Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maybe I'm Amazed

Depending on when you read this, I may have already been married for more than 31 years today. I married at 1020 on 21 October 1977 in the Rathaus on Berliner Strasse, Offenbach am Main, in the Federal Republic of Germany (we called it "West" and the Soviet sector "East" Germany).

I'm sitting here trying to calculate the difference in time between here on the East Coast of the US and Central European Time, struggling to remember if they ever or still do that fall back thing with the clocks we do and when, so I'm not sure specifically where I was in time thirty-one years ago, but I am enjoying the moment of now because it's all I have.

I told you how I met my wife but for the last couple of days I've spent some time reconstructing the day we married. My best man was Chris, who was in the Army in the same unit I was assigned to while I was in the Air Force. Chris was from California and about my age (I've never asked him, come to think of it) whose cynicism made me look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by comparison. He had been married and divorced before he and I met and both of us were, on Christmas Eve night, drinking ourselves senseless (okay, for me that would have been two sips of 3.2 beer, but the Germans had beer like that only to wash their cars, the undercarriages of their cars) when I first saw/spoke to the woman I was to marry.

Chris was my witness at the civil ceremony and he brought Monika whom he had met through my (about to be) wife and me, though mostly through Sigrid who has all the people skills. Moni as we all called her, and Chris were to eventually marry as well. They would have two children, Rebbecca and David, and then one day as part of a routine visit, Moni's physician detected something and by the time the tests were conclusive, the something was cancer and inoperable and they sent Moni home to die in the house she and Chris shared with their children.

Chris, who had stayed in Germany as a civilian because, among other reasons, he realized it was his wife who made where he lived a home and so he remained with her, was to return to his hometown, Whittier, California, with his two small children (and a hole in his heart about which he never spoke) where he remains to this day. I called him once many years ago when there was a huge earthquake in what I thought was his area and woke him up because it was early morning here and I'd forgotten how much earlier it would then be on the Other Coast. Typical Chris-asked me if I owned a watch and then told me he appreciated my call. We exchange cards at the holidays which will be here before I know it and be gone again before I fully appreciate it, like so much else in life.

Sigrid's witness was her childhood friend, Evelyn Fitzsimmons, nee Berz, who was married to Richard "Rick" Fitzsimmons, a tank mechanic stationed in Hanau (Pioneer Kaserne I think) and through them, Rick and I became friendly. As the years went on, Rick remained in the Army and his career took him elsewhere to include Ft Leonard Wood, which is the mothership for Army tank guys, I think. All four of us lost one another and out of sight became out of mind and all that. Rick and Evelyn had a son, Kevin, and they lived in the same apartment house we did (actually they were there first and we moved in downstairs) in a building owned by her parents.

In the last months, Sigrid, through a German variation of Facebook (I say that like I know what that is and I don't. I put the link here, in case you don't know, either.) has reconnected with Evelyn who divorced Rick long ago, remarried and is now back in Germany. I think Sigrid's also chatted on line with Rick of whose whereabouts I'm unclear but all of which proves you cannot trust people to stay in your memory where you put them.

Because I had so little proficiency in German at the time of our marriage I was required by law to hire a translator for the ceremony. Perhaps so I couldn't claim later I was asking 'wo ist die Bahnhof?' oblivious to the five months of paperwork and huge sums of money (as an E-2 in the USAF, it looked like a fortune) it had taken for me to get permission to get married.

And I still almost blew that. As the last step in the approval sequence, the USAF required a written permission from my Detachment Commander, Captain Ted. As Capt Ted reviewed the paperwork (like he would know what he was looking at) he offered somewhat disapprovingly, 'so, you're marrying a foreigner?' To which I responded, perhaps a beat too quickly and more than a tone too sharply, 'no, sir, she is. This is her country; we're the foreigners.'

Luckily (for me) Dewey Weaver, the Detachment admin support guy, who was a TSGT and later MSGT and called everyone, to include Capt Ted, "Junior" (and who was the size of a small building but with a heart to match) hurried me out of the office and suggested I sit quietly in my work space, though his language was much more emphatic than that. After an hour he came back with the Captain's signature and earned the unending gratitude of my soon-to-be bride who baked for him and his family though I often suspected none of the goodies I brought to Dewey ever saw the inside of his house.

At the conclusion of the marriage ceremony the presiding official told our two witnesses where to sign (ordnung muss sein; this is Germany, after all) on the marriage contract and Chris asked the translator, again, specifically where he should sign. She looked at him with absolutely no comprehension and that's when I realized I'd just spent 200 Deutschmarks on a parrot who had memorized the English parts of the ceremony without understanding a word. As a former altar-boy who had done the same thing with the Latin Mass (what exactly does 'intro ibo alatera Dei' mean?). Funny how that switcheroo still annoys me thirty-one years on.

I don't remember often enough to tell Sigrid I love her everyday and there's no guarantee I'll have a chance to ever make that up to her even though do I love her everyday and know I will always love her. "Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time and hung me on a line. Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you." Happy anniversary, angel-eyes.
-bill kenny

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