Rudolf worked mindlessly in the cotton field, hoeing the interminable weeds, day-dreaming about his escape from the prison camp. It was only one-hundred thirty miles to the Mexican border, a fact the Germans knew by heart because they stole maps regularly from unattended military vehicles.
Rudolf considered what he would have to do before hand: hoard food, gather clothes without the hated “PW” printed on them, and find a way to earn some American money. Above all, he needed several canteens filled with water to keep him going until he reached Mexico. Finally, and most important, his plan of escape had to receive approval from the highest German officers who really controlled the men at Camp Papago Park. The Americans thought they ruled the POWs, but Rudolf knew otherwise. All of those factors seemed daunting on this hot September day, and he was bored. He forced himself to focus on what he was doing, wondering how the obstinate weeds could have such a tenacious hold on the roots of the thick cotton plants.
The sun pushed into the apex of the azure sky, and the guards called loudly to the prisoners who moved quickly under large cottonwood trees bordering the irrigation ditch, seeking refuge from the searing heat. An old Ford truck sat next to the ditch with a man inside, his face hidden by a felt hat stained with sweat, and a woman in a printed cotton dress stood at the rear of the vehicle, its tailgate down. She handed out thick egg sandwiches and fig bars. Large jars frosted with beads of moisture held cold lemonade that beckoned seductively to the workers. The woman smiled and nodded as the men moved through the line, muttering danke as they took their food.
Rudolf studied the woman who he had seen for the first time yesterday. She was thin, almost pencil-like in appearance, yet she had a bearing that spoke of fine breeding. She wore her dark brown hair pinned in a roll at the base of her neck, but one strand kept falling on her cheek and she repeatedly tucked it behind her ear. Her dark eyes were bright and she looked each prisoner in the face as she served him, as if she were trying to discern the personality of each German man. Rudolf stood at the end of line and when he took his food, he said, “Thank you.”
Ruth Feller looked squarely at him. “You must be the one my son told us about yesterday. Bob mentioned how well you speak English.”
“Your son?” Rudolf asked.
“Yes, he was working in the field yesterday afternoon.”
“I remember him,” Rudolf answered politely, but his German soul cried out to tell this woman of her son’s insolence. Instead, he turned abruptly toward the ditch bank to find a place to sit, but he heard her voice again and looked back at the woman.
“I apologize if he upset you,” the woman said, wiping her hands on her apron. “He told his father and me that you seemed offended. He wanted to tell you he was sorry but the guards took you away, back to the camp. So I will apologize for him. He shouldn’t have asked why you believe in Hitler.”
Rudolf faced the woman, stunned by her statement. For a moment, his mind could not grasp the fact that the insufferable American youth had realized his audacity and told his father and mother. When he regained his bearing, Rudolf stammered, “Thank you for saying that.”
The woman smiled. “He’s a good boy, my son, Bob. He’s just…well, inquisitive. I guess that’s what you would call him. He’s interested in most everything, and that includes you and the other men working in our fields.”
Rudolf could not resist replying, “In Germany, no young person would dare ask such a question of an adult, questioning our loyalty to our leader, Adolf Hitler.”
Ruth Feller looked at Rudolf, her expression serious, then, with a dazzling smile, she said. “Well, I guess that’s the difference between Americans and Germans.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish