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by John Hudson

When we moved to Germany from Westover AFB at the end of winter, 1952, we flew in a lumbering USAF transport more spartan than a John Deere tractor. Crazed with excitement, my brother and I punched each other as the plane's mammoth engines roared to life. At take-off, the noise and vibration rose to levels that stunned our imaginations. For eighteen hours we shook and shouted to each other in our airborne foundry.

We were tired when we reached our hotel in Frankfurt-am-Main, and sleep came quickly to everyone but me. I walked around the bedroom I shared with my brother and stared at him slumbering beneath the thick white cover that my father would later call a comforter. Everything so far had been spectacularly new and disorienting. Our room was no different. Its size and smell, the dense carpet, the dark, brooding furniture, the funny light switches. Nothing was like anything I knew. I crossed to one of the windows and opened the deeply folded drapes. A feeble light hung in the space beyond the glass. But I did not stare out the double set of windows, I stared instead at the window, admiring the deep stone sill, the thick lacquered frame, and the nickel hardware. When I finally peered through the glass, fog nearly blotted out the single streetlight that hung from a tall pole in the distance. I could just discern cobblestones running in all directions from the pole into darkness.

I don't know how long I stood at the window, but eventually dawn began to reveal the vast dimensions of the cobblestone square. Far across it loomed the main railroad station, spared by the wily Allies for their use after the war. It was huge almost beyond my comprehension, and my eyes searched the powerful facade until they landed on its massive central arch. There, backlit by the rising sun, rose an enormous bronze Atlas, triumphantly bearing the earth on his muscular shoulders. I stood in the light of the sunrise until my father came in to wake us for our first day in Europe. We were to stay there three years, longer than I had ever lived any place before.

Until that moment, my small life had been an avalanche of experiences and places and people. Each move brought a fresh stage with new performers. My family hummed its steadying anthem, and I threw myself into the next act, too young to know there was any other way to live. But the sunrise in Frankfurt changed that forever. In a way that is almost embarrassingly literal just now, what I saw through the big window was far more than a building of unthinkable scale and power, it was my first glimpse of whatever understanding I have of the possibilities and mysteries of the world.


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