A Glimpse of Happiness Behind the Iron Curtain

May Day

(above, my Great GrandFather)

I rarely felt the warmth of a family connection, except during major holiday celebrations. During these times, my brother, sister and I could relax and just be ourselves. Compared to the rest of the year, we weren’t expected to behave like little soldiers. Christmas was my favorite holiday, for obvious materialistic reasons. Yet, May Day, a barely recognized holiday in the US, held a special place in my heart.

Every May Day, my father would reminisce about his free-spirited years as a young man in Europe. His intimidating facade vanished and his posture softened as he went int greater details of a May Day celebration. Decorating the Maypole took hours of work and the entire community sang and danced late into the night.

I relished these short-lived moments with my father, because I was able to see his soft side. He rarely talked about his happy youthful years. Perhaps, he didn’t have a happy childhood. His funny May Day celebration stories were a welcome relief from his usual somber stories of nearly escaping the Nazis.

In 1942 WW II Czechoslovakia, there weren’t many reasons to celebrate. Since my Grandfather worked in Germany, therefore making him a German citizen, the Nazis  considered my father to a German citizen as well.  The SS solders arrived at his house, demanded that my Grandmother release my father to them, in order to join the Nazi Youth Camp. After my Grandmother did some fast talking, the soldiers left, promising to come back for him.  For his own safety, my Grandmother told my seventeen year old father that it was urgent to leave the county immediately and live with relatives in New York City. One minor problem: my father didn’t have a passport.  My Grandmother asked the Mayor, who was her childhood friend, to help her out. Although the Mayor couldn’t obtain a passport, her gave her a letter, telling her that letter would be in lieu of a  passport.  My father recalled that he couldn’t make sense of the letter, suggesting that it was perhaps a message written in code. Whenever the Nazi soldiers asked for his passport, he handed over the letter he carried with him. He stood perfectly still as the soldiers read the letter. Shrugging their shoulders, they told him to keep moving on.

I shuddered every time he told us of the mandatory train stops by the German soldiers. Every man was told to line up on the train platform and drop their pants.  If a man was circumcised, a German solder would shoot him with a machine gun   on the spot. My father was one of the few lucky survivors who trudged back to the train, continuing his long journey to freedom. The chilling images of horrifying violence stayed with me for years. I can only imagine how it felt for my father.

I loved seeing the softer side of my father.  He smiled and laughed with his entire heart and soul. Just watching his stern expression melt into a big smile, made me feel as if he was giving me a giant warm hug.  He always seemed to have a lot on his mind. I still wonder what was written in the Mayor’s letter. If only he smiled more.

C is for CRAMPON / D is for DEFALCATE


Well, I’m  very  a bit behind in the A to Z challenge, so I’ve started to combine the letters of the alphabet to keep up. The two words for the day are “crampon” and “defalcate”. I tried to guess the definitions and was completely off base. There’s a hint for “crampon” in the picture above.

(There won’t be any posts from 4/13- 4/21, since I’m going away on vacation and won’t have internet access.  I’ll hand write my posts while I’m away and post them when I return. )


“Her store was like a living memorial for her life. Grace had everything money could buy, except love.  Hah. It’s amazing that after thirty years, so many businesses opened and closed around her. But her little antique shop thrived.  She was a doll, but a tough businesswoman. Wasn’t she babe?” said Max.

Beth smirked. God, let him stop blathering.

“Remember how she’d freak out if she couldn’t make it to Carl’s auction every Friday night? So she could cram more stuff into her shop?”

“Oh yeah, I remember. He was a character.” She wished Max would shut up.  Rubbing her temples,  she tries to massage away her headache.

Max continues. “Sometimes Carl had too many beers. Got so drunk that his son had to take over the auction.”

“Sometimes? How about all the time?” Shaking her head with disgust, stretching her arms out,  she accidentally bumps into the crampons hanging on the wall. “Carl’s Auction. That’s where it all began with Jeff.  He swooped in like a hawk. Told her everything she wanted to hear. Only after a few months, he pushed her to get married. A year later, he defalcates everything she owned.”

Max heard this story many times before. Looking at his watch, he says “Well, it’s 6:30, we’d better head back to the funeral home.”

“I just need to freshen up before we go. I’ll meet you outside” says Beth.

The sleigh bells attached to the door jingle, as Max walks out of the house, letting the front door slam.

Beth looks at the pale reflection of herself in the mirror and starts to cry.  In the middle of applying her makeup, she pauses, throwing it back into her purse. Why bother? She’ll end up crying off all of it anyway.

Max pops his head in the door and hollers “Let’s go, let’s go!”

“OK, I’m coming.” says Beth.

Her legs ache as she walks across the black and white tiled floor.  She admires the Bohemian chandelier Grace brought back from Czechoslovakia. The stained glass windows glow in the cathedral ceiling entryway. She locks the door, never looking back at the stately beachfront home. Her stomach starts to cramp up again.

The headlights of the old Volvo station wagon  light up the front walkway. Beth walks with caution towards the car. After she settles in,  Max peels out of the driveway and is driving on the main road within minutes. Beth’s stomach starts to cramp up again. As her hair becomes wet with sweat, a continuous trickle of blood soaks through her pants.

Her heart is pounding in her chest faster and faster. She thinks she can hear her own heartbeat echoing in the car. “Max, go faster.  I don’t feel right. I’m soaking wet.” Max pretends not to hear her and turns up the radio.


CRAMPON – boot spike for rock or ice climbing.

DEFALCATE – To embezzle money held on trust.