were divided into three groups: the babies; the two-, three-, and four-year-olds; and then the older ones. Each group had its own room and its own uniformed ladies in charge.

Eleanor was five, so she crossed the playground with the other five-year-olds for morning kindergarten from nine until noon at Washington Elementary before returning to the child-care to eat lunch and spend the afternoon in the big kids’ room. They had real schoolwork in the afternoons, like practicing their numbers or reciting the alphabet or singing songs like “God Bless America” and “Yankee Doodle.” They had jars of paint and brushes and a big easel and could paint anything they wanted.

How I wished I could be in that room! I already knew my numbers all the way to a hundred, and could say most of the alphabet too, as long as I sang it: Aye-bee-cee-dee-e-eff-gee, aitch-eye-jay-kay-ellemeno-pee…. But I had to stay in the room with the little kids. I spent ten hours there every day except Sunday. My group had wooden alphabet blocks in a wagon, a bunch of hard-cover picture books, and coloring books and crayons, but most of our stuff was just dumb baby toys.

The best part of the day was recess. The child-care had its own playground, with swings, a slide, monkey bars not as high as the ones on the regular playground, and a merry-go-round. The merry-go-round was just a flat, round, wooden platform with a circle bar in the center for the riders to hold onto and another circle bar on the outside for the pushers to grab and run alongside and push as hard as they could to make it go fast. I liked the merry-go-round, but I never rode it when we first got there in the morning because it made me dizzy and my oatmeal would try to come back up.

I liked the monkey bars best. The girls who just wore dresses wouldn’t go on the monkey bars at all because they were afraid a boy might see their underpants. You know, boys were always trying to look under girls’ dresses and see their underpants. A few girls who wore overalls under their dresses climbed up and swung from the bars by their hands, but they were afraid to hang by their knees. Not me. I always wore overalls under my dress at the child-care, and I had big blisters on my palms from swinging from one end of the bars to the other just as fast as I could. And I could hang by my knees too, just as well as any of the boys. Mommy said she thought I must be half monkey.

The charge ladies in the little kids’ room made us take naps on the floor after lunch every day. We each had a cubby to keep our nap rugs in. Mine was a red-and-pink-and-yellow rag rug that Mommy let me pick out at the dime store on University Avenue. It had some black in it too. I thought the colors were perfect all woven together, not clashing at all. At naptime, I always spread my rug in the corner where I could face the wall. You see, I had a problem.

Sucking my thumb was a big problem. I always sucked my right thumb and twirled a lock of hair on the top of my head with my left hand. I was ashamed of doing it because it was such a baby thing, but I just couldn’t stop. Mommy nagged me, Eleanor nagged me, and even Grammy nagged me: “If you don’t stop that, your front teeth will stick out like a gopher’s!” Mommy tried painting awful-tasting stuff on my thumb just before bedtime, but that didn’t help much. The bad taste in my mouth only lasted a few minutes. I tried wearing a mitten to bed, but that didn’t help either. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d just pull it off. Sometimes Mommy even put a Band-Aid around my thumb. In the morning, my thumb was right back in my mouth and the Band-Aid was on the floor. I just couldn’t go to sleep without my thumb.

The child-care center was the worst. If Cynthia Ellerby caught me with my thumb in my mouth, she’d yell, “Patricia is sucking her thumb!” and in a flash every other kid would chime in and make fun of me too: “Patricia is a baby, baby, baby, thumb-sucking baby!”

The lady in charge was just as bad. “Now, Patricia, you take thumb out of your mouth. Don’t you know your thumb is covered with germs and it’s going to make you sick?” Once when I was taking my nap on my rag rug in the corner, she snuck up on me, bent down, and yanked my thumb right out of my mouth and held onto it tight while she told me again what a nasty habit it was. I got so mad that I grabbed her other hand with my left one and bit her middle finger as hard as I could. That got me a spanking, one at school and a harder one with a coat hanger from Mommy after I got home. The spankings made me cry, but they didn’t break my habit.

I have to tell you about Cynthia Ellerby. She was two months older than me, and I hated her. She was my emeny. On her first day at the child-care, when the lady in charge introduced her to us as Cindy, she stamped her foot and announced, “My name is Cynthia, not Cindy. You can call me Cyntha, but not Cindy. My mother says Cindy is a common name and you’re not to call me that!” I don’t remember exactly when I started hating her, but probably it was that very first day. She was one of those girls you knew right away you weren’t going to like.

Cynthia was an only child. She lived with a real daddy and her mommy and a grandmother who sewed all her dresses, the prettiest dresses you ever saw, with ruffles and lace or rickrack trim on the skirts and collars and sleeves, just like princess dresses. Cynthia never, ever wore overalls. She also had pink cheeks, creamy  white skin, and shiny, dark curly hair down to her shoulders. She wore it pulled back and up on the sides, held in place by pairs of barrettes to match each dress.

And Cynthia didn’t chew her fingernails right down to the quick like I did. Hers were always nice and smooth and painted pale, pale pink. She had a dainty gold ring with a tiny pink stone that she’d gotten for her birthday in June. She was always stretching out her fingers to show it off. “It’s my birthstone, a real amethyst,” she’d say. “That’s nice, Cindy,” I’d mutter under my breath. I always called her “Cindy” in a voice she could barely hear because it was a common name and I knew she hated it and she was my emeny.

At recess Cynthia never went on the monkey bars or the merry-go-round but instead went straight for the swings. If she wasn’t on the swings, she played hopscotch or a skipping game called “Duck, Duck, Goose” with the big girls. I loved that game, but I never played it at the child-care because I could only skip on one foot, not like Cynthia and the others, who could skip on both feet.

The worst thing about Cynthia, though, was that she watched me like a hawk, just waiting to catch me with my thumb in my mouth. Then she’d march up to the charge lady and tell: “Patricia is sucking her thumb again just like a baby.”

Mommy worked six days a week as a clerk in the Intelligence and Public Relations Division at Oakland Army Base, and she didn’t pick us up until five-thirty. Twice each week, Mondays and Thursdays, she had to work until ten at night. On those days Aunt Lucille, Mommy’s youngest sister, picked us up at child-care after her last class at University High. Aunt Lucille was sixteen, I think. She walked from her school to the child-care and then walked us home to Spaulding Avenue, where she’s play with us, feed us dinner, supervise our baths, and get us ready for bed. Because she didn’t have to do any washing or ironing or housecleaning after dinner—Mommy always did all that stuff at night—Aunt Lucille read us at least six stories before turning out the lights. On those nights, we didn’t have to say any prayers.

Our lives were busy and had schedules, but we weren’t sad or bored. We had Rusty, a mischievous cocker spaniel whose favorite pastime was chasing cars or cats. We also had a black-and-white cat named Mittens that sometimes got kittens in her tummy and squeezed them out in the middle of the night under the stacked boxes in the musty garage at the back of our lot.

Rusty had to stay alone in the backyard every day except Sunday, but he came in the house at night. If we didn’t let him in, he’d howl and wouldn’t stop. He wasn’t allowed to sleep on our beds because sometimes he had a few fleas. But just like my thumb found its way into my mouth when no one was awake to see, Rusty found his way up onto my bed every night after everyone was asleep. He’d jump up at the bottom, then wriggle forward until he had his head right on my pillow, where I could burrow my face in his fur. He felt warm and soft and smelled s-o-o-o-o good—kind of like the insides of my shoes. He didn’t give a fig if I sucked my thumb, and I didn’t care one bit about a few fleabites. I loved him with my whole heart.

On Spaulding Avenue there were plenty of kids to play with, including our cousins, Margie and Brycie, who lived with their mommy, Aunt Charlotte—Mommy’s other younger sister—in a tiny house behind the Bradleys’, next to the garage at the end of the driveway. Their daddy, our Uncle Bryce, was away in the Army in the Philippines too.

The Bradleys and their kids—Mike, Kate, and Jay—lived next door, on the other side of our shared driveway. Mr. Bradley owned a drugstore, so he didn’t have to be in the war. That was just fine with me because sometimes, as a special treat, we got to drive to the drugstore for milkshakes or sundaes. Bradley’s Claremont Pharmacy was on Domingo Avenue, right across the street from the fancy white Claremont Hotel and Tennis Club in the Berkeley hills. I’d never set foot inside the Claremont—and I certainly didn’t know how to play tennis—but I remember hearing Mommy and Grammy talk about it. Mommy had played tennis there sometimes when she was a student at the University of California, long before her marriage, before her babies, before the Japs became our emenies, and before our daddy had to go across the Pacific Ocean to do a very important job in World War II in the Philippines.

Inside Bradley’s Pharmacy, right next to the cash register, a row of clear glass jars held red and black licorice ropes, yellow lemon drops, chocolate-covered raisins, cinnamon red hots, and just about every other good thing you could think of. If you had a penny, you could buy a handful. If you had a nickel, you could buy a whole bag. At the soda fountain, we sat on silver stools, their seats upholstered in navy blue, mottled plastic. The stools weren’t really silver, but I had a hard time with the word a-loo-mi-num. If you pushed off from the edge of the counter, the stools would spin. Once I got my stool to go around four times before it stopped. At Bradley’s, I always ordered a chocolate sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Sometimes Mr. Bradley even gave me two cherries. He never made us pay for anything. The Bradleys were our best friends.

Pictured left to right: Our cousin Margie Brooks, me, our cousin Brycie Brooks, Eleanor (minus her two front teeth), and Kate Bradley.

Most of the kids on our block helped in the war. Eleanor took a dime to school every week to buy a red stamp to paste in our War Bond book. When the book was full—it took 187 stamps to fill all the pages; then you added a nickel in a slot at the back to make a total of $18.75—Mommy exchanged it for a $25 War Bond. I had no idea how a paper book full of red stamps or even a War Bond would help win the war, but Mommy always let me lick the stamp and stick it on the page, so it must have been important.

An older boy at the other end of our block had a red Radio Flyer wagon, the biggest model you could buy, and every once in a while a pack of us would go door to door up and down Spaulding Avenue, collecting paper or anything made of metal: tin cans, wire coat hangers, broken tools, rusty muffin tins, strainers, anything at all made of metal. When we collected enough to fill up his daddy’s pickup truck, his daddy would take all that junk somewhere to help win the war. Just like the stamps, I never could figure it out. His daddy said our boys needed tanks and airplanes, but I didn’t see how they could make a tank or an airplane from a coat hanger or an empty tin can. Anyway, I cared less about winning the war than about being part of the gang on Spaulding Avenue.

One weekday morning in early December 1944, when I was four, a catastrophe happened at our house. Across the end wall in the breakfast room—really just an extension of the kitchen—a built-in wood cabinet filled the space between the floor and the sill of the window that faced the Bradleys’ kitchen window on the other side of the driveway. Our new dial telephone sat on top of the cabinet, not far from a dime store glass bowl, home to two fish named Goldie and Fin.

That particular morning, Eleanor and I were eating our oatmeal-with-raisins at the table when the phone rang. Mommy, exasperated because we were in a hurry, picked up the receiver, put it to her ear, and snapped, “Hello?” She didn’t say another word, but after several moments, she collapsed on the floor in a heap, the phone cord upsetting the fish bowl as she went down. The bowl remained on its side on top of the cabinet and didn’t break, but gunky water, pink aquarium gravel, and greenish water plants sloshed all over the floor, where Goldie and Fin flipped and flopped about in the mess.

Eleanor sprang into action. She raced out the kitchen door, down the back steps, and across the driveway to the Bradleys’, screaming all the way, “The fish are dying! The fish are dying! The fish are dying!” Jayne Bradley didn’t ask questions. She hurried after Eleanor back across the driveway, up the steps, and into our kitchen, where she discovered that not only were the fish gasping for air, but her close friend and neighbor, Lillian, was lying on the floor, just regaining consciousness. The receiver dangled by its cord, emitting the piercing beep-beep-beep-beep that meant an interrupted conversation.

Jayne grabbed the fish bowl, added a few inches of water, then scooped Goldie and Fin back in, putting an end to Eleanor’s and my wailing. Next she dipped a dish towel in cold water and knelt down beside Mommy, who by now had pulled herself up to a sitting position and was slumped against the wall. As Jayne held the wet towel to Mommy’s forehead and cheeks, she asked, “What is it? What’s happened, Lil? Is it your mother?”

Still dazed and disoriented, Mommy blurted, “Art is alive!”

“What? He’s alive? How? Where is he?”

“That was Western Union. They read a telegram from the War Department. Art is alive in the Philippines. They’re sending a letter.”

Jayne burst into tears, threw her arms around Mommy, and the two of them wept together as Eleanor and I stared, bewildered about the need for all this crying now that Goldie and Fin were saved.

Finally Mommy turned to us and held out her arms. Wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand, she gathered us close and said softly, “My darlings, our prayers have been answered. Your daddy is alive, and soon he’ll be coming back to us.”

“Tomorrow?” I asked. “Is he coming tomorrow?”

“No, honey, not tomorrow, but soon.”

But it wasn’t soon. It didn’t happen for another nine months. In the meantime, Mommy and Daddy wrote letters to each other to tell about what they’d been doing during all those years while Daddy was missing in action and presumed dead. Mommy sent him pictures of us, taken at different ages, but for a long time he couldn’t send any back because he didn’t have a camera.

Once Mommy read part of a letter to us so we’d know what was going on with the guerrillas in the war in the Philippines. Eleanor listened intently, but I started to laugh and kept laughing until tears came out of my eyes. I could just picture in my head a whole bunch of huge black gorillas carrying guns and chasing the Japs up and down mountains and my daddy being the leader and riding in a tank and yelling for the gorillas to hurry up and shoot all the Japs.

“What’s so funny?” Mommy asked.

“Gorillas,” I said.

“What’s so funny about guerrillas?”

“I know about gorillas ’cause they’re in a book we have at school about Africa—”

“Oh, no, no, no, sweetie. Not gorillas. Guerrillas. It sounds almost the same, but they’re two different words. Daddy doesn’t mean gorillas like the ones in Africa. He’s talking about the thousands of native Filipinos who formed a big army up in the mountains of North Luzon and fought as hard as they could against the Japanese who had invaded their country and were trying to turn all the Filipinos into their slaves. But for a long time the guerrillas didn’t have enough guns or bullets, and the Japanese killed them by the thousands.”

“Are all the guerrillas dead now?”

“No, not all of them. But many thousands have been killed. General Douglas MacArthur and our American Army arrived just in time to help them defeat the Japanese. And now the job is almost done.”


Mommy resigned from her job at Oakland Army Base on July 15, 1945, telling the Army she needed to get ready for her husband’s homecoming in late September.

She and Aunt Charlotte repainted the whole inside of our house on Spaulding Avenue. I remember that because Eleanor and I got to choose the color for our bedroom—pink, of course—and then we were allowed to paint the inside of the closet all by ourselves, up as far as we could reach.

Mommy pulled the weeds in our yard and planted bright red geraniums in the bed below the front window and in flowerpots on the porch. Those geraniums were the brightest red you could imagine, and I wished right away I had a dress that very same color, or at least some seersucker overalls. I remember a flurry of clothes shopping, but we couldn’t find a red dress, so I had to settle for a blue one.

Mommy made a trip to the beauty shop and got a permanent wave, but she went back to an older hairstyle because, she said, it had always been Daddy’s favorite.

Finally, the news came. Daddy sent a telegram saying the work of the war was nearly finished, and he was ready to come home. After a stopover in Hawaii, he would land at Travis Air Force Base north of San Francisco at 10 a.m. on Monday, September 17.

By Sunday evening, everything was ready. The house was spick and span, we were all bathed, and our new clothes were laid out. Mommy tucked us in at our usual bedtime, around seven-thirty, and Eleanor fell into a deep sleep. I slept for a while but then woke up again. Seeing a light on in the living room, I went to investigate.

Mommy was sitting on the couch, her legs curled up beneath a brightly colored afghan, her white chenille bathrobe pulled snug around her shoulders. Her pin curls were covered with a yellow string hairnet that kept the bobby pins from falling out. In her lap lay an open magazine, but she wasn’t reading, only picking at a freshly manicured nail, deep in thought. She looked up. “What’s the matter, honey?” she asked.

“I woke up, Mommy.  What are you doing out here?”

“I couldn’t sleep either. I guess I’m just too excited.”

She lifted up the corner of the afghan and patted the couch beside her. Relieved at not being sent back to bed, I snuggled up close as she described again our itinerary for the next morning. We would get up early, just like on a school day, dress in our new clothes, have a quick breakfast, and then drive up to Travis in plenty of time to be there before nine.

“Can Rusty go? Please, Mommy, please?”

“No, not this time. I don’t know how much luggage Daddy will have. It might not fit in the trunk, and some might have to go in the back seat with you girls. Daddy can meet Rusty after we get home.”

“What does Daddy look like?”

“Well, honey, he used to look like the picture on the nightstand next to your bed. I thought he was the handsomest man in the world. I’m not sure how he looks now, but I’m sure he’s still very handsome. Remember, he’s been away in the Philippines for nearly five years, ever since you were a little baby.”

“Did he kill all the Japs and so now he can come home?”

“I don’t know about killing all the Japs, Trish, but the war is finally over, so now he can come home.”

I guess I must have fallen back to sleep there on the couch—I don’t remember—but sometime after midnight, I was startled awake by a loud banging on the front door. Mommy jumped too.

“Who is it?” she asked, frozen in place, her voice quivering.

“Colonel Arthur Philip Murphy!”

Still Mommy didn’t move. She just sat there, uncomprehending.

The big, booming voice continued: “I got an earlier flight out of Hawaii and then caught a cab. Let me in!

With that, Mommy jumped up and rushed to unlock the door. In barged a tall Army man dressed in a rumpled khaki uniform and big black boots. He dropped his duffel bag on the floor, and Mommy threw herself into his arms. There was a bunch of hugging and kissing, and some crying too.

After a bit, Mommy turned and led him over to the couch, where I still huddled under the afghan, my thumb in my mouth, my eyes as big as a lemur’s. “Trish, honey, this is your daddy. Can you say hello?”

I took my thumb out of my mouth and wiped it on my pajamas. “Hello, Daddy,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.” Very polite, just as I’d been taught.

At first he took my hand and gave it a gentle shake. Then he broke into a big grin. He reached down, swept me up into his arms, and planted a big kiss right on my face. “I’m pleased to meet you too,” he said.

Living with the Colonel

Right after he came home, Daddy had to go into an Army hospital across the bay in San Francisco for a bunch of tests to make sure he was healthy, both in his body and in his head. “Debriefing,” Mommy called it, the same procedures every returning prisoner of war had to go through. I guess they couldn’t figure out how any man could survive living for nearly four years among primitive headhunters in the mountains of North Luzon and still come home in one piece. After several weeks, when they couldn’t find anything serious wrong with him, Daddy was allowed to move back into our house on Spaulding Avenue.

Maybe the Army didn’t find anything wrong with him, but Mommy found him quite changed from the dashing young man she’d married eight years earlier, and from the doting husband and father who’d sailed away to the Philippines in early 1941. Now he was The Colonel, accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed instantly, no questions asked. He took over the reins of our family and set out to turn us into a model military unit. He made new rules for nearly everything, and assigned specific punishments for each infraction.

The first thing Daddy did was banish Rusty from the house at night. Using some of the old packing crates in the garage, he nailed together a doghouse in the backyard. The doghouse was nice enough, but Rusty didn’t like it and didn’t willingly accept this change in his routine. He howled to come in. He howled so loudly that Mr. Bradley came outside to see what was wrong. Daddy spanked Rusty with a rolled-up newspaper and used our garbage can to barricade him inside the doghouse. Still he howled. Mommy was very quiet while all this was going on. She didn’t say a word, but the muscles in her jaw kept moving, like her teeth were having a wrestling match inside her mouth.

Rusty’s howling was so loud that first night that I put my pillow over my head. Even though I pushed the sides of the pillow up against my ears with both hands, it didn’t shut out the awful sounds. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I got up from my bed and went out to the living room and stood right in front of The Colonel, tears rolling down my cheeks: “Please, Daddy, please can I sleep outside with Rusty? He’s been sleeping on my bed ever since he was a puppy. He’s afraid to be all alone outside in the dark.”

There was no yelling. The Colonel just said in a very even voice: “No, Patricia. Dogs have fleas and should live outside. He’s not afraid, he’s just spoiled. He’ll get used to it. Now go back to bed.”

But he didn’t. Rusty howled every night for a week. The Bradleys began giving us dirty looks, and Mrs. Agabashion, Eleanor’s piano teacher next door, came over to complain. Mommy didn’t argue openly with The Colonel, but she clamped her mouth into a thin line to show her displeasure.

I tried a different tack. Every chance I got, I crawled up on The Colonel‘s lap, put my arms around his neck, and looked him straight in the eye. “Please, Daddy, please, please, p-u-l-e-e-e-e-s-e. I won’t even ask Santa for a bike this Christmas if you’ll just let Rusty back in. And I promise I’ll stop sucking my thumb. Please, please, p-u-l-e-e-e-e-s-e.” I repeated this procedure two or three times in the coming days. But The Colonel didn’t budge. And still Rusty howled.

I needed a different approach. First, I planned and practiced my speech. Sitting on the couch next to The Colonel one evening, I talked to him in my very best grownup voice: “Daddy, when you were away fighting the Japs in the Philippines, we cried all the time because we thought you were dead. Then we got Rusty and we didn’t cry so much. Rusty took care of us, just like a daddy would. And now he has to stay outside at night like he doesn’t matter anymore. It isn’t fair.”

I guess the emenies in the Philippines had never tried this plan during the war. They should have because it worked! The Colonel began to soften. By the end of the second week, he gave in. Rusty could come in the house at night. Sleeping on my bed wasn’t even discussed. It wasn’t a complete surrender, but Daddy recognized when he was outgunned and it was time to retreat.

In the meantime, The Colonel made another set of rules regarding the bathroom. Because I was the youngest, I was to begin getting ready for bed promptly at seven o’clock. I was allotted fifteen minutes to get in and out of the bathtub, brush my teeth, put my pajamas on, and present myself to Mommy and Daddy in the living room to say a formal good night. Eleanor began the same routine at seven-fifteen and had to be finished by seven-thirty. If we went over the time limit, we earned one swat for each minute over fifteen. The Colonel pulled out his old pledge paddle from his days in a fraternity at UCLA in the mid-1930s. If either of us accumulated a swat or two, we had to present ourselves to The Colonel in the living room, bend over with our hands on our knees, and take our punishment. Then we had to say, “Thank you, Daddy. Good night,” and go to bed.

Within three days, both Eleanor and I accumulated swats. They weren’t really hard swats, not enough to make us cry, but they did sting. Again, Mommy’s mouth formed a tight line. She didn’t interfere openly, but her pretty blue eyes looked like ice cubes, and it was plain these new rules weren’t to her liking. As I remember, the bathroom rules lasted about three months before they, too, disappeared in favor of a more flexible schedule.

Other rules were easier to swallow. At the dinner table, we had to sit up straight, our backs not touching the chair back, napkins in our laps. No slouching. No elbows on the table. Absolutely no talking with food in our mouths, and no interrupting the adults if they were speaking. Mommy had already taught us most of these rules, but now they were strictly enforced. If we broke a rule, we had to leave the table without finishing our meal and go to bed. Period.

Each morning Eleanor and I made our own beds. We’d always done that anyway, more or less, but now Daddy demonstrated how the sheets and blankets were to be tucked in securely, with squared-off hospital corners, so that a quarter dropped from two feet up would bounce.

The Colonel said, in order for an outfit to run smoothly and efficiently, everyone had to do their part.

The new command wasn’t all negative. Daddy decided Eleanor and I should have a regular allowance, a nickel a week for each year of our age. Eleanor got thirty-five cents every Saturday morning because she was seven, and I got a quarter. Daddy cut slots in the lids of two empty peanut butter jars and printed our names in block letters on labels on the sides. No one else was allowed to touch our jars. Eleanor kept hers under her bed, but I kept mine under the socks in my underwear drawer. Although we were encouraged to save a little every week, we didn’t have to. We could do anything we wanted with our allowance, even spend every last penny.

In addition to allowances, Eleanor and I were given more freedom. Just a block away, on the corner of Addison Avenue and California Street, was The Corner Store, a lot like Bradley’s Pharmacy, except it didn’t have a soda fountain. Big glass jars held candy on the counter next to the cash register. The Corner Store didn’t carry toys, but it did have comic books you could buy for a dime. I already knew how to read a few words—yes, no, dog, cat or Dick, Jane, Sally, Fluff and Spot from Eleanor’s first-grade reader—and I loved comics. My favorites were “Little Lulu” and “Our Gang,” about Tom and Jerry and Barney Bear and Benny Burro. Those didn’t have many words, and sometimes they didn’t have any words at all, just pictures. For fifteen cents, I could buy one comic book and enough candy to last all day Saturday, with maybe even some left over for Sunday.

We had another option too. The University Theater was only two blocks down and one block over. On Saturday afternoons, for a quarter you could watch two serial features, more than a dozen cartoons and a full-length movie—usually cowboys and Indians, but sometimes scary movies like “Frankenstein’s Monster.” Some Saturdays, right after lunch, a pack of kids from Spaulding Avenue walked to the University Theater and spent the whole afternoon inside. The problem was, if I spent my whole quarter on the movie, I couldn’t buy popcorn. Eleanor could, and sometimes she shared. Mike Bradley, who was only eighteen months older than me, always shared. He was the nicest boy on Spaulding Avenue.

Because of getting an allowance, we learned about money from an early age. Daddy called it being savvy or knowing the value of a dollar. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to trade comic books or use candy instead of money to buy one at a reduced price from another kid who didn’t want it anymore. Some kids would even give one away for free when they finished reading it. I thought that was pretty dumb when they could trade the comic book for candy or a nickel. I never, ever turned down a free one, even if I’d already read it myself, even if it was one of those detective comics that had big words I couldn’t read and didn’t care about anyway. I knew I could trade again for something better.

As for my thumb-sucking, I finally asked Daddy for help. I don’t know why, but I only sucked my right thumb, never the left. My left thumb just didn’t taste good, and, besides, I needed my left hand to twirl a piece of my top hair around and around whenever I sucked my thumb. Anyway, Daddy came up with a strategy. He moved my bedtime to eight o’clock so that I’d be very sleepy. Just before eight, Mommy poured me a small glass of warm milk. Then I wrapped the fingers of my right hand around its thumb to make a fist, and Daddy secured my fist with sticky gray tape. When I got in bed, I tucked that fist under my pillow, closed my eyes, and began whispering to myself: “I’m not a baby, I’m not a baby, I’m not a baby.” I repeated it about a hundred times. That first night, it took a long time to fall asleep, but within a week I was cured. I was so thrilled that I forgave Daddy for all the new rules. I even forgave him for the pledge paddle.

As soon as Daddy’s debriefing was complete, he became eligible for six weeks’ leave, and a great deal of back pay. He put together an elaborate plan, and in early November he and Mommy left on a trip to Mexico and Central America, the long-delayed honeymoon they hadn’t been able to afford when they got married in 1937. Aunt Lucille, now graduated from high school, came to stay with Eleanor and me.

In the second week of December, after they returned from Mexico, Mommy took us to downtown Oakland to see the Christmas displays in the department store windows. Capwell’s always had the best windows: snowy winter scenes with reindeer, animated elves making toys in Santa’s workshop, and red and green and blue and gold blinking lights outlining the windows all around. If I squeezed my eyes almost closed, until everything got blurry, I could imagine it was all real and I was right in the middle, like magic.

Then we went inside to visit Santa Claus in the toy department. When it was my turn to go up and sit on his lap, I really wanted to ask for a bike, but I remembered my promise to Daddy and asked for roller skates instead. Having Rusty sleep on my bed was far more important than a bike. After Santa, Mommy took us to The Terrace Room in the basement for hot chocolate with marshmallows on top.

A week later we helped Mommy decorate the Christmas tree and hung our stockings on the fireplace mantel.

Christmas morning came. Eleanor and I were up early, but I don’t remember what I got in my stocking. The only thing I remember of the whole day was the bike! Right there in the living room was the most beautiful bike in the world! It said “Patricia” on the tag. It was a blue twenty-four-inch two-wheeler with a white stripe like a lightning bolt on each side and a shiny blue seat and a little white basket attached to the handlebars. I don’t remember how long it took me to learn to ride it, or even who taught me—I suspect it was Daddy—but it was the best Christmas present I’d ever gotten in my whole life.

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!”


“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.


“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.”

42 Im Dol Strasse (Part 2)

The following Monday morning an Army bus picked Eleanor and me up right outside our front gate and took us to our new school, the Thomas A. Roberts School on Im Gehege Strasse. Before the war it had been a German girls’ school, but now it served 107 American kids ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.

Once inside, a lady with a clipboard asked us our names, then led us into her office, asked more questions, and made some notes in a file. Another lady arrived and led Eleanor away. Then the first lady walked me down the hall to the second grade classroom, where eight other kids were already seated at their desks. “This is Patricia Murphy,” she said. “Patricia has come to us all the way from California. Please give her a warm welcome to our school.”

“Hello, Patricia,” they all said in singsong voices, eyeing me up and down.
My stomach churned. I was so nervous I could only give a little wave and try to smile. I walked quickly to the empty desk the teacher pointed out in the front row, trying my best to ignore the whispering going on behind me. Oh how I wish Cyntha Ellerby was here, I thought, twisting the little gold birthstone ring ’round and ’round on my finger.

At noon, we were each served a hot meal on a metal tray in the lunchroom. Another second-grader sat down next to me. “I’m the best reader in our class,” she announced.

We’ll see about that, I thought to myself.

This is a picture of the lunchroom. You can see Eleanor’s long, light grown hair at the second table from the front, facing away from the camera. I’m barely visible on the left side way at the back, looking up at the man.

After school each day, the same Army bus dropped Eleanor and me off directly across the street from our house. Skippy was always waiting for us at the gate.

Skippy and I explored up and down our street. Most of the homes had been destroyed, only the landscaping giving a hint of how grand they’d once been. One in particular had a magnificent garden. A thirty-foot-long formal reflecting pool extended from the pile of rubble that had once been a mansion to a vine-covered arbor, beneath which stood a life-sized marble copy of Michelangelo’s David. I loved to explore that garden, dreaming up stories about who had lived there. Although the pool was empty except for rainwater and debris, the nude David stood, unscathed, a reminder of what life had been like there in better days.

We were in school only a week before classes adjourned for Christmas vacation. As a special holiday treat, Daddy took us to the opera to see “Hansel and Gretel.” The Berlin Opera House had been damaged during the bombings, and though by late 1947 most repairs were complete, the building still had no heat. Undaunted, we bundled up in woolen trousers, coats, hats, and mittens. Frau Erdmann packed us a basket of cookies and thermos bottles of hot coffee and cocoa, and off we went, joining throngs of equally bundled-up German citizens crowding into the opera house for this welcome bit of Christmas tradition. The roles of Hansel and Gretel were sung by children not much older than Eleanor, but adults made up the rest of the cast. It was a good thing we already knew the story, because the singing was in German and we could understand only a few words. The music was lovely, though, and filled the old building all the way up to its ceiling.

Our live Christmas tree that year was small enough to squeeze into a corner of the music room. Instead of hanging tinsel one strand at a time—as had been our tradition back on Spaulding Avenue—Frau Erdmann popped corn for us. Using a needle and thread, we strung long garlands and draped them between the branches. For ornaments, Gertrude showed us how to make yarn dolls by wrapping colored yarn around a small book, carefully removing it, then tying bunches off with thread to form arms and legs and heads. With narrow red ribbon, we tied bows onto sterling silver coffee spoons, cocktail forks, and tiny individual salt spoons from the butler’s pantry and hung them on the tree, where they twinkled in the flickering firelight. Then we went to bed to await the arrival of der Weihnachtsmann, the German Santa Claus.

Christmas morning was both happy and sad. For the first time, there were only four of us. Skippy danced excitedly from one to another, and Frau Erdmann and Gertrude popped in to serve coffee and hot chocolate as we opened our presents. But I missed Grammy and all the aunts and uncles and cousins and the noise and chaos of our past family holidays. This celebration was much more formal, almost too quiet, too controlled, as though we were actors on a stage.

In addition to candy and other little toys in our stockings, Eleanor and I each received a doll, but found it hard to mask our disappointment. They were not the cuddly, pink-cheeked baby dolls with ruffled dresses, lacy bonnets, and their own bottles and diapers that we had asked Santa for. Instead, they were lifelike girl dolls with cloth bodies and real human hair and somber, hand-painted faces. Eleanor’s was taller, with long, light-colored braids, like Eleanor’s own hair. Mine had short, flaxen-blonde pigtails just like mine—except mine wasn’t long enough for pigtails—and a red dress with tiny white polka dots. Both had real leather shoes, white cotton socks, and one-piece cotton underwear with buttoned, drop-down flaps in the back to go to the bathroom through, the same kind that real German children wore.

Frau Erdmann explained that these were very special dolls, handmade by a German mother named Käthe Kruse, who before the war had created dolls for her own children and then, after the war was over, expanded her business in an effort to keep food on the table for her family. Frau Erdmann said the reason the dolls didn’t smile was that life in Germany was very hard now because of the war, and real children didn’t smile when their bellies were cramping from hunger.

We felt guilty. After our Christmas dinner, we left plenty of turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and buttered rolls for the night visitors.

Years later, I learned Mommy had purchased these dolls from a woman who came to the back door and offered them for sale. Maybe it was Käthe Kruse herself. The price paid: a pound of coffee and six eggs.

The “off limits” upstairs continued to pique our interest. There was a second, narrower stairway at the back of the house, but the door at the bottom was kept locked. Eleanor and I eventually discovered where the key was kept—in the back of a drawer in the butler’s pantry—and one lazy afternoon during Christmas vacation we decided to see for ourselves what was so special up there. Gertrude and Frau Erdmann had retired to their basement rooms for an afternoon nap, so we grabbed the key, carefully unlocked the forbidden door, and crept up the creaky wooden steps.

Along both sides of the upstairs hallway, larger rooms had been partitioned into smaller cubicles, each furnished with rusty iron cots. Ticking-striped mattresses, stained and dirty, were still rolled up on a few of them. There were two bare-bones bathrooms—nothing like the fancy one downstairs—rust-ringed toilet bowls now dry and stuffed with excelsior. A few odds and ends lay scattered about on the floor, and we examined each one: a stack of yellowed German-language newspapers; a ratty brown wool jacket with wooden buttons down the front and one arm ripped off at the shoulder; a pair of rusty scissors; a chipped earthenware bowl. One room had penciled numbers scrawled in vertical lines on the wall next to a cot, as though a soldier had recuperated there, counting the number of days until he could return to the battlefront—or until he died.

The room at the end of the long hallway was much larger than the others. Its big window allowed enough daylight in to illuminate dark crimson spots and spatters on the wooden floor. An operating room? Eleanor and I conjured up visions of torture and mayhem and whispered about arms and legs being chopped off. Frightened by our own imaginings, we raced back down the hall, down the stairs, locked the door behind us, and returned the key to its drawer. We never went up there again, nor did we confess our forbidden adventure to anyone. I never forgot it, though, and sometimes I wondered how many Russian soldiers had suffered, bled, and perhaps died in the upstairs rooms of the beautiful mansion on Im Dol Strasse.