On the weekends, we often took excursions to one of the many lakes in the Twin Cities. I remember White Bear Lake: it was hot and crowded and I had to wait in line to slither down the aluminum waterslide.
I inched my way up the stairs, feeling their grating on my bare feet. Just before I reached the top, the boy behind me got impatient, poked my shoulder and yelled something at me. He must have seen that I didn’t understand him because he repeated the same words over and over. Gripping the rail tightly, I finally yelled back “I’m German.” I thought this sentence would explain everything. The boy stopped shouting and a big grin widened his sunburned face.
“I’m German too!”
Relieved, I talked to him in German, explaining why I couldn’t go up those steps any faster. Still smiling, he shook his head so hard that drops flew from his wet hair. "What?"
That confused me. I pushed off, slid down into the water and ran back to my family. I told my stepdad Detlev what had happened. He’d lived in the US for eight years before he married my mother, so he often had an explanation for things I didn’t understand.
“The boy said he was German but he didn’t understand me when I spoke German.”
Detlev chuckled. “He meant that he has German heritage. Maybe his grandparents came from a German town or his great-grandparents. He’s never been there, I’m sure. He might have heard someone in his family speak German but that doesn’t mean he understands it.”
“But why does he say he’s German when he’s American?” I wanted to know.
"That’s just how it is here. Everyone is American. And they’re also something else."
When we arrived in the United States in 1964, I was almost twelve years old. Everything was different: the coins and bills, the shape and consistency of bread, the size of refrigerators and cars - they were huge! In my next few posts, I am writing about some things that I remember from my first summer in St Paul. This is the third in the series. Read the first here and second here.