Living on the Economy

By Millie Wood, AF wife and founder of the Ruidoso, NM MAW

I come from good, hard working and adventurous stock.  In 1954, at the age of 21, I had been married two years. I bought a ticket on the liner, USS United States.  It was to be her second trip across the Atlantic Ocean. I was going to visit my husband who was in the U.S. Air Force. He was a Russian Linguist in the 85th Radio Squadron Mobile. Having paid $150 for a one-way fare to LeHarve, France, I boarded the train in Waco, Texas.  My entire family was there to bid me farewell.  No one in the family had undertaken such a venture, and my family was sad to see me go.

I took the boat train from the Port of LeHarve to Paris.  My husband was there to meet me.  It was here that my new friend, Shirley Burney, and I split company.  She got on the same train in Ft. Worth that I had boarded in Waco.  In the restroom, we decided that we would work to get our seats together since she had a GI sleeping on her shoulder, and I had one sleeping on mine.  We managed to exchange seats, and hotel rooms in New York City, and cabins on the USS United States.  Her husband was on the USAF basketball team and was playing a game in London at the time.

I met up with my husband, Doug in France. Shirley boarded a train to Frankfurt where her husband was stationed.

Doug and I sat down at a table in a Paris sidewalk cafe and had a light lunch.  We were amazed to learn that the bill included a fee for the condiments on the table and the glass of water we shared, especially as Doug’s pay was $112 per month.

Doug was stationed at Sembach.  Our apartment was in Enkenbach.  He was picked up each morning and delivered to work in a 6X. A German man, who was a POW in the Sugarland, Texas internment camp during the war, was assigned to my husband and me to teach me German and to help with the transition to life on the German economy.  My husband agreed to his offer to order our coal and potatoes.  100 pounds of each was sent down the chute to the basement.

One morning in late November, while helping Frau Blaum bake Christmas cookies in the kitchen, which was in a structure outside the house and beyond the garden, I began to get a queasy stomach.  In German, she said to me, “You are with child”.  “Oh no, I am sure that is not so.”  She insisted, and three days later at the dispensary, I was told I was pregnant with our first child.

Years later, in 1976, the entire Westbrook family stood on the steps of the remodeled home at 33 an der Schutzenkanzel in Enkenbach when Herr Blaum opened to door and Frau Blaum rushed out, asking in German “Wo ist mein Deutsches Madchen?” That is supposed to say “Where is my German baby girl?”

In 1955, Doug was transferred to Kassel, and we left behind 90+ pounds of both coal and potatoes.   We lived in Iringshausen and he was stationed at a German base that was concealed in a forest.  We lived in one room that was our bedroom, living room, and kitchen.  The bathroom was in the hall just outside our door.  Slightly showing my pregnancy, I tramped the streets using my new German, going from one house to another, asking “Haben Sie a Wohnung fur mieten?”  That was supposed to be asking, “Do you have an apartment for rent?”.  The one room apartment became the three-week home of the Easleys, another Russian Linguist and his wife, who could find no lodging.

Back in the U.S., spouses had to go through a rigid security clearance. So there we were in Germany, living on the “economy”.

We bought a 1949 Opal to make the move from Enkenbach to Irringshausen.  Doug did not realize it was the Fasching season when he had a German mechanic drive our car to check out the engine one winter morning.  The mechanic and Doug sat in the front seat.  Easley and the mechanic’s friend sat in the back.  Too late, Doug and Easley realized both Germans were drunk.  The mechanic lost control, and had it not been for the tree that stopped the rolling vehicle, they would have ended up in the Fulda River.

Two weeks later, our landlady, Frau Luedecke beat me to the front door when the junk metal man came to ask about the wrecked Opal.  Although we told the Luedeckes, as we were instructed to do, that Doug was a medic, Frau Leudecke was heard telling the junk metal man, “The car is at the entrance of the Base, he works behind that electric fence in the mobile units”.

So much for security!  We got $19 for the wrecked Opal that we paid $150 six weeks earlier. That $19 went toward my $95 airfare back to the States which had to be before my sixth month of pregnancy.  It took two days and nights in a prop plane.  Nine months later, Doug returned home to a crotchety baby girl, and tossing her around like he thought a good father should, she broke out in German measles.  He was forever more accused of bringing her the German measles.

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