As tough as it was to go to another memorial service today, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Not just to be there in support of my family, but because it was honestly one of the nicest, most “remembery” memorials that I recall from recently. (Although after a while, things just become a blur, don’t they? I know I don’t remember much of my Dad’s. I’m okay with that.)
In addition to three family members speaking (beautiful, brave ladies, all three of them), the pastor went on at length about Erich’s life. Although I knew some of these things, many were new to me, and it made me love and admire Erich even more. He had an unusual and remarkable life, and his strength of will was amazing. He was born in 1933 in Germany, so he grew up under the Nazi regime. He was forced to join the Hitler Youth, as were all German children, but apparently his mother cried when he brought home the uniform. There is no judgment to be made...it was a matter of survival and doing what you could to get through it. To not join would have meant imprisonment, probably of the entire family.
His sister had married a GI and settled in Michigan, close to our city in Indiana. After the war, Erich emigrated to the U.S., not knowing any English. Although he wasn’t a citizen yet, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. I can only imagine what it must have been like for him...knowing very little English, right out of a world war against Germany. Germans were not well-liked at that time, and It must have been a terrible atmosphere for him.
But he persevered. Got a job, got married to my cousin Emma Jean, started a family, who in turn started families of their own, coached his grandkids in soccer (excuse me...fußball!), and eventually retired to enjoy his gardening and other pursuits. In short, this man who began life during one of history’s most horrible chapters and under one of the most despotic regimes ended up living the American Dream. He paid attention to politics, too...I still remember him getting riled up and almost apoplectic as he talked about politics! It’s too bad more of our populace doesn’t pay more attention.
Erich could be stern (all us Germans can be, whether we were born there or our ancestors were!), but he was always quick with a smile. Every time I’d see him, he’d say something like “Look at you, still so cute!”—and he still had the German accent, so it was even more charming—and give me a big hug. I will miss him.
I’ve always preferred the German farewell to our simple “goodbye.” Auf wiedersehen. Till I see you again.