The Journey From Foe to Friend
`Never will you cross my threshold!'' My father was reading a letter from my aunt.
I whispered to my sister: ''What does 'threshold' mean?''
My sister, at 13, knew a lot, at least about most things. ''For her, it's a moat. We can never cross the moat that goes around her castle.''
''Because we're her enemy!''
Enemy, enemy! Ever since we'd left Connecticut and traveled across the ocean to reach my grandfather's house in Germany, I'd been trying to figure out what enemies were. I was 5 the night World War I had ended, and the people of Greenfield Hill had thrown the kaiser onto the bonfire. Horrified, I'd pulled at my father's coat: ''But you said Uncle Bill was his doctor. He was the kaiser's friend. So we're burning up his friend!''
''It's only a doll, Daja. Just a doll.'' He tried to explain about enemies, but I didn't get it. Now, three years later, here in Germany, I knew what enemies were, and one of them was me.
It was all because my grandfather, who had lived in America for 30 years, decided to take the fortune that he'd made and go back to his homeland -- with all his family.
''Not all the children,'' my broken-hearted grandmother insisted. ''I will have one son who will be American.'' So it was that my father had all his education in the United States, and when war came in 1914, there was no question in his mind. He knew which side he was on.
He was American. Fiercely American.
Because of his writing and his patriotic speeches, the newspapers in Germany shouted that he was a ''Schweinehund'' and a ''stabber-in-the-back of the fatherland.'' His father and his brothers and sisters, reading this at their breakfast tables in Germany, must have sadly agreed.
Now, with the war ended, and our grandfather no longer living, we were here in his house, waiting for our relatives to show up so that Dad could start knitting the family together again.
Week after week we waited.
By this time, I was clear about what an enemy was, because the nearby town of Niederwalluf hated us. As soon as our train had pulled into the station and we got off, we felt it. The townspeople knew who we were and stared with frozen eyes as we climbed into our carriage behind the driver and horse.
My brother, who was 3, smiled at a little boy playing with a ball. The boy hesitated for just a moment and then turned away and dashed into a shop.
Tall thin houses lined the narrow streets and, as we passed, a window was flung open and a man spat straight down onto my father's hat.
My grandfather's house was huge and gray, but at last welcome was there. My little old aunt had also read the wartime newspapers, but she had made up her own mind. With wide open arms and little bird feet that pattered across the polished floors, she ran to greet us.
This was our home now, our only home. Dad had sold our house in Connecticut because he didn't know how long it would take to mend the family rift, and if he could do anything to help Germany, he would stay and do it.
We settled in and the servants became our friends: Minne, with her chicken-feather red hair, who cleaned the downstairs rooms; Irmgard, who made the beds and taught us how to speak German with our throats; Kathe, who cooked for us; the gardener and his family, who presented us one day with twin baby goats; and Wilhelm, our butler, who knew everything it was important to know and protected us from the hatred of the town.
We had no other friends, and Wilhelm warned us not to go into town.
The weeks stretched on as we waited for our German aunts and uncles to arrive, and still Wilhelm kept saying that the town wasn't ready for us yet.
''Not yet,'' and again, ''not yet!'' The time finally came, of course, when we all needed a haircut. Wilhelm shook his head. ''Not in town. The barber will come here,'' he told Dad. ''He is the same one who would come to shave your father.''
Paula, Wilhelm's wife, who was the personal maid for my aunt and took special care of her hats, was excited the morning she told me that a carnival had come to town and there was a merry-go-round. She said I could wear my dirndl skirt, and, if I promised not to open my mouth, she would take me with her.
Wilhelm frowned. ''Not yet, Paula. You must be wise with these children. It will take a long time. Don't push it. Don't push the people.''
I knew that Dad gave vegetables and milk to the people of Niederwalluf. There were thanks, of course, but no one reached out a hand to shake his hand.
The waiting was getting harder. One day, my father burst into our nursery: ''We're going for a walk! A nice long walk!''
''It's going to rain,'' my sister said.
''Never mind! We're going out of the gate and we're going to walk.''
''To Niederwalluf?'' My throat was bursting with hope.
''Not quite. But almost.''
Out we ran. No raincoats, but no matter. The iron gate clanged shut behind us. We ran and jumped and headed toward the town. The sky was darker than ever -- almost black with the storm -- and then the rain came. We stood out in it, and because we were out of the house and free at last, we laughed and kept walking.
Before we realized it, we were passing a house -- the first house of the town. Dad had just said, ''We'd better turn back,'' when the front door of the house suddenly swung open and a thin little woman was running toward us. ''Oh no!'' Dad stopped. He reached for us and held us close. The woman had already pulled open her gate.
She stood there in the pelting rain, trying to speak. In her arms were three umbrellas. She held them out to us.
''For you,'' she said at last. ''You've come a long way.''