Other Side of the Glass Window

March 23, 2022

Andere Seite Des Glasfensters

The early sixties brought major changes in Germany; some called it the New Germany because of the many social changes after the war. Cities had been rebuilt and commerce flowed once again, the envy of many other countries. Wild hairdos, Italian shoes and strange cinema dominated the youth. Klaus was not quite twenty-three and had not experienced these youthful pastimes, for he had to work immediately following his last school term. Gerhard, his father did not believe in wasting time with education; hard work and careful planning put food on the table and a roof over ones head. Reading books about Greek gods and philosophies were fine for conversation but did little to make a living, which possessed no time for frivolities.

         Klaus had been a small child during the war and saved from all the horrors of war while living in a remote village to the south. His mother and father moved there soon after the war began anticipating a social and financial collapse. Gerhard had been very vocal about his opinions, uttering behind closed doors and to a young boy who was not old enough to comprehend any of what his father said.

         “Mark my word,” announced Gerhard, during the early years of the war, Klaus too young to grasp any of it. “Herr Hitler will make it bad for all of us, not just the politicians and Jews, either. He is crazy; I am sure of that. Who will fight against him, though? The French….. well, what can I say about the French? They are too busy making fancy sauces and understand nothing. The British are another matter; one must be cautious with a country like that. Before long they would have us speaking English and drinking tea in the afternoon. The Americans….. eh, I doubt they will bother, staying at home and discussing the war at length without ever joining the fight. The Russians will fall for sure, a country of peasants, only interested in killing Tzars. They are all politicians and all politicians are crazy. You will discover that in time, Klaus.”

         Most of his father’s declarations were based on obscure perceptions, very little fact thrown into the mix. Facts did not hamper his constant ranting about Hitler or other countries he had little knowledge about. Though inaccurate, there was a thread of truth in some of the things he spoke of; Hitler was a madman, without argument. Politicians had a responsibility to their people; entering into a war without sound justification would be very unpopular. And when you made an unpopular decision, your career as a politician ended shortly afterward. That did not dampen Gerhard’s opinions on almost everything, including progress.

         “No no, no,” barked Gerhard at the suggestion in the newspaper. “Jets, a plane without propellers? It will never work. What will keep it up in the air? And the speeds they suggest, no man could operate such craft. It is unnatural enough for men to ride in aircraft; jets are out of the question.”

         “Ja, Hitler is insane,” he persisted. “It will be the doom of Germany, the end of peace as we know it.”

         His father was right about Hitler, wrong about the Americans and definitely wrong about jets. Weisestadt was fortunate experiencing minor action during the war. Like many towns along minor roads, Weisestadt had little strategic importance. Køln a fair distance to the north did not fair as well, bombing taking out railway stations and inadvertently damaging a famous cathedral and a few historical buildings.

         “We are lucky not to live in the big cities,” touted Gerhard. “Business is shattered with all the bombing. In the small towns, that is where we survive.”

         Klaus barely remembered the war and the bombings. No place was entirely safe from the bombers that often released their bombs over other areas, when the flack was too intensive to fly through. It was safer to unload the bombs rather than chance a landing with a full load of explosives, non-targets falling victim to the purge. The advantage of being young is the ability to never believe in your own mortality. Other people died; you did not, Klaus being too young to worry about such things. The flashes over the distant horizon had been fireworks in the night for him, a display of lights for his amusement.

         With the war over, a great deal of money poured back into Germany, investors from America and other countries seizing the opportunity for making money during the rebuilding of Germany. Most of the money went to the big cities while the smaller towns received a trickle of the cash, enough to repair a bridge or road. A shopkeeper with access to supplies did rather well; farmers needed places to sell their wares. They also needed to buy things in return. Pigs and cattle were raised in the area. The porkers were cheap in comparison to the beef, which sold at premium prices.

         Gerhard’s shop was at one end of town rather than in the center. It had its advantages and disadvantages. When the military passed through, the place offered no resistance. Therefore the damage to commerce was minimal, though good and supplies were commandeered by the military. A few shots fired out of fear rather than need were the worst that could be had. The farmers brought their goods in from the surrounding area, which created less of a problem with the storage of livestock, Gerhard being a passable butcher when the need arose.

The Shop

         Klaus scanned the store as the morning began, the building creaking, the sun warming the timbers in the shop, which had stood for more than one hundred years, new when compared to some buildings. A few canned goods lined the shelves to the right and a bin of Spanish oranges sat immediately below. Sausage and cuts of pork filled the cooler case with a small section for beef. Potatoes and root vegetables filled baskets on the floor to his left. A small section next to the cooler had fresh milk. Packages of boxed goods were scattered throughout the store arranged according to their purpose, flour next to sugar, different sauces next to the imported Italian pasta.

         Klaus liked the mornings, quiet at first but gaining activity by late morning. His father would come in just before noon to bring the mid-day meal and help in the afternoon. It was the same routine every day without change.

         Klaus gazed out the front window at the coming and goings of the townspeople, children running to school, finding mischief along the way, their games consisting of verbal challenges balancing on a wall or leaps over a ditch along the path. The older children played less, becoming more aware of their social status, boys begining to notice girls and vice versa. Klaus remembered doing the same when he was in school but life as a shopkeeper left little or no time for romance; yet a young man can dream.

         Klaus waited for the passing of Clara, a girl in her last year of school, passing his way at the same time every morning. He made sure to be polishing the window glass at that hour to see her clearly and use as an excuse. Clara was taller than most girls, which Klaus found very appealing, her slender body possessing enough weight to give her a pleasant shape, svelte, not skinny; he did not care for skinny women. Though Clara was only seventeen, Klaus was smitten by her and stood behind the glass, wishful thoughts running through his head. Her father was the headmaster at the local school, prideful of his position, wearing his social class distinction well inside and outside of the school.

For a long time Clara had not noticed the boy on the other side of the window, watching so intently. She walked straight ahead her mind on her studies and a few things girls think of at that age. However, Klaus could see her make quick glances toward the shop as she passed. He wasn’t sure if she noticed him, though her smile hinted that she might very well have noticed him.

Who can tell what she smiled about? Perhaps it was an idle thought and nothing to do with him at all, he thought. Perhaps she heard a bird sing or a child laugh.

Not many people his age loitered in the shop, the clientele older and usually women; people of his parent’s age shopped at the store. The old ways still clung to many of them, bartering for the best price on many items regardless of the marked prices.

“Klaus, I believe these oranges are turning,” said one woman. “Feel how soft they are. Your father should sell them for less before they go bad. I would buy three, maybe if they weren’t so expensive. I would pay for two and take the third one free. Do you think that sounds reasonable, Klaus?”

“You’ll have to ask Papa about that,” he answered. “I am not allowed to change the prices, Madame. You know that.”

“I’ll take one orange then,” grumbled the woman. “A good one,” she added picking through the lot.

Birthday Wishes

Greta Baum, a plain, plump girl close to Klaus’s age was a regular visitor to the shop. She was younger than Klaus and purposely lingered when no one was there except Klaus. Greta’s family raised pigs several kilometers away, a convenient arrangement for the store when porkers were needed. She worked the farm with her brothers and family when she was not admiring Klaus in the store. Gerhard often bought pigs from them now and then when the price was to his liking. Greta, unbeknownst to Klaus had set her cap for the young man; the prospects of running a shop with a handsome young man was far better than raising pigs and tolerating two stupid, drunken brothers. No matter how clean you kept the animals, they still smelled. It was a toss up between the pigs and the brothers, which of them smelled worse.

On a few occasions Klaus found Greta peering through the glass at the front window at him. People often did this so he paid little attention to it. If they wanted something they would come in and buy it; otherwise, they would use the window as a form of entertainment, checking to see what new items Gerhard might have in stock. Greta was not looking in the window at merchandise.

She came into the store one morning finding Klaus alone. She had on her best dress and had swapped her heavy boots for a pair of nice women’s shoes, the ensemble usually worn on special occasions or church. She sauntered casually to the counter watching Klaus sizing and sorting the eggs. He would normally be more attentive but Greta came in so often, he didn’t bother. He knew she would state her business when she finished looking, no need to press her.

“Klaus, it is my birthday on Sunday,” she declared, her smile penetrating his eyes. “I will have twenty years then.”

“Congratulations!” he answered with little enthusiasm. “Ja, we all get older, I suppose. I never think of it anymore.”

“Well, it is important to some of us,” returned Greta, defending the event. “Too many years and one will no longer be eligible for the interest of another. At least for a woman this is the case.”

“You are still young, Greta. I cannot see why you should worry. It is not like the old days when a girl over eighteen was considered an old maid.”

“A woman has to be careful,” she persisted. “One day you are thirty and no man will look at you. It is best to keep these things in mind.”

Klaus had no idea where she was going with this line of conversation. Frankly, he had plenty of things to do and didn’t want to waste time with idle chat. Getting these tasks done before his father came into the shop in the afternoon was important. Greta had a habit of talking at length and saying little to interest him.

“You have nothing to worry about Greta,” returned Klaus. “You have two brothers who can look after you. Raising pigs is a good living; I doubt you will want for much.”

Try as she might, Greta was not getting through to Klaus. She did not want to raise pigs her entire life; she wanted to raise children and be taken care of like a lady.

“I don’t want to speak of pigs,” she began trying to be coy. “I wish to invite you to a picnic, my birthday picnic. I’m bringing sausages, cheese, bread; and there will be beer my father has brewed, very strong and good. You may remember what a fine beer maker he is; he has won a prize with some of it. Also the weather is quite pleasant at this time of year and I wish to share it with someone besides my awful brothers. This Sunday after church is the plan. Will you come, Ja?”

Klaus was backed into a corner and could find no reason to refuse; in fact, it would be rude to refuse. He was not interested in Greta, hoping she would shower her attentions on someone else. There must be other men, who would enjoy the security of pig farming.

“I may have to work in the shop,” he ventured. “So much to do. I do not have the time.”

“On Sunday? The shop is closed on Sundays.”

“Yes, I have to put things on shelves and clean up; Papa likes everything neat for the beginning of the week. I will have to ask him, however.”

Greta leveled her eyes on Klaus. “I wait for your answer when your father comes this afternoon,” she replied, grinding her teeth. “I will be back then.”

Beast and the Beauty

Klaus explained about the invitation to his father later that day. He didn’t express his reluctance to go, expecting his father to insist on tidying up the store after church.

“You go ahead and work in the morning,” dictated Gerhard. “The church will not miss you this one time. It is good to be nice with Greta; she’s a healthy young woman. Perhaps they will give us a better price for their pigs next time.”

“Must we always think of money?” complained Klaus. His father shot him an angry look; this was clearly not a negotiable decision.

“Go,” insisted Gerhard. “Be nice to the girl. You may find that you like her; that wouldn’t be so awful, would it?”

As promised, Greta returned for her answer that afternoon. A look of triumph crossed her face, Klaus reluctantly accepting her invitation. To add to the humiliation, Greta insisted on picking him up with her father’s truck. That ended any possible complaints about the long walk to the woods for the picnic.

The shop had been busy that afternoon, several women coming to buy meat and a few buying the Spanish oranges. Gerhard was please since the oranges were aging slightly. Two or three had to be thrown away accompanied by the cursing of lost revenue. Klaus stared out the window, daydreaming. Clara passed by again on her way to a student’s home. She helped teaching numbers to younger children and earned a few marks over a month’s time.

She did not look at the window as she passed, a disappointment to Klaus. There was no smile, nor any recognition that he existed. The sun was in her eyes; that was the reason she did not, he decided. He wondered if she ever felt curious about him. It was difficult to say since so few words were ever exchanged between them. It was strictly business when she and her father came to purchase food for their home.

Klaus’ brain could not cast off the vision of Clara. It burned into his head like a photograph on the wall, sleek, classy and beautiful beyond imagination. His father knew nothing of this his son’s desires, focusing only on business. There wasn’t much of personal exchange between father and son, only talk of prices and things to be delivered or picked up. Even the mention of Greta was met with the talk of discounts for the store.

Sunday came around along with the rattling of Herr Baum’s old farm truck. It also possessed a distinct odor given that it came from a pig farm, impossible to ignore when parked directly before the shop window. As instructed by his father, Klaus wore a good pair of trousers and a clean shirt. Greta was decked out it a pretty, print dress, which blew softly in the breeze, her white stockings clinging to her legs like fine sausage skins, rather plump sausages. The dress, though attractive, did not hide the stout body beneath; she was quite the ample young woman, which for some might be considered desirable. Klaus did not share that attraction.

“We should go soon,” declared Greta looking over Klaus in appreciation. “Papa will need the truck this early evening. But if we should take longer,” she winked, “Papa will understand.”

He cringed; the implication was not lost on Klaus, who could not imagine any reason to stay in the woods and meadow for more than a couple hours at best. He would be correct and polite; that was all that could be expected of him. His father could not fault him for that.

“These are for you and your family,” announced Klaus handing a bag of oranges to Greta. “My father wanted to wish you a happy birthday with this gift.”

“And you, Klaus; do you also wish me a happy birthday?”

“Yes, of course,” he stammered. “The oranges are from my father. I am unable to give you a gift. My wages are quite low, you see.”

“Oh, not to worry, Klaus. I’m sure we’ll find enough to celebrate my special day.”

Just at that moment Clara passed by wrinkling her nose at the smell emanating from the Baum pig truck. Though not as strong as the pigs themselves, it still was unpleasant. Klaus wanted to be invisible when he saw her, not wanting Clara to think he had any interest in the robust, coarse Greta. The thought troubled him as there was no way to hide. Why else would anyone agree to ride in a pig truck? Clara nodded a curt greeting to Klaus and Greta, moving quickly up-wind of the vehicle.

It felt strange to have a woman driving such a cumbersome vehicle, though reasonable given that she is a pig farmer’s daughter. And it was equally strange to seek out a place of peace and beauty in a foul smelling pig truck. The trip was less than a half-hour ending at a meadow surrounded by trees. Under different circumstances Klaus would consider the place to be very romantic, the place a natural setting where nature abounds. One could easily place a blanket close into the woods and be completely private, exactly what Greta had suggested, too.

“It is such a fine day, a little cool perhaps,” replied Klaus. “I think the open meadow in the warm sun would be better.”

Greta snorted, not unlike the pigs her father raised. “Don’t be ridiculous; the sun will be in our eyes and it’s my birthday; I shall choose the place,” she announced. “You bring the basket of food and I will bring the blanket.”

The buzzing of insects filled the air; the soft rattle of leaves in the trees added to this symphony of nature. Romantic? No, it was not romantic when one was with a pig farmer’s daughter, not that her father’s vocation was in question. There was nothing wrong with being a pig farmer’s daughter; it would be cruel to think that. It was just this particular pig farmer’s daughter dampened the romance of the place.

“Let us walk for a bit,” insisted Greta once the blanket was set out. “You can hold my hand if you wish.”

“No thank you,” he answered. “The path is too narrow for us to walk beside each other. Would you like to walk ahead?”

Again, a snort escaped from Greta as she moved in front of Klaus. “The path is wide enough if we stay close to one another,” mumbled Greta. “You needn’t be so shy. Why are men always so shy? It baffles the mind.”

The path led deeper into the woods, ending besides a small green pond. It was quite secluded with cattails and reeds growing near the edges. Others had been here before them, cigarette butts evidence of previous visitors. Greta turned and smiled at Klaus.

“Now we are completely alone,” she said, trying to act modest. “I would imagine men have kissed their sweethearts at this very spot. Do you think so?”

“Perhaps,” answered Klaus. “I can see that they had a good smoke by the looks of it. Pity they must leave such a mess.”

Klaus was not going to allow Greta to paint the romantic picture she had in mind. The whole ordeal of a picnic was a waste of time in his opinion, the price of porkers the reason for the unwanted intimate nature of the picnic. Silently, Klaus objected to his father’s reasoning behind the outing, and gave no indication he was enjoying himself. Greta, being the forceful one, was doing her best to overcome his reluctance.

“I have worked up a bit of appetite,” reported Klaus, hoping to return to a less secluded place.

“What is the rush?” complained Greta. “We have only just arrived without time to get to know one another. We stay a little longer and that’s that; it is my birthday. You will not starve.”

She beckoned him to join her at the water’s edge, her footing compromised, one foot partially submerged in the mud, her shoe and part of her white stockings coated with slime and mud. He expected her to be upset by this but she paid it no mind. Perhaps being a pig farmer’s daughter she must have stepped in far worse.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed without enthusiasm. “My shoe and stocking have to be cleaned. I will have to attend to that later.”

Just then, something disturbed the pond. Something small had fallen in the middle making concentric circles on the water’s surface. The sound of voices came from the other side of the pond, two boys emerging, chasing one another, shattering the quiet that had been, Greta was clearly displeased with their appearance.

“You are hungry, right?” she barked at Klaus. “Then we go now. These young boys will make it too noisy and spoil the mood.”

Greta led the way as before, her muddied shoe alternately making squishing sounds as she walked. She showed no signs of discomfort though her mood was a little on the surly side. Upon arrival at the blanket she removed her stockings and shoes revealing her substantial pink calves and thighs, the removal done without any attempt at modesty. Though her dress did go below the knee she managed to sit so more of her legs showed than was considered appropriate. Klaus averted his eyes, as any gentleman should, Greta grunting in response to his manners.

The picnic lunch was quite an affair with mountains of boiled potatoes and a plethora of pork products, cured, smoked, fried and boiled. Homemade bread topped out the smorgasbord along with sugar cookies. Klaus was in awe at how much food Greta could put away in a single sitting; she ate twice as much as he, downing two homebrewed beers in the process, becoming a little tipsy. He could only imagine one would have to feed such an ample body as hers.

Klaus was sure the end of the meal would announce an end to the picnic. He had done his duty as he saw it and there was little else to do except return home. Had it been the lovely Clara, instead of Greta sitting opposite him, he would want to stay as long as possible. Greta had exhausted the subject of pig farming with extensive detail to the mating process. The graphic nature of breeding was not considered delicate conversation for young farming people, though she did not hesitate to give every detail of the coupling. Trying to change the subject, Klaus could add very little to the conversation.

The meal completed, Greta leaned towards Klaus, a leer in her eye that disquieted him. She had loosened her dress to accommodate the abundance of food but also to flirt.

“You know we are alone,” she cooed. “I could let you be friendly under these circumstances. It’s my birthday and I am too happy to resist.”

“I thought we were being friendly,” returned Klaus.

“No, I mean really friendly,” she added. “I know what men want; I have brothers. I could be persuaded to be friendly back.”

“Greta, I couldn’t possibly compromise you in such a way,” announced Klaus. “That would be improper and rude.”

“Let me decide what is rude and what is improper,” she cooed back, allowing the hem of her dress to move half way up her thigh.

Klaus leaped to his feet and turned away from her. She grimaced and stood up behind him. Nothing of any sort was going to happen and Greta didn’t want to lose face.

“Yes,” she said gruffly. “The mood may not be right. Perhaps we can try this again sometime soon. Ja?”

Class Distinctions

“How are your studies going, Clara?” asked her father. “I am told that you are in line for a scholarship for university. My sources are correct; I’m sure of it.”

“My studies are fine, though I get a little weary teaching the little ones after school,” answered Clara. “They are good children; that is not the problem. I have so little time for myself. The other students make fun of me, father; they call me an egghead; they say I am too smart.”

“Jealous!” exclaimed her father. “They will all be farmers, clerks or shopkeepers, my dear. They will make nothing of their lives except to breed and make more of their kind. You will be educated and above that common ilk. I wouldn’t worry about what they call you.”

“Is it so bad to be a farmer or shopkeeper?” she asked.

“There is nothing wrong with it,” he answered. “There is just no need to mingle with the lower classes. They are happy with their own kind and that is fine. They provide a service, which is apparently necessary. We do need them, I suppose, if one really thinks about it.”

“I thought that was over and done with since the war,” she pressed. “The Von Studt family is like any of the others. We go to the same schools and ….. well, you understand what I mean.”

“Never mind about all that,” he replied. “Stay with your studies and there will be a better future for you than the rest of them. A suitable man of our station will come along some day to marry you. But if not, you will be able to make your own way.”

Clara knew her father was still connected to the old class system in Europe; it did not die with the elimination Hitler. In fact, Hitler resented the wealthy class, humiliating them on several occasions, many of his generals of that class. Post war, the aristocracy still maintained defined lines of social interaction. No one said so, out loud; yet it still existed. Clara felt she had moved beyond that; people were people, regardless what families they came from and what station in life they held, not a subject to overtax her father with, however.

Clara had not thought about men at this stage of life, her studies consuming all, her interests falling in line with higher mathematics and the wonders of the world. Her fellow students dated one another often celebrating life when studying was called for. Having fun didn’t seem like such an awful thing, except for the time required to engage such a habit. Herr Von Studt did not see any value in the fun young people sought. Time was a resource not to be wasted in his opinion.

Found Out

Klaus knew very well what Greta was after. He had never been with a woman in that intimate way, an experience he never fretted over. He was sure Greta had likely availed herself of that pleasure, her manner too forward and suggestive not to have partaken in this manner. There was talk about town regarding this young woman, her forwardness and flirtations at the beer hall. There was a whole sexual revolution going on in the rest of the world; the old ways of love and marriage were soon replaced with promiscuity. It wasn’t that he was against experimentation, on the contrary; he would have been quite eager to try his hand at it given the right woman.

Greta had been seeing a young man named Erik, a farmer’s son far to the north. He would spend weekends at the Baum farm, days and evenings. Greta and Erik had been engaged until his eye strayed to neighboring farm girl who was a good deal more comely. The girl in question had a neighboring farm adding to his incentive to pursue her. The two farms being side by side had great possibilities for future expansion should the match take hold. Erik cancelled the engagement with no apologies, Greta missing their physical exchange more than the prospect of a husband.

Saved from the jaws of Greta, Klaus returned to his work at the shop. As always, he watched for Clara to past by, heartsick over a girl he knew nothing about. He thought about that a good deal, wondering if she was as sweet as he imagined her. Perhaps he was foolish to feel love for a girl he did not know. Perhaps she was unkind or ill tempered at times; that was always a possibility regardless what people said. He did not think so, however. She was good with young children and tutored several children whose family could not pay her, a generous act.

He sighed deeply over his thoughts of a girl he might never know. Thinking would have to be put aside for now because it was about the right time for her to return from school. Klaus pressed his attention to the glass. On the other side was the one woman he wished, completely unaware of him. It was like a young boy who did not have a coin for candy and stared through the window at what he could not have. He felt that same anguish of something so close yet so far. Alas, there was no one to give Klaus what he wished for on the other side of the glass. There was no candy storekeeper inviting him to sample the closeness of such a beautiful young lady.

Clara walked by the shop, books in hand, a blue sweater thrown over her shoulders covering a pretty white ruffled blouse. Klaus watched discretely from the other side of the window pretending to be busy. He saw her suddenly stop and turn toward him. Flustered, he made himself look busier with the display in the window. She smiled and nodded to him, a wave of the hand adding a personal touch, quite unexpected. Much to his surprise she began walking toward the door. Panic stricken he was unable to move, his feet glued to the floor. Clara had never come into the shop alone. And presently there was no one in the shop, an ideal opportunity to speak without fear of eavesdropping ears.

The door opened, hinges squeaking when Clara entered.

“How are you?” she said formally.

“Fine, and you?” he returned.

“I am quite well, thank you,” she answered. “Maybe you can answer a question for me.”

“Yes, of course,” he responded, color rushing to his face. “A price of something or an item you wish?”

“Neither of those,” she said. “I noticed you are always at the window when I pass. Do you spend a lot of time there while you work?”

“No,” he said, quietly forgetting the implications of his words.

“Then are you watching me?” she suggested.

It took time for Klaus to find a good answer, which was not a lie or too truthful at the same time.

“Yes,” he answered.

He expected a reprimand or further questioning. Nothing came from this young woman for several minutes. She turned to leave but stopped with the door open.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I am flattered.”

There was a skip in her step as she walked home; a man had been watching her, a handsome man. She was not used to being admired; people thought she was too serious for such attentions. She could not count her father, who admired her, as any father should. This was a grown man, who admitted to watching her. She knew he did this every day; she had seen him. Something inside of her enjoyed that little fact. Someone found her worth watching.

Too many Papas

“I have wonderful news,” announced Gerhard, counting out the daily cash. “Herr Baum has told me he will give us a three-percent discount on our next order. He claims that his Greta is fond of you and hopes the two of you can spend more time together. Without a doubt I told him we could arrange free time for you. Greta will be happy to hear that and her papa will give us good discounts.”

Immer Geld!” snapped Klaus. “Always money! I am not sure this will be such a good idea; I don’t favor Greta at all. I would rather work in the shop. Besides there is… ” He was unable to finish his sentence, afraid to mention Clara.

“Nonsense!” declared Gerhard. “A young strong girl like Greta will be a good match. It will be good for business and she seems to take to you, considerably.”

“Good match?” voiced Klaus fear showing in what he heard. “How can you speak of a match? We have nothing in common and she has only recently disposed of her boyfriend Erik, who was not an honorable man. She is coarse, crude and forward, too bossy.”

“What is it, all this talk of things in common?” protested Gerhard. “Your mother and I had nothing in common; we got used to each other. Your grandfather was smart to bring us together. It was good business.”

“What about love?” Klaus argued. “That has to fit in somewhere. In America and other places people wish to be together because they love each other, not business.”

“You watch too many films at the cinema,” grumbled Gerhard. “Love does not put the food on the table or the clothes on your back. Love does not give you a three-percent discount on pigs. I don’t want to hear anymore of this, enough talk. You have work to finish, a delivery tomorrow.”

Clara sat on the floor next to the gas heater looking through a fashion magazine. The women were all quite grand looking with their tailored clothes and fancy hairdos almost not real. She wanted to have a less conservative hairdo but her father thought it immodest. He said it was an advertisement for boys looking for easy women, the clinging clothes suggesting a lack of virtue in these models. Tight sweaters left little to the imagination and far too much indelicate information for his liking.

Glamour was not what Clara sought; she wanted normalcy, to be like other girls her age. The dowdy clothes her father insisted upon only separated her, socially, from the other students. It was difficult enough to be the smartest girl in school, many feeling she was trying to act superior and shunned her. She did not feel superior to anyone of course. She was truly modest regarding her intelligence, downplaying it whenever possible.

Clara retired to her room to write in her journal, a habit she began a year or so ago. She began keeping a journal to write the things she could not discuss with her father, which included her frustration with him. He did not understand feelings nor did he approve of girls having them; intellect provided what was needed, not the heart. Needless pain is suffered when one places too much importance on feelings, he would say.

The loss of his wife solidified the notion that one must be less emotional. He called her his little Bavarian flower, a term of endearment he used often when she was alive. She represented all the things he was not. Her smile could calm him when difficulties arose, her voice, music to him. He suffered so, when she had been killed in an automobile mishap, a military truck in peacetime Germany. The war was over but accidents still happened.

Clara’s Journal: Today a young man called Klaus watched me as he has for many days before. Perhaps it was forward to ask him if it was so, but I could not help myself. I yearn for a friend, someone who likes me for who I am. I regret that I did not tell Klaus this small fact. He may only be curious about me with no real interest. I did not press the subject but left, feeling elated. I think I shall speak to him next time I pass that way. He appears to be a nice young man, smiling and polite. However, there is the possibility he has a sweetheart. Greta Baum was with him the time before and several in the town suggest that she has taken to Klaus with concentrated effort. I am a foolish girl to think Klaus would not find her appealing in an earthy way. She is quite outspoken. Most young men are tempted. I am inexperienced in this, though I understand the desires.

Clara closed her journal placing it in a drawer under some clothes. It will be safe there from prying eyes, not that her father ever came into her room. Unis, the cleaning woman was the only one who might have occasion to enter her room. She was cool towards Clara, a condition Clara did not understand. Unis cleaned her room but did not look about. She was quite challenged with her eyesight and wouldn’t be able to read the journal if she came upon it. Vanity prevented Unis from wearing her heavy glasses while she worked.

Matchmaking Bribe

Herr Baum and his wife, Annalise rose early every morning as all farmers do. The cows needed to be milked and the pigs fed. It was best to rise early and dispense with the morning meal before light. This morning ritual included the entire family, which wasn’t always the case given the boys acute appreciation of beer. They and Greta had their assigned tasks before running off in some other daily pursuit. None of them had much in the way of hobbies or pastimes except the brothers, who spent a good deal of time at the beer hall, while Greta found herself seeking company of the opposite sex, for undisclosed reasons.

The time had come for Greta to take a serious look at her future, which meant a husband, children and a good income; Herr Baum was ore than glad to see his daughter making moves toward that end. The boys might never leave home; they were content with drinking and working the farm, marriage not a big priority to them. There would always be a girl charmed by their coarse humor and cheerful manner, stimulated by alcohol. A girl was worse; if she did not find someone while still young, age and deterioration would make her prospects even slimmer as the years marched on. If the acorn did not fall too far from the tree, Greta would inherit the girth of her mother and father, as she added time and sausages to her life. She was already a substantial young woman. Some men liked that; then again the styles of the day leaned towards slender women, a sad future the more traditional women of previous years.

“Papa,” said Greta, while milking a cow. “That boy, Klaus is a nice fellow; I think he is very shy, which I find rather cute. He is nothing at all like Erik; Erik was selfish, a mistake no doubt. I can see that now.”

“I suppose so,” said her father. “Young men are a mystery to me, even my own sons. Who can understand young people anymore? I hope this Klaus does not spend all his time at the beer hall like your brothers; being drunk and stupid all the time is not a good thing. When I was young…”

“Oh, papa,” she interrupted. “You always talk about when you were young. Boys and men are different now. We fly in jets and can talk to anyone in the world, if we wish. Must you always compare yourself to everyone else?”

“True we can talk on the telephone,” added her father. “But at a great cost; it is not very practical. I doubt it ever will be.”

There was a lull while Greta formulated a plan, a proposal.

“I would like you to be nice to Klaus and his father. Give them a free piglet as a gesture of friendship. We won’t miss it and it may shine a favorable light on me.”

Her father did not like giving anything away. Then again, if this would expedite the removal of his daughter from his care, it might be worth it. Though he loved his daughter, he wanted to see her married and taken care of. With grunt he agreed and finished feeding the cows. Besides, there was a sow that had more piglets than she had teats. One of the piglets would probably not grow fast enough for his liking. A runt might not be a great loss.

“This shopkeeper is a good man?” asked Herr Baum. “He can provide for you?”

“Yes, Papa,” she answered. “I have decided he is the one I wish to marry, the one to give you many grandchildren.”

Her father wanted to challenge her assumption that this man would agree to be a husband; so far it was a matter of her choice alone. But then again, she took after her mother in that respect; Annalise possessed the identical character of his daughter. He remembered his own short courtship, his father-in-law setting him up with two-dozen pigs at the request of Annalise, his soon-to-be wife. Bribery? Perhaps it was. What was the difference if one was bribed or not? Living in poverty is not such a pleasant future.

Greta was becoming frustrated with Klaus and his reluctance to engage her in more intimate activities. Generally, men were easily manipulated when presented with a gift of pleasure. Erik had been, she remembered that quite well. They had dated a short time before the engagement. Almost immediately upon dating, Erik succumbed to her physical charms and suggestions. In fact, it seemed to be his only attraction to her; she could not recall much conversation between them. He did not know anything about pig farming; and she did not find dirt farming particularly exciting. At the time that didn’t seem to matter until Erik found the daughter of a neighboring farm. Temptation of the flesh was impossible to be compared with the acquisition of more dirt to farm and a woman who knew less about pigs than he cared to know.

Greta knew it was possible to bring Klaus around to her way of thinking with a little coaxing. She had to try harder, perhaps not be so vague, especially with Klaus, who was raised to be a complete gentleman. It was good to have a man who was a gentleman as long as he let his hair down at the proper times. Without a doubt, she needed to be more assertive.

Another plan was taking root in the meantime. Klaus’ father had a streak of the bargain in him, which she could capitalized on. The free piglet would be the beginning of a campaign to sway the man, this indirect method of wooing had some advantages. Often it was the parents who encouraged their children to seek advantageous alliances. Should the business dealings appeal to Gerhard, he could see the advantages of a marriage between Greta and Klaus, undeniably.

“Och, what a fine gift from the generous Baums,” declared Gerhard holding the piglet. “I think I may have misjudged them. Baum never gave a pfennig discount before. Since his daughter finds you a charming man, Klaus, I must revise my thinking. This small pig will make a delicious Sunday supper.”

“Papa, I would not get too attached to the idea,” complained Klaus. “Greta is terribly forward and pushy. You would not believe what she suggested on our last outing. Have you not warned me about loose women before?”

“A little fun is no harm,” returned Gerhard putting aside any moral arguments. “You are too serious, my son; it is different today. Men and women are more relaxed about such things. Maybe you should be too; I would not worry.”

“That’s not what the church says to us,” answered Klaus. “The priest tells us to save ourselves for the right person, God’s wish. And if we go to church to learn the way to live, then we should abide by the teachings; it would be hypocritical to do otherwise.”

“Enough!” shouted Gerhard. “The church is not the last word. Remember, it is the church that says we must give up everything to go to heaven. But who will feed us then? Who will give us a roof over our head, the church? Ha! They speak in fine words that have nothing to do with life, only making priests and nuns fat. All they want is money in the basket when we go. Money! We go only because your mother wishes it; I would rather stay home and enjoy a day off. I can talk to God at home for nothing, not that he listens to me, anyway.”

Klaus knew better than to get into a religious argument with his father, who looked for any reason to stop going to church. His wife was quiet, yet devout about her faith, Gerhard unaffected by the sermonizing. Klaus needed something beyond stocking of shelves and money in the bank. Believing in something greater than himself was contrary to his father’s view, that considered more practical means of living, though not as charitable.

“I don’t wish to neglect my work in the shop,” reported Klaus hoping to steer the subject to something besides God. “If I am running off with Greta, things will not go smoothly. Everything will get backlogged.”

“I can come in and cover for that time, Klaus. You can make up the work in the evening when you are not seeing the sweet Greta. Already Herr Baum has agreed to five-percent discount on his pigs. I see no harm in giving the girl a little attention.”

It was useless to fight the demands of commerce; his father saw profit and advantages in his son’s alliance with the Baum family. Klaus saw something quite different. What he saw was the beautiful Clara through glass window of the shop. He did not see nor care for the pushy Greta, discounts and the like.

Klaus had not declared himself to Clara, only admitted to watching her. She seemed to take to it rather well considering her attitude when she left. Perhaps there was hope after all.

Klaus arranged the cans of tomatoes on the shelf the next morning. Fritz the cat had disturbed the display while jumping onto the shelving in pursuit of some near silent creature; the cat was his father’s idea of rodent extermination. It was cheaper than hiring an exterminator, who would set traps and put out poison. Customers did not like to find a trap mixed in amongst bags of rice or beans, especially with a dead rodent in it. Fritz was a good hunter and a reasonable companion at times. Klaus liked the cat despite the rearranging he had to do in the aftermath. Most of the time Fritz slept near the heater in winter and the front window in warmer weather, the life all cats dreamt of.

It was almost time for Clara to pass by the shop, Klaus taking out his rag and clean where he liked to watch, first outside and then inside. Children often put their sticky fingers on the glass outside the shop, making it necessary to wipe regularly. Like clockwork Clara walked by, her head held high, a sight Klaus found irresistible. It was not pride or arrogance; it was poise, self-assuredness; he could see the difference. She carried herself well but also took the time to be polite and friendly to those she passed. She’d drop a quick curtsey to some of the older ladies and gentlemen, a habit of old, which had been forgotten by most girls her age.

This time as Klaus looked through the glass as Clara slowed, turning her head towards the shop their eyes meeting. She nodded an acknowledgement, turned back to her path with a hint of a smile on her lips. Klaus did not see the smile, as he was too taken by her notice. It was the first time she had done this, now burned into his memory for the rest of his life.

Clara walked on excited by this young man who paid her notice. No one had ever given her so much as a glance in the past, her studious nature a detractor for men. It might be easier for men and women in this new decade; they speak their minds, threads of the old ways woven into a few parts of the country. Formal introductions were required if one was to socialize, Clara’s father clinging to the past in that regard.

1960 brought all sorts of social changes. Women wore elaborate style hairdos and were beginning to ask men out. Department stores in the big cities had anything a person might desire, the Old Germany never considering such a wanton display. The new Germany fashioned itself after the United States and places like Italy and France, where styles of appearance coincided with changes in social interaction. For Clara there continued to be awkward moments, since her father was very old school. He saw the new Germany as a shameless mass of self-indulgent people, tossing gentility and respect aside.

There was another issue gnawing at her about the young man. She had seen Klaus with Greta Baum. Generally, one could only interpret such an encounter as part of a courting ritual. Maybe Klaus watched Clara but favored Greta for some reasons. It was known that Greta was easy of virtue, the local townspeople having witnessed some indiscreet activities with a young man named Erik. Other rumors about Greta abounded and did not speak well of the Old Germany. Men being who they were, Clara could understand why a man might choose Greta’s company. Though she did not agree with this behavior, she understood the base mentality of some men. Was Klaus such a man?

This speculation would be entered into her journal that evening; she had been writing in it regularly, feelings emerging, which made no sense to her. Longings for a friend, a confidant filled part of a page, many thoughts unwritten. Separation from those of a different social class troubled her more than she could express to her father. There weren’t many men or women in the town who were equals according to her father. That left her with little choice of friends. Her admirer, Klaus was a shopkeeper, struggling middle class. Had her father not commented on shopkeepers as being below her?

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