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.

Author: Patricia Minch, Writer, etc.

Growing up an “Army Brat,” by age eighteen I had lived in nineteen different homes in half a dozen states, Europe, and the Far East, and had traveled extensively beyond those. A National Merit Scholarship finalist in 1958, I attended the University of Texas, El Paso, and the University of California, Berkeley. Years later, I took additional courses at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, and then spent thirteen years as a self-employed editor for court reporters. An avid writer, genealogist, gardener, landscape designer, amateur architect, woodworker, and antiques collector/dealer, I am also wife, mother, and grandmother. I’ve written feature articles for local newspapers and recently completed my first book, a narrative non-fiction account of my father's experiences as a guerrilla in North Luzon (Philippines) during WWII. I currently live with my husband, a retired college instructor and Air Force veteran, in Northern California.

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