My Life

This is an unfinished collection of pieces written mostly in 2011.  The collection lacks a preface and comes to a stop in the 1970s.  It picks up again in the 1980s but with a more domestic and conventional flavor.  The plan today (mid-2018) is to fill in the gaps, bring the account up to date, and pull it together.   

For more background, the reader should look at My Father’s Life and My Mother’s Life.

Table of Contents

The Family Tree

About the Town Where I Was Born

My First Memory

Growing Up in “The Village” (1943-1945)

Revisiting “The Village” in 2010

Photo Album from Revisiting “The Village”

Memories of Frankfurt (1945-1953)

Crossing the Atlantic (1953)

Fresh Off the Boat: Brooklyn, Rockville, Cleveland (1953-1956)

Kansas (1956-1959)

Wesleyan Years: (1) The Rush

Wesleyan Years:  (2) Teachers

Wesleyan Years: (3) Paris

Wesleyan Years:  (4) Real-World Learning

The Sixties

Cuba 1963

Brandeis (1963-1967)

Mississippi (1964-1965)

Mississippi Photo Album

Viet-Report (1965-1968)

Hell No I won’t Go  (1965-1968)

Simon Fraser (1966-1968)

San Francisco 1968-1973

I Become a Lawyer (1983-1986)

War Stories (1983-2015)





The Family Tree

The Nicolaus family name has some mythical roots.  My mother’s mother Lydia, her mind clouded by advancing dementia, maintained that it came from the Tsar, who on his travels had got the daughter of a German merchant pregnant, etc.   A myth I like much better is that we’re descended from the original Bishop Nicolaus of …

About the Town Where I Was Born

I was born in Essen, Germany. When I tell my American friends that I was born in Essen, I usually get blank faces. Essen after the war was in the British zone of occupation and is not as well known in the U.S. as towns like Frankfurt, which were in the American zone. I fill …

My First Years

On Thursday September 25 1941, the day I was born, my mother had been a widow for 71 days. My mother had met my father in Switzerland in 1938, when they both were students of the theologian Karl Barth.  Barth had taken a post as professor at the ancient university of Basel after the Nazis …

Memories of Frankfurt (1945-1953)

On V-E Day (May 8 1945) I was three and a half years old. Since the Allied bombing had stopped, my mother pulled up stakes in Fürstenhagen and in the fall of that year we moved to Frankfurt/Main. To this day I am quite comfortable in small spaces. Very likely this stems from our first …

Crossing the Atlantic (1953)

(Continued from Memories of Frankfurt) The S.S. United States was the state of the art in ocean travel in 1953.  She had been built just a year earlier for the express purpose of beating the British giants, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, for the transatlantic speed record.  She more than broke the record, she smashed …

Fresh Off the Boat (1953-1956)

Our new home in Sea Gate was an attic in an old mansion at 4120 Manhattan Avenue.  It had the same sloping ceilings as our old place on Feststrasse in Frankfurt, but it was only two flights up, a great improvement.  I had a little cubbyhole of a room, and soon decorated its walls with pictures of …


(Continued from Fresh Off the Boat) Cleveland was not a happy place for my mother, and she was looking desperately for something — anything  — else.  Change came in a most unexpected way.  On June 30, 1956, a United Airlines jet and a Trans World Airlines jet collided over the Grand Canyon, killing all 128 …

Wesleyan (1) – The Rush

(Continued from Kansas) After a long train and bus trip, I arrived in Middletown Connecticut in the fall of 1959, lugging a suitcase and a rucksack.  Middletown was only about 30 miles from Rockville, where I had been a foster child just four years earlier.  The campus sits on a slight hill a few blocks …

Wesleyan (2) – Teachers

(Continued from College (1) – The Rush) With the pressing social and cultural issues resolved, I was finally freed to concentrate on academics.  The freshman curriculum was heavy on the humanities:  Great Books and Western Civilization and Psychology, French, and Phys Ed.  It might have been a dreary slog through musty tomes, but we were …

Wesleyan 1960-61 (Paris)

(Continued from College (2) – Teachers) In the spring semester of my sophomore year, 1960-61, the College of Letters group moved to Paris.  On the way, I stopped in London and visited two old friends of my mother’s who had known my father but never met me.  One was Louie Gibson, who must have been …

Wesleyan (4) – Real-World Learning

(Continued from College (3) – Paris) During our spring semester in Paris in 1961, the Algerian war of independence  had been in its final stages.  We American students mostly kept our noses in our books.  Still, it was impossible not to become aware of the great agitation in the city and the country.  On many nights …

Cuba 1963

(Continued from College (4)) The federal government’s ban on travel to Cuba had put an end to direct flights.  Although Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, you had to take a detour to get there.  And what a detour!  The student group I joined for the trip, nearly 60 strong, divided in half for …

Brandeis 1963-1967

(Continued from Cuba 1963) After the summer in Cuba with Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Robert F. Williams and all the rest, Herbert Marcuse at Brandeis was a bit of an anti-climax.  My room in a Cambridge apartment near Harvard Square at that time (fall of 1963) looked like a set from a Godard movie.  Posters …

Mississippi Winter 1964-65

(Continued from Cuba 1963) In the summer of 1964 the civil rights movement launched a major campaign, Freedom Summer, to bring voter registration and other basic civil rights to the Deep South, centering on Mississippi.  Viki and I spent the summer in New York, working. I had a summer job with a branch of the …

Viet-Report (1965-1968)

(Continued from Mississippi Winter 1964-65) We left Jackson in April 1965.  My molars were rotting away.  A dentist in Pittsburgh PA who was a steadfast supporter of the civil rights movement offered to work on my teeth for free.  Getting my molars fixed for free, with novocaine, felt like advanced socialism, by contrast to the Cuban kind, …

Hell No I Won’t Go (1965-1969)

(Continued from Viet-Report) At Brandeis that fall (1966) a student dive-bombed and crashed a light airplane into the center of campus, killing himself and his female passenger.  Rumors swirled that it was a love pact, a Romeo-and-Juliet affair, but in the background there was the Vietnam draft.  With the massive escalation of the ground war, …

Simon Fraser 1966-1968

Continued from Hell No I Won’t Go) My first impression of Vancouver was of a beautiful vacation land.  I had found temporary lodging in a tiny furnished apartment in the city with a window facing north onto the harbor, and on the first clear morning, the panorama of snowy peaks across the water, almost within arm’s …

Revisiting “The Village”

In the fall of 2010, my wife Sheila and I visited Berlin, and my son Fred joined us there.  On Fred’s initiative, he and I took a trip to Fürstenhagen, the village where I spent most of the war years.  (See my mother’s “The Village” and my  “Memories of ‘The Village‘”)  He had read about Fürstenhagen …

San Francisco 1968-1973

(Continued from Simon Fraser) At a distance, San Francisco in late ‘68 still glowed from the “Summer of Love” festival the previous year.  But that glow was like the light that continues to travel in space after its source  burns out.  My friend in San Francisco — the noted Marxist economist James O’Connor — then …

I Become a Lawyer

I resisted going to law school until I was 42. Teachers and classmates in high school urged me to aim for the law. I was a champion debater — best speaker points at the state tournament — and chairman of my pretend party at Boys’ State. But when the Sputnik went into orbit, the call …