I was wrong…

I was wrong.

There, I said it, and it will likely never happen again. I always thought that I inherited my strength from my mother and grandmother. Turns out, it wasn’t just them.

I’ve been a single Mom of two “kids” (kids, as they are 20 and 17 now) since my son was 8 months old. My mother raised two on her own. My grandmother raised three on her own after WWII. You see the pattern and why I have had the belief I did. They were role models. If they can do it, so can I. Certainly, my situation was never in my wildest nightmares as bad as my grandmother raising three little ones post-war. It’s just unfathomable.

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Oma Annemarie, 1990

My Oma Annemarie (Mom’s mother). My fondest memories of her always seem to involve cake, knitting, or a bit of adventure. Maybe that’s just what grandmothers are supposed to do; stuff your face with sweets, make things for you, or go fun places with you. She made that feel special. Of course, there was the time she told me no way would I be able to finish even a single piece of cake at this bakery in Schneverdingen (Germany), and promptly ordered two pieces for herself. Yes, she finished them, and they were huge.

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Oma and children, maybe 1945

My grandfather passed away a few days after his 37th birthday, in 1948. He had pretty much just made it back home (he was a PoW in the U.S.) when he got sick.  A year later he was gone, and my grandmother was left with three children on her own. My aunt was 9, my uncle 7, and my mother just 6 years old. My Mom’s parents had an unbelievable love for each other. Oma never remarried.

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Mom 1971

My Mom. She was the most kind-hearted, loving and cheeky person I know. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how she ever survived our teenage years. Okay, my teenage years. I wasn’t horrible to her, just played a lot of pranks. Whenever I think I shouldn’t bother trying something new, I think of her learning to downhill ski in her 50’s. Mom was daring.

She was everyone’s rock. Mine, my brother’s, my friends’, and later my stepdad’s. Our house always seemed to have an open door and all were welcome.

I like it when my brother tells me I’m just like her, though I sometimes wonder how I’ll live up to her memory.

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Me, with Anne (and her husband) August 2015

My aunt Anne (Mom’s sister). She is one of the most thoughtful and caring people I know. She isn’t daring like my mother, but you’ll never meet a more genuinely nice person. Everyone has their own burdens to bear, and for my aunt, it’s her health. Put one foot out of bed after the other in the morning, continue to breathe, muster through and don’t let any of it get you down.

And above all else, don’t let anything change the way you treat other people, with dignity and respect.

Last month I went to visit family in Germany, that I haven’t seen in 25 years. The trip was too short, but oh I learned so much! I heard some stories about the other side of my family, some things I knew, and others that were eye-opening.

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Me, with Anke, 1990

My aunt Anke (Dad’s twin sister). I don’t think anyone else I know has been plagued with her maladies.  Another aunt who continued to march on, despite the mental torment she was experiencing. She always had a ready smile, incredible imagination, shared my love of reading, and let’s be honest here, creating all sorts of mischief. I think she may be the reason I have always had a black cat.

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Me, with Doerte, August 2015

My aunt Doerte (Dad’s sister). My aunt is a feisty, sarcastic being, just like myself. She’s awesome. I wish more than anything that we could get the last 25 years back. Alone with her husband, she carried the burden of caring for her sister. I love my brother dearly, but I know I’m selfish and couldn’t possible do what she did. I know my limits.

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Oma Rosalie 1971

My Oma Rosalie (Dad’s mother). This is where things get interesting, the things you learn when you spend time actually listening.

It’s always hush-hush, but in every family there are those nasty little secrets that eventually do come out. My grandfather is “rumoured” to have had an affair for years with a woman he knew through an association he was a member of. He traveled a lot, and left my grandmother alone with very little money and four children. I wish I had known this grandmother as well as I knew the other one.

The few times I spent with her (which wasn’t often given that we were on opposite sides of the ocean) she was always very quiet. Maybe because my brother and I were slightly exuberant children. As an adult, I now find respect for the Oma I didn’t really know. There was enormous strength in her quiet and infinite tolerance.

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Oma with grandchildren, 1960

My great grandmother Anna (Dad’s grandmother). I have another picture of my great grandmother, though it isn’t as flattering. It was the one photo I had until last month’s visit. Because of that, I always thought she was an angry old lady. The photos I have seen since, she has the most striking smile, always surrounded by family, her children or her grandchildren (pictured above, my uncle, his wife, and Doerte and Anke). During this visit my aunt gave me some old family documents, including my great grandfather’s death certificate, dated 1914. They had six living children, of which my grandfather was the baby.

I told my aunt that I always had the misconception that I only got my inner strength from my mother, and her mother. Looking at the women in my family and discovered I have strong female roots on both sides. My heart swells with pride that THIS is where I come from. They are my family.

Wonder if stubborn determination, mischief making, and sarcasm are genetic? It would certainly explain a lot….

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