I remember my sister and brother-in-law meeting us at the Midway Airport in Chicago. I always had an issue with motion sickness, and the 18 hour trip to this new world in a four engine propeller driven airplane had left their toll on me. I was dehydrated and did not feel well at all. The car ride to my sister’s home didn’t help matters. I was impressed with the shiny new car we were in and the amount of automobile traffic as we cruised down Lakeshore Drive to my sister’s home on the North Side. I remember looking up at all the tall buildings and seeing all the colorful flags in the car lots and gas stations. I thought that there was some sort of festival going on, but my sister laughingly explained to me that those were there all the time and used to draw people’s attention to the businesses.
The wonders of the New World - Chicago 1958
My sister lived in an apartment that was part of a three flat apartment building occupied by my brother-in-laws parents on the ground floor, his sister and her husband on the second floor, and we all lived together on the third floor. The apartment only had two bedrooms and my parent shared the small bedroom, while I slept on the living room couch. After a few days of recuperation, my Dad immediately set out to find work. He only had a little English but he soon found his way around the Chicago mass transit system and was hired on almost immediately by a butcher shop nearby. My father was a master butcher as was his father, and his grandfather. It was quite an adjustment for him to conform to the American way of doing things, but he managed and as soon as we had a little money saved up, we took a small apartment a mile or so away from where my sister lived. My Dad also bought a second hand television. We never had a TV before and I was totally captivated by some of the shows that were offered. My Mom loved the “I love Lucy” show and my Dad would watch the Friday night fights. I liked the Westerns. I should mention that I was taught English in the German school system, but getting out and making American friends and learning English from TV, helped to make me indistinguishable from any other American boy. I did run into a few snags when I first enrolled in school. Some of the boys would test me and call me a Nazi and stuff. Hey! I grew up in the roughest kind of environment in post war Berlin, and I knew how to fight. I was small, but a tough and dirty fighter and I soon had the respect of the boys that at first challenged me. It was good to finally have a place of our own and things were looking up. I joined the Boy Scouts and made yet more friends. Life was good!
Age 16 - Growing up in the Windy City
It wasn’t long after we had moved into our apartment that my sister broke the news that she and my brother-in-law were moving to California. He was offered a great business opportunity and so they left, leaving us alone in Chicago. At least we were together as a family, I had good friends, my mother had picked up a part time cleaning job, and my dad was making good money. We moved into a bigger and much nicer apartment and in August of 1959, I started High School at Lane Technical High School in Chicago. I missed playing soccer and watching soccer games. In America, everyone played baseball, football or basketball. My Dad and I would occasionally go and watch the German Club Team play soccer, but there was no opportunity for me to play the game I loved so much. I joined the High School swimming team but I wasn’t that great and seldom participated in the school meets. I loved getting out of the city with the scouts on camping trips and I also spent a lot of time swimming or fishing in Lake Michigan. I also landed an after school job in a small supermarket where I stocked shelves and served as a part time produce manager. I soon saved up enough money to buy a car. A friend of my Moms sold me her 1956 Chevrolet for $550. I had it made! My Dad found the Chicago mass transit system adequate for his transportation needs and never wanted to pursue getting a car, but I would pack my Mom and Dad into my car and spend time on the weekends in one of Chicago many forest preserves.
Our family was enjoying more material goods and prosperity than ever before, but then my father suffered a massive heart attack and died shortly afterwards. This was only a little more than four years after our arrival in Chicago. He was always very homesick for Germany but was just starting to enjoy his new life a little more. I was a junior in High School at the time and it was devastating for both my Mother and me.
My Dad was only 48 years old when he died, a victim of the war and his long internment in the Russian prison camp. I was no longer in the Boy Scouts and my circle of friends slowly shifted to a much rougher crowd. My mother seldom knew what I was up to, and left to my own devices, I soon started getting into mischief. I wrecked my car, my grades started dropping and I started on a downward spiral. I graduated from High School in May of 1963 and enrolled in a Junior College, but without the necessary financial support, guidance or ambitions, I decided to forego staying in school and enlisted in the United States Air Force in July of 1963. That was probably a good move for me, but it left my Mother in Chicago all by herself. Life sucks!