Over the years, I’ve seen many children say they wanted to be grown up, and just as many say that they didn’t. But whether they want to or not, everyone grows up eventually. It is as much a part of being human as breathing. Life moved on for Sofia and Mira after their reunion. If their lives had been a movie, no doubt they would have purchased houses side by side and remained closer than sisters for the rest of their lives, but life often doesn’t play out like a movie. After her visit, Mira returned to her father and their new home in Poland, and Sofia went on with life as her West Berlin surroundings struggled back to a feeling of normality. She fell in love with an ambitious young businessman who attended a university near the old family house, and before long, the two of them were married. It is several years after this, on a night in late May 1961, that I bring you into their cozy little living room where a young boy is pacing restlessly in front of the silent television.
His name was Frederick. At twelve years old, he was all one could expect from a growing German boy, lanky, thin, and fair skinned with bright green eyes that lit up when he spoke. There was an undeniable glow of intelligence in those eyes. His step was light, but his hair was dark and tousled, crumpling this way and that as he made his way back and forth across the room. His features he had inherited from his mother, but the impatience came solely from his father.
Sofia glanced over into the living room from near the sink. “Is it time yet?”
“Almost,” replied Frederick, his tone expectant. “They are going to broadcast the speech in just a few minutes.”
“I don’t see the point,” said his father distractedly, hunched over a large stack of papers on his desk. “I couldn’t care less what the American President has to say to his Congress, and I don’t see why a boy your age should care either.”
“Kennedy is one of the greatest men in the world,” replied Frederick, his tone certain but respectful. “Did you know he is the youngest American president ever?”
“You only remind us every day,” sighed his father, glancing over at Sofia.
She only smiled and walked across the room to the sofa as Frederick turned the knob on the television. President Kennedy was just stepping up to his podium from within the box. Frederick sat down cross legged in front of it, a pen and paper on the floor beside him to take notes. Once the speech had begun, Frederick’s eyes never left the man’s face as his hand moved quickly across the little paper, snagging stray words like a fisherman tightening his net around a catch. There was something about that man a world away that stirred something inside him. It wasn’t just his charisma or good looks or friendly smile, but it was the fact that no matter how you looked at him, he simply seemed human.
Near the end of the speech, when the words finally came, Frederick’s pencil didn’t move to catch them. “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” That was all it took. It was such a simple sentence, not too long, not too short, and lacking the difficult and grueling words so many politicians used nowadays, but it wasn’t the words that mattered, it was the spark behind them. The little spark of flame that danced past the microphone, past the camera man, through the flickering screen and sank deep and wonderfully down into Frederick’s core. A man on the moon. Was it possible?
Once the broadcast had come to a close, Sofia stood to turn the knob on the little wooden box, replacing President Kennedy’s face with Frederick’s reflection as the picture went dark.
“It was a good speech,” commented Sofia, smiling down at him as she positioned herself on a nearby chair. “An interesting thought, isn’t it, Frederick? Going to the moon? And in the decade no less. American are nothing if not ambitious.” From his place in the corner, his father grunted his agreement.
Frederick turned slowly toward her, and there was an expression she had never seen on his face before. “He’s going to do it, Mama,” he said, his voice quiet. “He’s going to do it. I know he is.”
“Oh?” asked Sofia, smiling slightly at him. “And why is that?”
He looked up at her, the determination recognizable now in his eyes: “Because I’m going to help him.”
Sofia couldn’t contain a laugh. “What?”
“I mean it,” assured Frederick, his tone sincere. “You’ve heard what my teachers have said. I’m already several years above other boys my age. When I’m old enough I’ll go to America and help the President send a man to the moon!”
“Don’t talk nonsense, boy,” grunted his father, looking over at the two of them. “You will do no such thing. Once you are out of school, you will take over the shop and live out your days here in Germany with a good German wife. We may have lost the war to the Americans’ bombs, but I won’t lose my son to their idealistic nonsense.”
“Don’t be so hard on him,” said Sofia, looking over at him across the room. He only sighed and made his way out into the hall, taking his papers with him. “Don’t mind your father, Frederick,” she said quietly, leaning down towards him. “In his heart, he knows you’ll never take over the shop.”
Frederick sighed. “Then why does he say it?”
Sofia smiled sadly and put a hand on his shoulder. “He doesn’t want to lose you,” she said, moving her hand up to stroke his cheek. “You’re growing up so fast these days, so bright and ambitious. We both know you’ll never be happy here, but he will go on pretending for as long as he can.”
Frederick looked up at her. “And you too?”
Sofia wiped his brown hair up out of his face. “No, Frederick,” she said softly, her eyes shining down at him. “I gave up pretending a long time ago. However far you go and whatever you do with your life, it will be enough for me to know that you will always be my boy.” Frederick watched her as she stood and walked over the mantle before returning to sit beside him with her two prized silver candlesticks in hand. “One day,” she said quietly, closing his hands around one of them, “when you grow up and follow your dreams, you can take one of these with you, and when you send that man of yours to the moon, you can light your candle where you are, and I will light mine here, and it will be like we are celebrating together.”
Frederick looked up at her as the light from the moon shone through the window, illuminating the priceless heirlooms. “You promise?”
Sofia smiled. “I promise.”
Quote Credit: Kennedy, John F. Address to Joint Session of Congress May 25, 1961. www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/historic-speeches/address-to-joint-session-of-congress-may-25-1961.