The writer is young. She names places and characters after the ones she loves. In some cases, she mashes their names together.
Armin Wahnknecht did that with his boat. The boat was a home-made affair. He christened it with the mashed-together names of his children: the Su-Ma-Ba-Ma, shorthand for Susanne-Marie-Barbara-Matt.
The bread truck work was slowly killing him. Armin packaged and delivered bread for his father-in-law, the baker. Breathing in all that flour brought on the asthma.
An Everett paper mill saved Armin. There he found his niche, working in the great hall of clanking machinery and moving parts.
The happiness allotted to Armin and Anna, his wife, and the happiness they scrounged up in addition to that allotment are unknown. Evidence suggests they suffered a deficit of Vitamin H. Witness their children’s largely unhappy lives. The children, whose names were immemorialized? im-moralized? Oh, yes,—memorialized—on the prow of Armin’s boat.
Armin could be counted on to summon laughter when recalling his youthful exploits. But was this done merely to entertain the grandchildren? Was the laughter a cover for the Vitamin H deficiency?
Circumstances and events of Armin’s youth that might account for a diminished ability to manufacture Vitamin H:
- The alcoholic, largely absentee, father. (Both these descriptors may be true, but one or both could be subjected to further, more rigorous, verification. This is difficult. Armin’s father and all those who knew him have been dead for several decades. Written records are scant, perhaps non-existent. All who remain at present are Armin’s children and his nieces and nephews. The bulk of the nieces and nephews reside in far away Germany. To ask what the real story was pertaining to Armin’s father is not a question well-suited for the Internet. Skype would be more ideal, but with the exception of Susanne Fabian, who wholeheartedly embraces her role as family matriarch, Armin and Anna’s descendents haven’t kept in very good contact with the family’s German branch.)
- Food scarcity during Armin’s youth.
- Inadequate clothing. Certainly he lacked mittens in winter. His coat may have had roomy pockets into which, at least occasionally, hot potatoes found their way. This wouldn’t have happened often (the food scarcity thing) but perhaps, say, on Christmas. A side note: family lore has it that Armin and his several siblings were often given an oven-heated brick at bed-time.
- A burdensome childhood. He went to work at a young age (second grade, third grade?) caring for a neighboring farmer’s children. Thenceforward, hands-on, muscle-exhausting, get-your-back-into-it, work-your-fingers-to-the-bone work was a given. Is it sacrilegious to conjecture that for Armin, the virtue of work surpassed the virtue of honoring and loving God above all else, and that Armin’s conception of an anvil-hammering, metal-shaping, worker god reigned supreme?
- Other scars.
a. War and the older brother who died in the war.
b. Being mistaken for a corpse. During the influenza pandemic of 1918 he was tossed in with the dead.
Let’s consider Anna, Armin’s wife. On the surface, the circumstances of her youth were happier. Her immigrant parents had established firm footholds in America prior to their nuptials and Anna’s entry into the world. Indeed, the bride and groom were gifted with a set of silver by Anna’s mother’s employer. These utensils are now in the caretakership of the family’s Twenty-first Century matriarch, Susanne.
To the best of our knowledge, Anna never went without food. She didn’t know what it was to live in a country defeated in war. She lacked Armin’s Lazarus experience.
But, we mustn’t overlook Anna’s sister, a nerve-addled woman with tumbleweed-dry hair; puckered, nicotine-stained mouth out of which complaints and deprecations flew; and a soft spot for cigarettes, cats, and chocolate-covered cherries. She assaulted Armin and Anna’s many grandchildren with declarations such as: “I sleep on a mattress on the floor!” These declarations had a particularly deleterious effect on Armin and Anna’s impressionable grandchild Emma. Young Emma felt responsible for the great aunt’s predicament. She was glad her parents spared her visits to the great aunt’s home. It was purported to be crowded with stacks of yellowing newspapers and Winston Cigarette boxes. Several cats daintily and undaintily stepped through the detritus on their comings and goings to their dishes of Whiskas and the cat litter box.
The dent in the great aunt’s forehead was never fully explained. It was said to be the result of an operation she’d had while in State care. That, too, spoke of a Vitamin H deficiency. Yet, the question remained, had the great aunt’s unhappiness been a germ within her from the start or had life experiences led her there?