In the months after Eitzi had been sent away by her parents to Sweden Ralph often thought about some of the special moments they had shared together. On one occasion they were walking lazily along a river bank that flows into the Baltic Sea near Pirita Park. The late afternoon breeze and overcast autumn sky foreshadowed prospects of rain.
The tree-lined stretch of river was famous for its walking path that invited young lovers. The cold, clear water slaps the bases of ancient trees whose wild roots spire downward in elegant tangles beneath the surface. The two stopped to watch a pair of kayakers go by and then Ralph began to unbutton his wool shirt to remove it.
Ralph was unusual in a lot of ways, so Eitzi hadn’t given much thought to Ralph’s bringing a pruning saw along on this afternoon stroll. “When you set your heart on something there’s no stopping you is there?” she said.
Ralph hardly heard her as he looked eagerly into the water, finally handing his shirt to Eitzi in exchange for the saw.
Without hesitation Ralph plunged head first into the water holding the saw, remaining under water as long as possible. After an unbearably long time he came up for air, shivered, and dove. Again and again Ralph filled his lungs and descended into the ice-cold waters. At last Ralph emerged triumphant from the water’s edge holding a network of roots.
“Isn't it beautiful?” he said.
Eitzi smiled and shrugged, not certain what to say as Ralph, dripping wet and shivering, held out the treasure.
“It'll be the base for a lamp.”
As they walk back where they stashed their bikes Eitzi said, “I can't believe you.”
“Do you always see things no one else sees?”
Ralph laughed. “You have to look beneath the surface of things. Even when they see something they want, most people are afraid to go after it.”
They walked without saying much until they reached the spot where they’d hidden their bikes. Because Ralph's left leg was bad, he’d invented a method of riding a bike with one leg. Using a large, heavyweight rubber band, Ralph would bind his right foot to the pedal of his bicycle.
Later that evening, as a sliver of moon hung suspended above the horizon, Ralph and Eitzi sat on a porch swing wrapped in a blanket.
“You know I love both of you,” Eitzi said.
“I love Mutti, too. He's my best friend,” Ralph replied. “And I can't imagine anything better for him than to have you.
“Then you know he's asked me to marry him?”
“And you haven't said yes?”
“How can I? I know it would break your heart. Oh Ralph.”
They tightly squeezed each others' hands. As Ralph looked up at the sky, Eitzi buried her face in the nape of his neck.
“It’s O.K. You have my blessing, Eitzi. You two will be good for each other.”
But it never came to pass. Mutti was taken during Stalin’s historic midnight raid. Two weeks later Eitzi’s parents sent her away to her cousin’s home in Sweden.
This story is based on a true account of events that occured in Eastern Europe from 1939 to 1944. For narrative purposes the time frame of these events has been condensed without — this writer believes — violating the spirit of that time.