Photo evokes melancholy

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By Ginger Truitt

 Today is a melancholy day.  I am sitting in Berlin, listening to the rain drizzle against the slanted windows of our attic apartment.  In the distance I can see the American flag flying over the U.S. Embassy, and beyond that, the glass dome top of the Reichstag, which is the German Parliament building. 

There are tourists below, wrapped in sweat-inducing, plastic ponchos from the souvenir stand, fighting the elements in order to get a glimpse of history.  If I crack the window, I can hear the thick accent of the tour guide explaining that our apartment building sits on top of Hitler’s bunker; the bunker where he died. 

I am fascinated with Germany due to my ancestral ties.  My family immigrated to the U.S. long before either of the World Wars, but my grandpa was stationed here during WWII.  He was fluent in German because it was one of the languages his mother spoke. 

Recently, my dad produced a shoe box that he had found deep in the recesses of grandpa’s garage. It contained letters and pictures from grandpa’s time here in Germany; when he was still single.

The faded black and white photos draw me to speculate on a part of my grandfather’s life about which we know very little.  They depict a young soldier resembling Clark Gable, posing with a woman; holding her hand, laughing with her, kissing her.  I can imagine how easy it would be for a good-looking soldier, who was fluent in the language, to get involved with a local girl. 

There are several pictures of him with an unidentified child just a few years old.  Was she the girlfriend’s daughter?  A buddy’s daughter? Perhaps she was his daughter? I don’t think he was here long enough to have fathered this child, but my romantic mind likes to wander that direction.  Sometimes, on the bus, I will study the faces of women over sixty-five and look for family resemblances. 

I have not yet had a chance to scan the letters and make proper notations so that I can fully research it. There is one that Grandpa’s girlfriend wrote to his mother.  The handwriting is beautiful and the sentiment is precious.  I cried when I read it, causing my sisters to think I am crazy.  After all, he came home, married our grandma and created a happy family of which we are blessed to be part. 

But I can’t help but wonder about those years in Germany, and the woman he once loved.  How did it end?  It was clear she thought he would come back for her.  Was he a cad who made promises he had no intention of keeping or in his youthful ignorance did he believe they could make it work?

It is possible she is still living. Perhaps she tells her granddaughters the story of the good-looking, American soldier who swept her off her feet.  Or maybe it’s a secret she keeps buried from her family, in a shoebox, in the back of the garage.

Today is a melancholy day. I peer through the rain running down the window, and picture the city war-torn and destroyed.  I imagine my grandfather on clean-up duty, making the best of a bad situation by falling in love with a girl whose voice would have sounded like those floating up from the street. I am fascinated with Germany due to my ancestral ties, but I am captivated by the mystery one particular ancestor left behind.     

Ginger is an author, speaker, and mother of five. Find her on Facebook (Ginger Truitt-Author), Twitter (@GingerTruitt) or contact her atginger@gingertruitt.com.