When I stepped off the flying boxcar into the alien air of Frankfurt, I was just a kid a long way from home. Things were different over there, even on the military places. The electrical current was 220 and most of the vehicles were VW’s, Opels or Mercedes Benz’s. Americans and Germans alike said danke for thank you, bitte for you are welcome and Auf Wiedersehen for goodbye. I realized right away that I was in a different world, a culture that seemed simultaneously strange and familiar.
It took a month or two for me to make German friends. By lucky accident I met and played soccer with some German guys down by the beautiful Mosel River. They spoke a little of my language and I learned a bit of theirs and we became good friends. I was not very good at soccer, having played only football, basketball and baseball as a child, but the principles of the game were familiar, with boundaries, penalties, goals and so forth. The activity required dexterous footwork, which was unfamiliar to me, but they were quite tolerant, even though they enjoyed several guffaws at my expense.
One of the guys, Erich, had a very plain, though wholesome sister about my age named Rose Marie. She took it upon herself to tutor me in German. My vocabulary increased along with my affection for this dutiful maiden. Just as I was getting proficient, well, tolerably understandable, in the language, nay, just as I was beginning to feel that we were boyfriend-girlfriend, she told me in perfect German which, regrettably I understood, that she was moving to Austria to live with an uncle. She admonished me to keep up with my language study and forget about her. She was spoken for there in Austria.
That was just as well. The only thing we had in common, really, was our love for circus peanuts, you know, that orange-yellow super sweet candy that is shaped like a biggo peanut. That treat was available to me in the Post Exchange but was unheard of on the German economy, so it was an exotic treat for my language tutor…and her brethren.
After she was out of the picture, I visited my friends down there less and less and spent more time with my own kind there on the military establishment. It was strange to me that I started my time over there immersed in the Germanic culture and gradually gravitated to my own kind, even to the point of choosing most of my friends from the Deep South. My best friend over there was from Smackover, some 12 miles from where I grew up.
I tried to keep my German language up and later when I went to college I took a couple of years of French and second year German. I skipped first year of the latter because the instructor judged that my skills were somewhat advanced. Ironically, I later had to pass the ETS examination for the doctor of philosophy degree in both French and German. I passed the French handily the first time through, but had to take the German test a second time and barely squeaked through. My Austrian friend, Rose Marie, would have lifted her eyebrow.