Steve Jordan: Still There
Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/-5PYaqlpcIU) 16.4.2023.
. . . [T]hat place is real. It's never going away. Even if the whole farm--every tree
and grass blade of it dies. The picture is still there and what's more, if you go
there--you who was never there--if you go there and stand in the place where it
was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you.
Toni Morrison, Beloved
There are voices buried in the Mississippi
mud. There are ancestors and future children
buried beneath the currents stirred up by
pleasure boats going up and down.
Joy Harjo, “New Orleans”
My father was a displaced person in Lindau, Germany for five years during World War II. He was born in Belgrade Yugoslavia to a Serbian mother and a German father. Because of his German ancestry he was forced to leave his home country, and with no place to go, he was given shelter in a German citizen’s home in Lindau by decree of the German government. Five years later, at the age of 17, my father crossed the Atlantic with my grandmother to settle in a Chicago neighborhood of fellow Serbians.
His odyssey from Belgrade to Lindau to Chicago includes stories of hunger, displacement, scattered siblings, soccer, and the arduous seven-day trip across an ocean. My childhood included Three’s Company episodes, Chicago Bears jerseys, suburban public pools, and a kitchen cupboard offering a choice between Wonder Bread, French bread, whole wheat, and sourdough.
* * * * *
A few years ago I was a self-proclaimed free spirit traveling around the world. I started with a one-way ticket to Scotland, and soon found myself in Munich, Germany—surprised that it was a quick train ride from Lindau. So I headed to this small island town on the edge of the Lake Bodensee, a pristine lake that shares shores with Switzerland and Austria. It was time to see where my father was a WWII refugee.
Upon arriving, I knew I wasn’t going to see the same town where my father and grandmother survived a war. Once you cross one of the two bridges to get to the island, you are met with cobblestone streets, high-end shopping, restaurants, hotels, tourists, churches, museums, and some stunning views of the lake. And plenty of elderly Germans—kind of like a retirement town in Florida.
My father still remembered his Lindau address, so before long I found myself on a small street at the edge of town, in front of a nondescript doorway that was his temporary home. As I stood in front of a stranger’s house, I filled in all I knew in my mind. That this was the place where he shared a bed with his mother. Where everyone shared one bathroom. Where my father would wake up early to stand in line for bread. Where dinner was fish he caught in the Bodensee. Where he would head out the door to play soccer on the mainland. Where the roofs of the houses were painted with big red crosses so RAF and US bombers would know they weren’t military targets.
I was in a strange crossroads of time and place. I stood as a 47-year-old outside the house where my father lived over 70 years ago. He was here during World War II, I was here on a leave of absence from my safe middle-class teaching job. He scrounged for food on these streets, I was buying a gelato every evening before I headed back to my hotel. He was there as a refugee, I wanted to find the local bookstore.
I wondered, is any of that war-torn history still here? I know it happened long ago, but is any of it still here? Can a town like this just erase its wartime past and become a cute vacation destination? Or does the war and the trauma live on somehow? Authors much smarter than me would say that where you stand has a long history that is still there.
I grew up in Mt. Prospect Illinois, a suburb with groomed lawns and local baseball fields and nearby malls and mostly white people. But a few blocks from where I lived were a series of streets named after Native American tribes and locations: Ojibwa, Na-wa-ta, See-gwun, Candota. As white suburbanites drove Chevy station wagons to their children’s soccer games, did any of the Native American past float up through the car's floor? Was there a sense of unease that it was all stolen land? Or that a human slaughter may have taken place where your living room now sits?
And what about this small two-flat in Lindau, my father's home from so long ago? As I stood there, I tried to imagine the red crosses painted on the roofs, the sirens screaming, the hunger, the want, the trauma. If there was something to absorb, it would be these chaotic ghosts of World War II. But in my quiet moment in front of a silent door on a quiet street, I also wanted to take in a young Serbian boy heading out early in the morning, ready to stand in line for as long as it takes to get loaf of bread for his mother.
About the Author: Stephen Jordan was born and raised in the Midwest, the son of Colombian and Serbian immigrant parents. He has taught high school English for over twenty years, taking leaves of absence to live and work in South America, East Africa, and the UK. Steve has been published in Blue Unicorn, Lalitamba, The Raven Review, October Hill Magazine, Third Wednesday, Lotus-eater, English Journal, Lyrical Somerville, Common Chord Anthology, Down in the Dirt, Sparks of Calliope, and Gamut Magazine.