The fall of 1973 was full with the tire business booming, with Barbara’s work at His Mansion and our involvement with the youth group. The Lord had used the coffee house ministry to bring a number of teens to Himself, and we continued having meetings in the area, both for outreach and discipleship. Barbara and my brother Sam helped with these rich times of singing and fine teaching.
Early on, we began giving the new believers responsibilities, and saw them grow. Some are still in our church to this day, 40 some years later and others are doing well in other churches.
Being so busy, we hardly noticed the time pass and soon it was December. The day Barbara and I were scheduled to fly to Germany a big ice storm moved into New England. We made it to New York and JFK Airport, but found that most flights had been cancelled. We were flying on Icelandic Airlines; unlike the others that cancelled all flights, Icelandic listed ours as “delayed,” so we waited.
After spending the night in the airport, we were bused into town and given separate rooms in a hotel. In the afternoon we asked at the desk about a good restaurant, and the clerk gave us directions. We found the place and took a seat. As we looked around we noted that all the couples were males; there were no women there at all.
Then it dawned on us that when the clerk in the hotel saw Barbara with her short hair cut, dressed in her traveling suit with pants and her little military cap, he thought she was my cute boyfriend and directed us to what he thought was an appropriate place! New York was certainly different from what we were used to.
That evening we were taken again to the airport, going directly to a hanger where our plane was being sprayed with de-icer. When that was done, we took off on our flight to Iceland.
There, while waiting for the refueling, I looked out the window and saw a guy walking on the wing with what looked like a roll of duct tape. He leaned down and put a few strips on the wing. “Hmm,” I thought, “I hope that holds until we get to Luxembourg!”
After landing in Europe we had to take a bus to Frankfurt. While waiting for the bus, we chatted with a man who had lots of presents with him, including a little Christmas tree all decorated. He said he was going to visit his son in the army.
“Where is your son stationed?” Barbara asked.
“Where? Oh, in a little town you’ve never heard of! Its name? Bad Hersfeld!”
That was Barbara’s hometown! Right where we were headed. The man said he had a rental car waiting in Frankfurt and offered to give us a ride. In the end he took us right to Barbara’s house! That was a God sighting.
At that time in 1973 her parents didn’t have a phone, so they had been without news of where we were and what was happening. They were glad to see us appear unexpectedly on their doorstep. I immediately used my first German phrase, “Wo is das klo?” That is, “Where’s the bathroom?” It communicated wonderfully! We were off to a good start.
Our visit was an interesting introduction to German culture, which seemed to be much rougher in action and speech than mine. One morning I came down to breakfast to find Barbara and her parents in what sounded like a big argument.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re just talking about the weather,” she said!
Barbara’s father spoke English well, so we were able to have some conversations. However, he’d been in a deep depression for over ten years, so it was not easy for him to converse. He was no longer the man Barbara had grown up with, but I was glad that I got to at least meet him.
One reason we came to Germany was so I could ask for Barbara’s father’s permission to marry. So one evening I asked him, “Would you give me permission to marry your daughter?”
He looked at me blankly, “What did you say?”
“Would you give me permission to marry Barbara?” I asked again.
This time he got it, smiled broadly and threw his hands up over his head, “Of course! I get a son-in-law!” he said loudly. I think he may have meant, “I will get grandchildren!”
Just then Barbara’s mother came in and wanted to know what was happening. When it was explained to her she shook her head. “Why does he bother to ask? She does what she wants anyway!” Her mother still had Barbara’s pre-conversion character in mind.
Barbara’s uncle organized a big engagement party for us in his guesthouse. It was a loud, joyous time; I think we were the only ones there who were sober by the end. A different culture from mine!
In January 1974 we returned to Connecticut to find that the tire business had been without electricity for two weeks because of the ice storm. Being far out in the country, we were not high on the electric company’s priority list.
Nevertheless, business had been great; the ice had convinced many people they needed to get new tires. Dad and the employees had had to work by using the compressors on the trucks for air to run all the machines, and kept themselves warm by periodically going into the old house to stand in front of a wood fire in the fireplace.
I had missed all the excitement, but was content with my own.
Picture: Barbara’s mother’s family; her mother is the one in the middle with a bow in her hair.