Spring/Summer 2021 Issue

Doris’ Story

Ashley Haufler

Ten years old was a time supposed to be spent creating warm childhood memories that would be held onto forever. But no; while other children around the world were playing with their toys, laughing with friends, and living worry free, Doris was in a constant state of running away from the horrors of war. 

Prussia, Summer of 1940:

It was in the pretty countryside of Prussia where Doris’s mother and father had decided to start their family. Their life was well-rounded at the time; Doris’s father owned a drugstore that provided for them, and her mother took care of their house and dog. Summer time brought the everyday pleasures of waking to sunlight peeking through dainty curtains, taking afternoon strolls to the farmer’s market, and plucking tulips from the garden. Doris had often set aside time to simply take in all of her surroundings: the glassy surface of the lakes, the thick emerald haze of the forests, and the plentiful farms. She was a soft spoken girl, yet she was filled with curiosity for the world around her, and if a small town in Prussia was her land to explore, she would acquaint herself with every inch of it. Not only did she admire the nature around her home, but the cookie-cutter style house itself was what she held nearest and dearest to her heart. She would sit on the edge of the table swinging her feet back and forth; the chalky dirt, caked on her feet from hours of play, would powder the kitchen floor. Raw oakwood walls and a cherry pie baking in the oven created a sweet aroma—bringing her comfort with its familiarity. Light seeped through the delicate windows, and summer’s breeze wafted through the backdoor that was always left open. Doris would fantasize about endless summers.

But fall had come just as it always did. Doris had thought of this season’s coming as a snipping to her wings; her free summer spirit would go back into hibernation till the next year. What she did not know was that no fairy tale of a summer would come next year, or even the following year, or even in 5 years past. September had not only brought cooler weather, but it had brought on strange behavior from her mother and father. She would find them in the office making hushed conversation that would be halted as soon as she entered the room. The occasional private “adult talk” was understandable, but when this became an everyday occurrence, Doris’ worry grew for the matter. She recalled one day in which she saw her mother biting her nails as her father pointed about the map of Europe; this moment had made Doris particularly uneasy. Before she could put the pieces together, her parents sat her down to inform her of what was going on. Doris’ heart thumped loudly in her ears afraid of what she was about to hear. Her father held her gaze with concerned eyes, inhaled, and finally spoke: “The Russians are coming to invade Prussia, and I will be leaving tomorrow as it is my obligation to fight in war”. She felt her heart plummet to the pit of her stomach, and she would remember that map of Europe as evil: the monster that tore her family apart.

Austria, Spring of 1943:

Doris found herself staring blankly at what was supposed to be her new home. The faded yellow-grey tones of the walls and chipped paint gave off an entirely different feel than her safe space back in Prussia. She did not complain though, as she knew her mother could not bear more heartache. The past days and nights were miserably spent atop freight trains in rainstorms, and so they were at least thankful for a place to stay. The sudden air raids in Prussia caused them to abandon all of their belongings and evacuate. Doris managed to grab a worn journal and pen that she converted into her diary. Scattered thoughts and reports littered the pages: “mother buried the china in the yard today” “who will take care of the dog while we’re gone?” “where did they end up sending my father?” These remarks and questions were something that Doris had kept only to herself; the less she spoke of them the better. 

A few months had passed, and Doris grew accustomed to the narrow and creaky cots the apartment had supplied. She was now living with her aunt, baby cousin, and still—of course—her mother. An old rug made a pitiful attempt to soften the concrete floor, and the damp odor could not be masked by the most fragrant spices a market could offer. The radiator produced a humming that would fill any silence between the loud hacks of her cousin’s whooping cough. Sitting on her bed—back propped against the wall—Doris would allow for her eyes to wander out the window. She casted them upon cobblestone streets that held meandering runoff from the constant spring rains: days were dreary. Her entertainment was betting on which raindrops would trickle down the glass pane fastest; this activity did not suffice for long, for her greatest passion was to leave this continent and travel the world. Oh how she dreamt of sitting in blue leather seats thousands of feet up in the air; she could have watched over the clouds for hours on end if life permitted it. The thrill of the ride was only to be met with more exhilaration from the places she would see in this fantasy life of hers. And so, the reality of racing raindrops was not exactly satisfactory to this craving of adventure. However, the need for entertainment became the least of her worries later on that day. It was around 5 o’clock when a thunder of soldiers’ footsteps was heard coming up the stairwell. Knowing the danger of the situation, Doris’ mother rushed everyone into the closet in a panic. The sound of their breathing was muffled by the fists pounding on the doors of their neighbors. Doris could hear the soldiers barking like hounds as they raided the homes; The ripped family members away from each other: prying them out of doorways by their clothing as shrieks and cries shook the apartment complex. What specifically terrorized her was catching the cries of one woman begging “take me instead! Leave the child!” Her body was turned to stone in that closet; she was petrified thinking that if the sick baby beside her were to let out another cough, her fate would be that of their neighbors’.

“God was with us that day,” Doris wrote in her diary. The baby had made no sound, and the soldiers finally retired to the street without seeking out their hiding place. But this fluke did not promise a safe future for them in Austria, and so her mother decided it was time to flee yet again. 

Hamburg, Fall of 1944:

It was Doris’ idea to trick the Russians. On their way to Hamburg there were many checkpoints in which Russian soldiers stood demanding to see the immigrants’ papers. Of course, since the family’s only belongings consisted of the clothes on their backs and the baby carriage, they did not have the required documents. Doris was quick to come up with a witty solution: “we are just stopping by to get milk for the baby,” she reasoned; “we will make a trip to the market and be on our way. Please, the baby needs it.” She pleaded this with the most sincerity she could conjure up, and soon enough they found themselves past the guards and into the heart of Hamburg. 

The German folks living in Hamburg were required to house refugees, and so the relationship between Doris’ family and the owners was a bit awkward—the owners seemed bothered by their presence. Doris understood though, as she too would be uncomfortable if strangers were living in her home. And so she did not ask for any extra helpings of food when supper time came around, and she would never utter a word of complaint regarding the dirty sheets on her bed. All of it could be dealt with, but it was the map of Europe hanging in the living room that gave her the most trouble. This tattered and lifeless map somehow posed an intimidating threat in her eyes: it taunted and reminded her as if it could separate her family even further. Under these circumstances it was impossible for Doris to feel at home under this roof, and so she resided in the outdoors to provide her with comfort and nostalgia. However, for most people going outside in Hamburg only dampened their moods, for the grotesque buildings and burnt out churches reminded them of the destruction of war. But Doris was able to see past the lingering smog and demolition. In her eyes the barren ground still held promise: weeds protruding in various patches were still a form of life, and the trails of footprints were trademarks of survivors. Conditions might not have been ideal, or even close to that description, yet something about rebuilding from the ground up inspired Doris. She returned to the house feeling refreshed, as if this short outing had been the remedy to all difficulties of her situation.

The next morning Doris felt her mother’s callused hands on her shoulders shake her suddenly out of her sleep. Startled, she sat up and questioned the reason for such an abrupt awakening. Noticing her mother’s ear to ear smile and beaming eyes, Doris’ attention was completely captured as she waited in anticipation for the answer. “The homeowner got word last night of your father’s return. He has made it back to us Doris!” her mother exclaimed with eyes welled up from tears of joy. Upon hearing the miraculous news, Doris’ heartbeat quickened and thumped hard against her chest. She rushed to the window pressing her face against it so that it fogged from her panting breath. She desperately searched for her father’s figure, and there he was at last. Bursting through the door, their bodies met one another; the three of them embraced for what seemed to be hours–an attempt to make up for all their lost time.

Boston, Summer of 1949:

She was staring up at her ceiling. Her lips curved upwards in a soft smile and her head rested gently on the pillow. The ceiling was a movie screen for her thoughts—replaying the events of her journey as she reflected. Quite honestly, Doris was engrossed with pride as she had finally taken the first step in fulfilling her lifelong dream. She slept soundly that night, knowing that she was safe in this Boston apartment. 

Leaving Germany had been bittersweet: Doris would miss her beloved family, but she was too eager for her future to stay any longer. After a lifetime of uncertainty and unfortunate events, she was compensated with the opportunity to attend a university in Boston, Massachusetts across the Atlantic. Keeping to her instinctual behavior, Doris did not complain about the workload the university piled in front of her. She envisioned her assignments as the key to making possible her greatest desire of traveling the world. If she were to complete college, then she would be able to secure a job. If she were able to secure a job, then she could acquire the money needed to travel. Day in and day out, Doris was found in the student center: her pencil writing vigorously and her focus steady. Her passion drove her performance to its highest capability, and she wanted this more than anything.

“Welcome aboard” Doris would greet the passengers with a delighted smile. The velvety red pigment on her lips was enchanting. She was dressed in crisp navy blue and a marigold, satin scarf embellished her neck. Her pin, shaped like a pair of wings, was clipped by her left shoulder pad presenting itself. Doris would demonstrate the “how-to’s” regarding the safety procedures, and chat amongst the other flight attendants when the plane was in motion. Her efforts at the university had landed her this position that gave her a stable income and an outlet for her passion. In other words, this opportunity had been the “best of both worlds.” On one flight in particular, Doris realized the irony of her situation. The map was no longer a monster; it was her companion. After all, a map was always needed to be able to travel the world.