Saturday, September 5, 2015

At Bell's Eccentric Cafe, Wilbo Talks with a Man Who Survived the Dresden Bombings and Struggles with the Aftermath of Divorce.

Again, we praise the beauty of the tap room. I seek out conversation and conversation seeks me out. Today, I listened as a man named Werner shared a story of survival. His family huddled on a train as Dresden was fire bombed in 1945. Kurt Vonnegutt survived because he had been imprisoned in a slaughterhouse. Werner's family survived on a train that had stopped moving when the attacks began, the furious concussions squeezing the train narrower and narrower. The raids had as their objective the destruction of the rail assets of Dresden, so it was a jinxed place for a family, more of a miracle to survive. 

The man had also worked for American soldiers when the occupation reached inner Germany. Soldiers given housekeeping duty would delegate the work of wall washing and yard maintenance to children like him and shared the abundant military rations as a reward for hard work. No one had time to fish so the GIs just tossed a grenade or two into a pond and Werner and his friends got the job of gathering up the fish.

He traveled by ship from Bremen to New York City and a German woman going to New York City became his constant companion on the eight day passage. He had promised to work as an apprentice for a sponsor in Battle Creek. He didn't feel he had freedom to stay in New York City with her, so he set out on his migration alone, a tragic mistake in retrospect. He probably could have found another sponsor in New York City; surviving the aftermath of the war in Europe had made his thinking rigid, I assume. He made his living as a highly sought after home remodeler, marrying a woman of Dutch heritage who spoke German. He never had to advertise for work. He picked up his lumber and materials at the yard near Bell's.

He wanted his kids to play soccer, so he claims to have founded the American Youth Soccer Organization. If so, millions of soccer moms owe him a nod of thank you.

So why was this man drinking alone, striking up a conversation with a man thirty years his junior. Poor fellow entered the divorce court world two years ago when his wife of six decades filed.

It's not easy for any man to start over, especially a man with eight decades of experience. A pair of mothers arrived with toddlers who ambled the clean tile floor with pudgy feet. The boys studied Werner's face with amazement, my face attracting little interest at all. "Toddlers, you cannot imagine. Even I can hardly imagine. And I hope you never can imagine based upon what should be a much calmer existence".
 — at Bell's Eccentric Cafe.

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