by Amie Rogers
It is my pleasure to introduce Brigitte Stone. This feisty little German girl was born in January of 1935 in the city of Wurzberg, Germany. She grew up on a small farm with her mother, an adopted sister and her grandmother. “My father passed away. I never knew him. Before I was born, he fell with a horse and it killed him. So then my mother married again years later,” says Brigitte, “Before that, we had a lot of land. She worked in a department store. She would get up in the morning at 4 o’clock and go out to take care of the land and the animals. When she was done, she would go to work. I remember there were a lot of trees: pears, apples, prunes… At that time, we didn’t drive, you walked everywhere. You could walk to town in about three quarters of an hour. My grandmother lived in a little house close by and had a garden. She loved to garden. I was very close to my grandmother. I never knew my grandfather. With my mother having to work, naturally I was raised by my grandmother. I loved her a lot. When my mother remarried I was about five years old, but it didn’t really mean much to me because I was with my grandmother most of the time. Interestingly enough, my stepfather was sent to the Russian Front. He was captured and for two years my mother did not know if he was living or not. Somehow he got out of there and went back home.”
Growing up during World War II, life was hard for Brigitte and her family. Food was scarce and there were always many mouths to feed. “My mother would cook for seventeen people. We ate a lot of rats. My mother would skin them. The bigger they were, the better. My mother was not good at begging for things, but I was. I remember one time I was begging in this little town and didn’t realize they were refugees and didn’t really have anything to give. I remember this one lady saying that they didn’t have anything, but that I could come and eat with them. There was a little boy and he was crying and crying. I found out while we were still eating that they had slaughtered the little boy’s dog so we could eat. Of course, I couldn’t eat anything else. That was the only time that I remember getting sick. At another place, the lady said that they had potatoes, but only potatoes. So I took some potatoes and I remember coming out of the house and saying, ‘Lord, why did you give me potatoes when I want some eggs?’ When I got home, my mother made baked potatoes for everyone. I don’t know if it was my imagination or maybe the Lord, but I was the only one who had potatoes that tasted like eggs,” she smiles.
With frequent bombing taking place, Brigitte remembers spending a lot of time in the cellar. “All the doors and windows in our house were gone from the bombings. We spent a lot of time in the cellar. There were beds for the children. I remember my mother putting three coats on me so I would have something later if we lost everything,” chuckles Brigitte, “I remember one time when I was about five, the castle was bombed. It was way up from where we lived, but you could see it from our house. I saw the bombs falling and everything burning. Being five, I was scared and thought it was going to get me even though it was so far away.”
Even after the war was over, there still really wasn’t a lot of food around and the German kids learned to hang around the American soldiers who would frequently feed them. “Even though the war was kind of over, we were not allowed to speak to the Americans. The Americans were not allowed to speak to us, but they would give us things. The American soldiers would give the kids food. I would take it home and we would share it.
There was a very nice restaurant in town and the Americans took it over. The GI’s would eat there and what they left over they would give to us kids. Some would leave a lot and others, not so much. There were some of them that went twice so the kids would have extra food. I was nine when the war was over. We were occupied and it was still a hard road,” says Brigitte, “I worked for an American family for ten dollars a week. I had to walk four hours to get there. They had two little boys and I would take them to school. There was a room in the bottom of the house where the wash was done and they had made it into a servant’s quarters. I was not allowed to take anything out, but I could have anything I wanted to eat. When no one was looking, I would take a little something and put it down in my room to take home to my sister. It was a time I would not want to experience again. They were nice to me, but the man was a little bit grabby. When it got to that point I was about fifteen so I worked somewhere else. I went to work for another American family. It was the only place you could work. Ten years later, I married an American because I thought they were nice people. They were good to us kids and that is what mattered.”
Brigitte met her husband on her way home one day. He offered her a ride home, as close as he could take her as an American soldier. “It wouldn’t have been acceptable for him to be seen with me. If you were a German girl, you did not… you were looked down on if you went with an American soldier. After some time, I brought him home and he ate with us. My mother refused to sign the papers for me to get married. I said that was fine, but I was always a defiant girl. I said I didn’t need to get married because I would just live with the guy. She signed the papers,” she laughs.
Once married to an American, Brigitte encountered a number of less than understanding critics of her decision. “We were Catholic, very much so. I had married an American and had a child. She was supposed to get christened and my mother was going to hold her. I was supposed to be there and they told me it was at three o’clock. When I got there, it was already done. I said, ‘Okay, fine… but I will never go to a Catholic church again.’ If they refused to be understanding, I didn’t need to be there,” says Brigitte, “When I came to the states, I went to different churches and eventually became a Nazarene. They were very nice people. They weren’t judgmental.”
Brigitte was nineteen when she moved to the states. At the time, she had two children, a boy and a girl. “I remember first getting off the plane in Texas and not being able to read anything and I love to read. I got me a German American dictionary. Then I bought an American dictionary because some of the words would be used for something else. It took me about three years to learn English by myself. No one would help me. I decided when I got out of that plane and realized I wouldn’t be reading any books and couldn’t even read street signs that it was my fault and I needed to learn,” says Brigitte.
In addition to overcoming a language barrier, Brigitte quickly realized that she liked her husband much better when they were in Germany. “Over there, he was very nice. He was not so nice when we got to the states. He was drinking and liked other women, which I didn’t know. He didn’t allow me to go out, not even with a bunch of women. I had to stay home. Period. There were a lot of things like that. Then he had an affair with my sister. He was forty two and she was twenty two. For about seven years, I did not even want to hear her name, but I forgave her a long time ago. So, I got a divorce. By that time, I had another son so I had three kids, but I made it. It was a hard road to go, but over the years, you learn this and that and make the best of it.”
To make ends meet, Brigitte worked at a hospital helping direct people to their appointments. “I would help get patients to the right office and doctor. I remember mispronouncing something one day and this guy who worked there thought it was really funny. I pointed my finger at him and said, ‘You know what, can you speak any other language?’ He said no. I said, ‘Not even Mexican? In Texas? I’ll tell you what when you can speak two other languages besides English, then you can laugh at me.’ I was always a little bit feisty,” she laughs.
Sometime later, Brigitte married her second husband who was also a soldier. They had a son and after a year of marriage, he was killed overseas. As hard as this was for Brigitte, she refused to feel sorry for herself. “When you grow up and go around crying about things, you’re not going to make it. You have to think of other people. The old saying goes ‘I had no shoes and then I saw the man with no feet. It is a good way to think. What you have is what matters. I couldn’t feel sorry for myself,” says Brigitte, “So then I married a third time and this time it was the charm. We were married thirty five years. There was a club for children who were missing a parent. The men would stand in for a father and women would stand in for mothers. They took us to restaurants and different places. The kids had a real family. One day, my boy came up and held the hand of my future husband Jack. Later, he told me that was when he made up his mind that my son would be his child. Of course, I teased him that he married me just to be a father. It was really charming.”
Jack was an engineer and made a good living. He didn’t want Brigitte to work so she spent twenty seven years taking meals to the elderly. “I would sit there with them and talk a little while. If they wanted to pray, I would pray with them. If they needed something, I would go get it for them. I never regretted a minute I spent with those people. I liked spending time with them because not everyone did. I would call them ‘my people’ and when the weather was bad, Jack would go with me and drive.”
Brigitte and Jack lived a happy life together. Being fourteen years older than Brigitte, Jack passed away from natural causes some time ago. She moved to Solterra because her son lives here in the White Mountains.
When it comes to overcoming tough times and rough obstacles, Brigitte’s philosophy is a brave one. “You either do or die. And no matter what, I wasn’t going to die. If someone does something to you or something happens to you, you can cry and let it kill you or you can make the best of it and don’t cry. Either way, you’re going to die so you might as well make the best of it,” she says with a wry grin.