“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

“Paris! We’re Going to Paris!”

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So it was time to query Joanna Leigh about the trip this summer.

(If the “so” at the beginning of the opening sentence is like fingernails scraping across the blackboard, go here. It’s simply the newest thing in words.)
 
Anyway, as I was saying, I needed to make sure she would not be afraid of a big airplane. Or flying over a big ocean. Or going where she might have to eat new food.  I waited until after I put her in the bathtub. I got started while she was a captive audience.
 
“Honey, I need to talk to you about a big trip. If you go some places, you have to fly in a really big plane for a lot of hours and you have to fly over an ocean and. . . .”
 
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Figure 1, The Eiffel Tower, Paris
 
She jumped up in the bath water, waving her hands in the air and screaming, “Paris! We’re going to Paris! I just know it. Oh, I’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower. . . .”
 
I’m thinking, “What does she know about the Eiffel Tower? Or Paris?”
 
“I just LOVE their clothes,” she says.
 
I’m thinking, “Whose clothes?”
 

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More here about COCO CHANEL. . .who put Paris couture on the map

 
 
My eyes are getting dangerously wide, like maybe they’ll pop out of the sockets.
 
“And their desserts! Oh I just love their desserts!”
 
At first I just stood there, speechless. Then I had to leave the bathroom, go into my bedroom, and silently scream, “Wwwhhhaaaatt? What the hell does she know about Parisian clothes and desserts??? What about wines? Has she been reading up on Burgundy, too?”
 
I had to break the news. I walked back into the bathroom, holding out Truth in my hands. “No, honey, not Paris this time (I’m thinking, ‘Like maybe there’ll be a next time?’).”
 
“Ooohh. Ok, where are we going?” she asked, sitting back down in the water.
 
“Well, we’re going to the country just past France. It’s Germany. I need to know if you want to go.” Then I ran through all the items that might be scary to her.
 
“I want to go. When can we go? Where is Germany? Do they have pizza and French toast? Will we fly over Paris?”
 
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Figure 2, Neuschwantstein Castle, Bavaria
 
The questions were coming fast. We talked it out until I felt like it was safe to nail down airline tickets, reservations for side trips, like a tour to Mad Ludwig’s fantasy palaces in Neuschwantstein and Linderhof. I tried to imagine all the new stuff, like riding a train and a subway, crossing some really big mountains, not understanding the language, and on and on. She said she couldn’t wait to do it all.
 
We talked a while. I laid down the law on certain things, like how she would do what I say, when I say it. I started brushing my teeth.
 
Then she said, “Jo, here’s what we’re going to do.” She got out of the tub and got her towel.
 
She has this manner when she takes on the role of the Boss. She puts one hand on her hip and gesticulates with the other hand in a kind of Queen Elizabeth position. So there she stood, in the pose, making decisions, bossing.
 
“When we get on the airplane, here’s what you need to do. Tell the pilot. . . .’
 
I’m thinking, “What does she know about the pilot of a Delta Airbus???”
 
“. . . the pilot that when he flies over Paris, he needs to fly really low and go over the Eiffel Tower kind of slow, so I can see it.”
 
I nearly blew my toothpaste onto the mirror.
 
So as it stands, we walk down the covered walkway to the plane, enter, she spots one of the pilots greeting guests, and . . . .
 
I don’t know. She’ll decide.






















































Birthdays: Moosburg and Munich

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Today, 69 years ago on his 30th birthday, my father was wandering the streets of Moosburg, Germany, as a liberated POW from the nearby camp – Stalag VII –  begging for food. He was a bony, emaciated version of his large, imposing figure, always described as handsome,  that he kept below 200 pounds.  Under 200 at least until after he retired and started eating lots of ice cream. ( I have seen “Moosburg” also spelled “Moosberg.” I’m landing on the first one.”)

He stood on a 6-feet three-inch frame  topped with a full head of dark hair. In his starving condition, his hair was likely thinning, a symptom of malnutrition. But I don’t really know. Photos after his return and for a year or two afterwards don’t exist, as far as I know.

I once asked dad a question that arose in my mind probably from watching one of the many stupid, lying, deplorable versions of life in a POW camp, like “Hogan’s Heroes”  or “The Great Escape.”


“Dad, what did you all in the POW camp think about? Betty Grable’s legs or something else off a pin-up poster?” I think I may have asked the question suggesting “sex” as a possible answer.

“Oh, for crying out loud, no,” he answered, sort of laughing. “The only thing any of us ever thought about was food. Just food. We talked about our favorite food, our favorite meal, our last meal before being captured, what we’d eat first when we got out. Just food.”

He always explained that the Germans, by that time in the war, had nothing to eat either. He told my cousin that all they ate were turnips.

But the widespread starvation was the very thing that brought such danger to prisoners captured that late: The Germans could have simply killed many, many of the prisoners in that camp built to hold 10,000, but which had somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 POWs.

Only four years after World War II, dad had to return to the place where the evils of Nazism had caused such horrific death and suffering for millions and millions and millions of human beings including himself. And that place where his role was to bomb, strafe, and bomb. He got orders to Neubiberg AFB, in Munich, Germany. He would join the 86th Fighter Group as part of the Allied Occupational Forces. He left just after the first of the year, 1949, and my mother, younger brother, and I (my sister was born in Munich) followed some months later, on the QE I, where I threw up every single day for the two-week trip crossing the Atlantic. It’s my only memory of that trip, except being held down by a big orderly and a nurse who gave me daily shots. Dramamine hadn’t been invented yet. 

I don’t think I ever asked dad how he felt about going back to Germany, to Munich, just down the road from Stalag VIIA.  In my moments of regret over what I never asked or didn’t get answers to, I remind myself that dad wasn’t going to provide any details anyway. He always answered those questions in a light, evasive way. He would have said, “Oh, I didn’t think about it much. I got orders and I just went.”

Only recently have I learned that he must have made a conscious decision early on to lowball his World War II experiences that by all reason should have caused his death.

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My memories of Munich are episodic, childish, and spotty. I was the age  my granddaughter is now. I spent the first, second, and third grade in Munich’s American School. (In the picture above, I’m on the back row, right, girl.) I remember the Frauenkirche, bombed out buildings, what I called “The Angel of Peace,” which I don’t know what it really is. And the Fasching Parade (equivalent to our Mardis Gras), the first one allowed after the war ended, all set against the backdrop of bombed out buildings. We will find out in a few months, when we travel to Munich, Innsbruck, the South Tyrol, and the Ridanna Valley where dad ended up after his incredible descent from the alpine mountain called Zuckerhutl. We will at last meet the two men who discovered his P51 crash site, found me by chance, and gave us the rare opportunity to know dad’s story in a real, not a comic book, way.

Somewhere in the bowels of the family memorabilia are black and white prints and 35 mm transparencies of our years in Munich. I will post those when I find and scan them.



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