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Over Here: 101 - A German Luger

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...The point is that we had an actual Luger pistol, made way off over there in Germany somewhere, and, in our young minds, almost certainly handled at one time by Hitler himself!...

Ron Pataky continues his autobiography.

You remember Aunt Nellie. She was Uncle Christ's long-suffering wife who wouldn't take "sick" for an answer. Nellie was a sweet, caring thing; but to be terribly honest, a little of her went a long way for youngsters like us. She wore her mousy hair short. She was brassy and brash. And, she was something of an abrasive kidder. Then there was that hunch-back thing!

Never exactly the souls of tolerance and benevolence (I guess no kids are), Gordie and I used to make fun of her behind her back on occasion. The "problem" with Nellie was that she spent her time almost exclusively in the company of gritty, no-nonsense hunters, nut-growers, and farm-hands, virtually all of them males of the species. And occasionally slopping Grandpa's hogs. I guess it was probably inevitable that she would become a bit rough around the edges herself. She was ... well, kind of unpolished in her ways. Still, she was a wonderful gal who'd give a body anything she could, and it would occur to me many times for some years after her death that I really missed the old girl.

Christ and Nellie, as I've mentioned, lived for maybe three decades in a very small house. One of the curiosities therein was a huge water tank, called a cistern, in their basement. It was always full of water, and I'd never seen anything remotely like it. As the three of us did stuff in the basement, cleaning our guns, looking at the seldom-used fishing poles, or maybe washing an ungrateful Weimaraner, you could occasionally hear the standing water gently "lapping," as new water entered, undoubtedly from the latest rain. Since there was only about an eighteen-inch space between the top of the concrete block walls and the ceiling itself, swimming was pretty well ruled out (and almost certainly diving!). It was water for drinking and stuff anyway, and we wouldn't have wanted to have messed that up! Ha!

Gordie and I must have spent hours trying to figure a way to overcome the hurdle presented by the tank's layout - only two sides open to the public, so to speak, and squeezing space at the top for a smaller dwarf or two. (On more than one occasion, it occurred to me that it would be very difficult even to drag a body out of the cavernous space. Should I maybe send Gordie in first? He was a good swimmer. But no, that was a stupid idea!). As you might reasonably surmise, our notion never came even close to fruition, which I more or less realized even at that young age was probably just as well.

It was a first-rate day, though, when I got my hands around my first German Luger. It'd been given to Uncle Christ by one of his POW friends, after which he'd shipped it home for safekeeping. We had no bullets, of course ... but that would have been expecting way too much! The point is that we had an actual Luger pistol, made way off over there in Germany somewhere, and, in our young minds, almost certainly
handled at one time by Hitler himself! (How many damned Lugers could there be, after all?).

Aunt Nellie let us take it to school one day, where we were greeted by mildly interested kids who said things like, "I'll be darned." Watching a guy or two being darned was good enough for me. (It wasn't until later that I discovered that, in 1945, German Lugers over there, if not "a dime a dozen," could easily be had for about five bucks in occupation money. And many, many were acquired for nothing!). In any case, I even let Gordie touch the black beauty a time or two, but the dumb kid had little appreciation for the finer things in life. For gosh sakes, he merely blinked At a silver, Gestapo-marked dagger, but still thought that falling nuts and lightning bugs were exciting!

Christ would send a number of war souvenirs during the four years he spent in France, Belgium, and Germany, including the fascinating occupation money the GIs used to buy things. Far and away the most interesting of these was the single French five-franc note, which he had signed and dated on the back (as he had all of his issued money, thus certifying ownership,) on a day that would go down in history. In his unmistakable handwriting, it was dated June 6, 1944, written in the very early hours of the day that would take him across the English Channel to the beaches of France. It was D-Day, and Uncle Christ, along with tens of thousands of other young American men and boys, was about to step into the history books!

For years, the family was unaware of the fact that Christ waded ashore with the very first wave. Maybe he hadn't known. Or maybe he simply chose not to talk about it. But, when we read his citation shortly after his death, that's what it said. And somewhere on his bulky person as he waded ashore that early morning in 1944 was the precious five-franc note. (Even though Uncle Christ wasn't much of a gambler, I always liked to think that the single bill hadn't gone into battle alone! He finally would assure me with a sly wink, perhaps twenty years ago that the solitary bill I possessed had indeed enjoyed the company of "one or two" others he'd earned, working at a military thing the Army called "Craps").
years after her death that I really missed the old girl.

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