Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Where are the Girls?

Our train was on board the ferryboat bound for Denmark. It was 1939 and our long journey from Addis Abeba had led us up the boot of Italy, across Switzerland and Germany. In Hamburg we visited the zoo, which was supposed to be the best in the world at this time. The parrots had been taught to say “Hail Hitler” and the monkeys to do the Hitler salute. Mother had shopped for clothes for all of us. Shirley and I had bright red blieghly knit dresses, light brown belted coats, and brimmed hats with flowers tucked into the ribbons. Mother always checked the fashions worn by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose…just to be sure we would be in style.

Once secure on the ferryboat, our first smorgasbord array was like eating from a picture book. For myself, it was with remorse, because I was now seasick, I fed all of mine to the fish. This was done after climbing on the boat’s railing and leaning precariously over. One of the women passengers grabbed my skirt and with an alarmed voice, informed my mother that this was not safe.

Soon my mother returned to our compartment in the train after giving instructions to our father to keep a close watch on us. As usual, he did not interfere with our pursuits. He was so much fun to be with because he had no fear. In fact, we convinced him that he could return to the train below and we would be perfectly safe on the deck alone. After walking around the deck, watching the sea birds circling, we decided that we would also go to the train.

Holding tightly onto the rails, we climbed down the iron stairs and entered the train. We walked the full length of the train. Something was wrong. Our parents were not to be found. We walked the full length of the train again, this time in real fright. I had to be brave because Shirley’s lip was quivering and I was eighteen months older and responsible to figure out this predicament. Outside the train again, I said, “I’m going to look under the train.” Lying flat on the deck I saw another train on the far side. “Shirley, we have to get to the train on the other side,” I announced as I stood up. “We must have gone down the wrong stairs. We’ll go above and find the other stairs.” This should be done immediately. Land was now appearing and we could hear the clanking of chains being removed from the train and deck.

All of this was too much for Shirley. She stood rooted to the spot and refused to budge. Tears were appearing in her eyes. Someone had to come to the rescue. Two girls standing crying would not help. So up the stairs I went and across the deck. Sure enough! There was another stair, which led down to another train. The right train.

By now loud screams could be heard everywhere on the ferryboat. Daddy was the first to the rescue and there was Mother in her leather slippers. She had just asked. “Where are the girls?” and had been assured that all was well.
Such hugs and happiness as we all entered the compartment! It was almost worth all the terror to have such loving reassurance that our parents would never leave us. We straightened our new hats and prepared for our adventure in Copenhagen, the home of our favorite, Hans Christian Anderson, and also the homes of both of our grandparents.

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