Friday, 14 January 2022

Guest Post by My Mum: My Mother, a Brave Heart.

[Written by my Mum]

When my mother, Else, was about 12 years old, she visited a funfair in a small village, where they had some rides, such as a swingboats. There were several "boats", but only one was prepared to roll over with. That was very courageous, and only boys or young men could do it. Young Else asked and begged the owner so long that he finally let her do it, and she told me, that feeling was unbelievable, you cannot describe it. She whooped loudly with joy, I can really imagine.

This I know of course only because she told me, but a similar event happened when she was already in her mid-50s* and we were at an outdoor swimming pool with a 10 m diving platform.
My husband, I and our little daughter sat on the lawn and watched her climb up. (Meike was still in the pram.) When she stood on the diving board, our elder daughter (aged about 2) shouted loudly "Oma!" (German for granny or nana), she waved to us, and then everybody looked up and followed with their eyes her perfekt dive into the water. She repeated it several times.
Those two stories were significant of her character: She was courageous, brave and liked challenges and adventures. She rode her bike, even long distances, often with me sitting behind her on the luggage rack; my parents never had a car. She swam like a fish; once, when she was in her 60s, she crossed a lake in Southern Tyrol, the "Kalterer See". She was always spontaneous; I think if I would have phoned her and said: Pack a bag, we come to pick you up and go to... maybe Australia - she would have been ready in less than an hour!
But unfortunately Else was born at a time when girls had to be good and well mannered, and later also as women, expected to be demure wives and mothers. She was born in the middle of World War I, her father was fighting in France, he never saw his daughter and so she never knew her father. He was shot on the retreat home by a partisan.
Her childhood in a small village beside the river Neckar was poor but happy; she learned to swim when she was 3 years old. That was necessary, as nobody had time to watch the children.
Later her mother married again, and her stepfather ignored her from the day one. She had to go to work in a shoe factory and hand over nearly all her money as long as she lived with her mother and stepfather. A stepbrother was born, he received the best education.

Else at 14
My mother married my father in 1937, and I think they were as happy as could be. Two children arrived, but also Hitler and WW II.  
She did not go to work, she had to look after her parents-in-law and her sick brother-in-law (I wrote about him "Onkel Otto"), she had the house, garden and us two kids to care for, and we had a really lovely childhood. 
She played with me and my girlfriends. She had many old clothes, dresses and hats, so we often dressed up and had a lot of fun. She taught me many folk songs and when I had to help her in the kitchen, we always sang together.
When I was a teenager, we did not get along very well and often argued. But when my children were born, she was very helpful and always there for us.
My parents never went away on holiday until my gandparents died. Then they went on a cruise on the river Wolga in Russia, on a Russian ship named Uzbekistan. One night they had a "Miss" contest or pageant, and - my mother won it, she was celebrated as "Miss Uzbekistan"! She was very proud of that, she wasn't so young any more, there were much younger ladies on the ship. 
She was very parsimonious to the point of miserly when it came to herself (never with us - she was generous with gifts to us and her grandchildren). She loved chocolate and marzipan very much, but she would never ever go and buy that for herself.
Only much later, when she was already a widow, blind and lonely, she allowed us to bring her chocolate and other sweets.
When my father had a stroke, she cared for him at home three long years, we helped how ever we could, but it was very hard for her. Then he died, and a few months later she got blind, all her plans were gone. She wanted to travel, but now she could never do anything spontaneously without being accompanied, and so in her last years she was often depressed, bitter and unfair.
I often think how hard it must have been for her, and I was not always as patient  as I should have when she was in a bad mood, and I apologize for all this, my Brave Heart Mother!

- - - End of guest post - - - 

My Mum offered me this post on her own initiative quite by surprise earlier this week. After her previous one, this was once again very touching for me to read. As usual (and on her request), I did a little bit of editing here and there, but they are mostly my Mum's original words. The first photo is one that she keeps framed in her bedroom, along with other family pictures.

Me and my Oma, ca. 1970

I remember so much about my Oma, for instance how she loved to act, sing and dance. She was completely un-shy and didn't know stage fright; I believe that I have inherited some of that, as well as her love of foreign languages. She never learned any other language, having received only a basic formal education, but when I was a kid, we often played at "being foreigners" and spoke in a fantasy language (sounding very much like the Arabic she knew through her son and his friends, which must have impressed her greatly).

Another typical story from Else's youth I remember is again about swimming: As my Mum said, she grew up by a river and learned to swim at an early age. The river was wide and deep, and certainly no playground for kids. But that did not stop young Else from swimming to the next town and back, with nobody knowing where she was, just to prove that she could do it.

By the way I think my Mum was very good with her mother, looking after her when she was blind and a widow. She visited every day either after work or during her lunch break, took care of houshold matters and cooked for her so that she could pop her meals into the microwave. She also took her home at least once every week, and went walking with her when time and weather allowed. My Dad was also involved, doing most of her shopping and driving her to doctor's appointments etc. 
The way my Oma handled her situation was not always easy to deal with; as my Mum says, she often was bitter and unfair, and is it any wonder that this made us sometimes angry and impatient? All things considered, though, I do not believe my Mum has to apologise. She was a very good daughter to her parents!

*The age I am now!

26 comments:

  1. That's a wonderful post by your Mom about her Mom. You are lucky to have this history of your family.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I often wish, I could ask my mother something I cannot remember, but - too late!

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    2. Oh my! Meike's Mom ... I so do wish I could do the same. Every day, it seems, there will come a "thing" I wish I could talk to my mother about and hear her thoughts. Thank you so much for your post. It is truly a tribute to your mother.

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    3. Reading what my Mum sent me triggered so many of my own memories about my Oma.

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  2. It is good to reflect on our parents as they were/are at various ages--at least, what we are able to learn of them through their stories or the stories of other people. As children (even adult children), we cannot fully understand what challenges or opportunities our parents may have had, or the good/bad relationships that shaped their lives. What you and your mother have written reflects on your own viewpoints of the past as seen from different ages. Your mom is hard on herself about caring for her aging mother, yet you are able to tell her that she did, in fact, do a great deal for her mother. We're only human--most of us feel we fall short of our own expectations, but others can remind us that we did the best we could. Greatly appreciate your mom sharing her story--to remember her mother as a vibrant young woman who did her best, too, under difficult circumstances.

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    1. You understood my intention very well, Mary. Thank you for your kind comment.

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    2. You are so right with all that, Mary. As kids or grandchildren, we tend to see our parents and grandparents only in the role they have towards us, which is of course not their entire life or character. Knowing about those other parts of their lives means we can have a more complete picture of them as a person.

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  3. As Ellen says, that's a wonderful post.

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  4. Thats a wonderful post. We take a lot for granted nowadays.

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    1. We do, although I try not to and keep reminding myself daily of what a good life I have.

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  5. You are right, the young people cannot imagine, how girls and women had to live in the past.
    Thank you for your kind comment.

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  6. *What did your face look like before your mother and father met?*
    Zen koan

    The most moving family romance I have read in a long time.
    *Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,* as Wordsworth wrote.

    The image of Else swimming across the lake in South Tyrol remains in my mind.
    As does the death of her father on the road home from war, recalling Erich Maria Remarque's novel, The Road Back.

    Else was beautiful, outside and in, and she liked chocolate and marzipan as I do.
    The years at the end were hard for all of you.

    What terrible times our parents and grandparents lived through !
    I pray every day that the 21st Century will not be as calamitous as the 20th.
    Jack

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    1. William Wordswoth's saying is really true. Thank you for your kind comment.

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    2. Reg. swimming across the lake: Else was fearless in such things, and even when she was blind she did things we thought unsafe for her to attempt on her own.

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  7. Meike's Mum, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! I believe it is so important to write down such memories of our families and their past lives. These are stories that should be saved and passed down. Thank you for sharing this. Else sounds like a very special person! I love her bravery and willingness to take on challenges. Meike it is easy to see why you are such a successful, strong and kind person! You have picked up many special qualities from your Mum and Oma!

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    1. Thank you, Bonnie! I don‘t see myself as particularly successful, strong and kind, but I can see where some of what makes me me comes from.

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    2. I often go back to my childhood and youth, and I want to share my memories with my daughters. They seem to be interested in my thoughts about our family's past.

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  8. Thank you. I loved that post and the information you shared. Other people's lives are very interesting to me. Rachel

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Rachel. Like you, I am interested in the lives of others, especially the ordinary people, while I don‘t really care for celebrities.

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    2. Thank you for your kind comment, I was not sure, if anybody might be interested in my family memories- but you did!

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  9. I loved this so much I read through it three times. Please, please, have your mom write more guest posts for us! She's a window into a time and place that most of us have never had access to.

    Also, your Oma sounds just lovely. A great lady.

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    1. Thank you, Jennifer! My Mum will love your comment, I am sure. She said she had been wanting to write that for a long time but was unsure whether anyone would want to read it. I told her there is no doubt her guest posts are usually more popular with my readers than my own, and so she went ahead with it.
      My Oma was great fun to be with when we were kids. Later, things became more difficult, but we still loved her, of course, and when she died and my sister and I had none of our 4 grandparents left, the world felt a little colder and darker.

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    2. Jennifer, thank you for your lovely comment. It makes me a little embarrassed, I didn't really expect such a resonance.

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  10. This is such an interesting post for me to read as it covers the same period as my mother who was born in 1912. I love to read posts about family histories, I think that blogging is a valuable way to keep these memories alive. Thank you for writing this, Meikes' Mom. Perhaps now I shall write about my mother on my Miss Cellany blog.

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  11. This has inspired me to finish writing about my mother. I started her story several years ago and set aside. Now I realize I need to finish. My mother was born in 1914.

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