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Submitted on
October 24, 2013
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The sun was high and yet the day was cool in the northern Italian farmlands.  The harvest was in and the hot days of summer were a thing of the past.  There of course were still things that needed to be done around the farm...there were always things that needed to be done on a farm...but the harder work of tending the fields was, at least for a few months, put on hold.

The old man sat in a well-worn wooden rocking chair and gazed over the bustle of his extended family as they prepared for the traditional harvest dinner.  Small children ran about playing while being watched by a select few of the older children.  His wife oversaw the seeming chaos with a practiced hand.

It was inevitable that his island of quiet would be disturbed as the small children’s tornado of activity made its way toward him.  Soon small, gasping faces beamed at him. 

“Tell us a story grandpapa”, they implored of the old man.  

Yes, tell us how you met grandmamma!” 

This jubilant request was repeated several more times.  The older children also nodded and smiled, for they had already heard this story and agreed that it was a worthy tale.

The old man stopped rocking and his eyes focused on something far away and long ago.

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As you know I emigrated here from Germany when I was not much older than you.  It was late in the war when I became old enough to be conscripted into the German army.  The Americans were advancing into Italy, but Germany still held the north.  The unit I was in was well back from the fighting and mostly patrolled the countryside.  And so it was that, when an American bomber was shot down, we were sent to see if we could capture any survivors.  I had done this several times before and had yet to see an American...so I was quite surprised when I stepped around some trees and there he was!

It was clear that he was an American pilot by his flight suit, but he was not at all what I was expecting.  The talk amongst my fellows was that Americans were tall, robust men... but the man I was faced with was rather short, and with such a youthful face that I questioned if he had even started shaving!  I almost wanted to laugh when I saw him pointing a pistol that looked far too big for him!  But an instant later I noticed how practiced and confidently he held it pointed at my chest.  Then I looked into his eyes...and there I saw the look of someone who had killed men before, and was willing to kill me.

We stood there facing each other for what seemed to me to be several minutes, but was more likely only a few seconds.  I knew these were the last moments of my life. 

I’ve been told that when you are about to die you review the events of your life, but all I could see was that pistol and his eyes.  Then he did the last thing I would have thought he would do.  He indicated with his free hand that I was to drop my rifle --which I did as if I had been holding a snake! 

He then indicated that I should leave.


With that I turned and began to run!  I ran through forests and farm fields!  My heart pounded and emotions made chaos of my thoughts.  Fear and exhilaration kept me running until it grew dark.  I soon found a small unoccupied shack to take refuge...and in the darkness I was able to begin to think clearly. 

Should I have tried to fight the American?  If I had, I would most certainly be dead.  Maybe I could have not run so far... and maybe I could have retrieved my rifle after the American had left.  It struck me as unlikely that he would have left it on the ground...and if I had returned to my unit without my rifle --what story could I have told to explain it?  If I told them what had actually happened, I would be branded a coward and most likely shot!  I had no desire to be killed by either the American or my fellow Germans!

The decision had been made in an instant, when there was no time to consider options.  I had deserted the German Army; the question was how I felt about it.  I had grown up with the Nazis in power and their war to take over Europe.  I had heard many rumors about what the Secret Police were doing to enemies of the State.  If any of them were true, should I really have any loyalty to those running this war?  Could I join the Allies?  More likely they would just send me to a prisoner of war camp.  No, there were no good options for me to continue to fight in this war...so I set my mind to figuring out how to keep from being killed or going to prison.

The first thing I did was alter --then abandon-- my uniform...then I set about putting as much distance as I could between myself and my old unit.  I spent several weeks living mostly in various wooded areas, finding what little food and shelter I could.  Every now and again a farmer gave me shelter. 

On one of those farms I came upon, I found a farmer struggling with his plow.  I offered him help --which he gladly accepted.  At this point I knew very little Italian, and the farmer spoke no German, but he nevertheless gave me food and a place to sleep.  I continued to help the farmer for a few more weeks, but then a German patrol came to his farm.

By the time we had seen them, it was far too late for me to run!  The farmer simply patted my shoulder...and with a smile went to talk to the patrol.  He told them I was his father’s brother’s "simple" son...and that I was also a mute.  I played the part, and soon the patrol left.  My little deception didn’t only work on the Germans, but also the Americans, when they eventually rolled through.  Maybe it only worked because, at that point in the war, the two sides had bigger concerns than to discover if I was faking it.

Working a farm was not what I thought I would be doing when I dreamt of my future as a child, but that is often the way life works.  It helped that the farmer had the most beautiful daughter I had ever seen, and we were married shortly after the war.

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That was grandmamma”, one of the old man’s great grand children exclaimed.

Yes, that was your grandmamma and still the most beautiful women I have ever known...although, I might be a bit biased

One of the other children, looking thoughtful, asked, “Do you know what happened to the American pilot who let you go?  Was he killed by the Germans?”

The old man chuckled a bit, “There is no way I could know that, so I suppose it is possible he was found by another patrol...and either killed or sent to a prisoner of war camp.”  He then shook his head and smiled a bit, “I like to think that he got away, the same as I did, and eventually made it back to his family.  I hope that he is also surrounded by many grandchildren.  But if I ever got the chance to meet him again...I would thank him.  Not just for sparing my life, but for giving me my life.”

This is a story I wrote for my grandfather for his 90th birthday. It is based on an encounter he had with a German soldier during World War II. My grandfather was a gunner on a bomber that was shot down over northern Italy. It took several weeks for him to make his way back to safety and he had several encounters with German patrols, this speculates about the outcome of one of those encounters.
:iconphrase-maker:
phrase-maker Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2013
A critique from :iconwriters--club:

A well-structured and nicely told little story, delivered with a nicely charactered sense of voice.  Just enough detail to fill in the surrounding situation without overloading us.

I'm mixed about the use of italics and punctuation for the emphasis: on the one hand as I said, it does create a sense of the old narrator's character; on the other hand, it gets a little distracting (e.g. "...and maybe I could have *retrieved my rifle* after the American had left...", "...rumours about what the *Secret Police* were doing to enemies...") - perhaps tone it down a little, should you ever be writing a similar voice, and let the readers imagine his cadences as they will.

Overall: nicely done!
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:iconrickf7666:
RickF7666 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013
Thanks for taking the time to not only read my story but to critique it.

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with your assessment of the use of italics and punctuation.  Much like a painter, or any other artist, uses what ever tools they have to convey the mood or emotion they are trying to invoke, I think a writer should do the same thing.  As a writer I'm trying to present a story not just tell one.  Most people have a lot of experience with stories from TV or movies and how the story is presented is often the determiner of whether they like it or not.  For myself, I've read many stories with and without the various text gymnastics that my stories use and the ones that use it often feel more dynamic, more alive.

There are a lot more text tools that are available to writers that I've rarely seen used, such as using different fonts or font sizes.  As printing techniques evolve and more people read stories on electronic devices I believe that there is room to expand away from just plain text.  I think that because of the limitations of technology the tools used by writers has been limited and stagnant for a very long time.  Back in the time before the invention of the printing press books used to be works of art in and of themselves.  Can't stories be presented in more than just plain text?  Can't use of the technology now available to us be used to enhance the telling of a story?
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