Frau Pomerine

If I were a composer, this would probably be called a coda—a few measures that bring a musical piece or movement to an end. If I were a doctoral candidate working on a dissertation, what I’m about to write might be considered a footnote. If I were my mother, sending a weekly letter to my daughter who was away at college, it would be a PS—a post script.

And that’s what this week’s blog is—an afterthought on what I wrote last week about Carolyn Niethammer’s and my adventures in Europe during the summer of 1965. As I explained previously, we spent eight weeks working in a calendar factory in Bavaria, making the backboards for Seiberling Tires’ 1966 company calendar.

The factory was an assembly line operation. The woman at the head of the line ran large pieces of paper though a glue machine before sending them out on a conveyor belt. Half of the glue-backed papers, the top side—der Obere Seite—featured a beautiful photo of an alpine scene. The other half, plain white glue-backed sheets of paper, were the back sides—der Rückseite. The top sides had to be carefully folded around each of the corners. The back sides needed to cover all the folds. Carolyn and her partner were top side girls. Frau Pomerine and I were back sides.

I remember Frau Pomerine to this day. At the time, she seemed very old to me, but then I was only 22. She was probably somewhere in her mid to late forties at the time, or maybe early fifties. She had plain features and a stout figure, more rectangular than curvy. She wore her graying, curly hair cut short and parted on the side. She always wore buttoned house dresses to work and Oxford shoes with white anklets. Oh, and she always wore an apron as well to keep from getting glue on her clothing.

Other than the word for clothes hangar, my German was non existent. Her knowledge of English was “Wenig, wenig!” In other words, almost non-existent, and yet there we stood, face to face, working together eight hours a day. As I said earlier, she brought us aprons to wear to work. She brought us treats to have during coffee breaks. And she invited us to a Sunday dinner at her very humble home in a nearby village where we shared roast pork with Frau Pomerine, her aging mother—(probably younger than I am now) and her special needs daughter.

The last week we were in Kempten, she brought me a paperback copy of Dr. Oetker’s German Home Cooking. That book, along with Byrd Granger’s Arizona Place Names, and my father’s copy of the Treasury of the Familiar, are the three books that have followed me on my travels up and down the I-5 corridor between Washington state and Arizona.

By the end of that summer, I had learned a bit more German, and it turned out Frau Pomerine knew more English than she had originally let on. She gave me the book during one of our last coffee breaks together. When we went back to work at our station, I asked her, “Frau Pomerine, why are you so kind to us?”

I’ve never forgotten her answer. “After the war,” she said, “I have no husband, no money, no food for my kids. A woman from America send CARE packages. By helping you, I thank her.”

We both ended up crying.

I have no idea who that anonymous woman was who sent those CARE packages, but I benefited from her kindness and compassion. As far as Frau Pomerine was concerned, America was a beautiful place where strangers cared for strangers, even ones who used to be enemies. She knew nothing at all about our political differences or Democrats or Republicans. She saw all Americans as a miraculous kind of oneness.

In this time of total divisiveness, thinking about Frau Pomerine made me wish we still were. But you know what? We are. When someone sends me a note asking for an autograph or a birthday wish for a ninety year-old mother who happens to be a fan? That gets done, due in part to Frau Pomerine and the lady with the Care Packages.

Some sixteen years ago, my daughter and my late son-in-law, Jeanne T. and Jon, participated in a charity called “The Box Project.” They were matched with a woman named Shirley, a Black single mom from Mississippi whose son had serious health issues. Jon passed away fourteen years ago last month, but Jeanne T. and Colt still send Shirley a box of goodies each Christmas. Sometimes they’re household goods. Sometimes the gifts are something more personal. When Habitat for Humanity was building a house for Shirley, Jeanne T. and Colt sent Subway gift cards to help feed the work crew.

And when you get right down to basics, Frau Pomerine’s opinion is correct. America is still a beautiful place, from sea to shining sea.