Folly Beach, Savannah … - After three days and nights of hot sex, I returned Jude to her dorm at Sweet Briar. I took a lazy day and a half driving though the mountains of North and South Carolina before I headed east to the Atlantic Coast and somehow got lost in Charleston where I picked up a hitchhiker who was on his way to a place called Folly Beach.
It was late afternoon and I was looking to make it into Georgia before I crashed, but the hitchhiker provided me with an attractive alternative, “Hell, we’re having a party at the beach house, come join us and crash at our place.”
The fact that he passed me a joint had some considerable influence on my decision.
The history of Folly Beach Island is rife with pirates, shipwrecks, hardships and hurricanes. The island wasn’t named after the folly of their travails but for its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth, as the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.” In the 1930’s George Gershwin composed his classic opera Porgy and Bess while staying on the island.
The party was in full swing when we arrived with a two cases of cold beer and it played out well into the night. The next morning I woke up early with a young girl whose name I couldn’t recall which was slightly awkward until she pulled on a T-shirt and joined her friends to make breakfast and I overheard someone call her Karen. The hitchhiker’s older brother was a dope dealer and he needed to get to Savannah to score some grass and pick up his car. He told me that if I’d give him a ride that he’d trade me a lid. We headed south after breakfast and drove through that very precious tourist trap city with reconstructed colonial architecture, trolley tracks running along brick and cobblestone streets.
He directed me to Avondale, a much less attractive neighborhood where he picked up his car at a repair shop and told me to follow him over to his buddy’s house where I parked around back while he went inside to score.
Ten minutes later he walked up with a bulging brown paper grocery bag, reached inside and handed me a fat baggy of gorgeous leafy weed.
… Fort Lauderdale … - Charlie and Lottie Savitch still exchanged Christmas cards with my Mom and Dad and before I hit the road, we all had a long phone conversation reliving the good times when we were neighbors in Hialeah, Florida. There were two reasons I was driving to their new home in Fort Lauderdale: First I was looking forward to meeting the family, especially Lottie’s aunt Helen, who was still alive and alert at the age of ninety-four, and secondly I needed a place to park the Triumph while I took a plane to the US Virgin Islands to spend two weeks with my oldest best friend David Petersen. David and his wife had signed up for a year in the Peace Corps as teachers in St. Croix to save money for grad school.
It’s about 450 miles or eight hours from Savannah to Fort Lauderdale, so I pulled into a coffee shop to call the Savich’s and let them know it would be eight or nine at night before I arrived. Aunt Helen answered the phone with her thick German accent and said, “Chimmy, you come anytime and ve’ll have pizza and ice cream.”
I had to laugh because Aunt Helen was famous for handing out money and sending us kids out to buy ice cream. Since I’d be driving south and flying low, I went into the restroom to take a pee and as a precautionary measure I inserted the lid of grass into the crotch of my underwear. At the time southern cops were hesitant to spend very much time patting down the groins of male suspects.
I hit Interstate 95 and other than stopping for gas and a burger I drove straight through. It was an on and off affair through southern Georgia but south of the state line most of freeway was completed, so I made good time. I got a bit disoriented in Fort Lauderdale, so I pulled in for gas and gave the Savich’s a call. Charlie gave me excellent directions to the house which was less than two miles from the gas station and fifteen minutes later I pulled up the curb, walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell.
…and Aunt Helen – True to her word Aunt Helen had pizza and ice cream waiting. By ten o’clock Charlie and Lottie were off to bed while Aunt Helen and I stayed up into the wee hours. Of all the Savich clan, Aunt Helen was the most fascinating of the bunch: A registered nurse all of her profession life, she was well into her sixties and still working when we were neighbors in 1956. Due to her addiction to pastry and ice cream she was always overweight and now that she was long retired she still looked to be well over two hundred pounds. I’d heard her tell her tales about Europe at the turn of the century when I was a little kid, but never truly appreciated that rich personal history. Born in 1890 into a family of merchants in the Prussian seaport of Königsberg (now the Russian city of Kaliningrad), when World War I broke out she was a young woman, a working nurse and her tales about serving the German nobility were fascinating. Originally hired as a nanny for the grandchildren of a Prussian General, she was trained as a nurse and served various families of the German General Staff including Crown Prince Rupprecht.
After that war she continued to work for the family of the Crown Prince and so she was insulated from the hyper-inflation and chaos of the Weimar Republic. “Ach, if it veren’t for dat little Austrian paper hanger (Adolf Hitler) I vould have vorked for the Prince’s family for all my life,” she said. Hitler and Prince Rupprecht despised one another, so in 1939 when the family fled into exile, Helen returned to Berlin to find work in a hospital. After the Wermacht Blitzkrieg occupation of western Poland, she returned to her family in Königsberg, where she worked in another hospital.
During the summer of 1944, Charlie and Lottie were married and together with Aunt Helen and the remaining members of their family, they fled the RAF bombing campaign over Konigsberg on a small boat. Crossing the Frisches Haff (the Vistula Lagoon), they were among the lucky ones who left early, because from January until March 1945, thousands more tried to evacuate and when Soviet fighters strafed them, thousands died or broke through the ice.
They managed to slip along the Baltic shore undetected and eventually found refuge on a Swedish fishing boat. After a year or so in refugee camps, it was through Charlie’s network of distant Polish relatives that they found their way first to London and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where Charlie went to work in a print shop and Helen, at age 55, went back to nursing school. By 1956 they were our neighbors in Hialeah where Helen worked as a registered nurse while Charlie and Lottie ran the family printing business, silk screening every kind of Florida souvenir from towels to conch shells.
“Ach,” she said, “Zo long ago, zo many years, zo many miles… it iz hard to believe; but I shtill dream of German forests in ze snow as we rode ze train in zhose t’ick velvet szeatz on the Crown Prince’z car.”
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