Franklin County, Nebraska
For Another Day
Franklin County Chronicle, April 4, 2000
A By Chance Meeting
The guests registered in the next door to us in our motel room at Pensacola, FL were Eberhard and Elka Peppel of Germany.
The Peppels were spending a week there on the beach. I noticed them early in the morning when we first checked into our room. Later, they were enjoying the warm sunshine on the deck chairs below. I joined them after putting away the luggage in the room. At first, on one said anything, we all just soaked in the heat from the sun. They went for a swim in the ocean. But I, being a chicken of sorts to the cold water, remained on shore. They returned to their room and were soon back outside. Elka was wearing a long wrap shirt of a blue design over the swimsuit as she came down the stairs carrying their lunch of fruit and a sandwich. I admired Elka’s skirt and told her so. She replied “I got it in southern Spain.” From then on the door opened, we talked non-stop about our countries, families, food, and whatever came to mind.
Eberhard and Elka travel the United States about every two years and had seen all if it except the true Midwest. They have even been to Chimney Rock in Nebraska. Eberhard doesn’t speak English, but her explained he knows wheat we are talking about, for he took English in business school in Germany.
Elka talked our language very well for she spent time here in 1954-55 and would have stayed, but thought more of her father’s wished than her own and returned home. The old saying held true, thought Eberhard knew little English to hold a conversation, we all laughed in the same universal language!
Elka worked for a lawyer and Eberhard worked for his city’s government. They are retired now and live in Verden, Germany, where the temperature doesn’t climb over 75 degrees. You can understand why the sun felt so good to all of us. They have two sons ages 38 and 39; one lived in Germany and the other lives in Raleigh Durham, N.C. The son and his wife in North Carolina do cancer research at the University in Raleigh Durham. When I told them that pioneer from Ostfriesland, Germany, settled our area I could tell by their expression that they knew where this place was.
Eberhard and Elka said there are about 80 million people in the country of Germany and remarked their country is about the size of Montana. It is their culture to walk most every place they go. There is a mall about a half an hour away, “but we don’t go there often.” When they left for their vacation about six weeks ago, they paid $1.80 per liter of gasoline. They thought gas was very expensive. The couple lived is a 4-plex in a small town or village of 25, 000 people. This town is 1000 years old, and that seems ancient, considering Franklin County is only 130 years old.
When he was 14 years old, Eberhard and his mother fled from East Germany prior to the Russian takeover. His father was already in the army and Eberhard wanted to go, but his mother would not sign for him to go to war. Eberhard’s father was a maker of optical glasses and telescopes, so that was his job in the service also. Eberhard said it was cold on the escape trip. “We traveled from camp to camp. Sometimes we walked, sometimes we took a train, and we made part of the trip by ship. There was always s enough to eat and we were treated well at the camps.” The two finally made it to West Germany. It took them from January until April to make the flight out of East Germany. Eberhard’s father was able to find them via a system like our Red Cross, even though they were many miles from their original home. Eberhard began attending school in his new home land of West Germany.
He talked fondly of his mother and said she had escaped the Russian’s twice. Once, when she was a young woman of about 20-years-old and again in 1945. Eberhard told us an interesting story about her experience during her first escape, saying she had a muff to keep her hands warm. His mother always kept bread in the muff in case there was no food. She always s told them throughout her life, “ you don’t need houses and possessions, you need money. With money you can buy your way where you need to go.”
Elka also had a story to tell. Elka’s brother-in-law, Willis Welhem, was 17 when the Russians captured him in 1944. He was put in prison located east of Moscow and released in 1949.
Willis was able to visit Russia in the 1980’s. “You had to have a guide when you visit that country at that time, they just didn’t turn you lose,” Elka said. They thought his request to visit the prison was so unusual that they let Willis do it. He asked the guide if a certain guard was still at the prison. Low and behold, he was and Willis was taken to him but was asked to wait outside. Willis could hear the guide say, “A person from West Germany wants to see you.” The guard replied, “That could only be Willis Welhem.” They had a nice unexpected reunion and visited about old times.
Next week I will tell you the second half of the story.
Friendship is the pleasing game, of interchanging praise. Oliver Wendall Holmes
Rena Donovan, For Another Day.
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