|about the book|
From Immigration to Espionage
by Eva and Manfred Krutein
Chapter 1: Arrival in America
1 August 1960
"We are encountering turbulence," the pilot announced through the intercom. A moment later the DC6 began to jerk up and down like a roller coaster. Horrified I clutched at my seat arms as if they were life preservers and stared ahead as if this was a way to steady the plane.
"Fasten your seat belts!" the pilot shouted as lightning flashed through the clouds enveloping the plane.
My heart was in my throat. We had hit a thunderstorm! Only minutes before landing in Miami. I quickly turned to my two small children to help them buckle up, put my own seat-belt on and saw my three older girls across from me doing the same.
It was terrifying: the plane bounced around while the attendants rushed along the aisle, checking, helping, calming. We all were at the mercy of the raging elements. One woman screamed, another curled up as though in a shell, a baby cried, a man shouted. Oh God, will we make it to Miami? I prayed. You know I never wanted to go to Amerika, but now please let us land quickly!
As an answer the plane was tossed more violently. A feeling of great helplessness engulfed me. I'm going to throw up! But my hands were clenched on the seat arms and I couldn't reach for the bag. As the plane jerked up again I saw one stewardess fall to the ground.
"Mommy!" my five-year-old cried.
Clenching my teeth, I reached over to her. This calmed her down. Don't think of yourself. Your kids need you!
As if my touch had magic power not only for my daughter but also for the elements, the airplane's shaking softened, the clouds swirled and finally gave way to reveal a sprawling city with skyscrapers spread out beneath us — Miami, Florida!
The events which led us here to the U.S. passed quickly through in my mind.
In the final agonizing months of WW II, fleeing the marauding Soviets who stormed into my hometown of Danzig, on the Baltic Sea, my baby daughter Lilo and I had smuggled ourselves on an oceanliner, which was many times overloaded with refugees. We survived the Russian torpedo attacks against the rescue ships. Terrorized by air raids and horrified by the sight of a sinking ship and the drowning people in the icy water, we finally reached the western part of Germany.
My husband Manfred found us in the chaos of Europe, and together we began a new life in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea. A naval architect, he started a shipyard from scratch and built up a splendid existence, while I worked as an opera coach and had two more children.
When the Soviets seemed ready to overrun western Europe, we decided to leave the troubled continent and emigrate to the United States. Manfred sold his shipyard and we prepared for the U.S. Alas, we had no sponsors and therefore couldn't get visas. So we chose Chile, the South American Switzerland that had welcomed Germans for centuries, and in 1951 we sailed to South America.
We indulged in Chilean hospitality and the makeshift arrangements of everyday life. Manfred became a mining engineer while I worked as an opera coach. We had two more children, and all five of them and I became deeply rooted in wonderful Chile.
Not so Manfred. He felt he couldn't apply his talents in this non-industrial country and kept longing for the USA.
He was lucky. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the startled U.S. called up its scientists and engineers and even issued visas to foreigners in order to meet and hopefully surpass the Soviet challenge in space. Manfred soon left our second homeland, Chile, to immigrate to California. His life-long desire to work in and for the highly advanced American technology sector had been granted.
Left behind in Santiago, and condemned to wait for notice from him about his first job and a copy of his working contract — requisites for getting visas for the rest of us — I converted our two-story house, hidden by pines and persimmon trees, into a warehouse. I squeezed everything from a piano to a can opener into the spacious living room and put a sign, "Se Vende — For Sale," in front of the long grape-covered pergola, and sold everything.
Two weeks after Manfred left I received his letter from San Francisco, California.
Palo Alto, May 12, 1960
Hurrah! Within one day I got a job as a design engineer with Utah Construction and Mining Company in Palo Alto, a suburb of San Francisco. I'm enclosing a copy of my contract. Take this to the American embassy and apply for visas and make reservations for your flight. Hurry up! It's great here and I'm waiting for you!
"Hurrah!" I echoed. "Goodbye, Chile," I mourned. I felt immensely torn apart by my joy about his new job and my despair in having to leave the country I loved. Here, among the friendly, carefree Chileans I felt grateful, acknowledged, protected. Would I experience the same thing in Amerika? That ragged letter "K," like in Ku Klux Klan, expressed all my fear and resentment about my imminent transplantation from South to North Amerika. Would Amerika ever become America for me?
With a heavy heart I entered the Amerikan embassy to apply for visas which would uproot and transport us to a strange land. Was there ever a human who asked for exile?
Our family still had German citizenship and, therefore, had to apply for those all-important rubber stamps. Manfred as an engineer had received one in a flash. I was neither an engineer nor a scientist, just a pianist and an opera coach and the mother of five children.
"The German quota is closed," the immigration officer said.
I felt as if he'd slapped my face. "When will it be open?" I stammered.
"Call in from time to time to see if there's been a change."
Every week, I checked with the immigration officer. The answer was always: "No change."
Desperate after two months of fruitless inquiring, I decided to make an extra effort to shake up the Amerikan bureaucracy and wrote to President Eisenhower for help.
Two weeks later I received a note from the Embassy to appear before the immigration officer. A copy of my letter to Eisenhower lay on his desk. The officer told me he had received orders to help me. He could give visas to four of us but not the rest.
Is the man crazy? I thought.
He explained Lilo and I were born in Danzig, the former Free State. Under Amerikan law the two of us still had this citizenship. The Danzig quota was open and my two Chilean-born youngest had free entry into the USA. But for my two German-born children the Embassy could not issue visas since the German quota was closed.
I felt the blood rush to my face. I was ready to strangle him until I grasped that the culprit was not this squat man, but the damned Amerikan bureaucracy — Amerika, not deserving a "c" in its name. Fuming with rage, I shouted at him until, apparently prompted by the noise, the consul himself, an elderly, gray-haired giant, entered the scene. I stopped screaming and broke into sobs. Through my tears I saw the two men talk. The consul briefly looked at me, then told the officer, "Let this woman take her five children and leave!"
The officer immediately issued the visas — I had won the battle! The three-month wait was over, and the taut rope I'd felt around my throat was loosened.
Now we had landed in Miami, Florida, America. Or Amerika? No matter. I sighed deeply and smiled at my five children.
"We made it," Lilo, 16, said as the airplane taxied on the tarmac.
A repulsive stench spread out over the entire plane. "Boo! What a stink!" Ursula, my 13-year-old daughter shouted.
"Maybe a doctor has broken a bottle of medicine," I said.
"No!" Lilo pointed to the exit. "The stewardess is spraying us South Americans with a disinfectant."
Humiliated, I was ready to fly back to Chile. Yet people behind me were pushing, and I stumbled forward into the country that had the reputation of welcoming immigrants.
Coming suddenly out of the dry Chilean winter into Miami's humid summer heat, we trudged towards the airport terminal, while in my mind a funeral march was playing in time with the beat I marched. With my fur coat hung over my shoulders, feeling the sweat running down my back, I automatically counted over my five children — Lilo (LEE-loh), 16; Ursula, 13; Renate, 10; Irmgard, 5; and my son Wernher, 6.
Inside the airport building, I read the big letters above a door: IMMIGRATION. Armed with visas and chest x-rays, we entered a small, well-lit room. Behind the only furniture, a lectern, stood a tall, gum-chewing officer, ready to check our worthiness. I handed him our passports.
He counted the children. "All yours?"
He shook his head, then brusquely asked, "...Communist Party?"
So far I understood only one or two words of a spoken sentence in Amerikan English, so I thought he was trying to recruit me to his Communist Party.
I shook my head. "No."
"...pneumonia?" I was prepared for this, and showed him our six x-ray films.
"Manfred Krutein in Palo Alto, California."
The officer grinned, returned our passports to me, made a joke, which I didn't understand, chuckled and finally let us pass.
Outside we became part of the milling crowd. How tall the Amerikans were! I, five-foot-three, had to look up at the pale-faced, straw-blond, blue-eyed giants. And now the first blacks and more and more of them, dark-eyed and somewhat aloof, looming even over the tall whites.
Routinely, I counted my kids: One—two—three—four—oh God, one was missing! "Where's Wernher?" Terror seized me. He was kidnapped — that's what they did in this country, after all! My blond, blue-eyed son, cute and smart, but these characteristics couldn't be as sensational here as they'd been in Chile...
Lilo pointed at the open door to the street. "There he is!"
"Lilo, watch the kids," I said to my motherly daughter and rushed to the door. There stood my little son in eager Spanish conversation with a pretty, black-haired stewardess from LAN, the Chilean Airline.
She motioned at me. "¿Tu mamá?"
"¡Adiós, churro!" she said, using a Chilean term for "handsome," blew him a kiss, grabbed her traveling bag and left. Chilean spontaneity even here! Wernher beamed.
Lilo, my eternal substitute in caring for the four younger children, walked up with her three sisters in tow. I sighed with relief, and together we stepped out into the stifling heat toward a line of taxis.
We hired one, and the driver took us to a playground with moving cars and trains, bought ice cream cones for the children with his own money and introduced us to the immensity of a supermarket, over-stocked and air-conditioned.
Inside we gaped as a fat, pale-white man, clad only in swim trunks, pushed a shopping cart with a toddler half-buried in packaged food; his woman, in a bikini and gum-chewing, trudged behind the push-cart. In Chile such quasi-nudists would have been jailed!
On the tarmac a propjet was waiting for us. We had never seen such a huge plane before. Excited, we climbed the stairs to our space-vehicle, while heavy but warm rain poured down on us. Be it rain or sweat, we were always wet in Florida. Inside, we snapped our seat belts on while the plane whistled and grumbled. A high F and a low B, I heard.
"Did you see that, Mom?" Lilo marveled. "The stewardess just pushed a button and the outdoor staircase moved up! And it even folded and closed the door!"
I nodded and smiled. "Amerikan technology." Silently I added: the United States' advanced technology must compensate for all the hardships we'll encounter here in Amerika!
The jet zoomed into the clear sky toward Chicago — the only route to California the travel agent in Santiago had found. When the lights were dimmed I kissed the children good-night.
"I'll dream of my new doll Daddy has promised me," Irmgard said.
I nodded. "He said in his letter that the doll is waiting for you at the entrance window." Irmgard smiled and fell asleep.
Grateful to be sitting in a vehicle worthy of the 20th century, I pulled out Manfred's detailed letter, which I had received the day before our departure.
How many years had I waited for this day, to sit in a jet on my way to New York! To find work in the country I admired so much because of its technological achievements. Would I find an interesting job as an engineer? I yearned to be involved in important projects where I could use my experience in different engineering fields. My disillusion in Chile had been too great, not finding the recognition of my knowledge as an engineer and a naval architect.
I'd heard so much about California where the climate was supposed to be similar to Central Chile's. But would California really be the best state in which to live?
In New York I took a Greyhound bus to San Francisco. The almost uninterrupted ride across the continent lasted four solid days. One doesn't imagine such a large country! In San Francisco I rode in streetcars and buses to get an overview of the city — it's as scenic as I'd been told.
Next day I followed a newspaper ad to Palo Alto, a university town south of San Francisco. There, I found a job in the engineering division of Utah Construction and Mining Company. Right on the first day I befriended an Hungarian engineer, Jerry de Pottere, who invited me to stay with him and his family instead of having to live alone in a hotel. 'You'll need help to quickly adjust to this country,' Jerry said. 'Everything here is so different from life in Europe. First you need a driver's license. Then you must have credit cards. Without credit cards you are nothing in this country. In Europe you save money and then buy a car or whatever. Here we borrow on our credit cards and slowly pay off the debts. Next thing: buy a car. Next: look for a house. Rent one and then buy furniture. That all takes weeks of your free time after work. My wife and I will help you take step after step so that you have a home for your family ready when they arrive.' You can't imagine how much this generosity helped me! Without Jerry and his wife Madeleine I wouldn't have succeeded with my preparations for you and the kids.
Three things are very important here in America:
1) Since English is not phonetic you need to spell out names or countries, which we never had to do in Chile or Germany.
2) Say 'thank you' to everyone and everything.
3) Use a deodorant. Americans are very sensitive to smell. Even the slightest body odor is perceived as 'evil.' Because, the Puritans said, 'cleanliness is next to Godliness.'
Now about my job. I'm working with about 50 engineers on a project to design the processing plant for a mining facility in Peru. It's quite different from my work as a naval architect in Germany. Fortunately, in Chile I had adjusted to the mining industry and had become familiar with my new field. Here, every single employee is very friendly and cooperative. These two qualities seem to be typical for Americans at large.
But an unpleasant surprise: engineers get only two weeks of vacation per year! When I told my American colleagues that this, compared to most other countries, was a real outmoded treatment, they told me that until a few years ago engineers had no rights to a vacation at all. And there was no insuriance for illness or unemployment.
Notwithstanding these drawbacks, my beiloved, I'm ready to pick you all up in San Francisco! I can hardly wait!
Hugs and kisses, Manfred.
My hands let the letter sink into my lap. Manfred's image rushed in from the Pacific like a fresh breeze. I heard his stormy steps, his artistic whistling, his laughter. I saw his handsome face smiling at me, his blue eyes radiating confidence and determinaition. I heard his tender voice, "My little Bear." I sighed. Three months had passed since he had departed from Chile, and I finally had left the country I loved for the man I loved.
I hoped this eternal flying would soon come to an end. Thirty-six hours of flying and changing planes and hanging around airports had passed; twelve more were before us. I was tired to the point of offering my soul for a bed. Crouched into their seats, the children were asleep, and I passed out as well.
When I awoke, I spotted beneath us a flat, but dense cloud formation like a wad of cotton-wool covering a treasure. We penetrated the fluffy layer and emerged above the precious object: San Francisco. We landed at its International Airport.
Exhausted, we trudged towards the airport building, and inside met a huge crowd. Where was Manfred? At the same moment I heard the whistling of Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," our recognition signal. And there he was: Manfred, my handsome husband, who had lured us all to the unknown of the northern world. In his tanned face, darker than his blond hair, his white teeth flashed in a radiant smile that seemed to light up the air. Forgotten was the tiredness, my heart pounded wildly, and I took in his beloved face with its angular chin, his smiling mouth, his perfect nose, his radiant blue eyes, and rushed the last steps toward him right into his arms.
He tried to embrace the six of us at once while we all talked to him at the same time. "Now I recognize my family," he said, smiling.
In my happy muddle I confused dollars with cents and offered the black porter three shiny copper coins, thinking they were dollars. He refused to accept the pennies and left without so much as a glance at me.
"Mami!" Lilo called to me reproachfully. Too late to cure it. The man was gone. I hoped he didn't feel too insulted by my ignorance.
Manfred walked before me, flanked by Lilo and Ursula. He no longer towered above short Chileans, but with his five-foot-ten equaled most Americans. Was it true he was walking in front of me, but why couldn't I touch him? I heard his voice with the British R he had picked up somewhere in his childhood, but alas, he wasn't talking to me, just to our two oldest children. Even so I felt like walking on a cloud, focusing my eyes on his figure, his lordly bearing erect with nobility of mind and health, but at the same time he seemed far away; I couldn't touch him. He was the draw that brought us to the United States, and with our three youngest children I was now following him into the new world.
He led us to the outside and presented his dark-green Ford station wagon: Second-hand and larger than any car we'd ever seen. I was seated next to him, we were holding hands, and once in a while I looked at his profile, barely believing we were together.
Leaving the parking area, I told Manfred how the immigration officer in Miami had tried to enroll me in the Communist Party. "Is America going communist?"
He laughed. "Not at all. Do you know what the guy really said? All immigrants are asked this: 'Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?'"
"Why do they do that?"
"During the '50s they had a purge of communists here. So that question was left in the wake of it."
I shook my head in wonder. But onwards to Palo Alto! The suburbs between San Francisco and Palo Alto looked like one big park with bungalows sticking out from the greenery. Within 40 minutes we arrived in Palo Alto, a wealthy town of 50,000 with tree-lined streets and a private university. All the homes we passed looked like summer getaway homes. Where did people live the rest of the year?
"Is there a special 'tall tree' that gave Palo Alto its name?" I asked Manfred.
"Yes, an old redwood tree between town and university. It's a historical landmark already named in the 18th century. I'll show you the tree soon. But first I'll take you home."
On 235 Webster Street Manfred stopped in front of a small, dark-painted bungalow set back in the front yard — another summer-get-away house. Flanked with palm trees and adorned with paper garlands, its three steps led to a veranda, and in one of the large windows stood Irmgard's new doll with a raised arm, greeting her mother. Irmgard raced in, took the doll in her arms and kissed her. And I turned around to my husband, hugged and kissed him and didn't want to let him go. The family had landed.
Manfred took us around the two-bedroom house. He had accomplished an enormous task to furnish it and provide for seven people, although he'd had only time after work and on weekends. Everything he had purchased was selected with love and consideration. There was no piano though — my most important tool — but that would come later.
Strangely, our bedroom had only one wide bed. "Here in America married people sleep together in one bed," Manfred explained. I thought it was a joke. At least the children each had their own bed as the five bunks in their room indicated.
In the kitchen Manfred showed off just as a magician would. He lit the gas range without a match; he threw a potholder against the range, and miraculously it stuck; the toaster threw out the bread slices when ready and shut itself off. Holy American technology!
But when Manfred opened the refrigerator and I saw the pre-packaged dishes, different ice creams and our preferred delicatessen, I broke down and cried and laughed by turns. The time had come when someone else was there to take responsibilities and lovingly provide us with whatever we could dream of. Gone were the three months of separation. Manfred held me tight. I was home. I could cry on his shoulder.
An hour later I examined the bathroom. "Where's the bidet?"
"There aren't any in this country," Manfred answered.
"God, how do people keep themselves clean?" No bidets, no maids, what else was missing here? Definitely a bed for myself, I thought. But soon, totally exhausted, I fell into Manfred's oversized berth without a wish or perplexity. I slept 14 hours.
When I woke up, I realized that Manfred had already gone to work. In the children's bedroom with the five bunks nothing moved, the kids were still asleep. As always, when I looked at them I experienced a feeling of achievement. Being an only child, I had missed siblings all my life. Now I had them — belatedly and moved-up one generation. All good and healthy; Lilo, 16, an artist and my assistant; Ursula, 13, down-to-earth and energetic; Renate, 9, gentle and considerate; Wernher, 6, smart and rebellious; and Irmgard, 5, soft-spoken and my little "red caboose." How grateful was I for having them! I only hoped that our move to Amerika would be good for their future.
Next day, Saturday, Manfred put the six of us in the station wagon and drove to The City, as San Francisco was called.
"Our first visit to California's capital," I said.
"San Francisco is not the capital; Sacramento is," Manfred said.
I shrugged. "In all those years in geography classes I never heard that."
"Get a refund of your school fees," Manfred said.
"School is kaput," I replied, thinking of the gigantic mound of rubble that Danzig, my native town, now was.
San Francisco turned out to be a jewel of a city with a thousand things to see and to do. As we were driving back to Palo Alto a kaleidoscope of impressions and musical themes swirled in my head and finally reflected in a letter to my friend Alicia in Chile.
Never have I seen a more beautiful city. I feel privileged to live here. But to appreciate all of it one needs years! Built on several hills, the streets go up and down so steeply that I swore I'd never try to drive on them. What do you do on a 30 or 40 degree incline and your engine doesn't make it and you roll down backwards, right into the oncomiing traffic? God forbid!
Uniquely, the celebrated cable car wobbles uphill and down on the steep streets. Late passenigers hang from the cable car's doors, obviously having a good time, not the least because of the car bells' clang-clang-clang. Besides, with the Amerikans' cultivated sense of humor, this is thoroughly accepted.
Even the many half-idiots or people in strange outfits on the streets are tolerated as they loudly talk vis-a-vis to unseen companions.
The famous Golden Gate Bridge may be a technical wonder, yet it's not golden at all, it's red! It's also a popular suicide place; once you jump from its 250-foot height into the cold Bay you are guaranteed to be dead.
lt would take a lifetime to savor and explore San Francisco in its versatility. At 39, more than half of my life is over, so I have to hurry to explore The City and what else is in store for me.
My dear, I hope you keep your promise and come to see us soon!
How easy it was to write in Spanish! "My English is terrible," I said to Manfred one night.
He suggested I should take evening classes in English for the Foreign Born. They were even free! So I enrolled. Buried by nine years of talking Spanish in Chile, my German-high-school English only slowly reappeared from the abyss of my memory. With all the other immigrants I stammered through the evenings. The Asians struggled to mouth an L, never attempted before. The Germans were ashamed to pronounce a Th, because in Germany people with a lisp were everyone's laughing stock. And all of us croaked and choked, hopelessly trying to pronounce an Amerikan R. With all those co-struggling foreigners around, I yearned for Amerikan natives.
Next Sunday I watched in amazement how, after mass, worshippers rushed to a coffee pot and mounds of donuts. There I inconspicuously mingled with the hungry. I could haltingly say in English what I wanted, but I hardly understood their guttural Amerikan enunciation. Most spoke in a subdued manner, fast and sometimes joking, of which, of course, I never grasped the meaning. The feeling of being dumb overcame me every time someone spoke to me.
Asking for a school for my children, they all recommended the parish school. So I went to the rectory to talk to Father Donahue. From his Sunday sermons I never understood much more than "Dollars....dollars....dollars..." What money had to do with a Sunday sermon was beyond me. In any case, I was prepared for a high fee. Maybe I could offer myself as an organist for the several Sunday masses.
At his office, Father Donahue, portly, gray-haired and red-faced, sat at a huge desk, looked up when I entered and gestured to a chair across from him. I sat down and told him my name and request.
"Do your children speak English?" he asked as brusquely as the immigration officer in Miami had inquired if I were a communist.
"Then they are like deaf-mutes. They'd slow down the learning process of the others. Send them to the public school." He reached for his pen, indicating the discussion was finished.
Humiliation and anger fought within me. I yearned to shout at him, but the words escaped me. Handicapped by dumbness, I stumbled out.
Once outside, I leaned against the church wall and felt the tears run. Abruptly I pulled my handkerchief and wiped my eyes. Dammit, this wasn't the end of the world. Maybe the public school was really the best for our children. But the priest's rough treatment had inflicted a deep wound in me.
After Labor Day our five children found a place in their respective schools. The counselors discovered that with the European school system in Chile our children were way ahead of their Amerikan counterparts and let them skip one entire year. Everyone was happy.
But during the day my nest was empty, housekeeping was boring and the hours stretched endlessly. With threatening clarity I realized what I had feared when I left Chile: I was in exile. The mighty Andes, ablaze at sunset, the Chileans with their genuine interest in people, their hugs and kisses, all this was gone forever. And all my friends were down there, in the paradise I had lost.
Worse, each child came home from school crying. "I don't understand one word the teachers say," Lilo, the 12th-grader, sobbed. Her eyes were swollen.
"Everybody laughs at me," Ursula, the eighth-grader complained.
"Nobody likes me," Renate, the fifth-grader, wailed. "Nobody hugs and kisses us."
"I'm not going back to school anymore," Wernher, the first-grader, declared, his brows knit in anger. "They call me 'Wiener, Wiener with Kraut'!"
Irmgard, the Kindergartner, said nothing, but every day came home with wet pants.
So my bilingual children were laughed at! They spoke Spanish with each other and German with Manfred and me — a matter of course in Chile's upper and middle-classes; only this way children became bilingual.
"Soon all of you will be trilingual," I said. "The other kids will marvel at that."
But my consoling words had little persuasive power. In the long run, we were all in the same boat. As for me, I had recurring dreams of icy landscapes. Amerika was a frozen continent and the people were as cold as ice.
"How do you like it here in Amerika?" I asked Manfred one evening in the living room, when he was absorbed in reading Die Zeit, a prominent German newspaper.
He looked up, visibly perplexed by my sudden question. "Very much." He looked back at the paper.
"How do you like the people here?" I insisted.
He looked up only for a moment. "They're nice. And very polite. They always say 'excuse me, please' and 'thank you' for every little thing."
"But they don't like physical contact," I said. "They don't even shake hands with me. Do they shake hands with you?"
His newspaper article must have been fascinating; he kept reading, eventually looked up, but kept the paper in reading position. "We never shake hands at the office."
"Do you guys talk on the personal level at all?"
"Barely." He even put the paper down! "We're too busy."
"Don't you miss personal talk?"
"Not at all. Our engineering projects are very interesting. Way more interesting than those in Chile. It was worth coming to this country."
How different we were! I knew how little need he had for intimate discussions — a fact that kept me from confiding my misery to him.
Meantime, at school all our children received tutoring in English and slowly shed their image of being deaf'n dumb. I saw their relief as though through a veil. Unable to pull myself up from gloomy thoughts, I anticipated the lonely hours with horror, when shadows slowly but irresistibly seemed to fall over me. When the telephone pierced through the silence, I panicked. Fearing I wouldn't understand the caller, I crammed pillows on top of the phone to bury its ringing. Strangely, not being able to answer the phone was like being imprisoned or tortured. Crying was a comfort, and nostalgia for Chile was the only relief.
Moreover, another unexpected problem arose: how to handle the household chores, which in Germany and in Chile the maids had done. Now I made our seven beds and washed bedsheets and clothes in the kitchen sink on a washboard. While Manfred and the kids ate dinner, I served and removed dirty dishes until the family had eaten, but didn't leave anything for myself — another cause for self-pitying and crying. At the deepest point of my depression the thought occurred to me that dying would be a way out of my misery. But I didn't know how to do it myself and so I was damned to wait and wish for my death — or for going back to Chile. I could feel how that country far across the equator pulled on me. I created a fantasy that Manfred would walk into the house, saying, "Come on, let's go back to Chile!" I would jump up and leave without looking back.
Manfred never came to take me back to Chile, but letters from our friends in Chile were arriving, "Tell us more about life in the States!" Determined to tell them about the lonely life in Amerika, I pulled out the typewriter, more than ready to write about the neighborhood, Father Donahue and my suicidal thoughts. But after I finished, I discovered to my surprise that I had written entertaining descriptions. How was this possible? The next day I repeated this kind of writing, with the same result, even humor had crept in. For instance at Halloween, when the children went trick-or-treating, ten-year old Renate came home with three bags full of sweets and marveled, "The Americans have such handy holidays!"
A hurrah to my children! They introduced a laundromat to me, and so I advanced from washboard-in-the-sink to laundry machines. A hurrah for American technology! And a second hurrah to my children!
I wrote to Alicia:
What a difference between Chilean and Amerikan culture. Chileans tend to have twelve to fifteen children, Amerikans in general only two or three. Remember, when I told people in Chile I had five children, they asked, horrified, 'Only five? Don't you have a husband?' Remember that? Now listen to what Amerikans say. When I tell them I have five kids they say, horrified, 'Oh my God! That many? What kind of a husband do you have?' No matter where I am, the number always creates a shock.