In A Lesson in Secrets, Maisie Dobbs is hired by the British Secret Service to investigate activities in a private college setting which may indicate the beginnings of the Nazi party. From the outer office of the director of the college, Maisie hears arguing, then a pair of boots clicking before one of the professors storms out.
Just reading the words “boots clicking” tore asunder the shroud of memory. Suddenly, I was a girl sitting in a darkened theater watching a WW II newsreel followed by an American propaganda film in which the Nazi soldiers always clicked their boots thereby striking terror into the heart of this girl in the audience. For a brief moment, that terror was renewed in the heart of this old woman sitting in a comfortable chair in her own living room. Upon reflection, I realized that that terrible feeling transcending all of those years may have had its impetus in fiction; but, at that time, the war was real. The fear was real.
This phenomenon is more peculiar because that memory had to pass through a more recent, innocent memory of “boots clicking”. In the 70’s, I lived and taught for a time in Lima, Peru. One day, one of the nuns with whom I taught invited me to accompany her to very small wedding taking place in a Catholic church whose members were of German ancestory. All of the rituals were conducted in German.
The couple marrying were voluteers from Caritas, a Catholic charitable organization at the time very active in Western Europe. The couple had met in Peru while working in a remote mountain village. The young man was Austrian; the young woman, Swiss. It was appropriate for them to be married in a language familiar to both. The two witnesses in the ceremony were from German speaking counties as well. Both men were dressed in what appeared to be 19th century military attire. After the last blessing, the two men at the alter turned to each other, clicked boot heels, bowed and shook hands. At the time, I was delighted to be a witness to such a charming cultural gesture. But, apparently, fear trumps delight.
War is a horrible memory.