Saturday, September 22, 2012

Uprooted: Part XXIV

On Saturday mornings this blog has been devoted to the serialized telling of the Ralph Kand story. Kand, a young man with a withered leg, fled Estonia when the Red Army began its westward march in autumn 1944. At war's end he found himself in Germany, processing paperwork with the American army.

Translator Typist

Ralph limped to the far corner of the room where an idle typewriter awaited him. The soldier pulled the chair away from the table, inviting Ralph to take a seat. He noted that the typewriter was an old Underwood, a very fast machine.

"Just a minute," the soldier said.

Ralph looked around and two more uniformed Americans had now joined them.

"O.K. let's type, uhm..."

"How about 'Oh when the saint go marching in.'" The men laughed.

"Sure, sure," the red-headed American said. He then recited, rather than sang, the New Orleans favorite as Ralph's fingers clacked away.

"He's good," one of the soldiers laughed.

"Here," the tall one said, "I will read a page of this magazine and he can type it."

Ralph tuned his ear to the man's nasally baritone voice. More clickety clacking sprang from his fingers.

The three soldier bent over Ralph's shoulder.

"Look at that. He even knows how to spell."

"Sort of," the redhead said, pointing to a typo in the previous sentence.

"Go fetch that German kid and bring him over here."

There was a small commotion and then a youth mo more than fifteen was brought over. "Wiley, go ahead and have him talk in German. Ask him where he's from." Then turning to Ralph, "And you type that in English for us."

This was the real test. Ralph typed as fast as he could, grunting when he missed a word. The boy was nervous and muttered something gutteral, then said he missed his family and that he was glad the war was over.

The Americans marvelled.

"Go get the major."

A couple minutes passed and a round-faced man with spectacles walked over to the corner where they'd gathered. "The major's tied up but I have a few minutes." Ralph turned and looked up at the man inquisitively, then started to rise.

"Be seated. That's O.K. I'm Collins, Major Anderson's executive assistant. These fellas said you have some special skills."

Ralph nodded. 

"What's your name? Where are you from?"

"Kand. Ralph Kand." This time he stood, looked directly into the man's eyes. "I'm Estonian, sir."

"Where did you learn your English, son?"

"BBC." It was true. He and his brother learned English in order to stay abreast of global events while Stalin's dark blanket smothered Estonia. He did not mention his efforts to bone up while in a German jail this last part of the war.

Collins thanked the American soldiers for retrieving him, turned to Ralph and said, "Come with me."

So began a three year relationship with the U.S. Army officer corps. Ralph received wages and housing on what became a post-war army base. He continued his English studies, read the soldiers' magazines and dreamed of America.


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