In Germany in the 1950s, WWII was still very much present in people's minds, even though they mostly avoided the subject and rarely talked about it. At school, history lessons stopped at a safe distance from the years that lead to Hitler's rise, and everyone was supposed to look forward instead of back.
But of course, the strong presence of the
Allied Forces all over the country meant that nobody forgot the events
of the past two decades. Germany was divided between the Allies, with
the south falling to the Americans, the west to the French, east to the
Russians and north to the British.
The true story I am about to tell
you took place in the late 1950s in south Germany. The girl who told me of
her very first kiss on Christmas Eve is my Mum, and I think it is rather brave of her to share what is a very private memory.
Just like everywhere else across the south of Germany at that time, many American GIs were stationed in the area of
the small town where my grandmother lived. I loved going to my
grandmother's all year; we got along very well and she left me the space
and time I needed for myself, to sit underneath a tree in the park
across the street from her house, reading books that were considered a
bit too grown-up for me, or just dreaming.
The year I was 13,
around Christmas time the town council sent out an appeal to all citizens to
invite an American soldier into their homes for Christmas. All those young men
were far away from home, often for the first time in their lives, and
would be so grateful for a warm welcome in the Christian spirit and the
chance to celebrate a proper German Christmas with their hosts.
own mother would have never invited a complete stranger like that, but
my grandmother was different: She didn't hesitate to put her name on the
list, and a young GI named Jim was assigned to be her guest on
Christmas Eve. My grandmother didn't speak English, nor did anyone else
she knew. But, wait a minute - there was someone who spoke
English: her granddaughter! I had been learning English at school for a
few years, and that was considered enough to qualify for my being the
interpreter that evening.
I found the idea of meeting a complete
stranger - "exotic", too, since he wasn't German - rather exciting. Of
course my mother couldn't say no, and so I arrived at grandmother's
house not at all sure what to expect.
When I first saw Jim, his
smile was warm and he had that all-American, totally clean-scrubbed
boyish charm. In his very early twenties, he wasn't that much older than myself, but
we came from different worlds and had lead completely different lives,
so the gap seemed much bigger: To me, he was a man, while I was a mere
teenage girl who'd had no experience whatsoever with boys (apart from
what I knew through my older brother and his friends).
grandmother celebrated Christmas Eve the traditional way: the real
candles on the tree were lit, some Christmas songs were sung, the meal
was served, and gifts were exchanged afterwards. Conversation flowed
freely, and I did my best to translate for Jim, who turned out to be an exceptionally polite and well-educated young man.
To offer her American
guest a small reminder of home, my grandmother turned the radio to AFN.
Some Christmas songs were played, with "White Christmas" featuring several times in the course of the evening.
It really was a white Christmas, too, and was still snowing by the time I had to leave in order to get the train back home. Jim had to go back to the barracks, too, and offered to walk with me so that I did not have to be out in the dark on my own.
There was snow on the ground everywhere, and the silver moonlight and the street lights made it glitter like millions of diamonds.
We arrived at the crossing where our paths would separate; the way to the train station was to the left and the road to the barracks was to the right.
We said good-bye - and it was then that Jim took me in his arms and
gave me my first proper kiss. It was a very tender, soft and warm kiss, full on the lips but nothing a 13-year-old couldn't cope with.
Nobody saw us, and when the kiss came to an end, we went our seperate ways as if nothing had happened.
of course, a lot had happened - I wasn't the unkissed little girl
anymore, I was a young lady who knew what a proper kiss is like! I was floating, not walking, all the way to the train, and kept my secret for a very long time.
didn't stay in touch after Christmas; I never saw Jim again and don't know what became of him. Only a
few years later, I met and fell in love with a young man from my town.
He became my husband and the father of my daughters, and I wouldn't want
my life to have turned out any other way.
But that Christmas Eve I'll
never forget, just as I'll always remember that first kiss whenever
"White Christmas" is played anywhere.
As soon as my Mum told me this very romantic Christmas story, I knew I wanted to share it with you. At first, she hesitated, then thought about posting it without revealing the identity of the girl. But in the end my Mum decided that, although very personal, this is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but a sweet story worth being told.
"Jim" was most likely not the real name of the young GI, but that does not matter. What matters is that he was a kind, good man, not abusing the hospitality extended to him that evening, and that he created a fond memory for someone on Christmas Eve.