Tomahawk: Chapter 8: Wolves



Mama and Papa began to prepare themselves for the journey east. We owned a little of value. Our entire furniture consisted of a large bed in which they slept and a small bed for me, a couch with broken springs, a marble washstand with a cracked pitcher, two wardrobes filled with very old clothing, and Mama’s sewing machine. That is what they had seem able to gather during the many hard years for their life. All of it fitted into one small room and one small kitchen. The secondhand furniture dealer that came to the apartment, smiled apologetically and offered them a few marks for the lot. It would cost more than its worth to move it away. Mama, despite the tears it cost her , sold a few gold trinkets she owned. Papa was concerned about the harsh polish winter, and he said that he wanted to make sure we had sound shoes and some warm clothing. With money from Mama’s earrings and a pearl pin she inherited from her mother many years ago, he was able to buy a used pair of jack boots for himself and to have good soles put on them. Mama traded a few meters of wool cloth , she had been saving, with a neighbor for an old but warm overcoat. Uncle Sigi gave me a short cloth coat with a moth-eaten sheepskin collar. It smelled bad and I didn’t like it at all but I didn’t tell anyone, not even Mama.

Besides trying to get some decent clothing together, there were all kinds of bureaucratic formalities that had to be taken care of, Certificates had to be obtained from the tax office , the police station, the housing office, and the rationing board. Mama and Papa spent waiting in the corridors of city offices.
The tug of war between the preparations for the trip that were taking place all around me and my planned last minute desertion were hard to bear. I usually loved getting ready for trips or excursions of any kind but now I didn’t know which way to turn. Could I get really involved with what my parents were doing when I carried the secret of Tomahawk in my heart. It was difficult for me to keep my course amidst the eddies of conflicting feelings – enthusiasm , sentiment , and anxiety ; hot , cold , excited and depressed. I became moody and tried to withdraw from Mama and Papa’s efforts to get ready for Poland. As a consequence we began to snap at each other frequently and argued over petty, inconsequential detail.

“Forgive me for saying it,” I heard Mama complain to Rosa Querbaum, “it is as if the trip to Poland is putting bitter pill in everything we taste.”

Meanwhile , Tad was searching , without much success, for the equipment that we needed to complete Tomahawk. A pump was required so that we could force water out of the dive tanks when we wanted to surface. My plans also called for a second set of bicycle pedals and sprocket wheels to operate the pump and to turn the propeller. Tad owned an old bicycle and its mechanism and frame was ready to be fitted into Tomahawk. But we planned to work the pumps and the propeller with two sets of pedals so that we could tread , simultaneously , while sitting side by side on the diving bench of the boat. Tad looked everywhere , junk shops, scrap yards ,and the attics and cellars of relatives but nothing suitable turned up.

On all Saint’s Day , Tad arrived in a wild state of excitement at our apartment. He had been scavenging in a backroom of his uncle’s automobile repair shop in Doebling. Amidst piles of car parts and metal junk , Tad had found a treasure hoard : two hydraulic cylinders that might serve as pumps , several bearings, and a long steel shaft that we might use to mount a propeller. He had dragged the pieces one by one , back to his apartment house and hid them in the coal cellar.

It was raining heavily when Tad arrived to make his triumphant announcement but I instantly put on my jacket. We raced each other to Tad’s house through streets that were now slick with rain.

“Perfect” I said , still panting ,”You are a genius. These cylinders are just right for the blowing process.” I stroked the greasy metal lovingly with my fingers.

“They are in very good condition. Perfect.”

“Agreed! Excellent! Let’s get them down to the hut right away.”

“I am not going near that hut,” I replied quickly. “With all this rain, the mud would  ground leave a trail that even a blind Indian could read. The police will see the trail and begin to patrol the road.”

“You made that stupid remark before!” Tad was peeved. The problem had not occurred to Tad and that stung his pride. He sat down heavily on the stairs and stared into the gloom. Outside the low cellar window, the rain intensified. It looked as if it would storm deep into the night. Tomorrow the ground would be a quagmire.

“I guess we will have to wait until have to wait until things dry out. .” The thought made me sick. It might rain for days. And then the snows would come. We might have to stay away from Tomahawk for the rest for months. What would happen then? In my heart I knew that if Tomahawk was not close to finished when my parents were ready to leave for Poland with them like a good little boy. We did not months. We may not even have weeks. Suddenly, I felt terribly blue and alone. My body seemed paper-thin and I sighed deeply as if my soul had sprung a leak.

“Wait,” said Tad. “I have an idea.” He need not have said anything. The glow in his face was clearly visible even in the deep gloom. “Since my uncle went back to his army unit from his leave , there is no one at the garage his part-time helper, Gusti. He’d let us work there. He isn’t dumb but he doesn’t have much imagination.”

That was a very interesting thought. “Hey,” I said, “do you really think we could get in there ? That garage would be perfect with all those tools.” Fitting that shaft to the driving mechanism and modifying the hydraulic cylinders was no easy job and I had worried about weather I would really be able to handle it Gusti might be a lot of help.

On the other hand , Gusti, whose full name was August Aloysius Huber , might ask a lot of questions about what we are trying to do. My nose itched. It was hard to know when to be bold and when to be careful.

A new thought about Gusti , suddenly occurred to me. “what do you think Tad?” I asked, showing my nose in profile to Tad . “Do I look very Jewish?”

Tad was obviously becoming more excited about the garage in Doebling becoming our winter substitute for the fisherman’s hut.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I can tell Gusti almost anything and he’d believe me . Word of honour, I can do it, I’ll tell him you are one of my schoolmates. You were until a while ago, you know. And I’ll spin a story about wanting to build a diver’s outfit, He’d laugh and kid us a little but , he’d let us do what we want. Just as long as we don’t get in his way. He might even help if we could find a little bottle of Schnapps for him.”

This was the way tad had contrived to have us more into the snug and warm automobile repair shop in Doebling. The weather turned cold and snow fell nearly everyday. Inside the garage ,a generously stoked coal stove kept us comfortable. The shop had been classified as important to the war economy and so they got more of the rationed coal than was really needed. It smelled of motor oil and coal smokes and the potatoes that Gusti roasted on top of the round bellied stove.

We began rebuilding the hydraulic cylinders so that they could be used as pumps. Tad had been right about Gustl. A bottle of Kuemmel , (Gustl claimed eased digestion due to its caraway and fennel flavoring)  stolen by Tad from his mother’s store , turned the mechanic into a jolly, benevolent elf. He patiently listened to Tad’s diving suit story and laughed and kidded us about it a little. After watching my clumsy efforts to build the pump, he became interested, and started to help. I’m not sure whether it was the Kuemmel or just love of tinkering. The grease – blackened fingers of the old mechanic performed wonders. The more he succeeded, the more involved he became. Gusti salvaged a drive mechanism from a rusted old bicycle , cleaned it and adjusted it until it purred when turned. He machined a gear for us to move the hydraulic cylinders and fitted it with a take-off gear to which the propeller drive shaft could be attached.

“You wont find a gear like this just any place, “ Gusti aid proudly and took another swig of Kuemmel , “you see here it has a regular gear wheel for the shaft , and then you push this lever out the sprocket wheel drives a Geneva mechanism. I got the idea fro a movie projector I repaired once. The Geneva gadget converts circular motion of the bicycle sprocket wheel into the back and forth movements of the pump’s piston. You have to have tippled on a Viennese mother’s milk to think of something like this.”

Due to the rain the  blackout had been suspended for over  a week. I sat by the apartment window and stared through the rain splashed panes at the black glistening patches of sidewalk were emerging from the frozen snow. With luck, we would be able to get back to the hut soon and could start installing the driver gear and the pumps.

A gust of wind threw a cascade of water across the panes. This is the way it looks through the port hole , I thought. Green water will be everywhere. We will be floating through green water aglow with sunlight filtering down from the surface. Tomahawk will glide through a forest of water plants bending in the current. Blow the tanks! I could hear the sharp click of the lever engaging the pumps, and the whir of the drive gear. Slowly our submarine tilts upwards and rises to the surface shedding silvery streams of water. Just ahead is an island , its shores seamed with high grass and black bamboo. A crane bends to catch a  fish , and a beaver races away Tomahawk , trailing a quivering tongue of water. My command is “Half-speed,” “I see movement in the reeds. A deer! We will have to roast venison for lunch.”

The noise of the opening apartment door startled me out of my revery. Papa must be coming home from visiting Uncle Sigi. I heard Mama giving him the usual fluttering welcome in the kitchen. Somehow she managed to be able to be at the hall door when ever he came home to take his coat and hat and look him over as if to make sure that everything had been returned in good order. Nearly always , she found some small speck of foreign matter, a raindrop or a stray snow flake on his forehead or shoulder and brush it off. Mama does this even if Papa had only gone out to buy a few cigarettes. She acts as if he had been on some trying mission . The city streets were a hostile , foreign place to her. Her husband was returning to her sheltering cove. I will miss them.

They came into the room arm in arm and I rose from my window seat to kiss Papa who had sat down on the couch to take off his shoes. He looked up at me and smiled. “Well,” he said, “at least I have some definite news about our departure. The Cohens were at the Jewish Community agency this morning. The transport schedule has been posted. We will leave , with god’s will on December 1.

“The 1st ?” asked Mama, “Its definite then?”

“Yes ,” said Papa, “this is somewhat later than I thought it would be. But, I suppose there are always problems in a project of this kind, Sigi says that he has heard that people in our group will be given the job of building house accommodations for the following transports. I guess this means we have to prepare ourselves to make do with temporary accommodations when we get to Poland.. We might,” he said turning to me with a small smile,” we might have to sleep in tents at first.

This maybe a little rough if the Polish winter is still as I remember it . But you always like the idea of living in a tent , didn’t you?”

I tried very hard to imagine what this Polish tent encampment would be like but my recent green and silver vision of the delta kept getting in the way. Nevertheless there was something about the definiteness of the departure date and about the trip that touched my imagination and disturbed me.

I drew a chair to my father . “You said that 1st is earlier than you expected, didn’t you?”

Papa frowned. “Yes , but I told you that I am not surprised. The winters in Poland are very tough. The functionaries who are in charge of the project probably want us there as soon as possible. Apparently, we need to build accommodations for those to follow and they want to get on it right away.. It requires a lot of preparation to accommodate so many people. There are probably few good buildings that are fit for families. That’s why they need us now .To get started.? I am sure that people in charge will give us all we need when we get there. .”

“Oh , I can understand that , Papa. I am not complaining, I am just surprised at home quickly this is devleoping ?” I touched my father’s arm.

“Tell me Papa, are there many deer in Poland? Do they still have wild wolves.”

“Well I am sure that there are a few left in the forests.”

“Do you imagine that we will be allowed to hunt them”

“For heaven’s sake ,” growled Papa , “your head is always full of wild ideas. I can’t bother myself with your nonsense questions. I have had a long day and I’m going to bed. Who in their right mind want to go wolf hunting ?”

I was already opening my mouth to ask him about deer, but then I saw the scowl in his face and I changed mind.

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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