Der Junge Gelehrte

Georg was bursting with his news, but kept the letter from America tucked in his pocket.

This must be done properly, he thought, knowing Mother might not be as enthusiastic as she seemed when he’d told her his plans some months before. Father would be indifferent, as he was to everything except Schmutzi, the family dachshund. Father adored the dog, giving it treats from his plate and addressing it with more affection than he did his son, or even his wife.

Georg was so young when his father was called for military service that he retained only vague and shadowy memories of him. The man who returned from war was a stranger, dogged and solitary, prone to long silences occasionally interrupted by bursts of disproportionate anger.

There was always hunger in those days, the long war fought for nothing.

But now Georg would leave them, step into a new life in America.

What Pegman Saw

In 1930, my grandfather George Nordmeyer emigrated from Germany to New Haven, Connecticut. An excellent scholar with high marks, he had applied to Yale University and been accepted with a full scholarship. He told me that when he arrived in New Haven he worked at a butcher shop where he worked on his idiomatic English by untangling such phrases as “keep your eyes peeled” and “you bet!”

A clerical misunderstanding by Yale had made the assumption that his high school diploma was a bachelor’s degree, so he was immediately plunged into graduate school at the age of 18. When he was 22, he earned his Ph.D and began a long career of teaching German literature, first  in West Virginia and then at Yale. In 1962, he became the head of the German department at Hunter College in New York City.


Add Yours
  1. k rawson

    Rich characterizations really bring your family history to life. However, personally I don’t see what’s wrong with adoring the family dachshund beyond all measure ;-)

  2. 4963andypop

    Love the dog’s name, Schmutzi! With schmutz meaning essentially, dirt, I assume.

    Interesting moment in history there, the post-WWI Weimar Republic with its soring inflation, widespread unemployment, crippling reparations to pay, and a world wide depression about to come quickly down the pike. “All for nothing” describes the results of The Kaiser’s aggression well, as I understand it, anyway, and shows your grandfather to have been a very perceptive young man.

  3. Lynn Love

    A great piece of historical fiction again Josh. Can’t imagine how tough it was in Germany post WWI with rocketing inflation and a national pride destroyed. No wonder Hitler was able to take advantage of the situation, promising to ‘make Germany great again’. Similar – misleading – statements are still used by leaders today of course.
    Your Grandfather certainly made the most of his opportunity – what an inspiration

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