“One has so little to do that it becomes quite an adventure; quite fun, to do one’s own fetching and carrying.”
Mr. Soames had beamed and bowed me all the way to the door in the most delightfully deferential manner; reminding me that: Madame’s custom and Madame’s lovely presence will always be anticipated with great relish at this little establishment. If only Helen could have witnessed all of this. I am sure she would have been pea green with envy.
From that day forth, my lovely pendant and I were inseparable. I wore it around my neck at all times; either in view for special occasions; sometimes under my sweater or blouse, if I felt it would attract any undue attention. It lay on my bedside cabinet when I was in bed. When I was in the bath or shower, it waited for me in the pocket of my bathrobe.
All my friends, at one time or another, had remarked on it, and admired it. Yet no one realized its great value. To everyone apart from myself, it was simple a little bauble; zircon; a little piece of paste. If I had said to any of them that it was a diamond, and a fabulously valuable diamond at that, I think that they would have laughed at me and said that I was deluded. However, I loved it; not because of its great value, but because it was mine. It was my pretty, sparkling little friend; almost with a personality of its own. Nevertheless, I loved it also because it, with the entrance ticket to the Dreamland Ballroom, was a link between the here and-now and an evening when a ballroom full of elegant and beautiful people had smiled at me and thought that I was some great celebrity.
The evening when the great Ella Fitzgerald and fabulous Louis Armstrong had sung for me was very special. My wonderful Victrola had become a great source of enjoyment for me. It had taken me to a time when America was frantic and pleasure loving. A time, in which I became a flapper, flapper who caught the eye of possibly the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life; and possibly the most dangerous. I was a part of the hedonistic age that shortly led into the Great Wall Street Crash.
My Victrola had taken me into a more elegant era; an era of beautiful, popular music; wonderful jazz; elegant fashion; the beginning of emancipation for women; an optimistic era between two horrific World Wars. However, I had not succumbed to the temptation of entering another time zone again, fearing that this time, if there were to be a “this time,” I might not be able to return to the present time.
One afternoon, at the end of winter, I was tidying up the room in which the Victrola stood, when I noticed that one of the doors at the bottom was slightly open. Open enough to attract my attention. I bent down to push it shut. However, changed my mind, and instead, I opened the door. There, inside, standing on their edges, were several records. I took out half dozen; each in its paper sleeve. There was a large hole cut in the center of each sleeve, through which I could read the labels on the records.
One of them caught my eye immediately; not because I recognized it; quite the reverse. The title was in a foreign language. It was in German. However, as I did not speak German, I put it to the
back of the pile I was holding.
When I say, I did not speak German; I must say that, when I was living in Germany as a young girl, I could speak a little German, because I had some German friends: Adele and her brother Henni. I suppose I would have learned some of the language, but they wanted me to teach them “American,” so we did not get very far, and anyway, I went to an English speaking school. All I could remember was “An halt” or “Halt” which means, “Stop”; “Hilfe” which means “Help,” “Gute Nacht,” “Guten Abend” and “Guten Morgen” - which almost everybody in the world knows. Moreover, for some strange reason, I could remember the phrase: “Spass musssein” which means “There must be fun” or “There must be jokes.”
So none of these words or phrases would have helped me translate the title of the record. I was going to replace the half dozen records in the Victrola when I reconsidered. Why not, I thought, I could be on the verge of some fun.
I looked at the title. ‘Die fesche Lola’ bei Marlene Dietrich, it said. Well, I had heard of Marlene Dietrich, so I thought I would try it. I lifted the lid; cranked the handle; placed the record on the turntable and slowly dropped the “needle” onto the record. I knew what to expect, and waited.
Within seconds of the music coming out of the speakers, my surroundings began to change. Everything became foggy, and I had the same floating feeling. However, whereas before I had been transported to another place in time, and another venue, this time I felt as if I knew the place in which I was standing. I recognized it, but only vaguely.
I was in a barn; an old barn. I could hear chickens gurgling (or whatever noise chickens make when they are happy) and then the occasional cackle when one had disagreed with another. Straw was on the floor and there was the smell of cows, horses, and chickens and the other farmyard smells.
Remembering my beautiful clothes of my former journey, I looked down. There was no beautiful dress; no diamonds. My hand flew to my neck. There was a diamond. There was my beloved diamond, still on its chain; still hanging comfortable close to my skin. I took the gem between my fingers as I usually did; especially when I was thinking, or puzzled about something. It was my comforting little talisman. However, the diamond was not the only thing that had not changed.
Unlike in other journeys through time and space, I was dressed exactly as I had been at home when I had put the record on the turntable. I was wearing a dark blue polo neck sweater; my thick cream Aranknit pure wool cardigan with the tie belt; blue pants (very expensive; a Christmas present to myself) and a pair of tan loafers. I was going through my “Chic New England Sophomore “stage. Moreover, I looked the business!
As I was standing there, wondering where I was in time - and where this all too familiar barn had come from, I heard voices. Some people were coming into the barn through a door, which led out of, or into the barn, from what I assumed to be a farm or a farmyard. I quickly moved to try to hide behind a wooden cart that stood beside the wall. It gave scant cover, but the people who entered were too engrossed in their conversation to even notice, as they were intent on each other.
The person who came in first was a well built young man, dressed in rough clothes, with a heavy sleeveless leather jacket, and heavy boots. He must have been the farmer. With him was a young woman who looked as if she could have been his wife or sister. She was dressed simply with a
long cotton overall or housecoat over her clothes.
Then a small group of people entered, they were obviously a family. There was a man and woman, of early middle age, and two children, a girl and a boy, aged about thirteen and fourteen respectively. The woman carried a very young child; less than six years old. There was also a much older woman, dressed completely in black.
As they came in, they were talking earnestly, and not too quietly, because I could hear what was being said from my attempted hiding place. I listened carefully and suddenly realized, to my amazement, that although I did understand what they were saying, they were not speaking in English.
They were speaking in German, and as I have already said, I only knew a few words of the language. Therefore, the Victrola could take me to another time and place, and clothe me so that I fitted in. However, it could also make me fit in other ways. But what was I doing there? And why did I need to understand the German language? And would I be able to speak it if necessary? I tried, under my breath, to say something, but all I could think of was. “Spassmuss sein,” and I had a horrible feeling that this journey was not going to be much fun at all. The man, who I had assumed was the father of the boy and girl, and of the little baby, was talking:
“… Bought it in that big shop Klaus had recommended. We had a lovely day touring around… a perfect day. Then we made for home and when we saw the broken glass…”
Here the old woman in black started to cry, “Oh my God! What is to become of us?” “… just
turned around and drove away,” continued the father.
“They painted a big yellow Star of David on the door, on my lovely front door.”
“Where can we go? We brought nothing apart for the car and some extra clothes in case… And if
we hadn't bought that musical machine…”
Everybody except the farmer and his wife were talking at once. The old woman was sobbing
uncontrollably and the father had his arm around her, trying to console her. The mother now spoke, and her voice strained with false optimism. Her voice was too upbeat to be genuine.
“Maybe if we go back it will be all right. Frau Müller said that this would all blow over soon.
Herr Hitler and his thugs may be a nuisance, but they say Berlin will not allow all those Black
Shirts and Brown Shirts and all those people to carry on like that anymore. Frau Müller says
they’re just being silly.”
"Just for being Jewish,” said the old lady between sobs, “Why don’t they leave us alone?”
“It will blow over, I promise you,” said the farmer. “This is my home. Germany is my country.”
“Grandfather fought for the Kaiser,” said the old lad.
“Yes, we will go home. Everything will be better soon – and if it gets any worse, we can always
go and stay with Cousin Jane in Poland. It is lovely there. Alternatively, we have family in
The two older children looked confused.
“Can’t we stay here papa and mama? All our friends are here,” said the boy.
Sarah said, “There’s nothing to do in Poland, let’s stay here. Please.”
“Yes,” said both parents at once, and turned to each other and smiled, slightly.
“It can’t go on. Things will get better soon.”
“We’ll go back home and see how things turn out,” said the father.
I knew that I could not just hide behind my cart for one more second. Taking a deep breath, I
stepped out so all could see me.
“Stop,” I said. I could not believe how strong my voice sounded; and what a beautiful sound it
made. I was speaking in German, and perfect High German at that.
Everybody turned and looked at me as I stepped forward.
“Heavens!” said the old woman.
“Who are you? And where did you come from?” asked the farmer, who had not uttered a word
during the discussion, apart from saying, “It will blow over, I promise you.”
“It doesn’t matter who I am, or where I came from,” I said, “But I’m telling you. Things are not
going to get better in Germany, unless I have made a serious mistake. What year do you think
this is?” I asked, hoping that they did not realize that I only had a slight idea of the year, much
less the date.
“Nineteen thirty-seven,” said the boy, “You ought to go to school, Lady.”
“Helmut, you apologize,” said his mother. “He’s hungry, but that’s no excuse for rudeness.”
“Well, it’s going to get a damn bit worse around here… in Germany,” I said.
“Who said so?” someone asked.
“I damn well said so,” I shouted, and I could feel the tears welling up in me. My heart was
thumping so hard in my chest that it hurt.
“Get out of Germany as fast as you can, before it’s too late. You have no idea what the Nazis…”
The mother held her little baby so tenderly and looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“No one would harm a little child like this.”
“But how do you know all this?” they asked in a loud shout.
I spoke to them it seemed for hours; trying not to give them too many details, because those details are too distasteful, even now. Eventually I convinced them, or thought that I had convinced them that they must leave. They must not go to Poland, Holland, France or any other European country.
“You've no idea what’s ahead of you if you stay. Please GO! And go now!”
I was almost hysterical with anger and frustration because they just did not want to take me seriously.
“Your only option is to go to England or to America,” I said. “Get out of Europe as soon as possible.”
“My Cousin Francis lives in England, in Buckinghamshire. We could perhaps,” said the mother; gently cradling her little baby close to her.
“We’ll do it,” said the father suddenly. “We’ll do it.”
Moreover, his little family, well and truly frightened by my rhetoric and my awful predictions, gathered around him, laughing, and crying all at once.
“Let’s get it in from the car,” said the mother. “We’re going to need all the space possible.”
“We’ll put it in here,” said the farmer, “it will be safe here, and when everything is finished and if what this lady says is right, when it is all over, it will be here waiting for you."
So the father and Helmut walked out door of the barn into the evening sunlight, returning shortly afterwards with a piece of furniture that was so familiar to me. It looked exactly like my precious Victrola. I moved forward. It was the selfsame article.
The mother had given her little baby to Sarah to hold, and she was writing with a little gold pencil, on a page, which she had torn out of her elegant little, address book.
“This is my cousin’s address in Buckinghamshire. If you want to contact us, use this address. We will try to get to England and stay with them till the nastiness is over.”
Then she wrote on another little page, “and a copy in case you lose the other one,” and she gave both slips to the farmer.
The farmer’s wife put her hand out, and gently took the second piece.
“We’ll put it safely where no one will find it.”
“I know,” said Helmut, opening the lid of the Victrola. He lifted the little tray that held the wooden “needles”; put in the slip with the address in England under it; snapped the little tray back in place.
“No one will see it there.”
“But what will we do for money?” asked the mother.
“We must go back home, if only briefly, and see if we can get some money out of the bank.”
“We - are - not - going - back!” said her husband, slowly and deliberately.
“Luckily I have some Marks hidden in the car; for a rainy day, “or we could go to some neighbors…” she started again.
“No!” I said, firmly, but kindly, as I could see that she was desperate to retrieve something from her home. “You must go now and never come back until…”
“But we have only enough money to survive for a couple of weeks and even if we sell the car we can…”
There was desperation in her voice that I found harrowing to hear. The old woman was crying again and saying that she wanted to go back to her home. The children were becoming worried and even the husband was beginning to look as if he would change his mind. Then I did something that surprised all of them; and surprised me even more so.
I pulled the neck of my polo neck sweater down a little at the back. I put both hands up and behind my neck. I undid the clasp. I took off my lovely pendant; refastened the clasp, and handed it to the father. Even in the dim light of the barn, it sparkled so beautifully.
“How pretty,” said Sarah.
“A real diamond, just like in the jeweler’s shop,” said Helmut.
“Helmut, behave you,” said his mother.
“You won’t starve. You won’t want for anything with this,” I said.
I felt a lump in my throat, but in my mind, a strong voice was saying, “What is a sparkly jewel worth, compared to a human life,” And I looked at the little family, “Compared to six human lives.” That lump in my throat just would not go away, as I said, “Goodbye,” to my beautiful friend. The father accepted my gift gratefully and solemnly. His eyes were wet with emotion. The whole family gathered around me to embrace me; to thank me, and to give me their blessings.
“Come along,” said the farmer’s wife, in a cheery voice, which belied the tragic look on her face, “this will never do. Let us find some food to send you on your way. I’m sure we must have lots to do before you go,” and she bustled out followed by the mother, who turned one more time to say, “Goodbye,” and then rushed back to throw her arms around my shoulders and kissed me and thanked me for the warnings… and for the gift of my talisman.
The father, and his friend, the farmer, left to see to the car. Soon there were just four of us in the barn: the old woman, Helmut, Sarah, and me. The farmer stuck his head through the door briefly.
“We’ll do the car first and then we’ll come back and put that musical contraption behind that cart, where the lady was hiding,” he said.
“I’ve never even heard it playing,” said the old woman, “These modern things!” Work it for me, Helmut. I want to hear one of those record things.”
“What do you want to hear, Grandma?” I heard him say.
“Here’s a funny one,” said Sarah, “play this one,” and she read the label, “It’s called ‘They Call Me Naughty Lola.’”
All three of them were facing away from me as I heard the first notes of Marlene Dietrich singing ‘Die fescue Lola.
I do hope you are enjoying this story.
Stay tuned for Chapter Five.