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By Sunny Merik Lockwood
To Betty who made Romanshorn possible
Copyright 2009 by Merikay McLeod All Rights Reserved First electronic printing, June 2009
Hilda Plummer had hoped that returning to Switzerland, back to Romanshorn where she was raised, coming back together to the sight of their young love would somehow bring her and Frank closer. Although the distance between them seemed natural after all these years, she had still held hope for this trip. She really should have known better. People are who they are, no matter what place they find themselves in. She knew that as well as she knew anything. The clean, wet fragrance of Lake Constance, the chiming church bells and soft background babble of French tourists summoned so many memories. Not all as pleasant as she might have hoped. She could still hear her mother’s, “Marry an American? It will never work!” It never had. But her mother had not known. Hilda did not complain about Frank’s drinking or his get rich fast schemes in Boston then Grand Rapids then Chicago. The laundromat they started that failed. The motel they bought then lost. Gulls floated sleepily on the gentle swells as the afternoon sunlight glittered and glinted off Lake Constance’s surface. Hilda’s labored steps contrasted with the soft shush-sound of the water flowing in and out through piled boulders along the rise of shore. This was the very gravel path she used to skip along as a child, calling back to her father to “hurry up” so they could go swimming together. Today, she wished the sea’s hypnotic pulse could
comfort her. She even tried to match her breathing to its restful rhythm, but to no avail. In the old days, Hilda would not give her mother the satisfaction of being right. Besides, she’d hoped Frank’s dreams would come true as much as he did. No, during their early years she was determined to make the marriage work, to do her part as Frank’s wife and the mother of his, their, two sons. It is not much more than other women do. She sighed. Her massive body, legs rolling across each other, steps crunching deep into the gravel, expressed perfectly the weight of her decision, a decision she’d been coming to for months, maybe years. The path sloped toward a sandy beach where children splashed and squealed and sharp-eyed mothers watched from shore. She remembered swimming here with her father. Such magical days – the chilly sea, the warmth of her father’s arms twirling her through the water, the comfort of his gentle laughter. “Hilda Andreggan, is that you?” a voice brought her back to the present. Not far from her stood a round woman in a chocolate-brown dress, holding a stack of dark blue towels. “I was Florence Tobler,” the woman announced. Hilda remembered. Even as a child Florence had been round. “You haven’t changed a bit,” Florence said. “Didn’t you marry that American soldier?” Three shivering youngsters ran to Florence and tugged at the towels. She doled them out. “Stand in the sun until you’re dry.” “Yes,” Hilda said. “Frank Plummer. We moved to the States.” “Yes, I remember now. I married Walter Tschamper.” The children, wrapped in towels, stared with large eyes at the women. “These are my grandchildren,” Florence continued. “You’re back on holiday?”
Hilda nodded. “You have grandchildren?” “Yes.” Florence sighed. “We become grandparents so soon.” Glancing toward the little ones, “Dry yet?” They nodded, their hair still dripping. “Walk slowly then and grandma will catch up.” The children started along the path. Florence turned to Hilda. “You look the same. Just the same as always. I’ll tell Walter I saw you. He’ll be surprised.” She searched her purse until she found a slip of paper. “You must come for dinner.” She scribbled a phone number on the paper and handed it to Hilda. “Tomorrow night?” “I’d like to, but I’m not sure.” “We’d love to have you,” she said, starting after her grandchildren. “I’ll call.” Hilda folded the paper and slipped it into her purse. She loved how easily the words flowed from her tongue, how deliciously her ears gathered them in from those around her. No matter how many years she’d spoken and listened to American English, she was always straining, trying too hard with the language. The Swiss German of Romanshorn, effortless as silk, spread a sense of peace over her. She eased onto an empty bench at the edge of the beach, pulled a chocolate bar from her purse, folded back the crinkled tinfoil, and broke off a piece. It melted, rich and smooth on her tongue. The air softened to gray and hundreds of minnows rose for evening insects. She was to join Frank for dinner at Bahnofbuffet, where they’d met so long ago. The railroad station restaurant with its yacht harbor view was the perfect place for a 19-year-old girl and a confident soldier to discover each other.
What excitement they had shared in their first few years together. She remembered an afternoon in Grand Rapids. Frank grabbing her, giving her a twirl, his lips meeting hers in an enthusiastic smack. It was the end of their first month with the motel. “This time we’re going to make it big!” he'd waved the bank deposit slip. Such extremes. That was life with Frank – all action, hopes and disappointments. She felt like laughing and sighing at the memory. It had been a good life in its own way, but she was weary. The excitement of possibility repeated every week or month or year kept Frank young while it exhausted her. And there had been other women. There was one now. In Toledo. Hilda pretended not to know. Frank pretended too. It was their way. They kept their secrets. Yet she could not pretend away the tumor. She shaved off flakes of the chocolate bar with her teeth. She’d wanted to tell him about the tumor. To see his face soften, feel his arms enfold her, hear him whisper, “Baby, we’ll whip this together.” But the time was never right. She almost said something this morning with the sun filling up their room, gilding the pillow holding his head. The way his hair curled fitfully at the neck, the way he sighed when he exhaled. She’d softly stroked his shoulders and back, thinking if he turned to her she’d tell. But he didn’t. And this afternoon he wanted to visit Gus’s bar, a hangout he’d enjoyed as a soldier. She could hear him now telling how he could still wear the same uniform he’d worn 30 years ago. He’d be tapping his trim stomach and saying, “Fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups every morning just like clockwork.”
Frank would drink and talk, eyes sparkling, voice enthralling. He’d keep Gus and the other bar patrons thoroughly entertained. It was his way. She had considered leaving him before, but there was always a reason to stay. In the beginning, it was to prove her mother wrong. Then, it was for the babies and the hope that one of Frank’s dreams would come true. Later, it was only for the boys. And lately it had been out of habit. But now there was the tumor. The doctor had said it would not be a quick ending. Frank’s tenderness was not of the long-term variety. When her father died, and later, her mother, Frank had been caring and understanding for two months. His compassion was genuine and healing, and at the end of two months it was over. He was restless to get on with life. And the tumor, the cancer, would take much more than two months. No, this was not something they could go through together. She knew that as surely as she knew she wanted to stay here, to die in her hometown with the church bells chiming on the clear Swiss air. She swallowed the last of the chocolate, wadded the foil and dropped it into her purse. The sea was turning to pewter in the evening light. Their sons had Frank’s hope-filled personality, but they’d chosen stable careers – engineering and accounting. She wanted to think it was her solid Swiss genes that helped them walk a calmer path. The boys, even more than Frank, had complicated her decision. How could she leave them and their wives and her grandchildren? The answer had formed slowly over many weeks. She could leave them with a memory, an experience of her as a robust, healthy woman who loved them. No need for their eyes to watch, their hearts to be filled with helplessness as the tumor consumed her. Her gift to them was in her parting.
his step quickened. “Man has Gustav aged!” he chuckled. “And two beers. brooding over the thousands of days and nights she and Frank had been together. This is the big decision. Not that it was easy. looking at her. too. Then. she caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window and was pleased. whether to have three or four kindsa beer for the patrons. “I mean. She nodded. No hair. of his life. pulling out an orange plastic chair and dropping into it. A small end table for two. She stood. “You’d like one wouldn’t you?” .She knew this decision was right – for her and for Frank and the boys. the one they always took when they were courting. comfortable bun. Babe. She looked younger than she felt.” he shook his head like he’d just smelled something offensive. from the tobacco buildings on the right to the yachts moored in a semi-circle on the left. Paunch like that. • * * She watched him swagger around the corner as if he were still twentyone. She sat at “their” table. When the waiter brought menus. you shoulda seen ‘im. But it was right. tourists bought postcards and international newspapers at the souvenir stand just as they had when she was a teenager. As she neared the Bahnofbuffet. capital B capital D. “Can you believe this place? Nothing’s changed here in 30 years. And she liked her hair like this – pulled up in a loose. He spent the whole afternoon tryin’ to decide whether to add another beer to his menu. from which the entire harbor was visible. Behind him. The air cooled. It felt good. and straightening her dress. Her face was still pretty. She looked Swiss. breathless in the knowledge of what she was about to do. headed for the restaurant.” he added. She felt Swiss. Frank ordered bratwurst and salad. When he saw her.” he nearly shouted.
She nodded. but …” she looked at her half-eaten sausage and swallowed several times as tears rose. his eyes flat. But instead. I love you. “There’s something I should tell you. she would have noticed and cared and listened. She looked at him slowly. Frank had stayed a boy through it all while she had grown into an old woman. He didn’t seem to notice. Although she felt the tremble of fear. almost sad. And that was fine. “Frank Plummer.” she whispered.” he said absently.” she said. She didn’t care for beer. she was determined to be Hilda Andreggen Plummer and make her own decision known. “But what. carefully. But today’s dream would never reach her ears. She could tell from his silent concentration on the bratwurst.” She realized her voice sounded full of heaviness. scorched bratwurst. When their meal arrived. Babe?” “But I will not go back to America with you. “What a place. but she knew he’d drink hers. “I know. she raised her hand to silence him. and if the pressure of her decision had not been ready to explode. Frank cleared his throat. noticing again his broad. the lines around his eyes were so fine they were almost invisible. and he was silenced. wishing she had his flare for words. she watched him attack his pale. They watched the last white ferry of the day load up with tourists and then slowly chug away from the pier for a captain’s dinner cruise. It’s good to be in Romanshorn. smooth forehead and thick lashes. . He was getting ready to spring something. Even at 53.” he said. He had a scheme – perhaps to import bratwurst to Deluth. “I will always love you. slicing it in a rush and washing it down with beer.
” “It’s not our angry times. then.” she said. we have tried for thirty years. He raised red eyes to her.” his voice sounded muffled and far away. “Frank. “Baby.” he stammered. Frank sat down his fork. “You belong in America. His eyes searched the tabletop. “Then I’ll stay with you here.His face opened into a large grin. what? What?” “I just need Romanshorn. I’m sorry for the times I got angry. He brushed away some crumbs. “You wouldn’t be happy here. “Well. You would never be happy here.” he whispered. Silence slipped between them as the tables around them filled with other couples. realizing she was not joking. Then.” “Then I’ll stay here with you. then.” “But.” “They’ve been good years. we can do that. “This is my land. deliberately. If you want to live here. his lips loose and trembling. but. We’ll live here. She dabbed at her eyes with her napkin.” . “What?” “I cannot explain. Everything seemed to move in slow motion.” Tears began to dampen her cheeks.” “No. “no. he looked confused.” “You’re serious?” She nodded.” slowly. “I have known for a long time that I must come back here. “There were many good times. It’s too slow for you.” He scooped up her hands and began kissing them.” she said.” “Well.” She shook her head. She smiled.
He gazed at his empty plate. “I have written to the boys.” “I’ll change. “Will you change your mind?” She shook her head.“Maybe I could start a business. .” his face began to cloud. wiping away her tears with her napkin. you’ll never change. “Is there another man?” he whispered.” she said. You are full of dreams and hopes.” The conversation withered. but the more she tried. “Yes you will.” She chuckled. as tears filled his eyes. and I know you will do just fine without me.” Hilda smiled and said softly.. That she had but one dream and that was to die in peace in Romanshorn. “Frank. A Laundromat.” “What about me?” he said. “A Laundromat.. “Because I am tired. “I’ll be with you in spirit.” “No we won’t. That’s what keeps you young.then. but I must stay here. “What about the boys?” “I love you all. the more her laughter grew. back and forth. And I wouldn’t want you to. and I know I belong here. “Another man?” Hilda began to laugh in spite of herself. Why would anyone want to change that?” “Then. How could she tell him that she’d never become a real American? That she still loved the plodding pace of the Old World. She tried to stifle it with her napkin. Frank looked old and shrunken. She had not laughed like this in years. He had the boys and his life in America.” He shook his head back and forth.” She sighed.why?” “Because. but she knew the pain was temporary.
She heaved herself from the chair and stood gazing down at him for a long moment. and soon frank was laughing. Then she bent and kissed his forehead. she signed and wiped her eyes. and there never will be. She clung to the odor of him as she rounded the corner of the station.” she said. her fingers searching for Florence’s telephone number. “But there is no man in my life except you. “I will leave you now. “I have already taken a room. and people at nearby tables were chuckling too. And Frank wiped his. He did not speak.” She laughed and laughed. ### .“Thank you for the compliment. She laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks and she felt revived and young once more.” she gasped.” She put her finger on his lips. When the laughter finally stopped.” “But. Frank Plummer.
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