Gunters Story (Part V)

 

Gunter’s saving grace would come in the form of Irene Flack who he was soon forced to hire to care for Rodney. It would prove an ideal partnership in that Irene’s own path to Australia mirrored Gunter’s arduous route with Irene making stops in Israel and Czechoslovakia before arriving to Australia in 1941.

For more than two years Irene would look after Rodney before the working relationship between Gunter and Rodney’s caretaker would evolve. It would eventually lead to a wedding in 1956 and, not long after, the birth of a baby daughter, Karen, in 1957 about whose arrival a 14 year old Rodney sarcastically quipped, “Great, how long before she’ll be ready to do the cleaning up.”

In the meantime, Irene’s firm beliefs in betterment through higher education and her unrelenting oversight often proved a point of contention between Rodney and Irene. The attention to detail, however, would pay dividends with Rodney excelling with honors in maths and science and, eventually, offering him a plethora of options upon graduation from the University of New South Wales in 1964.

Rodney could've taken the easy route but, instead, the recently married 26 year old and father of a three month old daughter of his own, wanted to serve his country and enlisted, commissioned as an Education Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Scheduled to instruct the necessary prerequisite course work needed for flight training for potential Vietnam pilots, the younger Kaufmann needed only be administered the last of his inoculations before shipping out.

“I was taking pictures of him with his baby daughter in his arms and he kept telling me to take more,” his now grown baby sister remembers of the night before her brother was to drive to Wagga Wagga, New South Wales for his inoculation. “I said, ‘Why, when I’ve already taken so many?’ He just said, ‘Take one more, you never know if you’ll ever see me again.’”

The statement would prove prophetic and, in the end, an inexplicable adverse reaction to the inoculation would rob the Kaufmann family of a son, a brother, a husband and a father.

It was almost too much for Gunter to bare and he would tell me more than once if it hadn’t been for his daughter, he’s not sure what he would have done. Karen says her father tried to shut down but her ever strong willed mother refused to let him saying, “Gunter, you have to live for the living.” And somehow, that’s what he managed to do. And as he’d done too many times prior to the loss of his son he knew what he had to do. “I just had to keep moving forward, to keep going forward and stay alive.”

Luckily, for me, Gunter Kaufmann would find the strength to keep going forward.

For more than fifty years he'd do just that.

Long enough to have seen a Labour Government open the Australia garment market to cheap Asian imports in 1978 which forced him and his partner to close the doors of ‘Le Gay Parisian’ after almost 35 years in business. The government decree, like so much else that happened to him over the course of his life, still made little sense to him and he let Labour know about it every election that followed adding only, “I don’t think any of them have ever run an actual business.”

He’d persevere long enough to subsequently retire to Australia’s Gold Coast in the early 80s with his wife after the closing his business.

Long enough to begin teaching German at the age of 76 for a period of 8 years to senior students at a local university.

Long enough to diligently take care of his wife of nearly 30 years for four years as she slowly slipped away to Alzheimer’s in 1988.

Long enough to watch his baby daughter grow up, leave Australia and travel the world before coming back to live close enough to keep an oh so watchful eye on him.

Long enough for all this and plenty more. Yet not so long as to lose the sparkle in his eyes or the seemingly impervious smile that belied all that he’d been forced to endure. Void of spirit corrupting cynicism to the very end, his was a smile that, during our three and a half years together, often left me in awe.

Amazed and asking myself, “If Gunter can do it with such grace and dignity, are the mountains in my own path really that insurmountable?”

 

 

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