a life well lived

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Christa 03/15/00

Thinking of New York makes brings thoughts of Christa to mind.  

 We first met in 1928.  I was 18 and had just returned to Baltimore after graduating from ANC.  Christa was 16 and newly arrived from Germany to live with her aunt, Mrs. Linthicum, who lived across the street from my family's home. 

Her brother, Freddy, had arrived earlier. Germany was in grim shape after World War I and anyone who could send their children to America jumped at the chance. 

When Christa arrived, she couldn't speak a word of English and the only German I knew was gesundheit.  But we communicated from the first without a hitch.  She picked up English with amazing ease and, unlike her brother, soon spoke it almost without any accent. 

Christa married - and divorced – quite young.  Unhappy with her life, she decided to return home to familiar surroundings and family.  

Seeing her off on the Bremen, a stately ocean liner, was the first time I set foot in New York City.  We went up on the train together.  I remember wanting that trip to never end.  It is hard in this day & age to think of saying good bye to someone with the expectation of never seeing each other again.

When we arrived in New York, we rushed to get to the dock as soon as possible.  Another thing that is impossible to descibe  ~ the feeling of arriving at the docks, with so many ships in port.  That was the only way to make a crossing in 1932 and the docks were bustling with people and luggage and cargo. 

As we made our way toward the Bremen, a man came up - a very
pleasant looking fellow - and struck up a conversation with Christa in
German.  His tone was so nice and friendly, yet Christa went white as a sheet as he talked.  Smiling at her and at me, he handed her a small parcel, which she put in her purse.  He tipped his hat to the two of us and disappeared into the crowd.   

When we were alone together, Christa - still shaken - explained to me that she knew him as a member of the Bund, an organization of thinly-veiled Nazi sympathizers.  He had asked her to mail the parcel - ships had post offices - after the ship entered international waters. 

Christa knew that if the officials found the documents on her, she could be arrested.  But the thought of saying "no" seemed even more terrifying to her.

We were thoroughly rattled by the time she got to her stateroom.  Our nerves were slightly soothed when Christa met the young man who would serve as her steward - someone from her hometown, a fellow she already knew.  It made me feel better knowing she would have a familiar face taking care of her.

Any thought of seeing the sights vanished with the last smokestack.  I

was too unnerved by what happened.  I needed the safety of my own family and familiar faces.

Several years later, Christa sent me a snapshot.  The young woman I knew with the lovely, smiling face was unrecognizable.  This person didn't have the slightest hint of a smile.  As she explained in a letter, "You will notice I am not smiling.  No one smiles in Germany these days."  I was heartbroken, all over again. 

Christa died during the war, apparently of cancer, but who knows for sure.  I miss her still.

Love – KRL

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