9/8/14

A letter and a kid (5)

Oh. Yes. Wow! The letter. I prattle and blat, and the letter-story seems to be nowhere in sight. Sorry. But I warned you: I’m a procrastinator. And a dreamer. We dreamers always focus on dispensable details. We rarely do essentials.
Anyway, even dispensable details teach us a lesson. In probability, for instance. I mean, what were the odds for me to be born? On my mom’s side, grandma Cilli could’ve been living in Slovenia instead of Austria, right? And grandpa Hans could’ve been killed during the war like the millions that were.
On my dad’s side, things look just as haphazard. There was only a little chance for grandma Berta and grandpa Ferdinand to meet. After they did, Ferdi the Communist could’ve been shot by the Nazis like his comrades. My dad could’ve been killed by an Allied bomb.
But my grandparents did survive, against all odds. They did meet. They did have kids. My mom on one side, my dad on the other.
And what were the odds of my parents meeting? Mom and dad were living more than a hundred kilometres apart, after all. Back in the 50s and 60s, considering both their upbringing and social origins, what would’ve been the expected turn of events for them? They could’ve stayed within a ten-kilometre-reach of where they were born. Most people did back then. They could’ve married someone in their vicinity. They would’ve had kids. But different kids. Not me.
So you would be reading a different story right now.
Or no story at all.
See? That’s a dreamer’s material. Would’aves and could’aves.
And don’t tell me it was predestination. I don’t believe in that. I prefer to believe in odds. The odder the odds, the better the result. Just look at me.
Right. Back to our letter.
At sixteen, my mother left her parents’ home to start an apprenticeship as a sales assistant. Her training took place in a small town some kilometres north of Murnitz. Times were serious and grim for a youngster, back then. You didn’t have much of a ball. It wasn’t all about the latest jeans-fashion, or spending hours on a mobile talking and texting, or sulking in one’s bedroom because the parents wouldn’t allow you to spend the night at your best friend’s.
My mom attended a vocational school every second week. And worked in a grocery store the rest of the time. She lived with six other girls at their employer’s, in a cold, sparsely furnished room. Food was scarce, too, because the owner of the grocery store was a no-nonsense skinflint. He treated his apprentices like slaves.
Sometimes, my mom would do the inventory with her boss. He would sit on a chair, reading items off a list, and she would haste from one corner to the other to check the stocks. Apart from the boss’s mumbled words, the storeroom was completely silent. Once, my mom’s stomach started to rumble. She tried to still the noise, ashamed, but secretly hoping that her boss might notice, too. He might conclude that she was hungry. Maybe he’d finally get it that the portions he served were too small.
But he continued as if nothing had happened.
My mom’s best friend was called Karin. They’d help each other backcomb their hairdos, they’d starch their petticoats together, they’d smoke the odd cigarette, hidden behind a chestnut tree. The sixties were roaring somewhere else; in London, maybe, or in New York. Not in that little town. And yet, in their shy and nice ways, the two girls enjoyed their last teenage years. They worked hard, they learned their lessons, they snickered and covered their mouths when a handsome young man entered the grocery store. And regained their composure after their boss’s wife had shot them a murderous glance.
Finally, Karin finished her apprenticeship and found a job in a grocery store situated in my village. Without hesitating a second, she moved to Kleindorf. The store where she was working was a stone’s throw from where my grandparents were living. Just across the street, in fact.
It’s in that grocery store that Karin saw my father for the first time.
And that’s when she wrote the letter to my mom. My dad wasn’t the main subject; Karin was just babbling on about her situation, the region, the regular customers. It was nothing but a harmless letter a young woman would write to her best friend.
“There’s this young guy,” Karin wrote. “Quite a looker, lemme tell you! Black hair, mischievous smile, coal black eyes. A pity, though—he’s got a glass eye!” Now, luck would have it that the owners of that grocery store were looking for a second sales assistant. Karin innocently suggested my mom, “She’s excellent. She’ll do the job, I promise. And she’s about to finish her apprenticeship!”
So my mom received a second letter with a job proposal. For a moment, she was undecided. The place was so far away from home! Would she be able to like her new environment? Would she be able to leave behind everything she knew? Her parents, her little rivulet, the farmers, the softly rolling hills?
Finally, she made up her mind. A job was a job, and hell!, she wouldn’t spend her life fretting over things she had no answer for. She accepted, packed her few belongings, informed her parents, and moved to the village.
That happened in—wait. 1967? 1968?
The rest was simple. One day, my dad entered the grocery store and approached the counter. Karin nudged my mom, whispering, “That’s the one! You know—the guy with the glass eye!” Then, she disappeared in the back shop to have a look at the stocks.
My mom served the young man and couldn’t help but notice that oh yes!, the young fellow was just as good-looking as Karin had told her. Mischievous smile that discovered cute little dimples; curious and sparkling coal black eyes; full, dark hair. He seemed a tad small for a lad, but lean and—she shivered with the thought—beefy, yes, outright beefy! When they proceeded to the cashier’s desk, she enjoyed the sight of his tight little bum and his muscular calves.
While cashing in the money, she continued to check him out. Discreetly, of course; she didn’t want to be taken for an easy lay. Still, that glass-eye-thing intrigued her. To her amazement, she couldn’t detect even a trace of this peculiar item. Had science progressed so much that glass-eyes had become invisible? How then had Karin been able to spot it? she asked herself.
My dad noticed that the unknown young woman was ogling him with interest. You have to know that, when my mom discreetly checks out someone, she stops short of staring open-mouthed at the person. So dad moved closer, her sweet smell enveloping him. Definitely—this young lass looked as if she was searching some kind of answer in his face!
My dad realized that he liked what he saw, too: a soft, young woman with a bob cut, generous curves, and a romantic longing in her eyes. Damn yes, he liked it a lot. And—bzing! The two weren't aware that good old Cupid was preparing to take aim and shoot one of his arrows. But shoot he did. And Cupid being Cupid, he hit two hearts spot-on.

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