My treat for you today is reading a chapter from my memoir. It’s one of the many memories of my childhood.
Granny went to church every Sunday and her praying hands left an indelible imprint in my soul. She had grown up speaking mainly Low German and often had trouble pronouncing some words in High German. My parents wanted us to grow up with High German, preparing us for a better education. Granny tried hard to please her son, my father. I once listened to one exchange between her and Dad:
“Mother, – it is not ‘Gesus’, – it is ‘Jesus’.”
“Erich, you told me to speak High German to the children, and then the ‘j’ is pronounced ‘g’ like in ‘go’ and not as it would be in Low German ‘jo’.”
“In that case you are right, Mother. But ‘Jesus” is a name and it needs to be pronounced ‘Jesus’ and not ‘Gesus’. Would you say ‘Gohanna’ to Johanna, would you?”
“Oh, now I understand. I’ll remember not to speak to the children of ‘Gesus’ anymore.”
Many children had the measles and I got them too. My eyes hurt and I was very sick. I felt lousy, alone and sad, forgotten by everyone. The room was dark with the shutters closed. As the sunlight came through the slanted openings, I imagined it as long, silent fingers playing with the bits of silver and specks of brown in the dark blue wallpaper. I could even imagine faces in the shadows caused by the lilac trees outside – here and there a ship, and there was the good Lord himself on a cloud with some angels around Him. He had friendly, old eyes but He wiggled a finger at me attached to a long, sinewy hand. I was not afraid but just kept on looking at the imagery. The hand was white with a touch of pink and I could almost see through it. It was a beautiful hand.
The hand was cool and soft. I felt it on my forehead. It helped my eyes not to hurt so much but I did not want to open them, I wanted to feel those cool fingers. Was I an angel now, like those behind Him? It did not matter. I felt suspended between being and not being, I was floating. Please God, just a little longer….
Was it this plea or was it the voice coming from a distance, “She has quite a high temperature and she is delirious….”
All of a sudden, I was back in my bed, the perspiration trickling into my ears, which hurt, too. The long fingers and the streaks of sunlight were gone. There were no faces, no ships, no God, no angels on the wall, just that dark blue wallpaper with bits of silver and specks of brown. This used to be my father’s room. My bed was a black ebony sleigh bed. My father had told me proudly that it was his before he got married.
I opened my eyes just a bit and looked right into Granny’s wrinkled face. Her one hand was on my forehead and she took my hand in her other one.
“Did you have a nice dream, my girl? You smiled and you looked so happy.”
I just nodded – thinking she would laugh at me if I told her of the things I had seen. I felt that she belonged to Christel. She always hugged her, cuddled her, held her on her lap, stroked her wavy hair, and comforted her when she was crying. I was only allowed to just sit beside her, close enough, but never on her lap. She never stroked my hair.
Tears were stinging my eyes. I closed them again. Granny’s hand felt so good on my forehead and I wished she would not take it away. I thought of how beautiful her hands were, even though they were wrinkly or maybe because they were wrinkly. Her face was beautiful and wrinkly too. Often I had looked at her, wanting her to hug me so badly that it hurt. My mother did not hug me either, nor did my father. There was just a handshake and a light formal, “Good Night” kiss – nothing else. But I could not let anybody know or show how much I wanted to hug or be hugged – only babies did that. I was a big kid now, a kid ready to go to school. Maybe it was good to be sick. I could feel the hand on my head and it felt so good. I did not want it to stop.
“I want to look like Granny when I am a grandmother,” I decided.
My ears got worse and Dad had to go to pick up the doctor from the city. It was a good thing that he still had the motorbike. Granny had to put special drops into my ears at frequent intervals. The drops felt cool and tickled as they ran down into my ear canals. I asked where Mom was. Granny explained that she was not allowed to come close to me because I was contagious. Mom had never had the measles and when grownups get them, they could die. She also explained that the measles were dangerous for a new baby. Which new baby I thought but was too tired to ask.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “your mother often stands at the door and looks at you. She hopes you will get well soon.”
During my whole childhood, I had recurring ear infections and my ears are still very sensitive. Noise hurts, even drives me to tears, and I cannot stand windy days without a cover.