Oma & Opa

When Oma & Opa were young. A pre-war picture of the newly engaged couple

Last night my grandmother Maria passed away. After a stroke (or something similar: it was never properly assessed). Some years ago her memory started declining and while she remembered all verses of (nearly) every German virgin Mary song ever written she had problems with names, faces, times and a lot of other things. I’m not sure she really understood when she became a great-grandmother, something she always wanted to be. She had six great-grandchildren; the latest addition to this lot was little A, my sister’s baby boy who was born last month. She made it through two world wars and had seven children (of whom six survived). She was always a firm Catholic – although she did have two Protestant daughters-in-law (and two protestant grandchildren); and of course she would go to their confirmations – but then she had to go to a ‘proper service’ at her church the next evening (which made everyone smile). She stayed friends with the group of girls she knew through church from the time before all were married, and they called their group “Mädchenkreis” (girl’s circle). When my hair started going red/blond, I remember them fussing about it exclaiming: “Maria, that’s your hair colour!”

Oma, that was also never to leave a piece of cake on the table (that last small piece – that can’t make you gain weight…), that was incredible soups with meat balls (my Mom tried her best to imitate them, but ended up saying ‘if you want that, you’re going to have to eat it there…’), that was Oma’s Suppe (grits or semolina soup with fruit, and as a child I named it after her when she made it for me – I had tonsillitis one time whilst staying with them), that was my first school bag (a blue one with a white cat – I was soooo proud), that was my first (and only) church song book, given to me for my first communion and, because it came from Lower Saxony and we later lived in North Rhine-Westphalia, this also meant that I have to look up all the songs in the index as they have different numbers in the different Länder.

Oma, that was a pale yellow jacket we bought together (which I loved to bits and my Mother hated, but never said a word until I grew out of it – probably the colour really didn’t suit me but I still loved it), that was playing on the gravel in the entrance on the house (no idea why we did that), falling into stinging nettles when roller-skating, feeding the horses behind the house and buying sweets at the kiosk (the last three things only until they re-built the area).

Oma, that also was trying to make people feel welcome, like making a cake with artificial sugar for me (when I couldn’t have real sugar any more). Unfortunately, Oma didn’t read the label properly and used a 1 to 1 weight exchange for sugar. She made a trial cake for her Mädchenkreis and about 2 hours later, they all queued up for the bathroom. She told me she loved me a lot, but she was not going to try that again…. Oma was the most amazing net-worker and you couldn’t go through town with her without bumping into at least five people she knew.

Oma, that was communism in its purest form – she tried to love all her grandchildren with the same amount of love. Oma always put her family first, and if you’d call her to ask if she was around in the afternoon, she’d cancel everything to be there for you. Oma, that was Soleier for Easter (hard boiled eggs soaked in salt water) – which made for some good stories about who could eat more (I think it was a close tie between my Dad and my uncle G with a record around 12 eggs) and that one time when the kids’ table (we were too many to fit around one table or even in one room) didn’t get enough eggs, and my cousin – when asked to say the prayer before dinner – said with a slightly reproachful voice ‘and see what You have given us’ instead of ‘bless what You have given us’ (and yes, we did get more Soleier after that!)

These memories, and so many more, are always going to stay with us!


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