She wasnt really my Oma . She was a good friend , and at 89 years old she could keep my 30 years challenged with her delightful humour, stories of her war years in Germany, and the never forgotten blessing, `come good home `, each time I reluctantly left her to her gathering sticks or embroidering tablecloths and ran away to my busy but questionably more meaningful life. These partings were particularly difficult after her son put her in the nursing home. How she longed for death . But it was a longing filled with the expectation of being reunited with her husband.
On one of my visits she told me the story about visiting her husband at the prison. The woman were allowed short visits once a month but often , even after having walked for a day or two to get there, they were sent away until the following month. She told me how afraid she was on these journeys. She said she would fill a little suitcase with rolled up newspapers and some matches to scare off the wolves if they surrounded her. I never did know if those wolves were real or were the fears of her childhood fairytales, but on one of her trips she had the two legged variety of wolf to fear. She suddenly noticed two men were following behind her in the deep snow. She was terrified as they, with their longer, stronger legs soon caught up to her. `But they just looked at me and kept walking`she said with her hand pressed aginst her chest. Then, with her naughty little giggle she added, ` Then I walked in their big tracks. It was much easier.`
............I gave the usual, although now, anual greeting , of a kiss, to the little sleeping doll with
the white bush on her head. And she awoke in the usual way, not slowly, not fast, but looking,
absorbing, looking again, and then exploding with the great toothless grin!
`Darling! ` she repeated,with the ever increasing german accent, and the hug, too strong for 97 years, which I returned with enthusiasm. Then, helping her to sit, I stared into the familiar old face and we just smiled at eachother for a time. She adjusted her skirt over the thin knobby knees, repeating, `Darling`.
Although I had not been there for over a year this time, I still felt our mutual affection as odd
friends in this world was somehow stronger, having been built from spirit and not from blood.
And I knew we shared a kind of understood alienation, not from eachother but from the many
dislocations of place and people that our individual lives represented.
This time I soon realized that it was even more important that this basic, sacred acceptance was
there, because the words, incredibly inadaquate at the best of times, with my inexperience with
the german langauge and her broken english, were now useless. Oma didnt really talk anymore.
She sang simple sentences. No, stories! She sang simple sentence - stories, which were as determined as prayers. And she sang them one after another . I could only listen, not knowing the words, and also knowing the words were not really known to her either, but given, one by one as a kind of ritual reporting or survival cry. But they werent alienating to me at all. They were somehow familiar. They felt like my own incoherent yet extreme moments, when prayer had no words, but sounds and even silence was not working.
Omas songs. They werent magic but had the deep spirituality of an honest realism. And yes, I recognized the occassional word, two in german , one in english, but the words were not working in the old ways. Not thought out, calculated and politely delivered. No wrestling to communicate, and no need, perhaps even no desire to be understood! Only the act of singing, and of owning the voice of the song. And the songs were reciting life but without formulas.
Yes, this was the time of songs, and I understood that when I came away from this visit that I could only say, `Come good home Oma, Come good home! ` And I knew that Home was not the comfortable house in the Canadian west, or the remembered love of her longed for `Heimat, or this nursing home room. It was a place inside the songs, and she was already on her way.
Before they came we had to flee. So my father built big boxes for our best porcelain and silver and dug them into the garden. Preserve jars were also buried under the stable. We lived from those for three quarters of a year after the war. The jewellery went into clay tubes sealed with tar paper and was buried among the trees in the forest.
But they found everything in the garden. They would walk through with long sticks jabbing the ground until they hit something.
They didnt get the jewellery or things hidden under the pig pen. My older sister went and dug it up later after my mother and my younger sister and I left. If my mother had known she would never have let her do it. It was too dangerous.
After the invasion of the allies at the end of the second world war in 1944 and battles such as the one at the bridge of Arnheim, the British, Americans and Canadians were expected to come into Germany. Therefore the Nazi regime evacuated German citizens into camps east of the Rhine.
I was brought, with my mother and my brothers and sisters into a forestry house where we lived with 6 other 'families' - our fathers were gone since the war had started. We had two cows, pigs, geese and ducks and were allowed to collect dry branches in the forest.
We also worked for the local farmers, who were glad to get some help.They prepared themselves for the uncertain future by canning meat and then digging the tins into the ground at the edge of the forest.
After the snow melted in the spring of 1945, I remember all of the younger children at the shore of the river watching the tins swim by. With much excitement we fished them out. However, we only kept the ones marked with "L" and "R" for Leberwurst and Rotwurst (Liverworst and Bloodsausage). The tins marked "O/P", for Ohren and Pfoten (ears and feet), were left to continue their swim down the river!
On demand from and under the protection of the occupying Western allied forces, German
seeds were rescued from the east to the west of Germany in anticipation of the expected
Russian occupation in the near future. But seeds weren't the only thing that were being
One evening I remember the sound of heavy digging outside in our garden. We watched attentivly what was going on from our windows. Although I noticed that the adults in our house didn't mention the event at all, the next morning we children played new games in the garden around the "Kirschtree", the "Whiskytree" and the "Cognactree".