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Verschüttete Erinnerungen

Brigette Stevenson

Verschüttete Erinnerungen

The cuckoo clock sang its song. It marked the time at noon. I rolled over, the sheets tumbled with me. My hair was on top of itself. It was blonde then, still cornflower when I was so little. I could use a yellow crayon on a self-portrait without feeling like a fake.
Oma was talking to herself in the kitchen. I could hear her mumbles. Her voice was always like soft bells. When she spoke it was music. Not anything like a chorus though, that wasn’t like her. It was a soft tune some nameless child plays off in the distance. That was more like her.
I crawled out of bed. My flannel underwear hung from my body, it didn’t fit anymore. When I stood, my feet looked like a duck’s, the only part of me still average size.
Weeks I had been sick. Weeks all I could eat were grapes and weeks I had been banished to Oma’s house. Mom couldn’t stay with me anymore, she had to work. I always wanted a Mom who stayed at home, who could stay with you when you were sick. But Mom was no nonsense. Bills needed to be paid, she had to be shared.
I walked down to the end of the hall. Oma wasn’t paying attention. Mid afternoons she would do housework and get distracted. It was the perfect time to stretch my legs. They had gotten thinner since I arrived. I was gaunt all over. But I needed to get out. I needed to release. Weeks of being nowhere but on a bed with a television set made my mind turn on its axis.
I went into the guest room. That was where I was a few days earlier, when Mom dropped me off. Oma moved me to the bigger room when I lost all the blueberry pancakes she made me. I was supposed to be on my best behavior at Oma’s house, but I had thrown up at the kitchen table. This room was too nice for the sick kid. This room was for company.
I wasn’t allowed to look in all the cupboards and cabinets in Oma’s house. Mom told me I would break something special. I always checked when no one was looking though. I never broke anything. I wasn’t that little. The Christmas before, I found old photo albums in the coffee table cupboard. The pictures always were orange and tan. Mom had skinny legs and shinny hair and skin. She smiled big next to people I was supposed to know. Uncle Jon looked like a safari guide. Uncle Larry had hair.
The door to the bedside table’s cupboard was harder to get open. It stuck. Oma wouldn’t like it if she found me out of bed and in her things. At least that’s what Mom would say. I managed to get the door open, but my arms were tired afterward. They had gotten thin too.
Only one photo album was in this cranny, blue and worn through. I sat cross-legged, and rested it on my legs. I opened the album. A bust. It wasn’t what I was looking for. The pictures were black and white. They were mostly of old nice cars and nice houses. These pictures were probably Grandpa’s. I decided I should put it back. I could handle Oma finding me out of bed looking through her things, but I couldn’t imagine Grandpa knowing I touched something of his. He yelled.

I tried to fit the album back in its place, but it wouldn’t work. It was too long. The coo-coo clock chirped twelve-fifteen. I really had to go back to bed. Oma served me more grapes at twelve-twenty.
I shoved the book as hard as I could, but it just fell onto the floor. Time was running out the door. I looked over my shoulder. Nothing. I still had time. I went to the throw the album one more time. It sat on the floor, open. It had opened to a picture of a little girl in front of one of those nice cars.
She smiled back with big cheeks and teeth. Her hair went to her chin, pulled back with a headband. Her toes were a little pigeon. Mine were a little duck.
I sat down and looked at the picture again. It wasn’t me. It couldn’t be me. I would never be caught dead in a dress with a bow.
Oma stood in the doorway. “What are you doing sweetheart?” She was wiping off her hands with a dishrag. She must have known where I was the whole time. It was like her to know the things you keep as secrets.
“Oma who is this girl?” I asked. She came down to the floor and looked over my shoulder at the picture.
“Oh Briggie, that’s me.” She put down the rag, and her fingers traced the photo. I liked her hands. They looked like Mom’s. “This was, a very long time ago...” She trailed off, her eyes went glassy. “That was my father’s car. He loved it so much.”
“What happened to it?” I asked her.
“The Nazis took it.”

I never understood then. It was so hard to understand. No one wants to be evil. Nazis were evil. A Nazi wasn’t even a person. A Nazi couldn’t be a person, because a person has a heart. Something with a heart wouldn’t do what they did. But in school, teachers called them ‘the Nazis’ or ‘the Germans’ as if they were same. I raised my hand.
“What’s the difference?”
“There is no difference.” But Oma was German. My Oma was a German.
We were German. And the Nazis took great-opa’s car…

Days later, Oma said I was well and I was sent home. Flash of lightning, flash of health. I told Mom what happened, but she changed the subject. I asked about the photos. I asked what they meant.
“Not now,” she’d say, “I’ll explain later.” I kept asking. Later would not come soon enough. It took weeks before she even considered the subject. Mom finally told me when we were alone in the car to pick up something. She told me about Oma and the Nazis.

Oma lost her best friend when she was a little girl. The two walked hand in hand down the road. Men in trucks pulled her away from Oma, pulling her fingers from Oma’s fingers. Her very best friend was a Jew.
Oma saw her mother picking flowers, then saw her mother run from a Russian plane, shooting bullets at her. The pilot laughed.
Oma and her sister stole watches for money. They hid them in their coats. Like the Romanov princesses hid their diamonds.
Oma’s mother pulled a Russian soldier off Oma’s sister, told the rest to run. Oma screamed.
Oma stole apples from a farmer. It was all she could eat. He found her once. He held his shotgun in his hands. He let her go.
Oma got money from people in America sometimes. She was a face you donated money to, a ‘child of war’.
Oma’s mother never heiled Hitler. When people raised their arms in the air, she gripped her stroller tight. “Yeah, yeah…Heil Hitler.”
Oma’s uncle joined the army. They gave him a gun and Mein Kampf and told him he would die for his country. He was blown up, his intestines left his body. He lived, on a raft in the Atlantic. He showed everyone the scar.
Oma’s father lost his car to the Nazis. He lost his business to the Nazis. He ran from the Nazis, and they ran after him.
Oma’s father fell off a ladder and hit his head. He died. His family thought they had lost him, only to lose him again.

“She’s never shown me those pictures Brigette, ever.” Mom said. “Don’t ever ask her about them again. She doesn’t like to remember.”

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