Sensing Adolph Hitler’s diabolical designs, Horst requested on-shore leave to sharpen his personal cutlery. Cut asunder from the Old World, he melted into Yorkville, New York’s teeming Germantown – he and his knives never to return to the Fatherland.
Horst had visions of liberty and of a ravishing brunette, Marie Koenig, whom he had met on a previous sailing and since corresponded with. He eagerly rendezvoused with Marie, a kindred German immigrant. Soon betrothed, they raised three boys, Eric, Richard and this correspondent, Walter.
Horst rose through the culinary ranks, becoming Head Chef at Great Neck’s prestigious Peter Luger Steakhouse and the Executive Chef running the corporate and employee cafeterias at the Royal Globe Insurance Company skyscraper on Wall Street. In doing so, Horst had fulfilled the immigrant dream, moving from the tenements of the city to the Long Island suburbs. Granted, there were sacrifices to be made living in a Great Neck community ranked in the top-10 school districts nationally. Horst rose every morning at 4 a.m., grabbing the chef’s hat and orange juice freshly pressed and squeezed the night before and then dashing for the 4:32 bus to the Flushing subway line. On the weekends, he worked at a Manhasset country club.
Dad missed one day of work in 22 years at Royal Globe. That day, stumbling on the bus steps, he was so weak with fever the bus driver actually had to admonish him to go home. I’m proud that Dad also takes credit for besting the advent of Rachael Raye, Martha Stewart and Emeril as TV cooks. He was on the tube in its infancy when sets were still enclosed in mahogany cabinets, aired three channels, and timed out with a visual countdown before midnight.
Not bad for a lad whose life voyage suffered rough currents from the start. My dad had lost both parents in World War I and was treated like a male Cinderella by his aunt. Though a deserving student, without funds he reluctantly went to trade school. More trials followed as his first wife died of cancer at 43 and his middle son was hospitalized with emotional illness.
A complaint never passed Dad’s lips, though. He was an innate stoic, a gentleman’s gentleman and an inveterate wit. Decent to the bone, he defied the times by sitting next to his black dishwasher in the staff eating area. Dad saw a man, not a race; a soul, not a skin.
If I had one life regret, it’s that my father passed away in 1983, six years before my marriage. He would have adored his grandkids, but I was a confirmed bachelor until 43. Yet, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. I’ve since become a father, stepfather, five-time foster father and two-time grandfather.
My prayer for all of you this Fathers’ Day, and I hope your prayer for me, is that we all honor our father. I hope the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
– Contributed by Walter Ruehlig