Men who put Skin on Jesus: “Ken Marshall and Herr Huber”

(this is the third installment of my short memoirs)

After 8th grade graduation, my mom and dad again gave me the option of continuing at a high school closer to the ranch or returning to Turlock. I wanted to return. Again, I wanted to start over. We lived six miles from Turlock High School. I bought a Peugeot racing bicycle. For the next two years, I rode to and from school each day.  

Ken Marshall and I had been neighbors since we were 2 until I turned 13. Mr. Relational, Ken had connections. I’d always admired and probably idolized him. He excelled both at organ and piano and played for his church. He was the superior student and was also a jokester. I’d not seen him much while attending Gratton School. In high school, we began to hang out more.  

One time, when Juniors, we were driving around past midnight in Turlock. I was driving and we had just come to the stop sign at the corner of California Street and Berkeley Avenue. Turlock was a small community. I’d checked both ways, pulled out to cross the street, and turn left onto Berkeley when Ken let out a blood-curdling scream and threw his left arm across me pointing out my window. My breathing stopped, my feet left the clutch and gas pedals, my heart tried to escape my chest as I looked where he pointed. My parent’s dark green Renault stalled in the middle of the road. But there was nothing there.  

Ken buckled over laughing. “You should have seen your face!” he howled, tears rolling down his face as we sat there. Eventually, as the shock dissipated and I realized he was joking, I started laughing too, sitting there on those brown leather seats, still stalled.  

Unlike me, Ken loved German and had excelled while in middle school. Our middle school teacher, Frau Rector, moved to high school the same year we did. We both were slated to take German together.  

Ken was a visionary, always seeing beyond the confines of our worlds. During Physiology class near the start of freshman year, he leaned over to me and whispered: “Frau Rector has relatives in Switzerland. Students can get connected to them and work for them during the summer. How about we go to Switzerland after our Junior years?” At this point, I would never have dreamed of such an adventure. But the idea caught. “Let’s do it,” I responded.  

With this incentive to work harder at German and I began to grasp it. My parents were supportive but said I needed to earn the money to go. I began working as a janitor for JC Penny’s that fall and got other part-time jobs along the way. I picked berries and worked in peaches during the summer. Fr. Rector’s relatives in Meiringen, Switzerland hired me. They requested I start at the end of May my junior year.  

I flew off on Monday, May 24th, 1976, from Oakland Airport on a charter flight. My mom and dad drove me to the airport. Our goodbye felt significant, like this launch would change our lives. Our 747 developed engine trouble in flight and made an emergency midnight landing at the air force base in Bangor, Maine. The 350 passengers packed into the small terminal area while mechanics worked out the problem. The head flight attendant phoned the local McDonalds to order egg McMuffins, hash browns, and orange juices for us all. Her experience spread quickly among us, as the McDonald’s worker had hung up twice, thinking this was a prank call. You can imagine this size of a food order was atypical, for 6:30 am on a Tuesday morning in Bangor, Maine!  On the third call, the order was believed. Never had Mcdonald’s food tasted so good!  

After several hours, we were loaded back onto the plane more nervous than before. I exited the plane in Zurich, as the first member of my family to travel to Europe, both exhausted and excited. I stayed overnight at an airport hotel, my mom’s requirement: “I want you to have a good night’s sleep before heading to your job.” I knew nothing about jet lag nor how to get over it at that point. I ate dinner at the restaurant in the late afternoon and fell asleep at 7 pm and awoke at 2 am. I journaled and waited for the dawn.  

At 11 am, I took my first train ride through this storybook land. I sat mesmerized by the scenery through the train window all the way to Meiringen.  Herr Huber in his white chef’s coat over his large frame met my train. He squeezed behind the steering wheel of his small compact and drove me to his Aareschlucht Restaurant. I followed him across the wooden-floored dining area filled with many four-person and six-person tables, past the phone booth where I would receive calls from my folks occasionally, upstairs carrying my bag, as he showed me my room. The workers from Holland, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, France, and two of us from the USA stayed above the restaurant each in a simple room with a bed, sink, desk, and window. Hr. Huber had a house in the village for himself and his young family.  

After meeting everyone the next morning, he asked me, “Can you keep a gute Rechnung?” He loved practicing English! My mind scrambled. I was uncertain what “Rechnung” meant, but because of Jack Harlan’s influence, I figured I could manage just about anything. “Ja. Ich kann,” I answered.  

I became the barista working behind the counter between the kitchen and the restaurant. I handed all plated meals from the kitchen to the wait staff and fulfilled all drink orders like at a Starbucks, tracking the invoice (Rechnung) along the way. Hr. Huber was exacting. He was quick-tempered and loud, especially in the kitchen. But he was supportive of me and Julie Shipman, another student from my school who arrived in the middle of June, three weeks after I started work. He cared, protected, counseled, and advised us that summer. Julie worked with one of Hr. Huber’s older relatives at the gift shop at the far end of the Aare gorge.    

Eli Sheppard | October 26, 2020 at 6:25 am

Busloads of tourists got dropped at the gift shop/snack stand, bought souvenirs and ice creams, walked the wooden path secured along the gorge’s rock walls above the roaring Aare River to the Aareschlucht Restaurant. There we would serve them lunch or dinner. We worked six days a week receiving one day off for which I would take the first train to see some other part of the country. Most of our workdays were 10 to 12 hours long; my longest was 18 hours.  

The waitress from Holland became critical of Hr. Huber over many issues. She spoke to Julie and me frequently, and her negative viewpoint began to poison our own. He fired this woman in late July, then pulled Julie and me aside to give us an attitude adjustment. At first, I denied I had any negative attitude toward him, but he corrected me, “Yes, you do. Here’s where I have encountered it. And I need you to adjust it.” He was clear but gentle regarding what he had seen, and we made the adjustment. This moment taught me how powerful we can be over one another, and the ability we have to choose attitude.    

My friend Ken came and worked in Lausanne, more than three hours away. We didn’t see one another all summer for we had no coordinated days off.  But He, Julie, and I traveled Europe after the work ended. On Eurrail passes we touched down in several cities until Julie left from Paris after the first week, then, Ken and I adventured for another week to other parts of Germany and Italy before departing from Zurich. We arrived home after school had started in September.  

Ken and I remain connected. He coached me for six months free of charge at the start of a new pastoral position in 2009. I’ll get a phone call when my name drops into his prayer times. Ken is consistent, spiritually deep, and is still expanding my range of thinking and vision.

Me 1976

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