Flowers for Hitler

Little Herma was chosen.  Schoolteachers had selected the very best from the classrooms of Salzburg, but Herma was the one chosen above all the rest.  At eight years old, she displayed classic Aryan features: blonde hair in two neat braids down her back, fine porcelain skin, good posture.  The teachers were careful to select only those students whom the Führer would want to see.  Little Rudy, for instance, with his dark eyes and flat nose, would remain behind.

“What is your full name, child?”  The headmaster bent down to look in her eyes.  Herma was afraid, but she wouldn’t let him see.  She answered in a clear voice, “My name is Hermenegilde Zazilia Zeinzinger.”  Her lower lip trembled, but she clasped her hands tightly behind her back and stood straight, in her blue school uniform.  Her beloved teacher, Fräulein Knauss, smiled down at her, and Herma smiled back.  Fräulein told the headmaster who her parents were, and where they lived, and where her father worked, and the headmaster nodded with approval.

Two days later, the Führer would ride into Salzburg in a big black automobile, and Herma was supposed to step out of the group of children with a bouquet of flowers in her hand, to present to the Führer.  She didn’t know why they picked her, and she wished they hadn’t.  That morning, she whispered to her friend Sophie, “I wish you were giving him the flowers!”  Sophie’s blue eyes brightened at the thought, but a frown wrinkled her little forehead as she whispered back, “But you were chosen, Herma! Don’t you want to do it now?”  Herma shook her head, braids bouncing on her shoulders.  She had heard her mother speaking to Frau Treffen who lived upstairs, saying there was nothing special about the Führer.  Frau Treffen told her to be careful, but Herma’s mother kept talking.  “My little Herma was selected because she’s pretty.  Her sister Margarethe isn’t even included in this group.  Why?  Because she is too fat?  Not blonde?”  The more her mother spoke, the more Herma did not want to give the flowers.  Her sister Margarethe was left out.  It wasn’t fair.  Her mother didn’t like this man, so Herma would not like him either.

Herma took Sophie’s hand and they walked into the school.  At the classroom door, Herma stopped in front of Fräulein Knauss.  Still holding Sophie’s hand, she looked up at her pretty teacher and said, “Sophie should present the flowers.”  Sophie tried to run away, but Herma held tight to her friend’s hand.  Fräulein Knauss tilted her head and looked down at both girls.  She looked very stern and Herma knew she was in trouble.  “I won’t do it,” she added.

And she didn’t.  To avoid a scene, Sophie was the girl who stepped forward to present the bouquet to the Führer.  Herma stayed in the group and smiled with the others.  The Führer patted Sophie on the head and raised his arm, and everyone in Salzburg raised their arm, too.

From the Ocean, White with Foam….to the Mountains

As a child, I couldn’t wait to run into the ocean, and I mean run – full speed ahead, who cares if it’s cold, run and fall right into that salty water. Catch a wave, ride it to shore. My father would join me occasionally, my mother never, my sisters to a point, but I would stay there forever if I could. As a teenager, my enthusiasm had diminished, but not much, although seaweed, especially the red algae that floated in millions of tiny pieces, kept me away, as did the threat of jellyfish in the warmer waters of late August.

The beach has lost some of its allure for me, unfortunately. I attribute it to various causes: now I’m very aware of the fact that the ocean is not all that clean (seriously, how is it that the Department of Environmental Management advises us to not swim at Scarborough one day and then the next day it’s fine?); the beach itself, and the general areas – bathhouses, restrooms, parking lots – are littered with cans, bottles, pizza boxes, dirty diapers; my sister saw a sanitary napkin float by her while she was swimming in the ocean last week; I’m less tolerant of the sun and heat and need to reapply SPF50 constantly for fear of melanoma, while it was a rite of passage to get a blistering sunburn at the start of every summer, soothed by Mom rubbing Noxzema all over my shoulders and back.

But the mountains! Ever since I spent that year in Switzerland (and perhaps before that, with summer vacations to New Hampshire), I’ve been in love with the mountains.  Majestic, towering, some topped with snow year-round. My husband feels the same way, telling me he feels protected when he’s surrounded by mountains. He owes it to his mother, who was born, raised and lived in Salzburg, Austria, until her head was turned by a cocky Army sergeant who convinced her to join him in America. We seem happiest when we’re cradled by the peaks around us.

So next month we’ll head south to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. While we’re there, we’ll look around to see if this is a place for us to live out the rest of our lives. Who knows? We won’t, not until we see what’s there. And in the meantime, we’ll head up north to walk the beaches in Maine, where the water never warms up!