Miss Graham and the American Foxhound

Miss Graham was what is pejoratively referred to as spinster and an old maid. She was an elderly lady that my mother and my Aunt Edith met in London. She lived on the outskirts of London in a centuries-old stone house, which had been designated as a historical site. She was conservative in the best sense of the word. Of course she was an English purist who was opposed to the use of words like “okay” and “guy.”
Miss Graham took it upon herself to help our family. When I turned five in March of 1940, I committed my first evil act. Miss Graham gave a birthday party for me. The only child guest was Mary, who lived down the road. Miss Graham made a chocolate cake for me. I was not feeling in a birthday mood, and I paid no attention to Mary.

Miss Graham bent down close to talk to me, and I hit her in the face. Here was a fine selfless person who had baked a cake and was giving a party for a brat, and the brat rewarded her by a blow with his fist. It could be that being a refugee was getting me down, but why did I take it out on her? My family and I were victims of injustice, but did I have to punish a woman who was being a Good Samaritan, no, the Best Samaritan?A year later, when we were in Princeton, I bent over to pet an American foxhound and he bit me in the face. There was a commotion and I was taken to the doctor for a tetanus shot.
Was this tit for tat? Was I being punished in the United States for what I had done in England? At any rate, ever since then, although I still love dogs, that emotion has always been tinged with distrust. Did Miss Graham feel the same way about refugee children after the failed birthday party?
Forgive me, dear Miss Graham.

Learning English in Tunbridge Wells

I remember coming out of the air raid shelter and seeing the smoking ruins of what had been blocks of streets in London. From there we went to Tunbridge Wells. I was going on five at the time. I was deposited in a boarding school yard, just like that. I looked around and saw a beautiful woman in a nurse’s outfit and ran to her. I threw my arms around her and she returned my embrace.

Each child had his own nurse, and she became my nurse. That was the first good experience I had with a woman, other than my mother. And there would be many more. Women have played a very positive role in my life. I have been very, very lucky.They said that if you heard a falling bomb whistle, it would be the last thing you heard. One night, while we were in our dormitory beds, we heard a whistling. Then there was a kaboom!

A bright light enveloped the dormitory and the whole building shook. Almost immediately, we were herded into the basement by the nurses. The next day we went out to see a large crater next to the nursery. We spent the rest of the week collecting shrapnel.

When my mother heard about the bomb, she came to see for herself. Besides the crater, there was another surprise. I had entered the boarding school speaking German and a few words of English. But when she saw me after the blast, she said that I spoke fluent English and had forgotten German. And imagine, I spoke it with a British accent, which I promptly lost after we came to New York on the Cameronia.

Acquiring English in Tunbridge Wells was the first and last time in my life that I had learned something easily. From then on, I had to struggle to learn anything. I would always have difficulty memorizing. But at least once in my life, something had come to me through the window.