I first met Dutch in a difficult situation, in a room full of unhappy people. Let me explain. Dutch was an electrical sub-contractor on a large project I was overseeing for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. On the First Draw, Dutch had submitted a very large bill to the Contractor, and the Contractor had passed that cost along in his Draw request. This was immediately viewed as price gouging . . .and perhaps even fraud. It required looking into, so a meeting was called.
The Contract Documents for the project called for the Contractor to “test and repair/replace any electrical devises found faulty,” and to provide a cost breakdown for each electrical device that might need to be replaced. There was no way the contractor could know the number of items that would need to be replaced prior to bidding the job, so the Architects and Engineers set it up like this. Then, there was a maximum number of devices that could be installed . . . without prior written consent of the approving Architect.
Everything was pretty clear, until the Contractor hired Dutch to do the electrical work and left town. Dutch went to work immediately and skipped the step of “Testing” and went to work “replacing.” He also skipped the step of using the devices scheduled in the Contract Documents and instead used heavy-duty industrial electrical devices that were like triple the cost for what was required for residential use.
The meeting time arrived and everyone was assembled . . . everyone except Dutch (I didn’t even know Dutch existed or that he had been invited by the Contractor). I called the meeting to order and identified the problem for the group. Immediately the Contractor and his attorney began to argue and complain that we simply didn’t want to pay for the work in place . . . and things were getting pretty tense. Then, the back door opened, and a very short (5’2” in elevated shoes), chubby, and quite homely, little man walked into the room whistling a really bad tune, and doing so quite loudly. He was wearing a brown wool suit and a black bow tie (in July—in South Texas) and he was wearing a small-brimmed round hat. His clothes were about 40 years out of style, but he was convinced he was well-dressed. Under his arm he carried a large white box, which I assumed was filled with documents and invoices that would be used to support the contractor’s claim. Boy, was I wrong. Dutch walked up to the head table and began to jabber 90 miles per hour. I didn’t understand one word he said, and didn’t have a clue what language he was speaking. I tried to explain to him that we were having a rather important meeting and he was obviously in the wrong place. The Contractor stood and identified his as “Dutch, the electrical sub.” Dutch plopped the box down on the table, opened it, and reached down and pulled out a day-old glazed donut, took a big bite with the sugar glazing falling all over the place, and with that glazing all over his lips announced in the worst English I had ever hear, “I brought the Sinkers” and he then asked who had made the coffee. We all busted out in laughter and everyone settled down and we go to work. We resolved the problem rather quickly. I loved old Dutch Trier immediately.
In the months and years ahead, Dutch became my friend, and I learned his story, and quite a story it is.
He was born “Alowishes John Trieweiler,” in the municipality of Triesweiler, located in the Trier-Saarburg District, in Rhineland – Palatinate, Germany. It was all named for his family. My friend Dutch came from an affluent family who had long been amongst the upper-crust of German society. Dutch had one brother.
When Hitler took control of Germany, Dutch’s father acted on his fears and concerns. He arranged passage for his young sons to escape Germany . . . but the time for first class, luxury liners, was past . . . these boys had to be smuggled out in the dark of night and hidden in the bottom of freighters ships. The boys were provided certain assets that could be easily concealed and later sold when it became necessary. The father placed some currency in each of their shoes, hugged and kissed them good bye, and then sent them off separately with those who had been hired to assist in their escape. The boys were put on separate vessels . . . neither knowing where the other was going. Dutch said he asked his dad why they could not go together. He said his dad simply told him, “If one of you is captured and murdered by these thugs, perhaps the other will escape to carry on the family name.”
Dutch ultimately landed in the USA . . . a 12-year-old, with no skills, no records, no employment experience, limited resources, and unable to speak one word of English; yet, he survived. He rambled around the United States. He would find a place he liked and stay for a while. He would find work as a dishwasher, janitor, and such. After a bit he would move on to some other place. Sometimes, he would find other German-speaking people and stay around them for a while. He told me that it was pretty common that he encountered people who knew of his family name and history.
Ultimately, he found the woman who would become his wife. I always saw it as a marriage of convenience . . . two people who simply needed each other. She was much taller than Dutch and I never thought they were able to communicate very well as she was also an immigrant with limited English, but they did manage to produce a son. By the time I met Dutch, his wife was in poor health and required a wheel-chair to get around. Sandy and I were taking Dutch out to dinner one evening, and Sandy was wearing high heels. Dutch scolded her and told her to never wear those shoes. As best as we could understand it seemed that he was telling us that his wife was wearing high heels and fell . . . and that had started her health problems.
I never knew the son. He had moved away by the time I met Dutch. All the years I knew Dutch I never knew of him coming to see Dutch or his wife or even calling. Dutch told me that he did come to see him once. Dutch had a heart attack and was lying in a hospital. He said the son came into his hospital room. He had some documents in his hand and a lady at his side. Dutch said the boy told him, “I have a Power of Attorney form and I need you to sign it, and this lady will notarize it.” Dutch was well at the time he told me about this. I asked him, “What did you do?” He smiled and said that he had motioned for the boy to lean down close and whispered to him, “Gou miss understood da doctors . . . it es my heart dat es sick . . . my head it es still ok.” He said the boy left in a huff.
For 50 years Dutch had no contact with his family in Germany . . . and knew nothing about any of them. Finally, at 70 years-of-age, Dutch decided it was safe to return to Germany and try to locate his family. I drove him to the airport and I wondered if he would even return . . . he had only purchased a one-way ticket.
A few weeks later, he called and told me he was coming home. I agreed to pick him up at the airport in San Antonio. On the drive back home he told me about his experience. He said that when he walked into the terminal after de-boarding the airplane in Germany, he instantly discovered he had a serious problem . . . no one could understand his German . . . it got even worse because anyone who could speak English could not understand Dutch’s English. Over the years, he has meshed the two languages to the point that it took a long time for another person to make any sense of what out what he was trying to say – in either language. He was finally able to hire an interpreter who could (with great struggle) semi-understand him. The interpreter was able to locate his brother. This took several days.
When the interpreter called his brother, the brother refused to meet Dutch . . . all the while insisting that his brother had been captured by the Nazi’s and executed for “desertion.” Dutch said that he managed to recall the name of a small dog the family had at the time the boys had been sent away. That satisfied his brother to agree to at least meet Dutch, but he made it clear that he would need much more to ever be able to acknowledge Dutch as his brother. A meeting was set for lunch in a pub the following day.
The interpreter proved invaluable for the brother’s meeting. Dutch learned that his parents had been killed by the Nazi’s and the family’s wealth had been confiscated. The brother told them that upon his return to Germany, family friends had told him that prior to their execution, the parents were told that both boys had been captured and had been executed as deserters.
Dutch managed to convince his brother and was invited to spend a few days with him in his home. Dutch and his brother were a real mess. The brother had landed in Spain and lived there for 30 years. He had learned to speak a really bad Spanish, but had returned to Germany some 20 years ahead of Dutch. Communication was practically non-existent between these brothers, but they talked constantly anyway. Several times throughout the day, these old men would grab each other in a bear hug and giggle like school girls . . . both talking up a storm and not understanding one word the other said.
A couple of years later, Dutch’s brother came to visit him in South Texas. I took the two brother’s fishing. It was a great day and a great experience. I loved watching them together and I laughed all day watching them try to communicate. I don’t know why, but Dutch’s English seemed even worse when his brother was here . . . and it was already so bad I could only get about one word out of five anyway. We caught a lot of fish and those old guys laughed, ate, and hugged all day.
I moved away . . . and lost contact with Dutch. A couple of years later while I was in town, I went by Dutch’s old house. The lady who lived there didn’t know anything about what had become of Dutch.
That thing with Hitler really hurt a lot of people . . .