Getting orders to Germany in 1982 was not what we wanted, but like all dutiful Army families, we did as ordered. We settled in a very small dorf (village) on the Main River in the area called Franken, a district of the State of Bavaria. Schwarzenau was a farming area with one of the crops being white asparagus (Spargel)– a delicacy that appeared in May each year, but sugar beets and grapes growing on the steep hills overlooking the river for Frankenwein (wine from Franken) were the main products of the area.
Our daughters were not quite three and almost six when we arrived in Germany and our landlady suggested that Lesley (the elder) could attend a German kindergarten in the next town, Dettelbach; it was there that she started her German education.
At that time adult military dependents could attend German language classes along with their military sponsors, so that was the best place to start as a dependent new to Germany. Between the two of us, we learned to get along in our small town where there were no other Americans.
In the Spring of 1983, we got the idea of inviting my sister Stephanie, (sixteen years younger) to come to live with us for a year – to take a break from College for the adventure of a lifetime. She had just earned her Associate of Arts degree at the local junior college, so it was a perfect time for a break. She arrived in August.
We spent some time trying to find some young Americans, spouses of young soldiers or dependents of American officers for her to spend time with; there weren’t many of them. She thought of taking a class or two at the University of Maryland on post, but with her Associate Degree already completed, there was nothing that she could take. She did, from time to time, babysit for some small American dependents stationed nearby in Kitzingen. She did find one Army wife near her age, but that was the extent of her social life.
Back in our little town, during the first year in Germany, we had been making a myriad of friends, but most were either the elder citizens or the small children who were fascinated with the strange people in the neighborhood who could not speak to them except for a word or two. We knew no one between the ages of 5 and 40. Stephanie came along with us wherever we went and that was fun and very different from her life in Southern Illinois. We kept looking for someone nearer her age, even as she was being adopted by some of our 60+ year old friends. They invited her to harvest grapes in the vineyards nearby and she found out just how hard that work was – to thank her, she was offered Neuer Wein (new wine) to drink and German goodies to eat and some prizes wine glasses to take back to the U.S.A.
She helped Lesley figure out her German homework when Lesley began first grade in the Local Schule (German elementary school) – not because she could
speak German, but because she had a German to English dictionary! The community Schule was across the River Main in the next town, Schwarzach, where Lesley was the only American attending. We had fun, but there were still no people around 20 years old for her to meet.
The day before Halloween, Stephanie suggested that we could dress up and go “trick or treating”. (Bill was at the Grafenwohr training area, as usual.) Only problem, Halloween is not celebrated in Bavaria. That didn’t bother her – we could do a reverse trick or treat. We would take them treats! She dressed up as a soldier in Bill’s camouflage uniform and the rest of us put some things together, one of which was a very fat (pillows) clown and started out to see our neighbors. We carried along bags of American candy to hand out which was bought at the Commissary at Harvey Barracks in Kitzingen. These ordinary American candies would have been a rare treat for our neighbors. Since our neighbors didn’t speak English, this would be quite an adventure. How to explain our unusual appearance? We left that up to our seven year old linguist, Lesley!
We started at the far end of Adenauerstrasse, knocked at each door and were immediately escorted into each living room while the mistress of the house went scurrying into the kitchen – every time. What was she doing in there? The German families in our little town were always very generous and this time, though we surprised them by coming to their door in the dark of the night, each lady came back with German treats for us to take home. It wasn’t reverse Halloween as we expected; it was treats all around!
That was only the beginning. Our last stop was the family immediately across the street from our house – the home of the Familie Schmidt. Until then, we were aware of Herr and Frau Schmidt, Martina about 10 and Markus, 3. Frau Schmidt, in good humor, invited us in and also went scurrying off. While she was scurrying into the kitchen, she began to hatch a plan, unbeknownst to us. We spent a cordial few minutes in the Schmidt’s living room with Lesley translating and, then, went back home, having had a marvelous and unusual Halloween.
At that time, the two days after Halloween were National Holidays. November 1, All Saints Day, was spent in Church services commemorating the Catholic Holy Day. On November 2, All Souls Day, families would meet, go to the local cemetery to pray for and decorate the graves of loved ones buried there.
They would then gather in homes with family for Tee/Kaffee (afternoon tea and coffee and a few treats to accompany them) and exchange memories of lost loved ones. On the afternoon of All Saints Day, our phone rang and Frau Schmidt’s plan was put in place…Frau Schmidt asked to speak to Lesley which seemed rather odd in itself, since Lesley was seven years old at the time. When the conversation with Frau Schmidt was over, Lesley reported that her Aunt Stephanie had been invited to join the Schmidt family for Kaffee the next day at 4 p.m. The kind invitation made Stephanie very nervous. How could she possibly spend a whole afternoon with people with whom she could not have a conversation? Frau Schmidt had thought of everything: she invited Lesley to come along to translate. That reassured Stephanie a bit, but she was still concerned. Little did she know what that afternoon would mean to her.
The rest of the Rice family spent the afternoon wondering what in the world was going on across the street. How was it going? They came home hours later and both were smiling and happy. Somehow, Frau Schmidt surmised that we had for months been trying to find some friends for Stephanie and she had just the remedy. Besides little Markus and Martina, the Schmidts had three sons, one two years older than Stephanie, one a year older and one a year younger!
Along with their sons, Frau Schmidt had invited some extended family, two young ladies who could speak English well. We had not known it, but there was large group of 20-Somethings in our village and in the other nearby villages for Stephanie to meet. Stephanie’s 20th birthday was only three weeks away and now we could have a celebration!
When there was an event (Christmas and Sylvester, German name for New Years Eve, were coming soon along with all the fests, held almost weekly in the new year before Lent began), Stephanie was invited and became fast friends with these wonderful, young people.
We could never have dreamed that our reverse Halloween trick or treating would open up the most wonderful experiences for Stephanie (and for the rest of us since we continued those friendships for the following three years that we lived in Germany.) What a perceptive and dear friend Frau Schmidt was to recognize just what we had been looking for, without input from any of us!
Follow-up: In 2010, the three Rice ladies returned with Stephanie to our village. What an amazing reunion it was with all of Stephanie’s friends that she had not seen in 25 years. They welcomed her with open arms, as if all those years had not intervened. (The rest of us had visited several times before.) What a tribute to human kindness and friendship – no matter the language!