Trudy's War Horse

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
My grandmother grew up in Germany during World War II. this is my efforts to retell a story she passed on to me when i was a kid.

Submitted: July 20, 2017

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Submitted: July 20, 2017

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Trudy’s War Horse

For Gertrude - Your stories will never be forgotten.

 

I bowed my head against the German North Sea wind and pedaled my rusty bike with all my might.  The treacherous ride home from school lay ahead of me. My thin gray dress, which matched the color of the sky, did little to shield me from the chill, and the soles of my shoes were worn so thin I could grip the pedals with my toes.

I walked my bike up the grassy hill that separated city from country.  A narrow rock path cut through patches of wild Edelweiss flowers.  I reached the top and paused to take a deep breath.  My heart pounded in my chest and I imagined it was visible through my clothing.

At the bottom of the hill sat the Arneswalde’s farm.  The Arneswalde’s weren’t the reason my heart pounded. It was their geese.  Everyday I had to pass them and every day they pecked me with their little orange beaks and chased my bike.  I’d never known geese to be so cross as the Arneswalde’s geese.

I coasted down the hill gaining speed. My bike bounced wildly on the rocky path.  I barreled toward the farmhouse and the geese that were lying calmly beside the gray picket fence.

Luckily, I sped past them before they even realized I was coming

As I drew closer to my home, the sun appeared from behind the clouds, transforming the fields of potatoes from dark green to pale yellow.  The hills behind my house grew long shadows that stretched to the farthest end of our land.

I jumped off my bike and dropped it in the dirt in front of my home.  The small two-story, barn-shaped house with its faded red siding welcomed me. Inside, the wooden floors were scuffed from use, but bright fresh curtains filtered the sunlight from the two large windows in the living room.  The banging of pots and pans bellowed from the kitchen, followed by the aromas of various cooking creations.

I stumbled into the kitchen.  With its yellow walls and white tiled floor it was the largest room in the house. My two brothers and two sisters scurried to the potato fields for chores.

“Trudy, where have you been, dumb girl?” Momma scolded.  “Get out there and feed the horses.  Papa is coming home tonight.”

I skipped to the fields, petting a farm dog on the way.  The black mutt wagged his tail and followed me.

“Did you hear?” I asked the mutt. “Papa is coming home.”

Dark green potato plants sprouted from the rich brown-red fields. They took up the whole side of our farm, all potatoes.  Our land was laid out like a big square:  the house on the South side, the potato fields on the West, the barn on the North, and the 15-acre grassy horse range on the East.

I grabbed the alfalfa out of the barn, dribbling small bits as I walked toward the horses.  When I reached the water troughs, I knew something was wrong.  The horses usually came running when they spotted me.  They watched for me everyday. Today, something else held their focus.

I spread the alfalfa along the ground and the horses slowly made their way toward me.  When they began chomping on the straw I noticed what was different.

He stood behind the others, stomping his hooves.  I felt dizzy with disbelief! A white horse!  I rubbed my eyes, blinked several times but his image didn’t disappear.  I always wished for a white one.  Now here he was standing a few feet away.  I crossed the wire fence and inched toward him.  He was perfect, tall, lean and solid white, not a speck of black or brown on him.

“You like him then?” called a familiar voice from behind.

“Papa!”  I rushed into Papa’s embrace as tears threatened to burst from my eyes.

“I saw the white one and knew it was for you.  He’s all yours,” he beamed.

A tear fought its way out.  I felt so loved, happy, and excited.

“Why are you crying, Trudy?”  Papa asked.

Knowing he would think I was stupid for crying out of happiness I simply said, “His mouth is so big!  What if he bites me?”

“Ah, Trudy he’s gentle.  Come here,” he helped me onto the white dream of a horse.

I struggled to hold back more tears as I gently kicked his sides, sending him galloping away from Papa and the other horses. I named him Schnee (German for snow) and rode until dinner.

That night at dinner my brothers and father spoke of the war.  My sisters and I didn’t understand much of what was said so we kept silent.

My father said, “Hitler is for the good of Germany.  He is a very smart man.  One day you two boys will show your loyalty to him too.”

“The Americans say he’s a murdering mad man, Papa.  They say he is killing the Jews in the camps,” my oldest brother Henry murmured, as he stared at his plate.

“Enough!  Don’t question Hitler again. You swear loyalty and say nothing against him.” Papa stood and beat his fist against the table causing my fork to fly.

“I’m not swearing anything to him, Papa.  I’m going to fight with the Austrians.” Henry’s voice sounded funny like he was riding in a potato wagon on a bumpy road.  I tried to chew quietly.

“You do and you’re no son of mine, Henry,” Papa shook his head and frowned as Henry ran out of the house.

Momma offered me more cabbage.  I refused and hurried outside to ride Schnee before bedtime while Christoph, my younger brother listened to Papa’s war stories with wide eyes.

  ****

Papa had left home late in the night.  A soldier man beat on the door just after we climbed under our heavy blankets.  He was breathing so hard he could barely speak.  Papa grabbed his big green rifle and left; no goodbyes, not even to Momma.

The next morning before the sun’s rays stretched over the hills, I was digging potatoes.  There would be no school when work was needed at home.

Henry stayed away all night.  I told Momma not to worry because he was probably at the shipyard fishing.  It was his favorite thing.  Momma’s forehead was wrinkled most of the morning despite my efforts to console her.

I dug three bushels of potatoes by the time I heard the roar of automobiles on our dirt road.  Out of a cloud of dust Army trucks appeared and stopped in front of our house.  The horses ran back and forth nervously.  Momma dropped a load of potatoes in the dirt and hurried to meet the soldiers.  I knew they were Germans.  They were dressed like Papa, with a red and white sign on their sleeves.

I followed Momma but she sent me back to the field.  I hid behind a tall bush beside the house and listened.

The soldier asked, “Horses?  Do you have horses?  Fuel?  Rifles?  Food?  We need provisions.  Gather everything you have immediately.”

Momma ordered Christoph to round up the horses and she went inside to gather food with my sisters.  A numbing heat rose through my body as I thought of Schnee.  I had to stop Christoph.

  I ran to Christoph and pleaded,  “Not Schnee. He’s mine.”

“Trudy, get out of the way.  We have to give them what they want. There’s nothing I can do. Go help Momma,” he yelled at me.  Tears burned my cheeks as I stared at Schnee.

When Christoph led a few of the horses to the front of the house I acted.  I was going to rescue Schnee.  I hid him behind the barn; afraid if I rode out in the open they would take after me.  Schnee grazed on the weeds and swatted flies with his tail as I climbed on top of him, hugging his neck and weeping over his tangled mane.  I climbed down after a while, and peeked around the corner. Christoph handed over the other horses and Mamma brought a large burlap sack full of food to the soldiers.

“Girl!  What are you doing there!” came a stern voice from behind me.  I jumped three feet. One of the soldiers found us.

“He’s mine! My Papa gave him to me!  You can’t take him!”  I screamed.  His eyes grew wide as he called for assistance.

I started to climb on Schnee, but the ugly man knocked me down with his hand.  I fell on my wrist and pain shot through my body.

“No!  No!” I sobbed as he led Schnee away.  Christoph picked me up.

“Trudy!  I told you to do what they say.  Ah…Trudy, stop crying,” he pleaded.

I didn’t stop crying the whole day.  Momma made us work twice as hard after the soldiers drove away with our things.  She needed to sell the crop sooner to replenish our food and supplies.  The dirt stuck to the tears streaming down my face.

  ***

I was too young to anticipate the pain and suffering World War II would bring.  Papa never returned.  Henry sent letters from the Austrian Army but he too never came home.  Christoph left a week later to join with German forces.

I thought about Schnee for several years.  What was his life like, or more realistically how long did he actually live? I learned early there was too much to be sad about.  World War II spread pain and loss across Germany like it was butter on pumpernickel.  I had to choose which catastrophes to cry over.

(c) Shawna Van Arum 2002


© Copyright 2017 Shawna Van Arum. All rights reserved.

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