Read the first couple pages of the book to get an idea of what Gerhard’s book is all about. You’ll even discover the story behind the book’s title!
Chapter 1: LIFE IN THE OLD COUNTRY
WHY CAN’T SOMEBODY JUST DIE AROUND HERE?
On a warm summer day in 1947, seven-year-old Günter, my brother, is sitting on the foot-wide first floor windowsill of our living room with his feet dangling out of the open window. He is observing people walking on the dirt road in front of the old school house where we live and where Dad works as a teacher. As Günter is observing some older people walk by, he turns his head toward Mom and says in German the equivalent of, “Why can’t somebody just die around here?” He doesn’t remember Mom’s response in detail, but she took it all in stride and understood what he meant. Maybe she even smiled.
Why would my brother say such a thing? Why would Mom react in this way? The year 1947 was a very hard year in West Germany. There was a severe shortage of food. The average caloric intake for adults was about 1080 calories per day (17). According to the Mayo Clinic, a 40-year-old, 5 ft. 10 in., 150 lb., active man requires 2350 calories per day (18). Some people, especially children, were dying from lack of food. Since they produced their own food, the farmers in our village ate well. Refugees like my family, on the other hand, never had enough to eat.
My dad, who had studied at a Lutheran seminary, occasionally officiated at funerals. After a death, the body was washed and placed in the coldest room of the house or cold hallway. The funeral would usually take place about three days after death.
The local farmers in the village of Ohrenbach, where we lived, would provide food for those who traveled to the funeral and there would be a big feast. Travelers often had long slow journeys by farm wagon or on foot. During the winter those journeys were undertaken by horse-drawn sleighs.
For officiating at the funeral, Dad was paid in sacks of food that amounted to a substantial “carry-out order.” This was the only time we had enough to eat, so for us children, funerals had a special place in our hearts. This explains why Günter said what he did that day.
Why Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here? places this incident in context with my family’s experiences before, during, and after WWII. I can reveal now that the book has a happy ending. We came to the USA and we never worried about getting enough food again.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
On a nice warm day, there was an outdoor festival in Bistritz, the Transylvanian part of Romania. Mom was 18 years old and some young men tricked her into walking across an elevated walkway to go see something on the other side.
Unbeknownst to Mom, this was the walkway for a beautiful legs contest. Much to her surprise, she was informed that she won the contest she did not know she had entered. One person in the crowd of interested young observers was Dad. As he saw her walking he commented to a friend, “I’m going to marry that girl!” My father was a very determined man, and my naïve mom was no match. I have no idea how long the engagement was, but Dad spoke with her father and asked for her hand. There was a Lutheran church wedding in the same church in Bistritz where Mom, Günter, and I were baptized. My poor mother had no idea what to expect on the wedding night because her own mother had never talked to her about this topic. We can assume things worked out since my brother was born nine months later. Mom and Dad were married in June 1939.