Continued from After the War: Langen, Germany
Eventually Yry’s parents moved to Darmstadt, where they rented two rooms of a large house owned by an elderly bachelor. Their landlord was a scruffy fellow with wild white hair escaping the confines of a well-worn flat cap. Just below the bill of his cap, bristly white eyebrows made a shelf over deep-set eyes. His white mustache would have looked dashing if only it had not presided over irregularly shaven jowls that twitched nervously in tandem with the eyebrows. The old man spent many hours tramping through the woods behind the house. One day he returned with a canvas pouch filled with mushrooms. He immediately cooked them in lard, and when he offered Yry a dish of these morsels from the forest floor, she remembered Uncle Philip’s stories about der Schwartzman.
Uncle Philip was Herman’s brother-in-law. Though older than his wife, Emma, he was a child at heart who entertained the kids with walks and sleigh rides and wild stories. His favorite stories involved der Schwartzmann (the black man) who lived in the woods and came after bad little children. His teasing had never really frightened Yry. She recognized him for the clown that he was. Besides, der Schwartzmann came for German kids and she, after all, was the Queen of England!
Nevertheless, there was something about these mushrooms from the Darmstadt forest, offered by a strange, lonely, old man, that gave her pause.
An elderly woman also roomed in the Darmstadt house. Her middle-aged maid began helping Nora with laundry and scouring the always shabby wooden floors. Yry felt sad for this poor maid when she learned that the woman had worked hard for years and saved every penny she earned to buy herself a better life. But after the war, Germany’s economy plunged taking the maid’s money with it. This was a tragic but common story, and one that my mother remembered and took to heart.
The Pauls’ next move was to a large two-story house at Ritterstrasse 6, in Mainz, Germany. It was a beautiful, two-story, masonry house. Three broad steps, flanked by concrete wing walls opened onto a porch with a swinging bench and chairs. A large lawn was shaded by huge, trees with gnarly trunks. This house hosted many wonderful family gatherings. By this time, Yry’s German skills had improved. Her parents had schooled her in both English and German, as well as arithmetic, and geography. But she had never gone to school and was shy about interacting with other kids. Herman encouraged her to introduce herself to the neighborhood children, but each time she screwed up her nerve to approach a group of kids, they laughed at her English accent.
Only one friend emerged from the Ritterstrasse days. Occasionally the family traveled to Bavaria, to visit their friends, the Müllers, who lived in the country just outside of Füssen. The Müllers had a son about Yry’s age. My wide-eyed mother shadowed this tow-headed little boy around the barnyard. She loved her visits to the Müllers, and she loved this little boy! One day, she flew out of the barn to catch up with him. As she careened around the corner, she lost her footing and down she went, landing on hands and knees in a ripe pile of cow manure, ruining her fancy dress and white stockings. Imagine the long trip back to Mainz with this wild child!