The Mother

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nightingale

727 Chenango Street

Binghamton, New York

Re: James

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale:-

As per your recent request we are sending you James' history for your use in helping to understand his background and development prior to placement.

Ralf Panek was born on 8/8/57 in Landshut, Bavaria. He has two half siblings. One half sibling was placed with a foster family in Germany, the other adopted by an American family in Germany. Both of these siblings were girls. The younger of these was born 5/2/47 and the other 8/29/50. This infant was delivered normally following a very difficult labor of four days.

I know that many children have blue eyes when they're born, even if they later change color. The first one had blue eyes. I caught a glimpse of them just as they lifted her into a faded gray cloth and the door closed, hiding her from me. I didn't see the second one at all before they left the room with her. But the nurse for this one is young. Inexperienced. She doesn't know to take away the child immediately.

The doctor stands and wipes his hands on a white cloth. He mutters that it is a boy. Of course it is. A boy would cause me more trouble than the others. I ask to hold him, and they all stare. But again, the nurse is new, so he's in my arms before they can object. He waves a hand in my face and squints at me. His eyes are blue. Piercing.

The mother, 33, was born in Germany the oldest daughter of a tailor, Leopold, and his wife, Klara. She completed grade school and two years of professional business education.

Momma wishes I were home. She doesn't like me being so far from her, not with how things are nowadays. She asks if I can just live at our house and travel from there, but it would be too difficult. I tell her that I'm fine, that I stay away from the fights in the streets, and sometimes I even write to her of what I'm learning. I think some of it would help Poppa with his work. But I know that he doesn't read my letters, and that Momma doesn't read them to him. He doesn't care. He just wants me to come home to look after Elsie and Katrin, to watch the shop for him, and to marry Sebastian across the street.

But I barely know Sebastian. He's spoken maybe five words to me since we were fifteen. Momma says he's shy, that I should be nice, and that I should go say hello from time to time. If I ever even wanted to, I would only stay long enough to see him smile. Sebastian does have a wonderful smile. It's straight, and white. He has lovely eyes, too. They're dark brown. Almost black.

Maybe I'll stop by to say hello when I visit next month. There's no harm in that.

Following graduation she was drafted into the Red Cross and worked as a nurse in Army hospitals until 1945 when she was taken prisoner by the Russians.

I just remembered. Sophie was on the truck next to me. She was bleeding. I haven't seen her anywhere, since the truck. They must have shot her. If only I'd been bleeding. I should have cut myself with something. A piece of wood, or metal. Then it would've ended, before this place. That would've been better. Now I'm here, and too afraid to run. I don't know why. Many of the others weren't afraid, and now they're free. Far away from here.

The first night was the worst. I don't remember most of it. I do remember one of them laughing. When he laughed, I suddenly thought of Christmas, when Poppa opened his gift from me. It was a green scarf. I'd spent every day after school for months making it for him. It was crooked the whole time, and I couldn't tell. He saw it, and before he could stop himself, he laughed. Momma scolded him. He wore it every day that winter, but it didn't matter. I knew he didn't like it.

I thought of that. Of Poppa and the scarf. Then I pushed every thought from my head because none of them deserved to be in that darkness with me.

It's dark now. I'm lying with the others. We're the closest barrack to the officers' building. We can hear their music and their laughter. I think of when they'll walk by our door, and how some of them might stop to come inside. I feel sick. The women are whispering of leaving here, of escape. I want them to stop because it makes me hope.

I tell myself that it wouldn't have made a difference, if I had been at home when they came instead of at the hospital. I've heard that home is just as bad. To have it happen there, on my streets, would be even worse than here.

My streets. Sebastian lived across my street. I saw him, just before I left for training. He asked when I was coming back. One day, I said. He was leaving, too, to go fight again. I asked when he was coming back. He suddenly took my hands, and then dropped them. He said the same thing. One day. He didn't smile.

They're still whispering. I roll over and begin to listen.

She managed to escape from the camp and fled to southern Germany where she remained working as an interpreter for Americans, waitress in EM Clubs of the American Army. She was described as good looking, well groomed, about 5'7" tall and weighed 130 lbs. She has blue eyes and dyes her hair reddish blonde. She impresses as an intelligent woman with a gift for polite and interesting conversation.

Some of the girls complain about the music in the club, but I don't mind it. It's nothing like I've heard before, and anything different from before is good. The only one I can't stand is that song by those three American sisters. The Andrews, I think they're called. They pronounce the word- our word- wrong, just so they can rhyme it with another. I think that's lazy. But then, I'm not writing songs for Americans and making lots of real American money. So to say that might be unfair of me.

When I say it to the Ami boys, though, they laugh. They think I'm funny and sweet. They like me, and always ask for me first when they need a speaker. My accent is awful, but that makes me even funnier to them. I don't mind that, either. If I make them laugh before they start or after they're finished, I often get extra food. Cigarettes, too, sometimes. Their officers say it's not allowed, but I know that even they do it.

Possessing a logical intellect she was aware that the moral aspects of her life leave a lot to be desired and she did not try to compensate her shortcomings.

There have been a few rough ones, but most of them are fine. Compared to the last place, these are like children, and children are gentler about everything. They're very friendly. When they try to kiss me, I just laugh. They usually laugh with me, and don't try again. They learn that most of us don't like it.

Momma wrote me yesterday. She's still glad I'm in the south, because it must be better than the city. It is, but I never write that to her. She wrote something else. Sebastian is dead. They found his body in France somewhere. I wanted to cry when I read that, but I couldn't.

Her mother, who was a thoroughly respectable and nice woman, died in 1956 in West Berlin. Her father was killed in World War II. Her sister, 30 years old, is a singer and married to an Englishman and has two children. The other sister, 26, is a kindergarten nurse, in West Berlin and is unmarried. There were no chronic illnesses or disorders in her family.

I can usually hide it on bad days, but today is very, very bad. I'm sitting in the back room on the cot. The room is almost empty because we aren't receiving another shipment until tomorrow. The letter is still in my hand. It's been in my hand since this morning, when I opened it. I was supposed to go back next week to visit, if the weather was still good and I had enough money for the train. If I hadn't gone to see Zeitler about that assistant position and worked an extra day instead, I might have had enough, sooner. I should've known he wouldn't hire me, and shouldn't have bothered at all. Then I would've had enough money. At least Elsie was there with her. Katrin has the money, but she didn't go back. She'll never go back if she can help it.

I knew Herr Müller is looking for me, but I have to get control of myself first. I might drop something or spill something. Speak too loudly. Smile too wide. I can't lose this job. I've been here for years. Too long. But I can't lose this job. I have to keep it. I have to keep going. I have to.

Ralf's father is presumed to be an American soldier of Italian descent, 23 years old, tall, with black eyes and curly black hair. He was a mechanic by trade and lived in the eastern part of the United States. He left Germany before the birth of Ralf and was never heard from again. He was described as having a lively Italian temperament, stubborn but also capable of kindness and good-heartedness.

There's a knock on the door, and I stand up so quickly the cot tips over. The door opens. It's the DiMaggio boy. I saw you go back here a while ago, he says. You don't look very happy. You're usually happy. What's wrong? Are you sick?

No, I'm not sick, I say. He smiles at my accent, as always. He asks if he can join me. Yes, I say. Of course.

He turns the cot right-side-up and gestures for me to sit. I sit. He sits next to me and asks me again what's wrong. I shrug. Tell me, he says. Maybe I can help.

I shrug again. He puts a hand on my leg as I try to smile. His hand moves farther up my leg as his face moves close to mine. I can help you, he whispers.

And then I'm crying. His hand moves to rub my back and his voice pitches higher, like a child's. No, no, he says. Don't cry. He puts his arms around me, and I press my face to his jacket. It smells of tobacco and shaving cream. I'm saying things. I don't know what I'm saying. I can't hear what I'm saying. I only hear them laughing. Guns shooting. People screaming. Screaming.

Then it's quiet again, and I can hear his voice. It's okay, he's saying. It's okay.

I look up at him as he takes my hands. His eyes are very dark. Almost black.

This information was obtained from the dossier forwarded by Miss O'Casey, social worker for N.C.W.C. in Germany.

We trust this information will be of help and interest to you.

Sincerely Yours,

Teresa C. Feheley

Adoption Worker