After graduating from high school, one of the first colleges I attended was Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, the “nation’s oldest city.” I’m using quotes because the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon would have been highly amused by this designation.
Nevertheless, St. Augustine is a beautiful, historic town. But if you’re a student without a car it quickly becomes tedious. There’s no public transportation to speak of, and you’re not within walking distance of the beach, so once you’ve seen all the historic t-shirt shops, the only thing left to do is get royally wasted in one of the pubs, and I had long since outgrown that impulse. So on this particular night, long before Netflix was invented, I was bored senseless.
So I began wandering around the campus in hopes of running into someone, anyone, to do something, anything with. Eventually I ran into my friend Jim, and we decided to go to the only other source of entertainment within walking distance: The dollar movie theater across from the historic slave market. (It’s funny how easily “slave market” rolls off the tongue when you’ve lived in a historic Southern city for any length of time.)
We didn’t even know what was playing at the theater. We didn’t care. But it turned out to be Das Boot, that classic movie about the German U-Boat crew in the North Atlantic during World War II. I won’t get into the plot, but I will say it’s worth seeing if you haven’t already.
We sat there engrossed as we ate our popcorn. Afterward, we were walking in silence back to the dorm and I said, “That movie had extra significance for me, because my grandfather was a merchant marine, and he died when his ship was torpedoed by a u-boat.”
Have you ever been walking next to someone and they are so stunned by what you say that they come to a complete halt, and you take several steps before you realize they’re no longer beside you? That’s what happened.
Naturally, I turned around and said, “What?”
Jim looked at me and said, “Barb, my father served on a German u-boat in the North Atlantic during World War II.”
Now it was my turn to be surprised. I said, “So, your father may have killed my grandfather.”
“Yes,” he said.
After thinking about it, I decided that if I could say “Slave Market” without cringing, I could certainly remain friends with Jim. That tells you all you need to know about how we come to accept history, no matter how brutal it may have been, with the passage of time. I don’t know if this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is.