Monday, February 6, 2017

Delph Blue Pottery, a short story.

Author's Note

This story is one of several about the same main characters. As such I did not provide full background information. Vince Riggio is an American doctor in the United States Air Force, stationed in Germany. His wife is Kim. They have two sons. They met while vince was in medical school in Wisconsin. In other stories, Vince has suffered a serious concussion as well as a possible dissolution of his marriage. That story can be found HERE. In another story his teenage daughter gets in trouble. HERE.

Delft Blue Pottery, by Frank DiBona,   May 12, 2016
Kim and Vince loved everything about Holland. They loved the landscape. They could see a Dutch master’s painting out of the window of their car at every turn. They loved the food: cold cuts, boiled eggs, a variety of breads, and deep rich coffee for breakfast; the lunchtime sandwiches that resembled American sandwiches but were different enough to let you know you were not in Kansas. Vince loved the pickled herring available from street vendors all over the city. Both loved the cities and towns, the windmills and canals, the shops and restaurants. But most of all they loved the Dutch people themselves. They were so warm and kind.  Vince and Kim loved watching people in the large squares, walking and riding bikes, chatting and drinking coffee or dark beer, while reading newspapers or engaged in animated conversations. They spoke a language, Dutch, which foreigners would never learn. So the Dutch all spoke several languages and spoke them well. The average adult knew one or two languages, in addition to their own.
They found the Dutch to be very helpful and accommodating to tourists. On their first trip to Amsterdam they arrived late on a Friday evening without hotel reservations. They had been told that the tourist bureau (VVV) maintained an office, right next to the central train station, to help visitors find hotels. But they couldn’t find the train station. They parked their car and were walking around, scratching their heads, when a middle aged Dutch man approached them to ask them if he could help them.  When he found out what they were looking for he ran to his car, a block away, and came back with a better map than they had and gave it to them. On the map he marked where they were and where the train station was and the exact route to take to get there. Vince offered to pay for the map but he refused.

            On this current trip they were travelling with Kim’s parents, hard nosed American Gothic  Minnesotans, Lutherans who hated everything about Europe in general, and Germany and Holland specifically. Kim’s father, Gunther Schneider, was of German and Scandinavian extraction. He had fought the Germans in WWII at the Battle of the Bulge. His memories of Europe were of damp, muddy trenches, cold feet, tough mutton, and the smell of gunpowder. Kim’s mother, Hilda, was also from German grandparents and had a deep-seated distrust of “outsiders.”  If you drew a five-mile circle around Hilda and Gunther’s house, anything and anyone outside the circle were “outsiders.” These Dutch were completely out. The Schneiders hated the landscape, even though in many ways it resembled Minnesota. The cattle were not properly cared for. The fences seemed so flimsy. The hotels had such narrow steep stairs and the breakfast was cold. Why did they serve cold boiled ham and hard salami at breakfast? And the coffee was too strong and had grounds in it. They didn’t like the crowds, with people riding their bikes every which way, almost crashing into them. They didn’t like people talking to them in stores and cafes like they knew them.
It was a difficult trip for Kim and Vince. They expected it to be so but underestimated how bad it could be. Kim had pressured her parents to visit them in Germany where they were stationed with the United States Air Force. Her mother had many excuses not to come. The flight was so long and expensive. Her arthritis would kill her. She couldn’t sleep on the plane. They had things that they needed to do at home. But at last they relented and came grudgingly, “to see the grandchildren.” At Kim and Vince’s home in Traben Trarbach Germany, a dozen miles from the Air Force Base, her parents expressed how backwards it was that there was no central hot water heater in the home. They didn’t like they way Germans drove their German cars, Mercedes, BMWs, and Volkwagens they had never seen before, with such ferocity.  They didn’t like that some of their favorite TV shows, like Bonanza, were dubbed into German.
            They had trouble finding places to eat. The Minnesotans found the  restuarants too filthy inside and they couldn’t eat outside, what with all the pigeons landing right on tables. When they finally found a small café that was not too dirty, the food was just not American enough. Couldn’t these people just cook a plain old pork roast?
            At the famed Rijksmuseum , the state museum of art, the paintings were too dark, or too complicated. There were paintings that shows women’s breasts and look at that, Gunther, that one shows a man’s penis. Don’t children come to this museum?  And some of the famous modern works of art looked like school children, and not very talented school children at that, had painted them. At least on that, Kim and Vince could somewhat agree with them.
            At the Ann Frank House the parents were upset that the entire exhibit was about the Nazis, the Dutch people, the Jews, and the Franks. Why wasn’t there anything about the brave American soldiers who saved all of their lives? “Well not all of their lives, Gunter,” Vince pointed out which resulted in some very dirty looks from the Schneiders. Gunther added, “And what did the Jews expect after they killed Christ?”
            Kim and Vince avoided the De Walletjes, the famed red light district of Amsterdam. On previous visits they enjoyed strolling through the only streets they had ever seen where prostitution was legal and well regulated. But not with the Schneiders. They saw sin, lust, decadence, and depravity everywhere in Amsterdam. They would probably die of stroke if they saw the red light district. Even so they saw many women who looked like hookers to someone from Minnesota. And why did people have purple hair and dress like hippies? And what was that funny smell from the hand rolled cigarettes that they saw people smoking?
            So after three miserable days and three miserable nights in Amsterdam, Kim and Vince were hopeful that a visit to the small town of Delft might be just what Kim’s parents would enjoy. Delft was famous for its Delft Blue Pottery, which had been made there for centuries and was much copied throughout the world. It was the birthplace of Vermeer, the great Dutch artists whose paintings at the Rijksmuseum were “not as bad as the rest.” It was also the birthplace of van Leeuwennhoek, the inventor of the microscope and the father of microbiology. Surely Kim’s parents would find something to like in this beautiful town, but, if they did, they kept it to themselves.
            Delft, like most Dutch towns, has a large central square, surrounded by Sixteenth Century buildings housing shops, cafés, book stores and, of course, outlets for Delft Blue Pottery.  Gunter and Hilda did seem to enjoy looking in the stores but were outraged and the high prices. “How do these people afford this stuff?” Never mind that these shops were for tourists, mainly form all over Europe.  Some shops had items of a distinctly sexual nature, which drew disparaging comments from both of Kim’s parents. 
“They have this stuff out in the open. It makes me feel so dirty,” said Hilda.
Gunter replied that it was such a shame that so many good American boys had died to save these sinful people.
            The final straw for both of the Schneiders came when they saw a couple with a baby stroller walking down the street. The woman was fair skinned and blue eyed. The man looked African, probably from one of the former Dutch colonies in South Africa. Their beautiful infant had obviously inherited characteristics from both parents. But to the Schneiders this was an outrage. See what happens when you let people do whatever they want? This may have been happening all over the world but not in rural Minnesota.
It was a relief to both Kim and Vince to finally get into the car and to start the ride home, back to Germany. The Schneiders would be leaving for Minnesota in a few days. The Fiat 128 they owned was average size for cars in Holland and Germany but very small compared to the ocean liner Lincoln the Schneiders owned. Vince got into the driver’s seat and Kim into the front passenger seat. Her parents got into the back to the tune of exaggerated groans. Kim and Vince normally shared the driving duties but not with her parents, who felt that it was the man’s job to drive. Traffic in the Delft square was slow moving but once they got onto the boulevard that would take them to the Autoweg, the main highway, they moved along at a nice pace. The radio was playing something from the Beatles. They would soon be home.
About two miles out of the center of town the traffic unexpectedly came to a crawl and then to a stop. Vince could see drivers exiting their cars and running to the front of the line. There may have been an accident.  Vince got out of the car and asked Kim to drive.
“I’m going to see what’s going on,” he said.
“Get back in the car!” said Hilda. “You could get into trouble.”
“You’re not going to go up there, are you?” asked Gunter.
“Let’s just try to get out of here,” said Hilda.
“I’ve got to see if there is anything I can do,” said Vince. He joined the others jogging to the front of the line.
The first thing he saw was a bus stopped right in the middle of the intersection. He could see the uniformed bus driver arguing with two other men. They were animated.
Then he saw the bicycle. It’s front wheel was mangled and it handlebar was at an impossible angle. He got right up to the bicycle and saw the boy. He looked to be ten or twelve years old. He was lying on his back. A half dozen people encircled him, protecting him from any further injury. No one was actually caring for him.
Vince went to the boy. He knelt at his side and tried to access his status. He could see blood coming from his left ear, a sign of a possible skull fracture. As Vince put his hand on the boy’s head several people shouted to him in Dutch. A few put their hands to the back of their necks indicating that he should not touch him because the boy might have a broken neck. Vince wanted to be sure he was breathing. He was not. He checked the boy’s carotid pulse. It was beating about twenty times a minute. His lips looked as blue as Delft Blue Pottery. Vince needed to start CPR.
“Does anyone speak English?” asked Vince.
Several people said that they spoke a little English.
“I do,” said a young man holding the hand of a small boy, apparently his son.
“Has an ambulance been called?”
The man asked something to the crowd in Dutch and said to Vince, “Someone is calling now.”
Vince put his right hand under the boys chin and extended his neck slightly to open his airway. He then breathed ten rapid breaths into the boy’s lungs. He could hear gasps in the crowd but none from the boy. He then gave the boy about twenty breaths over the next minute. He then rechecked his carotid pulse and was gratified that it was now up to about 80 beats. He would not have to do chest compressions.
Vince asked if anyone had a blanket or sweater. Two people took off their sweaters and one woman got a blanket from her car. Vince directed them to roll up the sweater to place under the boy’s neck and to cover him with a blanket to keep him warm. He also asked for something to place under his legs to elevate them. He was sure the boy’s blood pressure was low. All this time he continued to breathe for the boy and to monitor him for any changes. The CPR continued for about eight minutes.
Vince heard the siren before he could see the ambulance. When it was about two blocks away the boy groaned and coughed. He started breathing on his own. The crowd became excited. Vince couldn’t tell what they were saying but he knew that they had witnessed something remarkable and were so happy that the boy was responding. Vince was able to stop breathing for the boy. The boy’s pulse was a strong 100.
The ambulance attendants took the boy’s vital signs, which were good. They carefully strapped him onto a gurney, protecting the boy’s neck, rolled him into the ambulance and took off.
Vince looked at his own hands, which were covered with blood from the boy’s ear. He asked the man who had translated for him if there was some place he could wash his hands. The man led him to a five story building, a few yards away, that had a national bank on its ground level. In the bank two guards, who apparently knew what had happened led Vince to a bathroom. Vince cleaned his hands, splashed his face with water and used paper towels to dry off. He walked back into the lobby.
“Can some one help me find my car? I don’t know where it is parked now.”
The English speaking man said, “Your wife is waiting for you around the corner. I will take you to her.”
The man grabbed Vince’s upper arm with his hand and directed Vince out of the building. The man’s hands were trembling. When Kim saw Vince coming she ran to him and gave him a hug and a kiss.
“I heard what happened,” she said. “They told me you saved that boy’s life. I’m so proud of you.”
“When this sort of thing happens at work, at the hospital, I just take it in stride. But that poor boy. The bus must have hit him straight on. He was just lying there and everyone was worried about his neck but nobody was paying attention to his breathing.”
Kim took Vince’s hand and said, “Let’s go back to the car.”
“You drive,” said Vince. She gave him a smile.
The Schneiders were out of the car and were quiet. They didn’t say anything at first but as they were getting into the car Hilda said that Vince had done the right thing and that both of them were proud of him.
Kim started the Fiat and was about to pull out into traffic when a man ran up to the car and knocked on the passenger window where Vince was seated. Vince recognized him as the man who offered his sweater during the CPR. The man signaled Vince to roll down the window. When the window was down the man offered his hand to Vince and said, “Thank you.”

The End.

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