Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrating Lights over Horns

Stop looking out the window if you live in the Northeastern United States. If this were the end of the world, I'd tell you, I promise. Remember, it's still winter (barely) and we are in New England. This stuff happens and by stuff I mean the word that starts with "S" and ends "T" but doesn't rhyme with "P" and has nothing to do with pool either playing it or swimming in one.

On the other side of our great nation (your mileage may vary-Armageddon is closer than it appears in your mirror, depending on your political perspective) at some point today, I've never understood it to be tied to a clock so much as a calendar, the swallows return to Capistrano. Unless (of course) they are using Apple maps. (HA! Look at me! I made a computer joke, sort of.) Though I can think of a trombone player who doubts any of it happens today, or any other day.

That's as may be. For a lot of people with whom I once had a close (too close for many) working relationship, the birds and Junipero Serra (you thought I meant the shortstop for the Dominican Republic squad at the WBC?) aren't what we associate with the Feast of St. Joseph at all. Though we do have to travel, east not west, to Germany.

Thousands of GI broadcasters for decades worked with two fixtures of the American Forces Network (AFN) Europe, from its days in 'The Castle" at Hoescht (a suburb of Frankfurt am Main) to its long-time residence next door to Hessicher Rundfunk (Hessen State radio (and TV)), a block removed from Miquel-Adickesallee.

Gisela B and Bob M, who shared March 19 as their birthday, travelled two very different paths to Bertramstrasse. Gisela a native of Frankfurt had survived World War II and the desperate days that followed it choosing to work in the schallplatten arkiv (record library) of the amerikanisher soldaten sendung because the Amis, in addition to a weekly pay packet, offered a hot meal at noon as part of the employment package. She never spoke very much about the time after Stunde Null but what she didn't say spoke volumes.

Bob had arrived as part of the bezatzung after the end of the hostilities as a musician. He wore a black beret and I am smiling as I type this because I can still see him in my mind's eye with it at a jaunty angle. He also wore a long, light brown overcoat and a plaid scarf. He was perpetually pre-occupied and there was a gleam in his eye that signaled this incredible appetite for knowledge and a curiosity about everything in the world around him, and I mean everything.

At one point he had worked for a US advertising agency, in Germany and had horror stories about trying to market American brands of cold cereal to Germans for breakfast and how he watched orange juice get poured over corn flakes until he was so put-off he stopped eating breakfast himself.  He explained to me on a very snowy day when the world seemed to be quiet the meaning for those in the advertising game of  "Go West" (see #9) and how he chuckled every time he saw an ad using it for a German cigarette.       

I worked with Gisela and for Bob for much of my time at AFN and could/should/would have learned even more about Germany,  broadcasting and life in general if I had listened more closely to their words and deeds. So tuned was I to WII-FM I often missed the learning that came from their teachable moments. I was in such a hurry that I missed, or nearly did, the whole point to the journey fixating on the destination instead of the view.

They were there when I, and so many others, got to AFN and both  of them said 'farewell' to me while remaining on the staff after my time for coming and going had come and gone. I never thanked them for their kindness and their generosity. There was no hurry-we all had time in the world and our paths would surely cross again. Man proposes but God disposes; our paths didn't cross.

I left Germany and they left AFN and then this world, in that order, many years ago. I cling to my memories of them, most especially Bob who had no family aside from his wife Erica and their dog, Sandy, with a tenacity that tries but fails to assuage my fear that I am the last person on earth who knew of them and should I somehow forget them, they will be gone forever.

At some point, I'll dig out and play, Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills, whom I interviewed and who, at Bob's suggestion, I introduced to Gisela because he knew how much she enjoyed that song and whose smile, upon meeting Mills, lit up what felt like the entire building a very long time ago.
Der gl├╝cklichste von Geburtstagen, ihr zwei!
-bill kenny   

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