I thought a lot about what Dad told me, how Mr. Kimball was so kind to help me get the woodshed clinic started, and I thought about how Mr. Bailey helped too, giving me the two quarters to buy a present. I wanted to tell him how I put the money to good use, and didn’t buy toys.
I talked to Dad about this this and he said, “You don’t need to say any more to Mr. Bailey. Thank you was enough. I know you think he’s a little strange and not too friendly, so don’t bother.”
“But Dad, don’t you think he should know how he helped me get started like Mr. Kimball?”
“It’s up to you, Christine. Mr. Bailey’s not the most talkative guy when he rides with me to work every morning or anytime at the mill. If you decide to go over there, make it short and don’t be chatty about it.”
It was midafternoon, a couple of Saturdays after the fall, the bandages taken off and only a few healing marks showed on my face and hands. Mr. Bailey would be home like Dad, and I decided to pay him a visit, and just that. We weren’t going to be best friends or anything. With Ginny at my heels, I walked over to his house, down the drive way and up two rickety wooden steps to the screened in patio. I knocked on the door, and it made a terrible rattling sound as if the hinges were loose and ready to fall off. Probably he wasn’t expecting any one, so it was a few minutes before I saw his shadow walk towards me. I didn’t wait for him to open the door; it was okay if we talked through the screen.
“Mr. Bailey, I came by to thank you again.”
He opened the door half way and stood there as colorless and unkempt as the chipped wood chair and small round table I saw on the porch, no plants or cushions to spruce it up. He wore a rumbled white shirt, faded blue jeans and old work boots. His hair was messy like usual and the thick glasses made him look bug-eyed.
“Didn’t hear the knock at first, sorry. Glad you got that woodshed clinic going, heard about it down at Kimball’s. Suppose you’ve been busy, huh?”
I was a little taken back by so much talk coming from him and the fact that he heard about the woodshed clinic down at the general store. I tried not to be too chatty, but I got excited.
“Oh, you heard already. So, you know I bought some things to start up the clinic with the money you gave me. That’s what I wanted to tell you. I didn’t waste it on toys. Haven’t been too busy, just fixed up a bird’s broken wing, and took care of one of our sick chickens, that’s all.”
Then I thought of a way I could really thank him back for his kindness. “Mr. Bailey, if your cat, Cinder ever gets sick, I can help, not like a vet or anything. If she needs it, I can give her medicine while you’re at work. It’s not a problem anytime; if I’m at school, Miss Miller will let me walk back here, long as she knows it’s important. So, that’s all I wanted to say. Sorry, I went on and on. ”
Mr. Bailey smiled and didn’t turn his head and walk away. I’d get even more talk out of him. Wait till Dad hears about this.
“Thanks Christine that’s mighty nice of you. I’ll be sure to let you know if I need any help with Cinder. I can tell your Dad seeing as I wake him up every morning for work. Mr. Kimball says the townsfolk are calling your clinic Chrissy’s Clinic. Seems most older folks around here call you Chrissy; mind if sometimes I do, since it’s public, already your clinic name? ”
I shuffled my feet on the step and looked down and sideways at Ginny sitting next to me. She was watchful, but not so much on guard with all the pleasant talk going back and forth. It was pretty nice to hear that people talked about my new named clinic, so guess I’d better get used to being called Chrissy from more people.
“Suppose that’d be okay, especially since you might need some help with Cinder if she ever gets sick. Well, I’d better get going to check on Rusty next door. He’s an old Lab and has trouble with his back legs. I try to walk him a little every day to help out, and keep him moving. Uncle Killie’s got leg problems too, and Aunt Olive’s sick a lot.”
As I walked away from Mr. Bailey’s house I had a different idea about him. Not like I’d start calling him Uncle George, that’s too weird right now, but he wasn’t as strange and unfriendly as I thought he was. Dad’s going to be surprised about that. When I told Dad all about my visit with Mr. Bailey and he got a big kick out of “old George” being so chatty.
He said, “I’m glad you got a different idea about him. Sometimes you kids make up stuff in your minds about people before you get to know them.”
Now that I had Dad’s attention I wanted to ask him something really important. I’d been playing up in the attic and found a box full of German books. I liked the old musty smell and the faded covers, and I wanted to learn how to read them. It didn’t matter to me that Germany, way over in Europe, had been in the war and fought against us. That much I knew about it. The war had ended, and I didn’t really understand it all anyway.
I sat down next to him at the kitchen table where he was reading the newspaper and came right out and asked him, “Dad you know those German books stored up in the attic that belonged to Grandma and Grandpa Heim? Well, I was looking at them and I’d really like to learn German so I can read them.” Dad glanced at me over the newspaper and didn’t say anything. It was a long, quiet minute, and I got edgy.
“Dad, did you hear me?”
He put the newspaper down and folded his hands, kind of rubbing them together. He looked really serious, his mouth made a tight line on his face like he was clenching his teeth. I wasn’t sure what was coming next; I’d never seen his face like that, so I moved back in my chair. Mom, standing at the kitchen counter, stopped mixing up the batch of chocolate chip cookies. She looked over at Dad, and waited.
But, he simply said, “No.” And he went back to reading the paper.
I was not a kid that took no for an answer, one of my faults that usually got me in trouble. I asked, “Why not,” and waited for the trouble. Mom gave me the look. But, Dad just said, “I know you’re not going to let this go, so I’ll tell you why not.”
I already knew some things about the war, he was probably going to bring it up, I was born when it started in 1939, and here it is 1945 at the end. We went through black outs and had to pull down our window shades when we heard the firehouse siren, and food rationing, my sister and I saved our weekly small jars of sugar so Mom could bake something for the whole family, and if she fried donuts then the donut holes were for all the kids in the neighborhood. When Uncle Farnham went to war, I wrote him letters, with Mom’s help of course. We followed the news on the radio like all families, but there were many things we didn’t know about. I didn’t understand a lot that was going on over there in other countries, and I thought it might have something to do with Dad not wanting me to learn how to read those German books.
He didn’t talk about the war at first, he started off telling me about his Dad, my Grandpa Gustav Frederick Heim, who died at age fifty-four when Dad was only seventeen. Grandpa had a sad life, his mother died when he was two-years-old, and his step-mother died when he was nine-years-old. His father decided that he should learn how to play the trumpet and coronet, and he then became staff trumpeter in the German Army.
Your Grandma Edna always said, “He was a wonderful musician, his tone and ability to divide a song into groups of connected sounds was world known. No other musician has so far ever compared, and it may never be heard again.”
I knew he was a famous trumpet player, who came over here when he was in his early twenties. Then Dad told me a little history of his work. Grandpa played first trumpet with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Orchestra. He also played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic Band, New York Philharmonic Orchestra and New York Symphony. In New York city he had a studio in midtown Manhattan where he gave trumpet lessons. He had a lot of students, but he was rude to one of them because he was a Jew. That caused quite a stir.
Dad stopped a minute and gave a big sigh. He closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his mouth, and I knew that stir was part of why his answer was no.
He shook his head, “It’s hard to explain about our roots because Grandpa came over here from Germany at just the right time in 1904. But by 1929 when he lived in Manhattan, times were rough, everything cost too much to buy, which started back in the 1920s, and then there was the Great Depression with the stock market crash. The turmoil in Germany was at its peak, the persecution of Jews, and millions were killed in gas chambers. It was a very sad time that complicated the lives of German Jews everywhere. Grandpa was right in the middle of it all and he wanted his secret that he was Jewish to stay a secret, like so many others. I think that student must have threatened his survival by exposing him as being Jewish, and that’s why Grandpa was rude to him.
After listening to Dad go on and on about Grandpa, I figured it out. Dad didn’t want to be reminded of his father’s past; it was too painful for him. I touched his arm.
“Dad, I’m sorry.”
His face softened, his eyes filled with tears, and he patted my hand. “That’s okay, Chrissy, that’s okay.”
I felt so bad for Dad that I just sat there, folded my arms and watched him try to compose himself. His eyes went back to the newspaper as he rustled and turned the pages. I could smell the chocolate chip cookies baking in the wood stove. Mom was busy running water in the pump handle sink to wash the mixing bowl and spoons. I looked out the kitchen window and saw Marlene walking up the driveway with Martha. They’d probably been playing dolls and tea party at Martha’s big house down on the corner next to the grocery store. When they walked through the door, Mom smiled and announced, “You’re just in time for fresh baked cookies.” She took them out of the oven and arranged them on her fancy white porcelain cookie plate. It warmed me double to see Mom smiling as she put the plate in the middle of the table. Her smile and a chocolate chip cookie always made bad things so much better.