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.