It is five years ago today that my mom passed away. She was 85 years old. I still miss her very much.
My mom was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1921 as the oldest of four children. She is a real Berliner, always missing that city throughout her life. During her childhood, however, she spent many summers in West Prussia (Poland today) and always remembers it tenderly. She told us many stories of her childhood which was a happy one. My favorite one was how she pushed her brother into an anthill as a revenge that he had damaged her doll. I loved this story as a child, and now of course my daughter loves to hear this story over and over.
My mom and one of her brothers - the one who landed in the anthill
1932 - 11 years old
She didn't like to go to school very much and admits that she was very lazy. She just had more interesting things on her mind! What she hated most were the Nazi propaganda movies in the thirties the students had to watch at school, and she and her best friend (who later emigrated to the US) sneaked away on a regular basis and rode their bikes over the old cobblestone streets instead.
In order to graduate from high school she had to enroll with the "Bund deutscher Mädchen" (a youth organisation for girls in Nazi Germany). She hated it (she never liked any kind of organisation like this throughout her entire life) and tried to avoid as many meetings as possible. Fortunately, she was able to graduate from high school. She had big dreams - she wanted to become a surgeon. However, with two boys in the family there was no money for a girl to go to university. And further events changed her life entirely. When the war started in 1939 she was almost a month shy of being 18 years old.
She married rather young and had her first child, a girl, in 1943, almost two months after her husband was killed in Russia. She was 21 years old.
Because of the heavy bombardment of Berlin, women with children were "ordered" out of the city. My mom (unfortunately) went to the East, to a small town which after the war belonged to East Germany and is right at the border to Poland. At the end of January 1945 the Soviet Army came into town, but was beaten back for a couple of days. During that small window of time, the residents of that town packed and left to the West in a long trek of people, becoming refugees in the dead of winter. My mom didn't tell too much of that time, only that every night they found a place to sleep at some farm and somehow they survived. It must have been traumatic. What she told us, though, was, when finally in the West, one GI took a picture of my sister (who was just two years old) sitting on her pot peeing at the side of the road! Funny, what one remembers.
She settled down in Lower Saxony where she worked at a doctor's office (the closest she ever got to her dream) and had a rather unhappy second marriage (she had remarried in late 1944). Here she met my dad and, after her divorce, they married in 1955 in Lüneburg and a year later my brother was born.
My parent's wedding in 1955
In 1960 I came as the youngest, spoilt child. The picture below was taken at my christening, the little boy is my brother and the beautiful woman to the right is my godmother whom I adored. The christening gown I'm wearing is really old - my great-grandmother Agnes was baptized in it in 1862. She was my Mom’s most beloved grandmother (her dad’s mother). In 1998 Kaefer was dressed in it for her christening, and I hope one day her children will be christened in it.
My mom and I, 1961
Four years later we moved further south, to a town about an hour's drive away from Cologne. We had a nice, bright apartment - but I think my mom missed a garden. She loved to garden, and the balcony was always overflowing with flowers. She loved to hear the birds sing in the morning and evening. She was a great cook. However, I wonder (still) whether she was really happy. She missed Berlin. The big city. Her city, that was divided into two parts, and it was such a pain to get there.
She had a great sense of humor. Yes, she could get moody and VERY angry - I remember everybody tiptoeing when she had one of her terrible moods - but she could also laugh about herself and was the first to pull a joke of it. We didn't have much money, but she always manged to create a special advent calendar for my brother and me (my sister was long married and had her own family) and make a nice birthday for us. She was nifty, did sew dresses for me and altered my sister's dresses from the fifties so I could wear them in the seventies. She was intelligent and just a very fun person to be around.
My mom and I - 1983
She was also a very compassionate woman. For decades she volunteered at the hospital as a so-called "green lady" who looked after patients, read to them, talked to them or just listened. She only stopped doing this when she was 82 years old.
On her 50th birthday, in her very special dress. No one else wore something like this.
She became a grandma when she was 43 - my sister has three kids and is a grandma herself now -, but for me she seriously turned into "Omi" when Kaefer was born. And what a wonderful Omi she was!
Beloved Omi - 1999
When I became a mom myself, my mom and I connected on a different way - as mothers. I could tell her about my doubts, and how helpless and stupid I sometimes felt. She could understand. And she would put me at ease.
On her 85th birthday
This is one of the last pictures taken of her.
I wish I had asked her more questions. I wish we had gone away together more, just the two of us. We once spent two weeks on Sylt, the island in the North of Germany, and we had such a wonderful time. I found out how important mother-daughter time is, how rewarding. I regret that she never came to visit me in the States. I am sad that Kaefer has lost such a wonderful grandparent.
Of course she and I had our difficult times - but we were always very honest with each other. We both knew that we loved each other very much. She was very special for me. I love her - and I miss her terribly.