Siegie and I were up before the sun rose. We were in and out of the house, in the predawn light, counting the wagons leaving, waving at the neighbors as they drove past. We weren't of much use to Mom, but we were probably more useful by being out of her way.
Grandfather and Grandmother had left in their wagon before we got up. His plow horses were slow and needed a head start. The neighbor had a large rope coiled on the back of his wagon as he pulled around the corner of his home. He stopped in front of our apartment. He grinned a toothy grin down at us. He said, "Good mornin' Frau Kaiter." She answered him. He said. "We're going to the other end of town to pick up my mother and her things. We'll be back as soon as we get everything arranged." He slapped the reins across the back of the horses and they lunged into their collars. The wagon lurched down the road.
Siegie and I played in the dirt with a piece of rope and some wood making an evacuation sled for rocks. We dragged our evacuation sled up and down the road as we waited for our landlord to return. The wagons became fewer and the town quieter as the departing wagons crunched their way down the cobblestone road. We waited for the landlord to return and hook us up. After a while all the wagons had left. Only the sounds of Siegie and me shouting at each other, as we played with our rock laden sled, echoed back from the town.
I stopped and asked, "Siegie. did you hear that?"
"I thought I heard some kids yelling from town. Listen!"
I whooped loudly and shouted, "Hey!" The word echoed back at me several times from the empty homes of Oberhof.
"Wow! Manny, there aren't any kids down there. That's your voice. Hey, listen to this."
He shouted, "Hey! It's Siegie.” The words bounced back at him several times.
Mom came out of the apartment leading Luther by the hand. She asked, "What are you boys shouting about? Has the landlord returned?"
Excitedly, I said, "No, Mom. This is really good. Listen to this!" Siegie and I went into our routine, and when we were through, we turned to see if Mom was as excited as we were. She was white faced.
I asked, "Mom, what's the matter? You look sick."
In a quiet voice, she said, "It sounds as if the town is deserted."
Siegie said, "It is. Listen!" We shouted again, and our voices bounced back at us.
I grinned and said, "That's our voices. Nobody answers us." Suddenly, the situation crystallized for me. Our voices had bounced back at us because the town was deserted.
What was funny before wasn't funny anymore. What had been a happy echo was now a lonely sound. I didn't want it to be that way. I didn't want to be alone in Oberhof. I wanted to be with Grandfather. In the back of my throat a tight feeling began, and when I tried to speak, it hurt.
I asked, "Mom, when is the landlord coming back?"
"It's ten thirty now. He should have been back long ago. " she stuttered, "I don't know where he is ... I don't think he's coming back for us."
The tightness in my throat became a real pain. I didn't know how to ask the next question. I asked what I feared to be true, "Are we stuck here?" My voice rose as I asked, "Are the Russians going to get us, Mom?"
Her lower lip trembled a little, and her legs shook. She said, "I don't know. I...."
Siegie interrupted her and said, "Gollee, Mom. You can't let us be left behind. The Russians are going to get us."
Her voice started to rise and her knees started to shake again. She said, "I know, Siegie. We've got to get out of here."
Then her voice wavered a little, "I know the Russians are coming."
I said, "Maybe we can find a horse in the fields to pull the car. What do you think, Morn?"
She took a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I don't know, but I'll try anything."
Mom held Luther's hand and Siegie and I stood with her on the side of the street. I held onto one of her hands. Siegie stood close to her elbow. I leaned closer to her because the town didn't feel friendly anymore. The small echoes produced by our talking sounded hollow and empty.
She said, "I think the reason Grandfather didn't hitch more horses to his wagon is because he sold all the others. I don't think he has any left in his fields. "
Tremulously, Siegie asked, "What are we going to do?" Luther whimpered, "I'm hungry."
Mom looked down at him and caressed his head. She said, "It's time to eat lunch. Let's eat, and then we'll think about what we're going to do."
The lunch hour came and went. We sat on our front door step. We talked about knocking out the windshield of the car and then hooking up a horse. We didn't know where to get a horse.
A movement from the direction of town caught my eye. I turned to see what it was. I tugged on Mom's skirt. My voice caught in my throat as I said, "Someone is coming from town."
She and Siegie turned to see who was approaching us.
The person was a man, and he wore a uniform. When he got closer to us, I said, "Mom, he's wearing an SS uniform."
She inhaled sharply.
My stomach quivered. My knees began to ache.
"Mom, it's an officer's uniform."
She shielded her eyes and said, "He looks kind of like Siegie's teacher."
Siegie's lower lip trembled and his face contorted as if he was about to cry. He turned his face toward Mom's waist.
The man in the SS officer's uniform walked up to us. He didn't have a metal clip for a hand.
He asked, "What are you people still doing here?"
I had never seen this officer before.
Mom cleared her throat. She said, "We're waiting for our landlord to come back. He's going to hook us up to his wagon." Her voice was thick at the back of her throat.
The man said, "Madam, there is no one left in this town. I have just checked it. You are the only people still here. Don't you know the Russians are coming?" The man had a hint of an accent in his voice.
Mom's knees started shaking again. The pain in my throat came again, and I wanted to cry. She said, "Yes, I know. We don't want to fall into the hands of the Russians. We want to get away. My husband is not here..." she stopped momentarily, then she lied, "My husband works on submarines." She continued, "My father-in-law was going to help us, but he has left. He couldn't pull us.
"He arranged with my landlord for him to pull us, and the landlord said he would. He went to pick up his mother and told us to wait for him. We've been waiting for six hours, and he hasn't come back."
The SS officer said, "He's not likely to now."
I looked at the man in the SS uniform. To me something seemed out of place about him. All the SS officers I had ever seen were six feet or taller with blonde hair. They were all fair with white teeth and spoke high German. Without exception, they had an intimidating air about them. This man, however, did not appear to be quite six feet tall. He seemed to have an accent that was strange for a German SS officer. His teeth had brown stains, but he was wearing an SS Colonel's uniform. I concluded that since he was wearing an SS uniform, he must be SS. Because he was SS, I didn't trust him.
Mom's lips quivered. She said, "We thought we might
knock out my windshield and hook up a horse to the car so
that we could rejoin our friends."
The man asked, "How would you steer the car and the
horse? I don't see how it can work."
Tears formed in the comers of Mom's eyes. She said, "I don't know."
I started crying. Siegie's face was hidden from me, so I didn't see him cry. Luther looked around and started whimpering.
The man in the Colonel's uniform walked around the car and looked at it. He came back to the porch where we waited. He said, "This is a damned shame, that peopl...