Based on a true story, Twisted Timber is an emotionally gripping tale. It is set in Marietta, Georgia in 1954 at the cusp of a new civil rights movement. The reader is further transported back in time to war-torn Germany during the devastation of World War II.
In 1954, Hannah is a young adult searching for answers. She came to America with stars in her eyes. No more war. No more injustice. No more Hitler, the malevolent man whom she had adored; the national hero who would sit and speak with her gently. Although her physical disability is obvious, Hannah is not going to let it stonewall her chance at a new life. With the unfamiliar, warm, undemanding Southern culture contrasting her own, she finds herself confused about her own identity. To complicate matters, she is confronted with something which causes her memories to enslave her mind with devastating flashbacks.
Hannah’s head is turned in the direction of an art gallery owner. He possesses an item which will send her on a quest to find a long lost royal ancestor who may have the answers she is seeking.
Kramersdorf, Hauzenberg, Germany, April 1945
I miss you, Mutti. Why is it that when the winds blow the hardest, I think of you? I dream to be in the comfort of your arms and hear your encouraging words. I would settle for the shield that the stern resolution of my husband would bring. I know that you are not fond of Georg. He is too abrupt for your liking, but I am alone and he is missing in Italy. Can you hear me, Mutti? Please ask God to help us.
How did you make me feel so sheltered when I was a child during the last war? I had no father and no food, but I still felt safe. I am trying, but how can I be strong for my children, when I am so scared of what will happen to them? I made your special chocolate cake. It will bring us to you before the Soviets climb our stairs. Please ask God to send the Americans, please. The SS officers are in town and want us to fight. I cannot sleep for fear of what they have brought upon us with their presence.
The howl of the heavy winds ceases instantly. I turn gently in our confined bed to not disturb Greta. As I reach out my hand to touch her braid, she turns and looks at me with alert eyes.
“I didn’t mean to wake you. I am restless,” I say.
“Mother, I have been awake since the storm began. You didn’t wake me.”
“Was it the wind?” I say, hopefully.
I look into my daughter’s eyes. They are a clear blue, like her father’s. Why does she have to be so beautiful? I once thought that her soft features and creamy skin would put her a few steps ahead of the other girls. Now I tremble to think what her radiant beauty will bring.
“I do not mean to upset you, but I would like for you to not comb your hair or change your clothing this week. This entire week. Understood?”
“You know why. Also, do not step outside of the courtyard without my permission.”
Greta nods, her eyes widening with fear. I wish that my eyes were not reflecting the same emotion. I wish that I could embrace her, assure her that I will protect her from harm. I cannot.
“This will not happen. I will not let it,” I say through clenched teeth. If the officers do not leave, everyone in our small farming village will be dead. “I am going to speak with them.” As I say those words, my mind hardens with determination.
“It is the middle of the night. It is not safe, Mother.”
“Safer than it will be in a day or two, when we are overtaken.”
“I have faith in you, but be careful, please,” Greta whispers.
“Watch the children. Hannah needs to be up in two hours to milk the cows. Do not alarm her with my absence. I will return as soon as possible.”
I do not heat the wooden stove for my morning coffee. I cannot risk waking Sofie. Will she remember any of this, if we survive? I hope not. I peer down at her innocent five year old face. Please, Mutti, be her guardian angel. Protect my baby. These are my constant thoughts; pleading with my mother to plead for us in heaven.
I wait to light the lantern until I am outside the door. The cool, heavy metal in my hand gives me courage as I step out into the starless night. The moon is hidden beyond a swirl of grey. The smell of kerosene sifts through the air as the stairwell fills with soft light. With one hand, I firmly grasp the railing. I step cautiously down the steep, exterior staircase.
How does Hannah manage these stairs with such grace? Bitter acid rises in my throat. It is my fault. If I had been more attentive, if I had followed through with the other surgeries, maybe she would not have been subjected to this challenge. What type of future can she have? Who will marry her?
A smile comes to my face. It is a selfish smile. Hannah has a way of bringing sunshine into a dark room; she is the crackling fire, adorned with fresh coral embers.
The sound of Hannah’s laugh trills through my mind. If she doesn’t marry, at least my last days will be happy ones, with laughter and sunshine as my companion.
The calm has past. The wind picks up, blowing a steady mist of dust off of the freshly plowed fields. I arrive at Hiasel Hof, a neighboring farmhouse, with a thin layer of dirt on my face and several strands of hair in disarray.
I reach down to the glacial creek, which rumbles swiftly past one side of the road. Shivers erupt throughout my body as I splash the frigid water onto my face. The shock of the water’s temperature takes my breath.
I pat the excess water from my hands onto my flyaway hairs. The linen handkerchief in my pocket serves as a wash cloth. I scrub the dirt clean from my face and hands. I then apply a shimmering pink lipstick to my frozen lips and retie my hair into a neat bun. I pat the worn, leather knapsack which holds a bottle of beer wrapped in the old woman’s linen table runner.
The first drops of rain pelt my neck as my fist pounds the weathered, timber door.
Marietta, Georgia, America, March 1954
The dense chill in the morning air seemed to settle into Hannah’s chest as she walked her familiar route to the hospital. Today was her one-year anniversary of having arrived in America. A weeping willow swept high above her head with branches that hung down, lightly caressing her face as she passed.
She inhaled deeper as she came upon her favorite spot where four hardy magnolia trees stood, two on either side of the path producing branches which remained firm, resolute and stern, not yielding to the wind as it blew. The blossoms were expanding as the end of winter was forthcoming. Anticipation of spring enveloped her thoughts as she inhaled slowly in hopes of catching the first fragrant aroma of the spring petals. No luck, perhaps tomorrow.
Her thoughts drifted back to exactly one year ago today. She could barely put two English words together, and when she did they did not portray the intended meaning. She was fortunate to secure a job at the local hospital where her sister Greta was employed as a nurse.
Greta was thirty, ten years Hannah’s senior, and had come to America six years prior. Greta had been successful in persuading the head nurse to offer a position to Hannah working as a nurses’ aid, with the understanding that Hannah and Greta were to work the same shifts until she mastered the language. Within a few months, Hannah was speaking English, albeit with a harsh German accent.
Today, she was feeling more confident. She could communicate with ease. She hadn’t eliminated her German accent entirely, but she was much closer to her goal of being an accent-free, bona fide American.
Hannah looked to her right and then to her left before crossing the busy road parallel to the hospital. She had to time it just right in order to make it across the street unscathed.
The hum of a large engine startled Hannah and she quickened her pace to a labored run. Out of the corner of her right eye she saw the form of an enormous truck come into her view from around the bend in the road. She was only steps away from the curb. A loud horn deafened her ears as she attempted to jump up onto the cement. Her right foot caught the edge of the concrete, sending an intense pain through her foot and leg.
The smell of damp pine needles and chalky earth permeated her senses as she lifted her head from the cold, forested floor. Hannah found herself lying on her side as she listened to the screech of brakes and skidding of tires.
“Are you alright?” yelled a stout young man running toward her. “Here, let me help you up.”
Hannah grabbed his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. She noticed how his body was shaking with the aftermath of adrenaline surging through his veins.
She stumbled to get her balance. She wasn’t used to both of her hips throbbing with pain, and had to adjust her stance as to not favor either at the moment.
“I will be fine. I didn’t hit the ground that hard. You do need to mind how fast you are going though.”
“Yes, ma’am. My mistake. I am so sorry. Are you sure you’re okay? Let me carry you up the hill to the hospital. It looks like that there leg done broke,” he said with a nervous stutter. His head slowly cocked to one side as he stared at how her left foot was raised off the ground with her leg twisted inward toward her body as if she were bracing herself in a game of dodge ball.
“No, no, my leg has been this way my entire life. I am perfectly fine. Just a little dirty and scuffed. What I want you to do is promise me that you will try to slow down so you don’t kill someone,” she said with an air of authority.
“Yes, ma’am. I promise.”
Hannah could tell that the boy was more shaken than she was.
“Alright then, you had better get to school.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as he hurried to his truck, then slowly pulled away.
As Hannah climbed the hill to Kennestone Hospital, she watched Kennesaw Mountain rise from behind the large white building. The founders named it Kennestone because of its favored location with grandiose views of Kennesaw Mountain from the back and a distant, but achievable with proper squinting, view of Stone Mountain out the front. The hospital reminded Hannah of the White House stretched out like taffy; a three story, milky white, rectangular building with a flat roof. It was not of the same sophistication as the White House. It was rather plain and lacked the grand columns in the center but, like the White House, it appeared to be constructed with an equal amount of glass to stone, the many windows arranged in perfectly spaced rows.
Native Georgians had a passionate connection with Kennesaw Mountain. Every time Hannah looked up at the Kennesaw peak, she would imagine Confederate troops, ninety years past, waiting in anticipation for battle. She envisioned the soldiers witnessing from their perch as the Union soldiers approached from the north, then preparing themselves for what would become known in the history books as the Kennesaw Battle, which claimed nearly 1,000 Confederate and 3,000 Union soldiers’ lives. The Yankee commander, General Sherman, was never able to cross the Confederate line that day. The battle moved on to the city of Atlanta, reducing a once thriving metropolis to ash and despair.
Thinking of the devastation of Atlanta, Hannah could feel once again the horror that she had felt as a young girl as she watched her birth city reduced to ashes.
“Well, good mornin’ Miss Hannah,” said the portly gentleman.
All thoughts of a distant gloom dissipated as she was greeted with a broad smile from James, a retired Atlanta police officer in his mid-forties, who now served as the hospital’s security guard. He was plump and jolly, unless he was met with disrespect, then he was a man to be feared. He never talked about why he left the police force. There were rumors that his partner was shot and killed as they were responding to a robbery.
“Better now, James. Seeing your cheerful face brings a little sunshine to my thoughts.”
“Why, my cheerful face, Miss Hannah?” he drawled with interest. “You are about the most cheerful person I know, and I make it my business to know a lot of people.”
“Thanks James,” she said with a smile. If only he could read Hannah’s thoughts. Sheltering the memories most severe took years of practice.
As Hannah was being assigned in which area to work, Martha, a nurse in her fifties, came to Hannah and asked for her assistance that day.
“Hannah, I have a problem with a teenage boy who is refusing to let anyone touch his broken arm. He was showing off for some girls at the community pool last night and landed on the diving board with his arm bent behind his back. You are so good with these boys, can you please help in room C12.” She then rushed off in the opposite direction to see to more cooperative patients.
Moans echoed from behind the door of room C12; followed by, “I told ya to stop messin’ around tryin’ to get that Missy girl to like ya. Do ya think she’s really gonna take a second look at y’all with yer arm all messed up like this? And then to think, you didn’t even tell yer pa and I till this mornin’ when you couldn’t dress yer’self. Ooh, I oughta..”
Hannah tapped on the door with the end of her pen. The room fell silent as she entered. All eyes examined her, taking special note of how her white uniform displayed streaks of red clay and green vegetation. The air had a pungent smell of chlorine, mixed with Old Spice. Hannah stood tall and offered a full smile.
The young man cradled his arm tighter as he attempted to smile back, pleading with his eyes for her to be gentle. Hannah glanced at his parents. They now displayed faces that were doting and concerned, contradicting the scolding they had given their son a few moments earlier.
Hannah broke the silence. “Good morning, my name is Hannah. I hope that you don’t mind if I hum a favorite tune of mine. Do you like the Crew-Cuts, Frank?”
“Ahhhh?” he said, not sure how to respond. He looked at this bombshell of a crimson redhead in front of him asking him if he liked the Crew-Cuts? Missy had nothin’ on this dame.
“They just had a new song come out that is grand.” She then began singing, “Sha-boom sha-boom, ya da da da da da da da da da da Sha boom Sha boom.” She lingered on the last note for a moment, then said, “May I hold your hand, Frank?”
Continuing to hum, she took Frank’s hand in hers. She used her other hand to gently place a cloth soaked in ether over his mouth and nose. “It’s okay Frank, just give me a deep breath.”
After only a few breaths, he looked up with drooping eyes and collapsed back onto the bed.
Turning to Frank’s parents, who now stood in apparent awe and slight anger that she would knock their son out with drugs, Hannah said, “Unfortunately, Frank was refusing our standard protocol for examination. Here at the hospital our main concern is to give treatment which will allow for a swift and full recovery. It is necessary to examine his arm for breaks, or he will have to travel a very difficult road in that recovery. We will be taking him for x-rays in a few minutes.”
Martha entered the room as Hannah was exiting. She gave Hannah a wry smile. “Guess that’s one way of getting him to cooperate.”
“Bees don’t sting when they smell honey. At least that is what my mother has always taught me. In this case, the honey just happened to knock him out, problem solved,” replied Hannah as she walked down the hall to see to her other patients.
Break time at the hospital gave Hannah more opportunities to improve her English skills. At the beginning, she would try to steer away from the local tables because she had difficulty understanding them. Her first real experience with the English language was when she spent her summers in Denmark as a young teenager.
She formed a friendship with Christian missionaries from California who taught her English in their broken Danish. After several months of tutoring, she had a basic understanding of the English language, but could not speak it. At the hospital, she wanted to start with a little more familiarity, so she stuck with the doctors who had relocated from the West to Atlanta during medical school or residency, and eventually elected to stay when offered regional positions. Now, a year later, she could understand even the strongest Southern accents from patients who would come in from remote, backwoods towns.
Hannah enjoyed sitting at a table that was always full of upbeat sarcasm and laughter. Betty, Jean and Alice were the regulars. Betty was a wispy twenty-three who weighed no more than eighty-five pounds, with blond hair and mousy brown eyes. She had been a nurse for two years. She had one volume, loud. She was not one to be left out of any conversation and made sure that the others knew her opinion before a new topic was broached.
Jean was a true genteel, Southern girl. She was a brunette with deep blue eyes. She was just plump enough to look womanly. She worked at the front desk and came to work every day in a perfectly pressed dress and matching pumps, scarf around her neck and a ribbon in her hair. She was a year younger than Hannah at nineteen. She was trying to decide on a vocation, but often told them that nursing was definitely not in her future; too messy.
Alice was a nurse’s aid, like Hannah, and the oldest of the group at thirty. She had pale blue eyes and red hair, but unlike Hannah’s hair which turned a deep auburn as she matured, Alice’s was the color of creamy carrot soup. She had skinny legs with a protruding tummy. Her little boy was turning two in a week. Her husband had become addicted to alcohol after his mother died in an automobile accident last year. Taking on the financial responsibilities of the family, she needed to work extra shifts just to get by. Even with her troubles at home, she was always the more positive of the bunch.
“So,” began Jean, “have you seen the new guy who is shadowing Dr. Nielson? I caught his eye when he was looking me over yesterday, and I must say that, if he likes what he sees, then I’m available.”
“What are you talkin’ about, Jean? You have been going steady with that medical student, Charles, for six months now,” said Betty.
“Who said we were exclusive?” retorted Jean. “And he wants to start a medical practice in Wyomin’. Really? Who would choose to live on a farm in Wyomin’ where it is so cold you stay inside all winter and knit or somein’.”
“Hey, I like to knit, and if it were with an incredibly handsome guy, staying inside all winter might not be that bad,” Hannah playfully added.
Jean began singing, “If I give my heart to you…” then continued, “what I wouldn’t give to have a voice like Doris Day’s.”
Alice, awoken from her thoughts, added, “Hannah does have a voice like, no, prettier than Doris Day’s. All you need to do is sing that song to this, what’s his name? Let’s just say Jack. And he will beg you to follow him to, um, let’s say Florida. Much nicer weather…”
Cutting Alice’s fantasy off, Betty interjected, “Hannah, why don’t you try to sing in a social club downtown, and we can come and watch you.”
“Betty, Hannah and I are under twenty-one. No one is goin’ to let us into their club,” whipped Jean.
“Actually, Hannah is just a few months away from twenty one and she can book it for after her birthday. Ain’t that a bite, Jean? Looks like you will be knittin’ in Wyoming and we’ll be havin’ all the fun,” Betty responded.
“Not cool, Betty,” whimpered Jean.
“Just messin’ with ya, Jean. We can arrange for it to be at a dance hall or restaurant or someplace that allows whipper snappers like you,” smirked Betty.
“Um, anyone want to ask my opinion on this?” objected Hannah.
All eyes turned to Hannah for a moment, followed with an eruption of boisterous laughter.
“Oh, Hannah, we can’t get you to stop singin’. Are you kiddin’? This is perfect for you. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everythin’,” were Betty’s last words as she bounced from the table with the excitement of her next project, knowing that the rest of her shift at the hospital would be more enjoyable.
Before Hannah left the table, Dr. Weixler approached. He had immigrated to America from Germany fifteen years ago and, with much work, was able to acquire his medical license in the U.S. and work again as a physician.
“Hannah, I heard what happened on your way into work this morning. I have found a specialist in the city who may be able to increase the mobility in your hip. It would require a lengthy surgery which would render you immobile for several months, but I think that you should consider it. I have set up an appointment for you in two weeks. Here is the number. You are welcome, Fraulein. Krummes holz gibt auch gerades feuer,” he said, handing Hannah a folded piece of paper. Without another word, he turned and walked away.
There were some doctors at the hospital who neither required nor sought a response. Dr. Weixler was one of those doctors.
“What did he just tell you?” questioned Alice.
“It is a common German saying or proverb: ‘Crooked logs also make straight fires,’” responded Hannah.
“Crooked legs? What a sinful thing to say!” said Jean defensively.
Smiling, Hannah responded, “No, not crooked legs, crooked logs, it means that there is never the perfect moment for anything. You don’t need to wait to find perfectly straight branches. Twisted timber burns just as well as straight timber. He is suggesting that I not wait for the perfect moment to fix my leg. I have to agree with him that there is no perfect moment to act with courage and determination.”
“Hannah, you never did tell us how your leg done got hurt,” Alice said with a caring voice, touching Hannah softly on the arm.
“When I was an infant, I contracted a serious bone infection called osteomyelitis, which collected in my hip. It was thought to have been passed to me through my umbilical cord by my nurse when she was changing my diaper. She had been suffering from an infected hangnail.
“The doctors drained the infection, but the medicine at that time did not allow for a full recovery. With the cartilage destroyed, a hole remained from the drain, and my hip fused bone to bone. It left me with my left leg an inch shorter than my right and my mobility restricted. During that surgery, my mother was told that I was too young for them to give me a sedative because my heart would not withstand it. I therefore had no painkiller to numb the pain.
“My mother could hear me scream through the intense pain, but she said that hearing me scream meant that I was still alive. I am lucky though. As you know, many have, and some continue to die from these types of infections. Thank heavens for good antibiotics now, and medical science will just continue to improve.”
“I catch you wincin’ sometimes. What is the pain like for you now?” Jean questioned.
“It is not as intense as when I was very young and experienced a full day of playing. My grandmother, who lived with us at the time, would rub it every evening before I went to bed. She would pair it with a bottle of milk that she had snuck in to me. You see, my mother thought that I was too old for the bottle.
“It also bothered my mother to see me in pain. When I was a teenager and my hip ached at the end of the day, I would wait on the couch for my mother to go to bed before I would get up and hobble to my room. I have gotten used to the constant pain over the years and it doesn’t stop me from running up Kennesaw Mountain or dancing all evening.
“Going down into the twist is a bit of a challenge, but I prefer a good German Waltz any day.”
“What can you lose, Hannah? I ditto the doctor. Go fire up that twisted timber,” Alice smiled at Jean. “Or those crooked legs.” The three girls all laughed as they walked back out onto the floor.
§ § §
The day of Hannah’s appointment with Dr. Schultz had come. His surgical team purported to be experts in a new form of orthopedic surgery. Hannah was to board the bus off Marietta Square, a quaint little park with a central fountain, surrounded by restaurants and small local shops. It was one of her favorite places to visit and enjoy an ice cream soda with her younger sister Sofie.
Hannah thought of how Sofie’s transition from Flensburg, Germany, to America was not an easy one. Their hometown bordered Denmark and kissed an inlet off the Baltic Sea. At thirteen, friends meant everything to Sofie. She told Hannah how excited she was to see their sister Greta again, but that meant leaving all of her closest friends and their father, Georg.
Georg had not been permitted to come to the United States with his family due to his ties with the Nazi regime. He hadn’t planned on being in the military. After becoming an orphan and being separated from his two sisters at the age of seven, he was placed by his adoptive parents into a military school where he resided until he was seventeen. He was called to duty during WWI and was stationed in France at the age of eighteen. He remained there until the end of the war.
His involvement in WWI soured any further desire to be in the service of his Fatherland. He wanted nothing more than to reside in the country with his family and live a quiet life. He studied agricultural engineering in college and eventually found his way to rural villages when positions presented themselves.
Living in the country, life was relatively peaceful for their family, even during the first few years of World War II. After his family frantically departed on the last train out of Strasbourg, France, nearing the end of the war, he was pulled aside by an SS officer and was required to report to duty. He was ultimately sent to Italy and placed in front of an anti-aircraft artillery.
When the war ended a year later, his regiment was captured by allied forces. He was then sent to Egypt as a prisoner of war for almost two years.
After three years of absence, Hannah and her sisters did not welcome their father’s return as their mother did. As for Sofie, she had no memories of him.
He was a distant, serious man who preferred that children be seen and not heard.
The happy, playful times had come to an end and rigidity and discipline took their place. It took years for Sofie to grow accustomed to this man who preferred to sit in his chair, read the paper and smoke his pipe, rather than connect with the people who mourned his absence for so long.
Although Hannah and her sisters did not have a bond with their father, he was the only father that they had and their mother mourned his loss once again, thus dampening the spirits of the others.
Hannah, in an attempt to liven Sofie up, would bring her to the square once a week. They would have an ice cream soda then throw a German coin into the fountain. Wishing upon a German coin brought them a little closer to home.
Hannah reached into her pocket and pulled out a cool silver coin. She wanted to dump every last piece of silver into the fountain right then and there, to symbolize her integration into her new country. At the same moment, she longed to place them into her pocket next to her heart and always sense their presence. Why did she feel so hollow and conflicted inside?
“Are ya comin’ miss?” shouted the bus driver, interrupting Hannah’s thoughts.
“Yes sir, I am,” Hannah replied as she paced up the steps with concerted effort. She didn’t ride the bus often and was taken aback when she saw all the colored folks in the back of the bus and the whites in the front. All of the colored people at the hospital were treated on the basement level, preventing any interaction that Hannah may have otherwise had with them. She was not new to the effects of segregation, however.
The Jews had been separated from her since early childhood. She had been too young to remember Germany or France with an educated and affluent Jewish population. They had previously been removed from their lives of prosperity, relinquishing their pride in desperation of unattainable survival.
She decided to sit right in the middle of the bus where there were several unoccupied rows. A young man, about her age, made eye contact with Hannah as she walked back. He immediately stood and followed her, taking the seat on the bench directly across the aisle.
“Hi there, I’m Freddie. You have just about the perrtiest hair I ever seen, Miss…?”
“Hannah,” she said, annoyed.
“Well Miss Hannah, do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” she answered, even more annoyed.
“Do you want one?” Freddie smiled, revealing two missing front teeth.
“Not particularly,” she said flatly.
Hannah stood up and moved a few rows back. She sat next to a plump, colored woman around sixty with dark brown eyes and sparkling white teeth.
“May I sit next to you, please,” pleaded Hannah.
“Of course, sugar, you sit right here next to Mama Gene. Is that there boy botherin’ you?”
“No ma’am, just incredibly irritating,” sighed Hannah.
Thick, deep laughter generated from this lively woman, causing Hannah to chuckle as well.
At their next stop, a large group of white youngsters boarded the bus. Chatter erupted about how Hank Aaron from the Milwaukee Braves was in town for the game that night to see the Atlanta Crackers. They were going to try and get his autograph, along with Bill Ayers of the Crackers, because he was so good he was sure to go to the Majors.
A bellow came from the driver, “Row four and five from the rear, I need you to stand and move to the back. Oh, except you, miss,” he said, looking at Hannah. “You stay right there.”
Hannah stood, along with Mama Gene, and walked to the back to stand.
“Honey, you go back and sit yourself right down,” whispered Mama Gene.
“No, ma’am. You see, I am from Germany. When I was very young, I witnessed how the Jews were treated. We were too intimidated to stand up for them because we would be taken from our families and imprisoned, or killed. After the war, we found out what really happened to all of those people who we saw being escorted out of their homes to be relocated.
“My mother says that, ‘as Germans we are all to blame, not because we persecuted and despised them, but because we let it happen. We remained silent.’ I vowed when I came to America that things would be different. I would stand with those who were being treated unfairly. I stand with you now.”
“Bless you, honey child,” Mama Gene choked out with teary eyes. “Oh, Jesus would be so proud of you. Can I get an Amen!” she said, embracing Hannah in a warm hug.
“Amen,” was heard throughout the back of the bus.
“So where are you headed, ma’am?” questioned Mama Gene.
“Please, call me Hannah. I have a doctor’s appointment downtown to have my hip examined. You may have noticed the difficulty I had in climbing the steps of the bus or how I was limping as I walked down the aisle.”
“Oh, Lord have mercy. Does it hurt much?”
“Not too bad. The doctor thinks that he may be able to perform a surgery which would allow for more mobility in my leg. Where are you headed, Mama Gene?”
“My sisters and I,” Mama Gene said, looking around at a few women close to her, “go and clean a Baptist Church every Thursday down in Atlanta so as it might be Godly for service on Sunday. I been goin’ there since I was just a little girl with my mami and papi. I could go to one closer but I do love the preacher’s sermons. You know, that Preacher King, he went to Germany about when you was born, to learn more about Martin Luther. He just thought the world of him, and when he got back, he changed his name and his son’s to Martin Luther. He is said to not have ridden one of these here buses since 1920, when a few of mine was attacked on the bus and nobody was convicted of nothin’. That’s how it’s always been, but he and his family are sure ones for changin’ things for the better for us colored folks. I sure do love them. I just know that they is gonna change things here for us, just like that Martin Luther done for your people in Germany.”
“Your stop, miss,” yelled the bus driver, eyeing Hannah.
“I ride this bus every Thursday at this hour, Miss Hannah, and would love to see you again,” Mama Gene said with a wink.
Hannah gave her a big smile and wink and walked toward the front of the bus. As she passed near the center of the bus, she heard a snide, “Nigger lover.”
She looked over to see Freddie with a scowl on his face.
“Better that than a toothless wonder who can’t button his shirt,” retorted Hannah.
Freddie looked down to see his shirt with unmatched buttons to button holes.
Laughter erupted amongst the group of boys around him until one lanky boy came to his aid.
“I wouldn’t be so high and mighty if I was you. You might just be walkin’ in the wrong place, seen cohortin’ with the wrong folk one day. If ya knows what I means.”
Hannah ignored his remark and walked to exit the bus, but the driver didn’t open the door.
“Reggie junior, you come up here right now!” bellowed the bus driver.
Reggie, the lanky boy, reluctantly came to the driver’s side.
“What would your pa’ say if he knew you was disrespectin’ this fine lady?”
“Well sir, my pa’s no nigger lover. He once told me that his granpapi used ta hang up ’em niggers, make little cuts in ‘er skin, en pour salt all over ’em,” answered Reggie with disdain.
“What I heard was you tryin’ to scare this nice young lady. Would ya like me ta call your pa’ and tell him how you been behave-in’ with your friends around this nice respectable lady? He is sure to give you a lickin’ ya ain’t gonna forget.”
“Then, I think you know what you need to do.”
“Ma’am, sorry to be disrespectin’ ya, won’t happen again.”
Hannah nodded her head at the boy and looked back up at the bus driver to see his eyes scan down her shirt and reside on her bare legs. Her face warmed. She could feel the red flush in her skin begin to rise from embarrassment, which she did not want the bus driver to see. She quickly turned and waited for the doors to open.
“Have a nice day, miss. My name is Earl. Hope to see you again on my bus.”
Hannah waved without turning around. She made a mental note not to wear form fitting shirts or knee length skirts on the bus in the future. She would wear an outfit that she had sewn for church.
Upon exiting the bus, Hannah inhaled familiar European cologne. She breathed in deeper, closing her eyes for the full effect of the intoxicating aroma. As she opened her eyes, an electrical bolt seemed to shock her deep to the bone, then, it began to warm her body, traveling from her head to toes when she saw what carried the scent. His back was turned to her but he was the tallest, sharpest dressed man she had seen in ages. He had to be six feet, six inches. He was wearing a black tailored, pinstriped suit. His hair was ebony with thick, wavy curls.
Someone called from behind her. She glanced back to see a young man running toward them, waving a wallet high in the air. The distinguished man turned and patted his pant leg, realizing that the wallet was his. As he was handed his wallet, his face brightened into a full smile, revealing white, perfectly placed teeth, which contrasted his deep olive skin and green eyes. He quickly retrieved a one dollar bill from his returned billfold and handed it to the young man.
“Thank you, sir,” said the boy with excitement.
Hannah, realizing that she was staring, quickly turned and began walking in the opposite direction. After the young boy passed her, she felt it safe to turn around. Her eyes followed the distinguished man as he crossed the street and entered an art gallery. Hannah decided that it wouldn’t hurt to peek into the gallery; after all, she did possess a love for art.
As she passed the large front windows of the gallery, she saw the distinguished man walk behind the counter and into the back room. He must be an art dealer, she surmised. She looked through the window at the visible paintings. They appeared to be primarily 19th century European art. She knew this due to the education that she had received as a summer student in Denmark when she was a teen. She had enrolled in history of art classes each summer and was consistently awarded the highest marks in her classes.
Hannah decided to return to the gallery the day of her next doctor’s appointment. At that moment, she needed to rush to make it on time. It seemed an oxymoron, but in her personal experience, doctors did not like to be kept waiting. However, it was normal and completely acceptable for them to have her wait for hours while they were consulting with other patients.
Unlike the hospital, which reeked of alcohol and cotton balls, Dr. Schultz’ office smelled of cherry blossoms. Disregarding the scent, the office was cold. They must have recently discontinued heating the office with the warm season approaching, but it was still too chilly to be partially clothed. Hannah was allowed to keep on her undergarments and was given a thin sheet to cover up with. Hannah took the sheet and wrapped it several times around her body in an effort to keep warm. She walked to the window in an attempt to close out the cold. When she heard the sweet sound of the golden colored finch perched on the cherry tree which was speckled with white blossoms, she thought better of it.
“Miss Hannah, I am Doctor Schultz. Dr. Weixler explained to me your medical condition.”
Hannah turned and took a slight step back. She was face to face with a petite woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties. Hannah extended her hand. “I apologize for my surprise, Dr. Schultz. I was not expecting a young female physician.”
“No need to apologize Hannah. A female orthopedic surgeon is quite a novelty still, especially here in the South. But, times are changin’.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Hannah said quietly.
“Hannah, let me take a look at your hip and if my suspicions are correct, you will be an eligible candidate for a procedure in which I would go in through your side and make an incision between your femur and leg bones, cuttin’ them loose where they are now fused together. I would then reset the bones and place you in a body cast, basically from your chest down to your left toes.
“The cast on your right side would go down to just below the knee and a wooden separator would be placed between your legs, connectin’ the two sections. You would have to remain in this cast for three months. Now, let me explain why I would recommend this surgery.
“First, it would give you substantially more mobility for your hip and leg to motion straight forward and back. The ability for you to lift your leg to the side, however, will not be increased considerably.
“Second, your hip is currently turned in slightly and locked in place. Performin’ this surgery will allow for more comfortable marital relations.”
Hannah could feel her skin begin to heat. Ignoring the sensation, she looked Dr. Schultz in the eyes and nodded her head in understanding. § § §
The bus returned Hannah to Marietta Square a few minutes before she was to meet with Sofie. She could feel a heaviness lift from her chest as she entered Rosie’s Malt Shoppe. Friday’s were the norm, but with the convenience of her trips into town now, Thursday would be the new norm. And as the saying goes, “change is as good as a vacation.” Hannah could feel that change was in her immediate future.
Lucy, Rosie’s niece, was an aspiring comic. She had comedic material prepared for Hannah and Sofie every week. It was a plentiful dose of sugar, caffeine and laughter. Lucy was seventeen, had been married for a year and had the robust curves of a woman in her mid-twenties. Her bleached blond hair, which she rolled every night, had lively curls which bounced high as she hopped around the diner.
“Hannah, what a sweet surprise to have y’all here today. Where is Sofie?”
“She will be here soon. I went into town today to have my hip examined.”
“Sugar, you came at the right time. I just finished up my latest joke, thanks to our recent holiday.”
“I love St. Patrick’s day. It is so festive with everyone dressin’ up in their best green. I mean, who doesn’t look stunnin’ in green, particularly the pea green color. Personally, I find St. Patrick’s Day delightfully entertainin’. Even though it falls durin’ the six weeks of Lent where many Christians stay off the bottle, that one day somehow got exempt from the rule,” Lucy paused as Hannah gave a chuckle.
“I sometimes wonder how the Irish got away with that one. I mean, did an Irish Bishop approach the Pope and say,” Lucy began in her best Irish accent, “now, you don’t actually expect the Irish to not drink on such an important holiday, do ya now? We’ll have a whale of a time. And even though St. Patrick wasn’t Irish born, being that he came to us donkey’s years ago as a slave captured by Irish pirates, he still loved our people and stayed to convert us. Even in his writings he asks to drink from the sacred Chalice? That Chalice held wine, didn’t it?” Lucy beamed as Hannah slid deep into the bench with laughter.
“You liked it?”
“I am not sure what was funnier, your joke, or how you delivered it with a Southern-Irish accent.”
“Wait, wait, there is more,” she said, clearing her throat. “You know what else St. Patrick’s Day reminds me of?”
“It reminds me of that time in high school where I was in the school musical, ‘Finian’s Rainbow.’ It’s about an Irishman who steals a pot of gold from a leprechaun and comes here to a Southern state in America to bury it. I played Susan in the musical, a girl that the leprechaun falls in love with.”
“That sounds sweet. Sorry Luce, I am not getting the joke.”
“Susan was a mute.”
“You played a mute in the school musical?” Hannah said laughing.
“Yep, kinda funny, aint it? I had to dance to express myself. What is even more ironic is that I was voted ‘Best Supportin’ Actress’ for my non-singin’ part.”
Sofie walked in with her hands on her hips, whining, “No, you started without me. You’re not supposed to tell the funny stories till I get here, Luce.”
“Sorry Sofie, I just couldn’t wait. Give me a sec to get y’all’s ice cream sodas and I will tell it to ya.”
“Guess who just asked yours truly to prom?” Sofie blurted in excitement.
“Count Dracula,” Hannah said with a Transylvanian accent.
“Bobby Henning. Can you believe it? He has got to be the cutest boy in school.”
“Clearly, since you are undoubtedly the most beautiful girl there,” Hannah truthfully praised.
“Hannah, will you make my dress, please, please, please? We have five weeks till prom and you could make a wedding dress in a week if you tried.”
“Of course I’ll make your dress. You will be the belle of the ball,” Hannah said thoughtfully as she scanned Sofie for measurements.
Lucy returned with two tall glasses. “Coke a la mode.”