He walked to the ditch bank and sat down with the other men. They talked among themselves, some complaining about the brown bread, wishing it was the heavy dark bread of home, but Rudolf said, “At least this is not that nasty white bread they feed us at the camp—that bread made of air and sugar that ruins our teeth. This, at least, has some substance to it.”
One of the prisoners who sat close to Rudolf laughed loudly. “Yes, Rudi, you got a pretty smile from the farmer’s wife. We all understand why you like her bread!”
Rudolf realized what the other prisoner said was true: She was kind to him and he had stood up for her. Momentarily astonished at himself, Rudolf laughed with the other men but wondered why he would take the side of an American woman—a woman who had spawned a man child that would grow to fight the Third Reich. Still embarrassed, he wolfed down his lunch, carefully watching the woman as she came to the men with more lemonade, refilling their paper cups.
When she got to Rudolf, she said, “Would you please tell the men my husband and I know this is a difficult situation for them…being prisoners of war…but we want them to know we appreciate the work they’re doing. Without them, we would lose this crop. The war has taken our pickers…” Her voice faltered and she turned away quickly from the shade of the cottonwood trees, and looked toward the cotton field, her thin hand screening her eyes from the blistering sun.
“You see,” she said as she glanced momentarily toward Rudolf with damp eyes, “My husband is ill and it looks like my son and I will have to bring in the cotton with their help.” Then Ruth Feller sighed deeply. “It’s a hard job picking cotton. The hoeing of weeds is nothing compared to the picking of it. I know you and the other men won’t like it. Still…it must be done.”
After she closed the truck’s tailgate and drove away, Rudolf repeated what Ruth Feller told him, and her sympathy toward the men spread among them like a soothing letter from home. Confusion dogged Rudolf. It seemed inconceivable that an American woman would voice gratitude to German prisoners of war. He tried to imagine a German woman expressing compassion to captured Poles or Russians working in her fields, but he could not. Still, Ruth Feller had done exactly that and she had said it directly to him.
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