Sunday, June 28, 2009

One Step Over the Line - Part 1

This and next week’s essays focus literally on the "edge of America," in this case the northern border with Canada. Join me as I take a step over the line.

The United States and Canada have shared the longest undefended border in the world - over 5000 miles compared with the more restricted border with Mexico at approximately 1900 miles. Jim Lynch, in his very recent novel Border Songs, refers to the northern US boundary as "the nonchalant border, a geographical handshake." But all this changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. Even so, there are less than one thousand US Border Patrol personnel stationed along the entire US-Canadian border. Contrast this with the almost 12,000 agents stationed along the border with Mexico. Nevertheless, the border with Canada has long been viewed as an almost "nonsensical" border. A few questions from the friendly agent and a polite wave to continue. No more!

I have long been fascinated by borders. "Interesting thing about borders. Before you cross them you must stand on a threshold," Joy E. Stock, the editor of Wild River Review recently wrote. "And at that threshold you have a decision to make: Do you go forward or do you turn back?" This threshold, and the choice whether to cross it, presents one with a rather unique dilemma when one visits the US-Canadian border at Derby Line, Vermont / Stanstead, Québec. Here the border runs directly through both communities, cutting across streets, yards, and even some buildings.

With a population of just over 3000, Stanstead, created in 1995 by the merger of three picturesque villages, Stanstead Plain, Rock Island and Beebe Plain, has a rich history and architectural heritage and is considered by some as one of the most picturesque towns in all of Québec. This area was settled shortly after the American Revolution by loyalists fleeing north into what would become an English-speaking enclave known as the Eastern Townships. Derby Line, on the American side, is much smaller, with a population hovering near 800. Main Street is wide and tree-lined with many large homes reminding the visitor of the community’s rich past. As it approaches the border, however, the road narrows through a rather worn-out downtown, the only activity focused on the US port of entry and customs station and a combination gas station and convenience store across the street. For most of their shared history, Derby Line and Rock Island (Stanstead) have behaved like a single community. The drinking water for both towns comes from wells in Canada which is then stored in a reservoir in the United States and distributed by Canadians. Same goes for sewage although I can’t say for certain who get’s the best end of the stick here. The realities of the 21st Century have changed all this . . . perhaps forever.

I first learned about Derby Line’s unique lot from my father when I was a kid; one of his army buddies from the war grew up there and I vowed that one day I would go there and see the place for myself. "How and when do we make the border crossings that change our lives?" Stock writes. "For, in many cases we have no choice, and cross them we must." That was the way I felt about Derby Line. Sally Ann and I finally had a chance during the summer of 1978 as we drove north to a vacation in Canada. We crossed the border there but did not have time to stop and explore. I have returned many times since, but last month the two of us had a chance to return together.

As we approached the border I was immediately struck by the increased security. Streets that use to run across the border with little or no fanfare (the only way you knew you were in one country or the other was whether the those red octagonal signs said "STOP" or "ARRÊT") are now marked with large signs telling drivers and pedestrians to report to the respective customs station if they cross the line, either intentionally or by mistake. So you need to be careful when you wander the streets or you might find yourself in a foreign country without realizing it. That is until a border patrol agent stops you and asked you whether you have reported to the customs station. And beginning June 1 you now need a passport to enter or reenter the United States. So you could end up SOL! Now there is even talk of stepping up security measures to permanently block or close-off unguarded streets shared by both communities, further dividing neighbors, family and friends.

Luckily, the rules are a bit different in instances where the international boundary cuts through buildings, or what is referred to hereabouts as "line houses." Residents or visitors to these buildings need not report if they cross the line once inside. This is only necessary if they exit that building to a different country than the one they entered the building from. This rule is nowhere more evident than at the Queen Anne Revival Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which sits squarely on the border. It was built here intentionally in 1901 and opened in 1904, a gift to the community by Mr. Carlos Haskell, a prominent local American businessman, and Martha Stewart Haskell, his Canadian-born wife. For over a century it has been used by residents from both sides of the border. The building’s two entrances, one leading into the library, and the other heading upstairs to the opera house, are located on the American side of the building, and Canadians must cross the border. Several security cameras operated by border patrol agents in both countries are posted on poles outside to monitor who goes in from where, and where they go when they leave. Library patrons are now warned not to park on the Canadian side of the building if they're American, or on the American side if they're Canadian. Play by the rules and you are fine.

We parked near the US customs house and walked the two blocks to the library. Main Street curves into Caswell Avenue which parallels the border. At the intersection of Caswell and Lee Street is a traditional granite border monument and a wide painted stripe across the street denoting the exact location of the international boundary. Here, too, are the warning signs and the security cameras. If there was once little fanfare in crossing the border to visit the library, there is no mistake where the border is today, or what will happen should you choose to ignore the warnings. Two green and white border patrol cars were parked at the intersection should someone try to push the envelope.

You enter the library while still on US soil, but once inside you are constantly reminded of the border by a black tape line on the floor. To your left is the Kenneth Baldwin International Reading Room where you can sit in one country while the person next to you is in another country. During the fall and winter of 1976, Howard Frank Mosher used to bring the manuscript of his novel Disappearances, a story about a Prohibition-era French-Canadian whisky smugglers, to the Haskell Library and purposefully chose a table straddling the border in the reading room. Proceed straightaway down the entrance hall and a small US and Canadian flag mark where a bookcase is divided by the border. Books on one side are in English, other side French. Arrive at the circulation desk and you are in Canada, Step around to the bathroom and you are back in the United States. Once you are inside you are free to move back and forth across the border at your leisure. The painted line does serve a practical purpose, however; it helps determine which portions of the building are covered by American or Canadian insurance policies and subjected to different building and fire and safety codes. The librarians are either citizens of the United States or Canada, or both . . . so-called "double-enders," – Canadians born in the US making them eligible for US citizenship – and probably bilingual.

One of the librarians on duty provided us with a quick history of the library before taking us upstairs so that we could see the opera house. Here, too, the black tape line indicates the border’s location. The entrance, lobby, and ticket office, and much of the theater seating lie within the United States. The stage and backstage areas are situated wholly within Canada. There is an urban myth that the Beatles came to the Haskell Opera House to meet and perform since legal problems kept members of the band from entering the United States. There is no truth to the story, but I would have loved to have had a ticket to that concert. Having crossed back and forth across the border at least two dozen times in the space of an hour, we finally left the library and walked back along Caswell Avenue. No need to stop at the customs house as we were never officially in Canada.

The Haskell Library and Opera House is not the only border anomaly in the area, but the other is fraught with problems. A couple miles to the west is the community of Beebe Plain, where the granite used to fabricate the international boundary monuments, is quarried. There the border literally runs down the southern edge of rue Canusa (Canada-USA). Those residing on the north side of the street are Canadian; those on the south side of the street are American. Although their yards and driveways lie within the United States, the street lies entirely within Canada. Each time the Americans leave their property by car they have to report to a border station at the end of the street - the US station if they are turning left, into the United States, or the Canadian station, if they are turning right, into Canada. Those on the Canadian side of the street need only report if they are entering the United States. Folks used to cross the street to visit. Now they must register with customs. Failure to do so can result in arrest and prosecution.

In addition to the peculiarities of the international border (different governments, cultures, currencies, systems of measurement), residents on each side of the line have to deal with another major problem that further divides their communities. Although the villages now making up Stanstead, as well as the rest of Eastern Townships, were once bastions of English language and culture in an otherwise French-speaking Québec, the population of l'Estrie (the Québécois designation for the Townships, has been predominantly francophone for more than a hundred years. Due to the more recent stringent language laws in Québec which recognize only French as the province’s official language, all signs are, and must be, in French, and this is the language heard most often on the street. Bilingualism is still relatively prevalent near the border, but less so the farther you travel north of the border.

There are some who have referred to the US-Canada boundary as an almost nonsensical border, one that separates two peoples who share a common language, culture, world view, and devotion to democracy. I am not sure this was ever true although it might look like that to some who have never really examined the differences up close. It has never been as simple as stepping across an arbitrary line drawn by some treaty. There is much more to it than that. There have always been differences, and they seem to be growing in magnitude and their consequences. This was never made so clear to me as during my recent visit to Derby Line, Vermont. The step over the line has become a much bigger one.
NEXT WEEK: One Step Over the Line - Part 2

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Une Maudite Poutine

I have changed the format and added some new items to the sidebar on the left. Please check them out. I am always open to suggestions for additions and improvements.

Why is it that the subject of cheese always leads me down a whimsical path? I am already on record in this forum as being a confessed cheesehead (see the May 10 and May 17 postings), and my love of cheese extends to all types and manners of presentation. Probably one of my favorites is just plain old cheese curds, which you can’t find just anywhere in the United States. Not so, however, once you have crossed the border, especially in the heart of Québec dairy land in the Eastern Townships where they are readily available in grocery stores and the neighborhood dépanneur, or quick-stop market. Canada has never been a big consumer of cheese and I am not sure exactly why. Steven Jenkins, in his magisterial 500+ page Cheese Primer, dedicates only two pages to Canadian cheese, or the lack thereof. Most of Canada’s dairy cows are concentrated in Ontario and Québec, and this is where you do find some decent cheese . . . and cheese curds. More on that in a moment.

Having spent part of my youth in Wisconsin, I have grown up eating cheese curds like others eat popcorn or potato chips. They are best when they are fresh, eaten plain, right out of the bag. And they squeak when you eat them, so some refer to them as “squeaky cheese,” or just “squeaks.” Only fresh curds squeak. No two ways about it – you have to eat them when they are fresh.

I am not going to elaborate on the intricacies of cheesemaking. I will leave that to the experts. Suffice it to say, that the making of cheese all depends on what you do with the curds. They are good to eat just as they are, but the processing of curds can lead to a variety of tastes and textures. And the experts will tell you that the best tasting cheeses are produced from raw, or unpasteurized, milk. Curds contain casein, or milk protein, so they have to be good for you. Right?

Well, maybe a couple of intricacies of cheesemaking. You have to know where curds come from. So first off, you take the casein and introduce various bacteria to start the process. Then comes the addition of rennet (produced in the stomach lining of various animals) which encourages coagulation. My mouth is watering already. Once the mixture is allowed to set and the temperature raised a bit, the result is a nice, rubbery (and squeaky) unripened cheese curd. Some are fine cut, and others are course nuggets, depending on what type of cheese one is making. But I am not really interested in the final product here. I am interested in the curds, and only the curds. I recommend the coarse cut curds. Personal preference I guess. Put them in a bag; put them in the store as quickly as possible to guarantee their briny freshness. You buy them, you eat them right out of the bag. They squeak, and I am in cheese heaven.

For many years I thought cheese curds were all you needed to be happy. I was wrong. And so this tale takes on an international flavor as I discovered how cheese curds were taken to the next, and perhaps ultimate, level. I’m talking about “poutine.” Some say the word is derived from the English “pudding,” although I favor the argument that it is a québécois joual bastardization of the French “poutitè,” meaning a “hodge podge.” The conversation no longer revolves just around cheese curd. Now taters and gravy come into play.

There is an urban myth, which may actually be the truth of the matter, claiming that Fernand LaChance, who in the late 1950's ran a small restaurant called Le Lutin Qui Rit [The Laughing Elf], in the Eastern Townships of Québec, was the first person to mix together French fries, unripened cheese curds, and hot gravy and place them before Eddy Lanaisse, a paying customer. In fact, as the story goes, it was Lanaisse who suggested the ingredients in the first place. Having completed the concoction to Lanaisse’s specifications, LaChance confessed “ça va faire une maudite poutine” [what a bloody mess].” Many people who now sit down to their first serving of what is known simply as “poutine,” may heartily agree with him. Not so this cheesehead when he was first introduced to this Québécois delicacy a decade later, in a small casse croûte, or diner, in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a town near Montréal, which also lays claim to the distinction of being the birthplace of poutine.

There is also some debate as to the true origins of poutine. There was another fellow over in Drummondville, Québec, who strongly asserted that he was the inventor and his obituary (as did LaChance’s) underscored his claim. Maybe it is a surprise that anyone at all takes credit for poutine; there are some who find it an embarrassment. Robert Bourassa, a former Québec premier once had other places he had to be when asked at a press conference if he ate poutine although I suspect he ate it from time to time whether he would fess up to it or not. Mitsou Gélinas, a well-known singer and actress in her native Québec, eating her first plate of poutine equated the experience with eating "that stuff that’s in your nose.”

Regardless of its origins, poutine is now a mainstay of Québécois cuisine. And it has also spread beyond the border to Québec, to other areas of Canada and even to the good ole USA. I have found it on the menu in such diverse locales as, Portland, Maine and in St. Petersburg, Florida. A friend in Halifax, Nova Scotia recently pointed out to me that poutine is available there for take-out delivery. Will wonders never cease? Some have added other ingredients – BBQ and marinara sauce – to make poutine their own. Martin Picard, Tony Bourdain’s Montréal frère de race (soul brother), serves “poutine au fois gras” at his landmark restaurant Au Pied de Cochon (at $23 Canadian). I will freely admit that I have tried it there . . . and it is wonderful! But I am not sure why this is all necessary. Fries, cheese curds and thick, dark gravy really says it all!

I was reintroduced to poutine several years ago when my family and I stopped for dinner in Errol, a small crossroads village in far northern New Hampshire. There was on the menu along with something billed as a “Mooseburger” which was actually just a large hamburger with melted cheese curds on top. My wife and son had never heard of poutine before and so I shared with them what I knew about it while enjoying the Mooseburger with a side order of poutine. The evening ended with us laughing about a scheme to open a nationwide chain of poutine palaces to introduce Americans to this wonderful Québécois treat.

I have never given up my predilection for cheese curds, and I eat them every chance I can score a bag or two (usually any time I find myself north of the 45th Parallel), but seldom do I have an opportunity to delight in “une maudite poutine.” Over the past year Americans have been talking and voting for change. Maybe it’s time to resurrect the idea of a “Stevie’s Poutine Palace” chain . Maybe this will give the American economy the kick in the pants it has been looking for . . . one bloody mess as a solution for another.

NEXT WEEK: One Step Over the Line - Part 1

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Andrew's World

I am very pleased with all the wonderful comments about “Zwei Smarte Boys." My old friend Bob Goebel wrote me a very nice note, and Professor Dufner’s daughter, our longtime friend from those halcyon Tucson days, is coming to visit us this week here in Maryland.

For this week’s essay I return to Cushing, Maine. The photographs I took during a recent visit in late May. I make reference to two paintings and a drawing by Andrew Wyeth. For copyright reasons I am not able to reproduce them here, but I am providing hyperlinks so that you can view them online at the appropriate time.




I apologize for the inconvenience, but I want the reader to be able to understand what I am writing about.

To date I have dedicated two essays to the recent death of Andrew Wyeth who passed away in January at the age of 91. One describes a visit to Wyeth’s native Brandywine River Valley, in southeastern Pennsylvania, shortly after his death (“Remembering Andrew Wyeth,” on February 2), while the other recounts my road trip through Wyeth country along the midcoast of Maine the day after his death (“Beyond Snow Hill: A Few More Parting Words,” on February 9). I recently returned from yet another visit to Cushing, Maine and the Olson House, that old graying clapboard farmhouse above the St. George River, at Hathorne Point. Here Wyeth painted off and on for many years, and from an upstairs window he sketched the crippled Christina Olson in 1948 as she crawled home across the neighboring field after visiting her parents’ grave at the small family cemetery situated on a bluff above Maple Juice Cove. It is a moment in time captured in the now iconic Wyeth painting, “Christina’s World.”[*] “I just couldn’t stay away from there,” Wyeth would later say. “I’d always seem to gravitate back to the house . . . It was Maine.”

Although I had visited the cemetery before, I was not able to reach it on that cold January afternoon the day after Andrew Wyeth died. It and the surrounding fields were encased in deep snow and ice, and dusk was quickly descending. On this most recent visit, however, I found the Olson House and Hathorne Point much transformed since my wintertime visit. Spring along the Maine coast was approaching its zenith; the lilacs and apple trees were in full bloom and the fields and pastures were covered in yellow dandelions and white carpets of Queen Anne’s Lace. Once again Sally Ann and I wandered though the field where Christina made her tortured journey some sixty years earlier, down to the small, shaded cemetery where she lies buried next to her parents and her brother Alvardo. She and Al had lived their entire lives in that old house up the hill. The cemetery contains the graves of other members of the Olson family, as well as those of farming and sea-going families who have called this point of land home for generations, including the Hathorne family whose earliest members came to this area from Salem, Massachusetts in the mid-18th century. It was Hathornes who originally built and resided in the farmhouse, what Betsy Wyeth called that “weathered ship stranded on a hilltop.”

There was another important change since our last visit to the cemetery. Entering, one encounters a new gravestone - a simple, unpolished stone with the inscription “Andrew Wyeth 1917-2009.” I had always assumed that he would be buried in the family plot in Chadds Ford, near the farm where he lived during the winter and spring, or out on Benner Island, where the St. George River flows into the sea and where he has lived and painted for years. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in this small and mostly forgotten cemetery. He could not be buried next to Christina as he would have liked; the Olson plot is situated in the rear of the cemetery and there is no space available there. So his final resting place is centrally located at the entrance and serves as a counterpoint to Christina’s. I cannot think of a more fitting place for him to be buried. It was here on Hathorne Point and in the surrounding Cushing countryside that he seemed most at home. These were the landscapes and people of so many of his paintings.

Edgar Allen Beem, an authority on Maine art who knew Wyeth for two decades, views “Christina’s World” as “essentially a surrogate self-portrait, a picture of Wyeth’s own defiant independence embodied in a deliberate outsider . . . a visual meditation on mortality.” He also views the large grassy fields in this and other works as Wyeth’s representation of N.C. Wyeth, his “larger than life father.” But Wyeth’s paintings of the Brandywine Valley and the coast of Maine also elicited a great deal of criticism from his contemporaries. Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic for The New Yorker, has long referred to Wyeth and his art as “hermetic” and with limited appeal.

You cannot look at Wyeth’s art without looking into the man himself. They were his life . . . and they also foretold his eventual death. I have previously written of the missing reveler in “Snow Hill,” and I am reminded of a Wyeth interview with Thomas Hoving back in 2000, when he referred to a large tempera painting, “Long Limb,” [***] which he had completed the previous year. It is minimalist in its representations, like so many of Wyeth’s paintings. There are two rolling hills covered with dried grasses, much like the grass we see in “Christina’s World,” and a single patch of melting snow. In the foreground there is a single long limb with a few dried leaves still clinging to it. “The patch of snow is my grave,” Wyeth told Hoving. “The withered leaves on the tree are my friends who passed away.” Wyeth was telling us he wanted to be surrounded by his friends when the final call came. He is certainly among friends on Hathorne Point.

When Christina Olson died in January 1968, Wyeth traveled from Pennsylvania to Maine to attend her funeral and burial. The day before the service he went alone out to the Olson House and wandered through the now empty house. It was snowing that day, and the silence was broken only by the workmen’s jackhammers as they broke up the frozen soil to open Christina’s grave. Before he left, Wyeth wandered down through the snow and ice to the cemetery (something I was reluctant to do when I visited the house the day after he died) and made a quick pencil sketch - “The Day Before Christina’s Funeral” - of the foreboding grave.** It is a rather stark drawing, but stunning in its simplicity as it captures the isolation and loneliness of the place. Boards had been placed over the open hole, a pile of dirt nearby with a few tombstones visible behind it. In the background the Olson house and barn appear much as they do in “Christina’s World,” the field she crawled across blanketed in snow. I am struck by one of the tombstones, the most prominent in the drawing as it is darker than the others and stands in a direct line between the open grave and the house on the hill. Another foretelling of Wyeth’s own death? It is the same shape and color as his own tombstone.

Every time I visit Hathorne Point I think of it in terms of Christina’s world. Andrew Wyeth only interpreted it and presented it to his audience. All this has changed now. Andrew Wyeth, long a visitor to these fields and waters, has finally come home. It is now Andrew’s World. Perhaps it always was.

NEXT WEEK: Une Maudite Poutine

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Zwei Smarte Boys

I knew absolutely no one when I first arrived in Tucson in January 1974 to begin graduate studies at the University of Arizona. I had never been to the campus or the city before, having arranged my acceptance there entirely by letter and telephone. To say the very least, it was an eye-opening and humbling experience for me. I arrived early enough to have a few days to orient myself to my new surroundings and to figure out just what the hell I was thinking when I left behind everything and everyone I knew and struck off on some new adventure in the desert Southwest. Soon enough I found myself standing in lines around campus as I registered for classes and searched for a campus job (I landed one as a research assistant in the civil engineering department) in order to earn a little mad money for incidental expenses (bar tabs, bail, etc.). I also had my first face-to-face meeting with the chairperson of the Department of German; the individual who accepted me into the graduate program and who would ultimately hold my destiny in his hands.

Professor Max Dufner was born June 17, 1920, in Switzerland. Raised in southern Germany, he immigrated to the United States with his family as a young boy, settling in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He served as an interpreter in the US Army during the war, and eventually received his Ph.D. in German from the University of Illinois. He taught at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for several years before moving his young family to Tucson where he became chairperson of the German Department. I knew him only by name and bona fides when I first walked into his small, book-filled office on the third floor of the Modern Language Building . . . my home for the next two and a half years.

He arose from behind his desk, everything on it neatly stacked and in its proper place, to shake my hand and invite me to be seated. A rather short man with neatly cropped and graying hair, horned-rimmed glasses, and sporting a shirt and tie encased in his buttoned-up tweed sports coat. He was quite proper and formal as he spoke with gravity about my course work over the coming semesters. Even so, his small, thin-lipped mouth evidenced an almost perpetual hint of a smile. I would come to know him as a man of towering intellect who over those early months left me intimidated more often than I might have admitted at the time. That said, I liked him from the very first moment I met him. I knew he would “ride me hard and put me up wet,” but I welcomed the challenge and the opportunities he offered me.

I took a number of courses under Professor Dufner - a rather grueling seminar in classical German literature during that first semester. This was followed by a two semester seminar during which my fellow graduate students and I attempted to dissect the intricacies of Goethe’s Faust (Parts I and II) line by line, and word by word. This remains one of my most rewarding academic experiences. Professor Dufner made literature come alive for me for the very first time. When I made my oral defense at the completion of my master’s program, Professor Dufner asked me a number of probing questions about Goethe’s masterpiece, and upon the completion of my response he turned to the others on my examination committee, a wide smile this time, and said “Herr Rogers kann Goethe.” [Mr. Rogers knows Goethe.] No higher praise in my book!

My Faust studies were perhaps eclipsed only by an independent study seminar on the writings of Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) which I attended along with Robert Goebel, a fellow comrade-in-arms and a true friend ever since. The two of us would attend weekly meetings in Professor Dufner’s office where he would grill us on minutiae pertaining to this most enigmatic and challenging German poet. At the end of this colloquium, Bob and I were invited to present the results of our independent research before the Palmenorden: Die Forschungsgemeinschaft des Germanistischen Instituts [The Order of the Palm: The Research Society of the Germanic Institute]. All the while Professor Dufner sat in the front row and gently nodded his head up and down, his tight-lipped smile telling us we had done our job well. Not much was said, but we knew.

The departmental faculty and graduate students would occasionally meet on Friday evenings for a traditional “Stammtisch.” This is not easily translated into English but it refers to a table in a bar or restaurant which is reserved for the same guests and usually by invitation only. Our “Stammtisch” was any table located on the outdoor patio of the Cushing Street Bar, an adobe structure dating back to 1860, when Tucson was just a small, dusty desert outpost. During our time it had become a popular watering hole in the historic Barrio Viejo, on the southern fringe of downtown. These evening gatherings offered an opportunity for professors and students . . . a small community of German scholars . . . to sit down over pitchers of beer and bring down the more formal classroom barriers. And since most of us graduate students were also teaching assistants, it taught us a valuable lesson – to remember where we came from, how we got to where we are, and what we hoped to pass on to our own students who look to us for knowledge and guidance.

Following our baptism under fire before the Palmenorden, Bob Goebel and I were feted at one of these gatherings on Cushing Street. We rode to the event with Professor Dufner, and not much more was said about our presentation. Instead, Professor Dufner told us about an article by Nina Gruenenberg in a recent edition of the German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. The subject of the article was the rapid ascendency of two members of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party in the city halls of the old Hanseatic cities of Bremen and Hamburg. But Professor Dufner was not that concerned about this matter. Instead, he locked on the title of the article - “Zwei smarte Boys” - as a prime example of what he hated most . . . the corruption of the German language, the language of Goethe, Schiller, and Hölderlin, by what he referred to as “gemixte Pickles,” a rather obvious reference to the 1927 book of the same title in which Kurt M. Stein collected a selection of poems and other verse written in a mixture of German and English. This was nothing new to Bob and myself. You did not have to sit long in one of Professor Dufner’s classes to understand his deep and abiding love of his native language (although he spoke English without the slightest hint of a German accent). He instilled this same love into his students. One could only hope to understand the literature if one loved and respected the language in which it is written.

During our tenure at the University of Arizona, Bob and I probably had the closest relationship with Professor Dufner of any of our fellow graduate students, and he and I came to refer to him affectionately (but never to his face) as “Dumax,” or simply “the Du” (a clever, we thought, play on the usage of the familiar/intimate “you” in German). To this very day, Bob and I still refer to him as such for we can only think of him with respect and affection. He made us what we are today.

Bob left Tucson before I did to work on a kibbutz in Israel while pondering his future academic plans. He eventually went on to Rutgers where he received his Ph.D in German before joining the faculties of the Virginia Military Institute, and later James Madison where he remains today a tenured professor. My wife and I moved from Tucson in the summer of 1976, the day after America celebrated it’s bicentennial. We spent July 4th packing up our small shoe box apartment and watched the festivities on our cheap black and white television. That evening we wandered over to campus to watch the fireworks. We ran into the Du and his family and we sat together and he asked me about my plans as I prepared to resume my graduate studies at the University of Maryland at College Park. We had come a long way together since that first meeting in his office two and half years earlier. I no longer thought of him only as a professor and mentor. We had become “Kollegen” [colleagues]. But more importantly, we had become friends. During those two and a half years he always referred to me as Herr Rogers. That final evening in Tucson, he shook my hand and patted me on the shoulder and said “Good luck to you, Steve. You will do well.”

The Du and I exchanged letters during the years after I left Tucson, and I saw him on occasion. My work took me to Tucson a couple of times and I was a dinner guest in his home. His eldest daughter, who was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona when I was there, became a good friend and we frequently saw her and her husband after they moved east. The Du and his family would come to visit and there were chances to resume our contacts.

The last time I would see him was around Christmas, in 1993. The Dufner family had gathered for the holidays at his daughter’s home and this afforded the opportunity for Bob Goebel and I to meet with our friend and mentor . . . the first time the three of us were together in almost 20 years. Sitting in that drawing room in Richmond, our beloved Dumax asked us whether we remembered that drive to the Cushing Street Bar, in the Spring of 1975, and that article in Die Zeit? It was then that he confided in us that he always considered Bob and me his “zwei smarte Boys;” he was always confident that we would both make something of ourselves in the community of German scholarship. Any remaining barriers between professor and student came down that day. We had become, in every sense of the word, “Kollegen.” My wife, a photographer who tries to be prepared for any and all “Kodak moments,” would from time to time carry potential photographic props. On this occasion it was a bag of cheap dime store sunglasses that would frequently show up in photographs of family and friends. That day, before it was time to part company, Sally Ann took some group pictures. As a lark, we brought out the sunglasses, and to my utter surprise, the Du agreed to a formal portrait with his zwei smarte Boys. This photograph says a thousand words I need not say here.

Professor Max Dufner passed away in Tucson just over a decade ago, on May 22, 1999. After his death, his daughter shared with me several things her father had said and written about me over the years; one being the letter of recommendation he wrote on my behalf when I applied to the University of Maryland. She also gave me a number of prized books from her father’s library - volumes of Schiller, Goethe and Hölderlin, many of them full of neatly written notes, the same volumes he used in the classes in which I was a student. They now have an honored place in my own library.

I think of my old friend often, and always fondly. I have, over the years, been blessed with many fathers . . . men who have conducted me through various stages of my life and provided support and guidance in my own explorations. Professor Dufner - the Du - stands close to the pinnacle of these fatherly figures. I miss him, and I will never forget him as long as I draw breath. This boy would not have turned out smart without him. Thanks, Max!

NEXT WEEK: Andrew’s World