Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Just browsing...

Monday, Mrs. History and I went out (again) on the house hunt. While we saw some of the best houses we've seen during our search. Still, when we arrived at the 2nd house of the day, we never anticipated what was in store for us.

He greeted us in the front lawn, wearing a semi-transparent (seemingly decade old) v-neck t-shirt. Paul was in his seventies or possibly eighties, as was his wife Sonja (don't you like the ethnic spelling?). They were German expatriots who came here following WWII. We arrived at their home, which was originally built in 1910, ready to see their kidney shaped pool and make a day of it. We (nor the realtor, Allie) never expected it would be story time, nor did we expect what we saw.

What we saw: The house was really two homes in one. It wasn't a duplex opened up, but rather, as we found out, Paul built the addition. The addition was perfect. He apparently built it over 3 months, during the 70s, while he was laid off, he said..."Ella Grasso was governor." They had bought the house from a family that had 6 children, and only 2 bedrooms. Paul built a giant, larger bedroom upstairs (it was really a master suite), with immaculate wood trim, and brick work. He added closets all over the place. He even built a second basement. The house itself was immaculate, as Sonja hated dirt. We would find out that she grudgingly fought the dirt, sweeping it out of the garage, whenever it blew in. Apparently, Sonja hates dirt so much, their 10 year old furnace looked brand new! There wasn't a mark on it.I can't truly describe the house, only that it was amazing...but more for someone older (the decor, and all).

What we heard: The old couple was very sweet. Paul swore he recognized my wife, and didn't miss a step when he realized he was wrong...he just played it off. Their accent was cute, like Ralph (say Rolph), our tour guide in Yellowstone. He called her mama. It was nice.

When Paul found out I was a history teacher, he asked, "You know all about Germany, the Russians, and Adolph, no?" Of course I did. He insisted he loved history channel. However, what was more interesting was, he just started to tell me stories.

His stories, though the ones of the war were sad, were amazing. He told me about how his brothers and father all were forced to serve in the Nazi army against their will. He told me about how the Mayor of his town had to put on his military uniform (think Kaiser Wilhelm) in order to inform a family of the death of a loved one on the front...and how the mayor stopped putting on the uniform, because people feared him when he wore it. Paul told me about how, when the mayor would come to his house...all 4 times...he would go out to the outhouse and sob.

When the Russians came, and occupied his town, they captured SS officers on two occassions. The Soviets had the entire town (less than 500 people, according to Paul) watch their executions. Paul said, though he didn't fight in the war, or agree with either side, he couldn't help but seeing the executed men's faces whenever something triggered unhappy memories of the war (YET, he was there telling me his stories, without my asking, either...still, I enjoyed listening, despite the sad content).

Then he told me about the Russian occupation of East Berlin, where he moved, as a teenager, as his home had become part of the front. Though he hated the Nazis, he equally hated communism. If the Russians raised a giant red billboard during the day, Paul went out at night and dug up its foundation or cut down its posts. He secretly listened to Radio-Free Europe, the BBC, and Radio-Free America, and decided that democracy and its freedom was the way to go. That is what brought him over to Wisconson (Paul pronounced it Visconseen).

Though Paul didn't tell any stories about Wisconson, it must've had some impact. When he arrived here, he was shocked when a local farmer wouldn't fill his bucket with milk. The farmer explained that it had to be pasteurized, which prompted Paul to say that, "Vee didn't have thees sheet in Germany OR Visconseen. I just wanted milk. Oh well, it was good...good."

Paul also told me about how his family's horse used to run away, end up down town, and the police would send him to go wrangle it in. Then Paul shocked me by telling me he also helped build "Svarz's Toy Store in New York!"

Me: Svarz's?
Paul: Svarz's...Toy Store! Many stories...very huge.
Me: Schwarz's? You built FAO Schwarz?!
Paul: My shop did. We used to ride the train down every morning, and come back at night. It was where I learned how to do the architecture to build the house. Then when it was over, we went to the grand opening. There were all these movie stars, and singers, and even the mayor of New York!

Paul's stories were amazing. His wife's were, too (she told me the secret to cleaning is Clorox Clean-Up...Spread the word!). They spoke a mile a minute, and were full of energy. I wish I could go back and listen some more...and SonjaIt made it clear that we were welcome "just as friends..."

It was sad that the couple was selling the house, because Paul couldn't do stairs since his heart surgery. Still, have no worries...under doctor's orders, Paul is to drink a single Beck's every night...and a shot of Jager once a week.

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