He had asked her the same question before. She said, “I need to think about it.”
(“I didn’t want him to think I was eager. But, I really did love him.”)
Then, on the occasion of their fourth date, he asked again. This time, she hesitated and with a tease, said that she would agree on one condition. He would have to learn to say, “Ich liebe dich meine liebe fraulien.” (I love you, my lovely lady.)
Not even 10 years earlier, her life was on a different trajectory. She was the daughter of second-generation German immigrants, who lived a simple and austere farm life in Richmond, Minnesota. She spoke only German until the third grade and then, at age 13, finished school and moved to a neighboring farm to earn money as a mother’s helper for her family. When she returned to the farm, she fell in love with a boy from a neighboring farm and before long, they were engaged.
She loved her soon-to-be farm husband. Of course, her life would be as a farmer’s wife. Then, a horrific accident in the winter of 1940 left her left leg crushed and her young body body “crippled.” She was told that she would never walk again, and with that, her parents took her home, where she laid in bed for seven months.
While her brothers and sisters would head out to the dance each Friday night, she lay in bed. Her Frank would sit at her bedside. As the days turned into months, it became clear that she could never make a good farmer’s wife. And, she knew Frank’s parents wanted him to call-off the engagement. Then, one night, she said simply, “This is not your fault. I’ll understand if you don’t come back.” And, with that, he left and never returned.
To the doctor’s surprise, she did walk again almost a year later. In fact, with a stiff knee, she sprinted from the cold grip of Minnesota into the warm arms of California. In 1942, she made the three-day train trip to join her brothers in Long Beach, California. For almost two years, she worked the graveyard shift at Douglas Aircraft. She was an original Rosie the Riveter.
During her rare days off, she would accompany her roommate to dances, where she’d fox trot into the wee hours of the morning with service men. It was war time. She was a 5 foot 10 inch natural beauty and would be courted and wooed by countless men – two of which she declined matrimony.
Then, in the summer of 1948, she met a service man named Collin. She was 31 years old – three years his senior! He was tall and Catholic and handsome (in order of importance). He was also French! Oy, vey! But, mostly he was smitten and determined to win her heart. Little did he know that she had received four marriage proposals before his that each ended in heart break. And, if he knew, he didn’t care.
At her request, he said in his best German, “Ich liebe dich meine liebe fraulien. Will you marry me?” And, for a lifetime, she drank from a mug that read, “Kiss me, I’m German.” His, of course, countered with, “Kiss me, I’m French.” And, kiss they did.
“She” is my 94 year old grandmother. And, her stories about German holidays, Minnesota farm life, California adventures, and of course, L-O-V-E still hold me spell bound.
Publisher’s overview: At the outset of World War II, Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie, and their baby daughter escape Berlin, bound for London. They are greeted with a pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like “the English.” Jack acquires Saville Row suits and a Jaguar. But the one key item that would make him feel fully British -membership in a golf club-remains elusive. In post-war England, no golf club will admit a Rosenblum. Jack hatches a wild idea: he’ll build his own. In her tender, sweetly comic debut, Natasha Solomons tells the captivating love story of a couple making a new life-and their wildest dreams-come true.