Monday, March 23, 2015

My French Connection.

I want to share a story from my life with you; from the time
when I was a teenager. No TVs, smart phones or other mod cons then, and life was less hectic, less complicated and more relaxed than today.  However, I was never bored as I had hobbies and was an avid reader, which I still am today. I was always keen to learn about new things to accumulate knowledge.  I was also relentless in asking questions.

There is no better way to learn than by asking questions about how and why this or that is so or done etc. I must have driven people to exasperation at times by asking them questions – however, asking questions hasn’t left me to this day. I had (I still have) the propensity to do things my way without asking whether I could do it or not. Needless to say, this was causing my parents and grandparents consternation and anxieties – and also brought me into trouble. Here is one of these stories.  I hope you find it amusing, although it was not so at the time.Werner
PS: There is an old German song  that starts with: Schön ist die Jugend, aber sie kommt nicht mehr zurück“. Meaning, adolescence is beautiful,  but it never returns. Thus, my thought for the day at the bottom.
Here is my story “My French connection”.
My propensity to make unilateral decisions as a youngster often resulted in undesirable consequences. My self-assured thinking and my tendency never to ask whether I could or should, in order to avoid a negative response, was more than often a great concern to my parents and grandparents.

The time was 1945; the end of world war two, and our State was occupied by French occupation forces. We were a farming community and each farm had its own distillery to make schnapps from grapes and fruit, such as cherries, plums and apples, the sale of which brought in extra income.

Through my occasional riding around on my pushbike, I became acquainted with a French soldier with a somewhat dark complexion, who often went for a walk along the road when off duty. He conversed with me in very limited German and sometimes asked for a short ride on my bike. Perhaps, I was a bit naïve and gullible – or both – and I never suspected that there could be an ulterior motive behind his quest to befriend me. One thing was certain; I would never have trusted him in a dark alley.

One day, like a bolt out of the blue, he asked me if I could supply him with some Schnapps. "Schnapps?" I repeated with some surprise and incredulity. "What’s in it for me?" I asked myself. Hold on a second, though, we need petrol for the spray pump. "Can you supply me with petrol?" I asked him cautiously. "Yes," was his emphatic reply.

We agreed to exchange four litres of Schnapps for twenty litres of petrol. This was a clandestine operation and he suggested that he deliver the petrol in bottles so that the ‘trading’ remained inconspicuous – after all, he had to pilfer the stuff, and keeping the action quiet was paramount. Taking Schnapps from my family without their knowledge (which in the end would be to their benefit anyway) never caused me to think that what I intended to do was tantamount to pilfering – never, because I was part of that family.

We stored our distilled alcohol in big twenty- to thirty-litre glass bottles, protected on the outside with a wicker basket-like cage, and taking out a few litres of Schnapps would not have been easily detected. Since this was a top secret operation we needed a ‘drop zone’ where this covert exchange would take place, and we decided that the spot would be under a certain thicket in the nearby forest. I know it might appear that I plagiarized an episode from a popular spy thriller but this was certainly not the case.

Like a chess player, I was thinking a couple of moves ahead, and I anticipated that my family elders ultimately would have wanted to know where on earth I got that petrol from, and what it had cost. I would be ready with my answer. "I received the petrol in return for letting the French soldier ride on my bike." I already visualized the pleasantly surprised look on the faces of my parents and grandfather. On the other hand, perhaps I was just kidding myself. The thought that I might be engaging in a game of brinkmanship with unforeseen consequences never entered my mind. The desire to surprise my family with the much-needed petrol overrode my capacity for rational thinking.

When nobody was home, I filled up four bottles of Schnapps – that clear-as-water liquid which was drunk for different reasons – the most common being for medicinal purposes, such as helping with digestion, getting intoxicated to forget all your troubles, and of course at the same time killing your intestinal worms.

The bottled and corked product was now put in my long trouser legs – two bottles in each leg – with the shoe end of the trousers tightly fastened together with string. Thus I was able to kill three flies with one stroke: the secret operation stayed secret, I didn’t lose the bottles, and I could ride my bike to the ‘drop zone’ without arousing suspicion. With my trouser legs emptied of the secret cargo, and my ‘deposit’ placed in the pre-determined hiding place, my part of the contract was fulfilled. In due course, I would be in possession of my petrol. Or so I thought.

When I returned a few hours later, full of expectations to see some ‘bottled petrol’ where I put the Schnapps, I discovered to my shock that the Schnapps had disappeared, but no petrol had appeared in its place. It was a case of the nest being empty and the bird having flown. I wondered if the fellow was caught pilfering and was now under arrest or perhaps he hadn’t found an opportune moment to do the ‘bottling’, or perhaps he was just sick. Regular checks of the thicket over a few days produced the same result – nothing. I found it odd that the soldier didn’t seem to go for walks anymore, and despite riding my bike back and forth in front of the army compound never saw a glimpse of him. Asking for him was out of the question for obvious reasons. There must be a reason I thought, perhaps he had drunk all the Schnapps in one hit and not only killed his worms, but himself as well.

Gradually, however, I started to suspect a con with a capital C, when suddenly after a week or so I ran into him while walking on the road. "What happened to my petrol?" I demanded angrily. He was able to convince me with his spurious excuses that he had been sick and unable to get the petrol, but he assured me "I’ll get it for you in a day or so." Unfortunately I hadn’t yet learned to mistrust people – even a former enemy. So when he asked me once more if he could have the bike for a ride I foolishly consented, and watched him disappear out of sight. After waiting for some time for him to return the bike, I somewhat dejectedly walked home. When I hadn’t got my bike back by nightfall, I decided there was no alternative, but to tell my parents and my grandfather what had happened.

Having given some consideration to the situation I found myself in, I decided that the time had arrived when I had to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the affair. Knowing quite well my capability to pull off such capers and make decisions on my own, the family ‘executive’ was not unduly shocked, and afforded me some allowance for my good intentions. Grandfather reported the matter to the local constable who was stationed in the next village two kilometres away. The man in blue duly arrived on his bicycle at our place and asked me a series of questions, and subsequently reported the matter to the local French Commandant.

Soon afterwards, the local Commandant turned up at our home with two officers, one being the interpreter. He was really friendly and the whole matter was discussed in an amiable atmosphere. They showed me a few photos from which I identified my would-be petrol supplier. From their body language, it appeared that particular soldier had come to their attention on previous occasions. As they bade us goodbye, they offered to supply us with some petrol. We found this amazing: what a nice way to foster good relations with a former enemy. I don’t know what happened to the soldier, but I never encountered him again.

The French Commandant was not the same loquacious firebrand who gave my father a lecture for failing to remove his hat at a flag-lowering ceremony. (That is another story). Interestingly this friendly commandant, after retiring from the army, settled in the neighbouring village two kilometers away with his German wife. His hobby was bee keeping and, incidentally, so was mine. Our mutual interest brought us together again and we formed an excellent relationship. Over many cups of coffee and glasses of wine we talked ‘bees’ and reminisced about the petrol and Schnapps affair. It just goes to show how situations, circumstances and attitudes can change within a short time span – former enemies can become friends.
My thought for today.
Time is like a river. You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life. - Anon
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Jenny Bell said...

I loved it mate & it's a keeper! I have a keepsake file of stories from people , that I love to re read ..and that is one of them ...
Enterprising little devil weren't you??

Mate if the politicians who started the wars , were the only ones who fought in them , wars would be rare & very short !!!
The ordinary person , generally doesn't have a personal fight with the people they are in war against , & that's so sad , that people die on the thousands , for something that could, in all likelihood ,be resolved over a schnapps!!!

Marg said...

Loved your story re the above and it just goes to show how gullible we can be in our youth.

Erica B. said...

I enjoyed your story tremendously; you were certainly an “enterprising” young lad. Your story also shows that foes can become friends with the right attitude and mindset. What a pity that this can’t be applied worldwide.

Ailsa said...

I enjoyed your story, Werner. It is always interesting to know what people were experiencing in post-war situations in occupied countries.

Dulc. said...

Wonderful and amusing story Werner.
Love reading your blog and the peoples' comments.
As Erica B. said it just shows that foes can become friends.
Keep the stories coming please.

Alf and Joan said...

You certainly are good story teller, Werner. Teenagers are doing different things now. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this posting as well as a few others. Looking at your subject titles in “labels” I must admit that your blog is a real treasure trove.

Beverley Prescott said...

Excellent, Werner. WE should all be writing about our younger days for our offspring to have to learn about some of the things we did when young.
I actually thought the fuel non-giver was going to turn out to be a police informant (or some such person) and your family was going to be nabbed for making your own Schnapps!!
I wish I had more time to catch on all your pages as well. Bev

Pamela said...

This is an excellent read, Werner. But I had to LOL when reading your reasons given to drink Schnapps.

Charlotte, Germany said...

Werner,that is a fantastic story and relates exactly to the Werner Schmidlin, which I have come to know!!!! And very well written as well!Great stuff.

Jeanette Bruce said...

I loved this story from your youth enormously. I wished my father would have written about his early history. Your children and grandchildren would really love you for this, and I really would love to hear what they have to say about this, and I also found some other stories from your life in “Labels” and they are just as riveting to read. Thank you for sharing this and all the other interesting and informative post. Thank you Werner.

Jackie Zanetich said...

Very funny story, Werner. Thoroughly enjoyed that read this morning!

Jill said...

A very interesting story Werner, I guess your parents would have had a hard job keeping up with all your antics!!

Patricia said...

What an amusing and interesting story, I’m a teacher, and gave it to my pupils to read, and they thought it was cool.

Jody and Family said...

The whole family enjoyed reading your story; we agree with Jenny Bell that you were an enterprising little devil. Thank you for sharing this.

Ute and Eddie said...

Werner, that was a wonderful story and it is fantastic that you got away so lightly.
My husband would have been given a belting in those times for such a goodwill gesture to the enemy!
It proves that we all believe that people are good and will honour their commitments.
In that way it is a very re-assuring story!

Please keep on writing, Werner,You write beautifully, stretching our imagination: one can see and hear what’s going on.
Thanks also for letting me share your blog and stories with our friends. Best wishes to you.

Joan said...

Werner, I agree with your friend about publishing, your life experiences are interesting. I have been asked if you worked on the Snowy River Scheme. So many people of our generation have interesting stories to tell, what stories will many of today's younger generation have to share.

Wilma G. said...

What a riveting story and beautifully written, Werner. And, you were a good looking youngster as well. I’m just wondering what this generation of young people are going to write for their next generation. I don’t think that too many are as “adventurous” or as enterprising that you were. I think that the Internet and the mobile phones and in some cases drugs are robbing them of their enjoyment of adolescence.

Arne said...

Werner, I enjoyed your story. It was like looking into a time capsule that shows that crooks are timeless.
As children we all have much more trust and that is so often exploited. Thanks for sharing your story.

Angelika Winter said...

The French Connection, with the great youthful photo, was great to read, the vision of the Schnapps bottles in the trousers made me giggle. What a resourceful young man you were and no doubt still are. . The article “Down Memory Lane” was just as great to read.

Betty C. said...

The French connection was an interesting tale and I certainly enjoyed it.

Diane Drayton Buckland said...

This looks fascinating and I want to print it out and take my time to read it - what a handsome lovely young man you were Werner - these stories are priceless look forward to reading it thoroughly.
Warmest regards always, Di

Trees said...

Great read Werner I really enjoyed it