Perception Shift

This is not my story.  This is a modified version of a story I was told by a lovely senior lady at a luncheon where I was a presenter.  As I do not have a record of her name, the one used is fictional. I have filled in details as well, but the basic story is as I was told.

Anna had just arrived at her uncle’s home in Houston.  The war was over and she, like many from her country, had been left with nothing.  Thankfully her family in America had been willing to take her in, to give her housing and a job and a chance for something new.

Her uncle’s home was warm and inviting, and his lovely wife was as well.   They had welcomed her into their lives as if she was a daughter.  Once she’d had a few days to get settled, Anna was looking forward to beginning a job at her uncle’s shop.


Her first day had been terrible.  Disheartened, she could barely manage a small smile as she entered the kitchen to help her aunt.  It was fortunate that her aunt was naturally talkative.  Anna merely had to chop the carrots and make appreciative noises.  Perhaps tomorrow would be better.


After apologizing again to the angry woman on the other side of the desk, Anna excused herself and hid in the restroom.  Even though the war was over, emotions were still running high.  Everyone knew someone who had lost a loved one, knew someone who had fought in Japan, Italy, Austria.  While they knew and appreciated her uncle’s contribution to the community, Anna’s own German tongue stirred a passionate response in the customers.  It would get better, as her English got better, but this first week of being berated for her countrymen’s actions had been nearly more than she could bear.

It was a relief to finally return home from the shop.  Anna barely managed to make it to her room before she began crying uncontrollably.  For a qhile she simply let herself feel sad, even homesick. 

She managed to collect herself in time for dinner with her aunt and uncle.  Sitting quietly at the table, she listened while her family talked about their day.  Distracted, she didn’t notice that her aunt had asked her a question until she glanced up to see all eyes at the table on her.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“How was your first week at the shop, dear?” her aunt asked again.  “Your uncle tells me that you might be having some trouble.”

Anna closed her eyes and tried to find a calm voice.  She intended to say that she was fine, but what came out was, “It’s been hard.”

Her aunt’s face was a study in kindness and concern.  “Are you finding your tasks too difficult, dear?  Should we have your uncle give you some more training?”

Anna shook her head, unable to speak for fear of crying again.  She took a breath, swallowed, and managed to squeak out, “I’m having trouble talking to the customers.”

Clearly this was enough information, as her aunt and uncle both shared an appreciative look and said, “Ah.”  Surprised, Anna looked at one and then the other.  “Is it because of your English, dear?” her aunt asked.

“Yes!  They are fine until I explain that I don’t speak very well, and then they discover that I speak German.”  She paused before looking down at her plate and quietly adding, “And then they yell at me about the war.”

“I have an easy answer for this,” her aunt told her.  Anna looked up in surprise as her uncle turned a questioning gaze on his wife.  “Tell them you are from Schulenburg.”

Her uncle chuckled under his breath as Anna asked, “Schulenburg?”

“Schulenburg, Texas.  It is a small town not far from here, and most of the people who live there still speak German.”

“Really?” Anna asked hopefully.  “And people will believe me?”

Her uncle chuckled again.  “It’s a good idea.  The least you can do is try it.”


Anna looked up nervously when the first customer of the day entered.  She smiled and cautiously began her conversation, “Welcome, how may I help you?”

At the sound of her accent, the woman gave her a suspicious look but began speaking.  “Hello, I need to pickupmynisninmr..”

Anna shook her head as she interrupted.  “I’m sorry, my English is not so good.”  She paused and added, “I’ve just moved from Schulenburg.”

She braced for the ugly response that she had come to expect.  Instead, to her surprise, the woman patted her hand and said carefully, “Oh, you sweet little German girl.  Welcome to Houston!”

Anna’s eyes widened as she looked up to see a smiling face.  Cautiously, she continued the conversation.


“It worked!” Anna said, smiling at her aunt.

The woman looked up from the bread dough she was kneading.  “I told you it would.”

Her uncle walked by, chuckling again.  “I married a wise woman.”

Anna turned to her uncle.  “Would you take me to Schulenburg this weekend so I can see it?  Just in case someone asks me about it?”

He smiled at her and said, “That is a good idea.  We can make that happen.”

“Thank you,” Anna said, finally happy again to have moved to America.


Over time, Anna learned English and adjusted to life in Houston.  Memories of the war lessened as the years passed.  Anna fell in love and married, raising children of her own.  But she never forgot her gratitude to her adopted hometown of Schulenburg.