Specialist Foster introduced me to the Reverend and Mrs. Davenport outside the gates of Barton Barracks because the missionaries did not have military identification and were not permitted to drive onto the secure communications installation. They were parked across the street from the guard shack where taxis typically waited for G.I.’s leaving post, in need of rides into downtown Ansbach.
I offered my hand to Rev. Davenport after he removed a black leather glove from his right hand and reached from the steering wheel to shake mine. I trembled slightly from a chill caused by the cold leather seats in the back seat of the BMW. As the car’s front tire spun upon the icy cobblestone roadway and we headed towards the treacherous hill that leads to downtown Ansbach, I was offered a brief summary of their denomination.
The elderly missionary couple had Baptist roots but did not run an official church sanctioned establishment. They were independent soldiers of God, the preacher explained. They hosted Bible studies in a wall-to-wall carpeted German efficiency apartment in downtown Ansbach on Friday nights to soldiers who lack spiritual guidance while serving overseas in the military. Rev. Davenport informed Foster and me that we were the only two soldiers who were brave enough to come out in the winter storm that night, so the group would be small, but that was fine with the missionaries because, as they explained, that was the very way missionary service works– one saved soul at a time.
“I hope you’re hungry,” Rev. Davenport noted as he used a remote control attached to sun-visor to open the steel doors of a modern, rectangular apartment complex that was erected between two historic buildings with A-frame edifices. There was an eerie silence to Germany and the new, concrete- based architectural structures, erected upon centuries of ruin, seemed to absorb what little back-ground noise there was to Deutschland. The immense amount of snow outside deepened the hush.
Germans scurrying throughout the enchanted village looked just like Americans from inside the car. Masses of the fair- skin crowds were like opaque reflections upon a frozen pond, revealing, at least on the surface, features similar to most folks back home. My square English jaw set me apart from the relatively pan-eyed blues of lost perfection on the other side of the glass.
A pure genetic code identical to my own surrounded me, yet, in many ways, I was so much different and felt so very far from home that night.
They were rushing here and there, but they didn’t speak often in public. Their vehicles were quiet in comparison to the cars of America. Drivers never used car horns, and in town, pedestrians were yielded right-of-ways. Pedestrians crossing narrow streets never rushed, fearing violence from drivers. Everything around me seemed too perfectly coordinated. I felt a rush of sadness come over me as we headed upstairs to the Davenport residence. It was my first Christmas away from home and everything was quiet.
Thick walls were everywhere, as if construction competed after the war was done in preparation for what was inevitable, again, in time. Architecture from the old world still existed though. At least fifteen old churches could be seen from my Barracks window on the hill.
The Davenports lived in a part of town that intrigued me. I would certainly visit the shops during my off-duty hours. I planned to explore this part of town on my own as the car entered an underground garage and my view of the sugarplum village faded.
The stores were shaped like gingerbread houses and window displays were enough to momentarily turn my mind from the pressing Bible study that was ahead that evening. Surely the Bible reading would last no more than an hour, I thought, and I would have time to explore the shops and perhaps find a few late Christmas gifts to mail back home.
Outside the elevator on the ninth floor, the bitter silence of Germany returned after a faint bell alerted us of our destination. It seemed the air was too thick in Germany to speak openly in. Even on the streets outside, lined with small shops that sold hand-crafted Christmas memorabilia, the world was eerily quiet. Pyramid- like, wooden, windmills that were powered by the heat of candles turned carousels of miniature Christmas figurines behind frosted glass of Bavarian cafes. To me, it seemed we were all like the wooden nutcrackers on display.
The Bible study was uneventful, reflective and relatively silent. When it came time for discussion, following assigned readings, Rev. Davenport did most of the talking. Mrs. Davenport interjected personal accounts of their long lives based on the scripture we read. She somehow used the story of shepherds to explain how it was they lost their church in Indiana, only to end up in West Germany. There was something so artificial about both stories told that night. Missionaries with nobody seeking the word?
“Do you have a Sunday service?” I asked, after finishing a second serving of pork sausage.
“Yes. We move out the sofas and we have folding chairs. We also have a sound system,” Mrs. Davenport explained.
“How many attendees are there?” I asked, pretending to be interested in attending church with the Baptist missionaries, yet knowing I’d be out of the stuffy apartment before Sunday morning rolled around.
I assumed that later that evening Foster and I would return to the barracks. Surely the Davenports would drive us back after the Bible study was over. I felt bad that they had no soldiers to minister to.
Moments after finishing the first two chapters of Luke, I excused myself and entered their living room in an attempt to digest the huge pile of food I had devoured in respect.
“I hope the pork was not bad, Paw,” Mrs. Davenport shouted to Rev. Davenport. “My stomach is feeling funny too,” she said, while waving my face with a church fan adorned in a picture of Jesus holding a purple heart.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I just miss my family and ate too much.”
Mrs. Davenport started crying. “I miss our grandchildren too,” she sobbed. “Oh dear, this is miserable. I want to be home, Paw” the old woman cried as she wobbled down the carpeted hallway towards the couple’s bedroom. I took the fan she left on the sofa and wished someone would open a window to let in the silent, cold December air, before I hurled.
“Will you please stay the night?” Rev. Davenport begged. “She thinks our service to the lord is a failure and wants to return home. Will you stay?” he asked. Foster agreed–
“I stay here all the time. They have a spare bedroom with a really comfortable German bedding. I’m staying. You should, too, Taylor, otherwise, you’ll be all alone in the barracks on Christmas.”
I agreed to share the spare room with Foster that night.
My stomach settled as my head rested on soft pillows. I quickly faded into unconsciousness.
A creaking noise disturbed my winter nap. I noticed it was just past midnight from a digital clock on a night stand.
Foster was masturbating.
I felt flushed and remained motionless. I continued to breath, pretending to still be asleep and snoring. I didn’t want to ruin his rhythm. He sounded close, but with each pause to the noisy mattress, it turned out he was merely teasing himself, building up, only to wait for another moment within his imagination to release spirit. I realized he was pausing to be sure I was still snoring, so my heavy breathing continued. I wanted to simply go down on him. One quick swoop during his moment of prolonged imaginary infatuation, and it would be mine, but it didn’t seem right with Rev. Davenport and his wife, sleeping just inches away, to lay there still, like a German Shepherd on guard.
Mrs. Davenport passed by the open door of the spare bedroom and turned the light on in the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. I continued to be sleeping and although having sufficient oxygen in my lungs, breathed heavily as one really sleeping does. Foster wasted little time in finishing falling into the spirt again, but only after Mrs. Davenport returned to bed. I wondered how he cleaned up the mess, because he never got out of bed after the crucifixion ended and he slept.
My skin crawled from tiny sand-like pellets upon the sheets that obviously were used every weekend by Foster or other ministered to soldiers. I couldn’t sleep knowing what dreams the sheets carried.
December 23, 1986 was the longest night of my life. So much to contemplate. I had to get out of there fast, but Mrs. Davenport was up at 6 a.m. to make pancakes and the pastor called us to the table at 7 a.m., to hold our hand, and to say a prayer on Christmas Eve, asking God to find a way for the Davenport family to find the money to buy food for Christmas dinner.
“I will buy you food,” I said after the prayer. “Let’s go to the commissary.”
“We don’t have privileges,” Mrs. Davenport explained.
“If you buy the food, then you must spend Christmas with us– both of you.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Davenport. I have C.Q. duty today, starting at noon. I must return to base, but Taylor, stay here,” Specialist Foster ordered.
Mrs. Davenport was thrilled to receive a ham smoked the American way. I insisted that they fill a shopping cart and I carried all the groceries from the trunk of the BMW to Mrs. Davenport’s kitchen before excusing myself to return home to the barracks.
“Please promise you will return to have Christmas dinner with Paw and me,” Mrs. Davenport begged. “This is all I can do to return this huge favor. This is such a blessing. We feel so alone this time of year. Our church is doing well, but the rent is far too much for our offerings. You will love the Rodriguez family and the Ruperts. You’ll see. They have families and their own lives at Christmas– be ours tomorrow. We can come get you. Things are brighter here after the holidays,” she explained.
“That sounds wonderful. Sure, but there is no need to pick me up at the Barracks. I can find my way here. There is no need to take me back now either. I’m going to walk. I love the snow, and Germany is so quiet. I’ll see you on Christmas,” I said, kissing Mrs. Davenport on her soft, flabby cheek.
Outside, in the snow, I searched the horizon for the large communication tower that market the top of the hill of Ansbach where Barton Barracks was to obtain my orientation towards home. I walked in the silence of the snow- covered village, too tired to window shop, but relived to be away from the Missionaries. At home, the family was likely preparing for the first Christmas without me. I wondered how much they missed me because my soul longed for their company.
Finally, I was free smoke again. I had been craving one from the moment I entered the Davenport’s BMW, but gave it up for appearance sake, for a bible study that landed me in a manger…