Wildflecken, Germany 1968

Ruth & Dave Crocker, in Wildflecken, Germany 1968

When our plane touched down at Rhine-Main Air Base near the city of Frankfurt, Germany, the first thing I noticed outside my window seat was a multitude of vertical cranes, moving in every direction, lifting and swinging massive steel beams and lumber. It was November, 1966 and Germany was still rebuilding its heavily bombed cities after WWII. My husband, Army 2nd Lieutenant David R. Crocker, Jr., and I were headed for his first duty station in the mountain village of Wildflecken, “the little wild place.” The next four hours of travel by car would take us through thick pine forests over roads packed with snow to a remote training area within three miles of the 5K zone – the border of what was then East Germany. The cranes had not arrived in Wildflecken, yet. It had been a German Army Post in WWII and a stopping place for trains transporting displaced people from Poland during the war.

This long-ago adventure in Germany came to mind as I did a mental inventory of the uncertain times in my life and how I lived them relative to how I am experiencing the uncertainties of the pandemic today. Back then in 1966, at age nineteen, and newly married, the longest I had ever been away from my family of origin was a week at Camp Aldersgate for Methodist youth in nearby Rhode Island when I was fourteen.

When I departed for Germany, I didn’t realize, or perhaps I couldn’t comprehend, that the extent of my communication with my family would be limited to snail mail and a yearly phone call – unless there was a dire emergency. As with this pandemic, the reality of isolation and distance from loved ones was revealed to me over time.

Back in that 1966 November, the excitement of arriving in a foreign country obliterated any nostalgia about missing Thanksgiving – and soon Christmas – with my family back in Old Mystic, CT. And, because of uncertainty about what direction the war in Vietnam would take, and when my husband would receive his orders to go, our future seemed like a road with unreadable signposts.

When we finally arrived in Wildflecken in the evening of our first day, I didn’t know that there was not yet a place for us to live because the military post was bursting at the seams with soldiers training in mountain snow for the jungle in SE Asia. We lived temporarily in a room in the ancient BOQ (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters), a building that had housed Nazi officers during WWII, while we waited for our household goods and car to arrive sometime in the next two months. Within a week, I became an official bachelor at the BOQ when my husband was sent off to an even more remote training area for two weeks.  But there was no pleasure associated with the role – just the incentive to get out and see what was outside the walls of the gloomy building.

Like many people who have started walking during our uncertain time today, I wandered the snowy roads of Wildflecken in cold, diesel fuel scented air without understanding where, and if, I should go to find other people. And, finally, after five years of studying the lyrical sounds of French and Spanish in school, I was immersed in a language with gruff sharp consonants and interesting – but long – convoluted words whose translation needed at least a sentence. My Weltanschauung, the world from my viewpoint, had been transformed.

Author, Arundhati Roy, writes that the pandemic we are experiencing today is a portal and historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. “This one is no different,” she suggests. “It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice, our data banks and dead ideas… Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”

My German winter would become two winters before we returned to the U.S. in 1968. The original uncertainties would dissolve into new and even more challenging uncertainties until I accepted, with certainty, that this is life – one portal after another.