“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” John Lennon.
Today is John Lennon’s birthday. It’s hard to believe he was taken from us 40 years ago. I lived in West Germany when I heard the news, and I was pregnant with my first child. My husband was in the Army, and we lived off post in a tiny town called Leiblos, about 45 minutes from Frankfurt in a part of an old house. We didn’t have a car or a phone, so we walked everywhere. The military post was located in Gelnhausen, just a short walk away from us. If someone needed my husband, Stephen , they had to drive out to our place and pound on the door. It was like going back in time totally old school. The only way I could keep in touch with my family and friends was by regular mail which took a while even with an APO address. Phone calls were way too expensive, and we didn’t get a phone for a while. It was almost like a luxury where lived back then. I was out of touch with my world back in the States. This small area of West Germany had become my life. My first friends were guys who lived in the barracks because they were my husband’s friends. They’d come over and hang out, and they were a lot of fun. We did have a TV and we could only get one station in, the “Armed Forces Network,” and a couple of other stations, but no one spoke English on them.
When I first arrived in West Germany five months after we eloped in Lake Tahoe, Stephen got to hang out with me and show me around, but after that first week, he worked all the time and I was on my own to explore. I walked around town marveling at the older buildings as the cobblestone streets, and how animals still lived with people in some houses. I saw the ruins of a castle up on a hill, and I felt as if I’d gone back in time hundreds of years. I went home and wrote long letters to my family and friends describing where I lived now and what it was like. Somehow writing those letters gave me comfort and made me feel as if I wasn’t completely alone. It was my only communication with the outside world.
I got a pet guinea pig at the pet store who squeaked and kept me company, and I managed to land a job at American Express Banking Facility on the post about three months after I arrived though my husband told me I didn’t have to work. Why wouldn’t I work? Why not? They hired me because Bank of America showed up on my resume, but I had actually only worked as a legal secretary in the legal department and had absolutely no teller experience. But they sent us to teller school and paid our way, and soon I was working there three days a week, and it was fun to deal with American money and Deutch dollars which looked like play money to me. Every denomination was a different color and size. I had to keep track of conversions all day and weren’t using computers yet. It was all written down and figured out on a 10-key.
Then I found out I was pregnant because I felt sick all the time. I managed to keep my job in spite of this, and finally I met one of the other wives, a woman named Heidi who was eight months pregnant with her second kid. We became great friends, a friendship that has lasted for 40 years. We’re still friends to this day. My Dad came to visit us in Germany which was wonderful — so great to see family from the world I left behind. It was while he was visiting that I saw the news in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper which Stephen brought home from work — splattered all over the front page. “John Lennon is Dead.” This can’t be real, no. But it was, and as I read the article on the front page and looked at the pictures, I began to sob uncontrollably. I cried for hours holding my tummy. My baby will never know John Lennon, but he’ll know the Beatles and the legacy he and the rest of them left behind. Dad and Stephen tried their best to comfort me. It took me a long time to get over hearing of John Lennon’s passing. I wrote long letters about it.
Today, 40 years later, I talked to my nine-year-old grandson via text. “It’s John Lennon’s birthday today Grandma Mary.”
I smiled. My kids and grandkids will never forget.