The September sun highlighted the clear blue sky and warmed Anna Moser’s heart as she drove the mile and a half from their ranch to the Horse Creek Store for groceries. She breathed in the fresh clean air and smiled.
She’d been smiling a lot since she and the kids returned home from her first trip back to Germany after coming to America ten years ago when WWII ended. Anna had come for a better life… and for love.
She had missed her Mutti terribly, not having seen her family for so long. Finally, this past summer she’d gone back for a three-month visit. Because life had been so difficult, trying to make a living farming and ranching in eastern Montana, she’d come to think perhaps she’d made a mistake by immigrating, that America wasn’t the “land of milk and honey” she’d envisioned. But Germany was no longer her home. Her birthplace had changed, and so had she.
Montana was her home—in spite of its harsh climate, sacrifice, and hardships in being accepted. Neil was her home. She came back, once again, for love.
Humming, she went into the store with her list, eight-year-old Monica and two-year-old Kevin in tow.
Mrs. Mitchell, one of the neighbors, stepped from behind an aisle. “There’s the world travelers. You sure were gone a long time. My, you folks must’ve had a wonderful calf crop last fall to be able to afford a three-month vacation in Europe.”
Her words stung like a bullwhip lash. Surely that wasn’t what the neighbors thought, that she’d gone off on some expensive luxury vacation, just for the heck of it. All these women had their mothers and sisters, their brothers and fathers within thirty miles. She forced a smile. “It has been ten years since I saw my family. It was time to go.”
“Oh. Well then. Must be nice.”
Anna’s neck and face burned. She wanted so badly to march up to snooty Mrs. Mitchell and tell her to wake up, that there were other people in the world besides her. She took a long breath and turned away. Finishing her shopping, she left the store, her earlier euphoria deflated like a sad, week-old balloon.
After Monica’s first day back at school, Anna, Neil, and Kevin waited for her outside the little one-room schoolhouse. There hadn’t been a school nearby until just before Monica turned six, when the Mitchell family with three school-age kids moved to a ranch nearby. Questioning her own language skills, Anna was thankful she hadn’t had to continue to teach Monica at home.
The Mitchell kids came out first and dashed off toward the country store, just down the slight rise, where their mother waited.
Monica came out a few minutes later, a frown on her face. “I can’t find my Thermos.”
“Where did you eat your lunch?” Anna opened the car door.
“Oh, I remember now. I took my milk outside to drink.” Monica walked over to the swing set where her Thermos lay. She bent down to pick it up, then snatched her hand back. “Ick.” She burst into tears.
Anna jumped out of the car, Neil following. “What’s the matter, honey?”
Monica sucked in her sobs and pointed at her Thermos. A huge blob of spit clung to it. “They hate me. They called me a germy German.”
Anna put her arms around her daughter and exchanged a tight-lipped look with Neil.
“The kids in Germany were so nice to me, even when I couldn’t speak much German, and now I’m home and these kids’re bein’ mean to me.” Monica’s sobs renewed.
Neil picked up the Thermos, spun on one heel, and headed up the steps of the schoolhouse. Filled with fear, Anna hurried behind him. Oh dear, please don’t create a scene.
“Mrs…. uh, Dallas.” He held the Thermos out toward the teacher.
She frowned. “What is this?”
Neil’s jaw clenched and his shoulders tightened. Anger overcame Anna’s fear and she stepped forward. “Your students are bullying my daughter. This has to stop. Now.”
Neil explained what the kids had said and what had happened.
Dallas rolled her false teeth around in her mouth as was her habit, and her eyebrows formed an angry V. “Well, this is unacceptable behavior. I will talk to the Mitchell kids and their parents. Don’t worry. There’ll be no more of that.”
Back in the car, Anna held her daughter on her lap and rocked her until the tears were spent. The old pain deep in her heart reawakened. Would it never stop? Ever since she’d arrived in America, so many years ago now, she’d had to bear remarks like that about being German. Yes, we were enemies during the war. But the war’s been over for twelve years.