Old Schmidt, War, and Peace

September 16, 2013


So anyway, Howard Schecter reports in the Dweeb Report, which has trended to extreme accuracy for the past twenty years that seasonal "trofing" has occurred in the Pacific and that we can expect steadily cooling dry temps in the Sierra for the next few weeks. Farmer's Almanac said this winter shall be a cold one, so get out there and buy woolens now.

This is the time of steadily advancing shadows, of changes. Leaves turn from verdant to brilliant reds and yellows and dull ochre, eventually spinning down in a revolve of season. Coming home along the byways of Fruitvale and Laurel and Diamond to Snoffish Valley Road where the old coachway cuts between earth embankments and hedges, settling in the way old comfortable roads do with time counted by the century mark. There the penumbra of the oaks stretches longer than before at this time of day and Percy Worthington Boughsplatt motors with his bare companion, Madeline, still a striking redhead member of the Berkeley Explicit Players. But as the temperatures drop, even Madeline must pay heed so she wears at least a pillbox hat and Victorian leather boots.

One must be reasonable.

Mrs. Almeida is out back cleaning up after the graffiti vandalism scrub down. Some wag had spraypainted the coop lime green and all the chickens bright neon orange. This being the Island our vandals considerately employed water-based paint, so a little work with the hose and all was well again, save for some irate hens flapping orange dewdrops.

There were no other animal mishaps, save for the usual dogbite reported in the police blotter, but for a few days, Bosco the Disputed Pig was kept in hiding. Bosco is the Disputed Pig for a meddling city official had Bosco removed from his yard a while back and arrested, we assume, in the Animal Shelter, where sad Bosco pined for his grubs and his yard behind the concrete and steel lockup, all for committing the crime of being a pig in town.

Someone complained that you cannot be raising livestock in a City. Think of the children.

Someone else commented, "You call this burg a 'City?' What's wrong with you?"

There were a lot of bad words about the affair and much disputation over pigs, for if pigs then why not ducks and, god forbid, roosters, cows, horses and kangaroos.

Then of course there was the matter of Wootie's trained moose herd over by the bridge abutment. But then Wootie was Canadian, and different rules applied.

As it turned out, the City has no real ordinance against a pig living in a yard, especially one which would never attain any size greater than twenty pounds, and all the neighbors got together a Free Bosco petition, as they all dearly loved Bosco, which so shamed the City they released the Pig of Dispute and Bosco returned to munch his grubs in his yard once again.

It does seem that once all the kids got busy with school, things like spraypainting chicken coops, exploding mailboxes, and toiletpapered trees sort of tapered off, giving all the parents the vacation for which they had longed all summer.

As the days get shorter, the fog rolls in as a solid wall through the Golden Gate and pouring over the hills of Babylon across the water.

At Marlene and Andre's Household, Marlene moves about the kitchen, trying to turn odds and ends, scraps, orts, into something similar to a meal, her jet black hair getting a little loose-stranded under her bandana. Kids free from chores and homework took noisy advantage of the last shreds of the day with a ball beneath the glowing streetlamps outside and she pauses with her hand on her belly and the empty space below and beneath.

In the Old Same Place bar all the talk is about how war has been averted -- never mind how and by whom -- the main thing is that war shall not drag us in to another unspeakable mess. Putin, of course is no great prize of character, nor is his governent, but at least there shall be no war.

Old Schmidt sighed. "War is very terrible. Terrible for effry vun."

Someone scoffed. He should talk, coming from that birthplace of Nazis.

"I am old, but not so old to haff been soldat during ze Krieg." Schmidt said.

O I suppose none of you knew about the brutality. The camps.

Old Schmidt sighed. "I vas nine and sent to Niedersachsen. My people knew of course. They all became partizans. Perhaps too early, while it was unpopular. We fought his Brownshirts in the street even before the Hitler took power. Some joined ze French. My Vatti joined ze Poles. But it didn't work-- we were too few and the US waited too long. The Gestapo executed 2,000 of us. My Vatti did not come back. That is why Oma has no relatives. You see things are not always so easy to make black and white. Except one thing."

What is that Schmidt?

"War is evil. Maybe some wars must be fought, but all wars are evil."

In the little church on Santa Clara, Pastor Terrabonne finished up his sermon on reconciliation. The subject was the anniversary of the terrible bombings in Birmingham in 1966 which had murdered four girls and injury about thirty people. "Now, I say to all of you brothers and sisters we must remember these things and we must talk about them, but not to harden our hearts, not to feed anger. No. We recall these terrible things done to our people to reconcile ourselves."

"Say it brother!"

"O yes!"

"Glory yes!"

"Reconcile I say! Not so much with any other man, any other group responsible, any other race, but reconcile if you will that man of hate who comes to learn. Is that the main point? Do we stop there, reconciling with our enemy? No! We reconcile ourselves so that we do not live our days in bitterness and hatred and anger that turns to evil. Reconcile I say! Go on and reconcile! Reconcile, reconcile, reconcile! Reconcile with God, people! That is with whom you must reconcile!"

"O brother!"


There was more passionate speech in that little chapel tucked away in the row of other churches, great and small. For such a small island we enjoy a plethora of churches, temples and synagogues; one would expect that our people would be saintly for all of that, or at least move through the world with some rectitude, some upright morality instead of grubbing after petty vengeances, pursuing petty cruelties.

In the Offices, after all had shut down, the Editor wound up the day, wondering how to summarize all of this before moving on to other topics.

He thought about the time he had met Guy Stern, one of the Richie Boys. The Richie Boys were the very real, actual, living blood, Inglourious Basterds. But they were not nearly so cruel or vicious, for all of them were, in fact Germans.

They were immigrants who had been interned at Camp Ritchie, pretty much with the same spirit that the Japanese-Americans were interned elsewhere. Like some of the Issei and Nissei, some of the Richie Boys signed up for the Army, which sent them to the very front lines to employ their language skills.

Nearly all of them were, besides being German, Jews as well. Including Guy Stern, who described how they had to alter their dogtags which, like all army-issue tags, were stamped with their religion. Which of course would be a death sentence to anyone caught by the German army.

Guy's job was to go to the front lines and use a loudspeaker and his native language to pursuade snipers to surrender. In this he was very successful, although it was fairly dangerous in that before somebody decided to surrender they might decide to train their weapons on the loudspeaker.

As for the Inglourious Basterds part, well, "We were good Jewish boys. We did not want to hurt anyone. We just wanted the war to be over. When I rolled into my hometown with the advance troops and saw everything bombed out and destroyed, I cried. It had to happen, of course, for that Hitler and his people were terrible and had to be stopped. But afterwards I could not live there again and so I returned to the United States."

The Editor sat on the verandah with his own memories of war in a distant southeast Asian country.

The crescent moon looked down through the tendrils of fog upon the sleeping little down with its potbellied pigs, its chickens, its miniature gardens and its many churches, a town asleep and at peace, not waging war.

The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the gentle waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline; it snaked through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed and silent chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.