C apter II
Love Company and
the Happiness To Find a Family
I am Your Ear
The First Signs Of Clairvoyance
Hair and Mind –
The Way to Your Own Personality
Moving to a New Environment
Love Company and
The Happiness to Find a Family
The day I was born, Germany was in ruins, but my mother repeatedly affirmed that it was a sunny Sunday. I'm not going to check that out, take it as a kind of ahem, and look forward to being in a Sunday sundress.
In the years until my third birthday, I grew up with my mother and my grandmother. She had built a house out of the rubble of Bremerhaven ruins on her garden plot. I cannot remember this time, but I know it in detail.
The war generation told stories from the time, that way they relieved their inner stress. From the stories I know, my grandmother was traveling with the handcart for days. It took time until she had everything together for what was needed to build a house. Neighborhood assistance was a matter of course. Here it was Uncle Lohmann, who helped my grandmother with the heavy parts. Germany was not only in ruins, there was nothing to buy. Shops were bombed or had no goods. An oven for heating and cooking was important and Uncle Lohmann helped this important item to recover from the rubble. Sometimes you could find something under the counter or on the black market. But it was forbidden and punished with jail if you got caught. My grandmother liked to tell the story where my future step father Rudi tried to get the ingredients for my christening on the black market. Rudi was deaf and could not hear the approaching occupation police, so he was arrested. Days later he was released. No one knew where he had been at that time.
These times in Germany were not good, traces of the war were everywhere to see and to feel in everyday life. German women were looking for an American soldier who would make life more comfortable.
My mother Inge got to know her Army member at a dance, I am the result.
Eugene was a member of the Love Company, one Infantry unit, that had witnessed World War II over Normandy on D Day. He probably took the name of his company serious, because as I said I was the result. The experiences he had during this time in Normandy must have been rough. My brother Michael talked about Dad’s nightmares. All the men were looking for was a piece of normality in this confusing time.
For Rudi, the man whom my mother then married, I was the gift of heaven, but more about that later.
Sure, for my mother and grandmother this pregnancy was bad. Everything was in short supply, how could a child be brought through this time? Life was hard enough and then the shame on top of that. My mother was hoping for a long time that her Eugene would come back. Nine months after I was born, he had to go back to Buffalo, where he was released from the Army. There were a few letters, including one from the family. They asked Inge to stop writing. Then she knew she had to change her mind.
Rudi had been trying for a while for my mother to marry him. For him it was just right to marry a woman with a child. But Inge was steadfast for a long time. Rudi did not give in, he made himself indispensable. And so my mother agreed to marry him; I was three years old when the two entered the wedding altar.
My step father Rudi was overjoyed; his biggest wish was to have a family with a child. He and my mother were deaf, Rudi was born that way, and Inge turned deaf at the age of three. During the Nazi 'cleansing', Rudi had been sterilized before puberty, giving him a high voice throughout his life. A voice, if he raised it, that sounded like a whip. Completely contrary to his actual personality, Rudi was the kindness person. He was never angry, never loud, always loving, and understanding. Rudi was aware that he had made the big deal and so he made my mother happy and grateful and me too.
I am Your Ear
December 23, 1950 was a cold winter day, and getting flowers for a bridal bouquet was an adventure. You had to take what you could get. So the two important people in my life came in front of the altar with a bouquet of long stemmed carnations. My mother in a black dress, with undulating hair, and Rudi in a black pinstripe, which makes you think of Al Capone rather than Rudi at his wedding. The way from the house to the church was long and cold when the little family set off. Everyone was freezing, and busy with their own thoughts. No one thought of describing the ritual to the two deaf people, and so on that day I provided the listening adults with my, as they used to say, wisecrack and great laughter. I did not think it was funny, I felt misunderstood. This I had to experience on all family celebrations.
My mother and my future father stood before the pastor, I had my place next to my mother. The pastor asked, 'Do you Inge, want to marry Rudi, who is here, so answer with 'yes'. My mother did not answer because she did not understand the pastor. An infinite silence, reinforced by the high ceilings of the church, entered. The pastor's voice had moved loudly through the room and now this emptiness. The few people who had accompanied the wedding procession avoided coughing, the silence became eerie. Many things must have gone through my little head, I do not remember. Nevertheless, at the age of three and eight months, I knew that it was all about the Now, my mother had to say yes. Instead, I took on this task and said loud and clear three times the 'yes' that the pastor waited for. As I said, everyone was amused. Whenever this small but important thing came up, I did not think it was funny and rather offensive.
Later, I underlined it with a statement: I am the ear of my parents.
Growing up between deaf people, I quickly learned their gestures. The German language was taught by my grandmother, with whom we lived. Often I was ashamed when deaf people behaved. 'They talk so different and fidget like that', said a friend, ‘Is that English’ asked the others. I could not empathize because my mother is well understood by her late deafening. But many deaf people, like my foster father, had a different voice. Especially the male deaf, who had to suffer from the infertility under the Third Reich. In addition, it was forbidden to speak the sign language. It was described as improper, the deaf had to learn to read lips. I grew up between two languages, speak and think like them, I am the ear of those people, support and accompany them.
The First Sign of Clairvoyance
In 1952, the mother of my foster father Rudi died in a traffic accident. I barely had any connection to her, except for the occasional bike rides where Rudi took me along. They often led to relatives who were always happy seeing us. I liked doing such tours, because it promised to give sweets. Grandma's death was my first confrontation with walking away and not coming back. I did not really understand death and wanted to go to the funeral. It seemed to me something ceremonial, everyone dressed like my parents' wedding. My grandmother did not allow it and I felt excluded. Although all testified that I was not at this funeral, I was able to reproduce the ceremony in exact pictures. I knew where granny's grave was to find, saw the coffin as she was lowered. It baffled me for a long time, and my grandmother thought that I had probably listened to the adults.
Hair and Mind - The Way To My Own Personality
I thought school was stupid, at least in the first years. It had something about saying goodbye and a fresh start, which I did not like. Not that I could not start again, but why did I have to cut my hair off? Every time when I had to change school a new look was commended by my mother.
I was five when I was dragged past the 'Green Hunter', a bar around the corner, to the barber shop of Mr. Jüchtern. The Green Hunter was one of those bars where men went to after work. Surely the men went to a bar after the hairdresser's visit too, the smell of Brylcreem was stronger than the expected smell of beer. The hairdresser would tidy everything that came under his hands.
When no customers where in the shop, the small, belly round, Brylcreem smelling man stood with his white, too tight jacket in front of his men's hairdresser store. For me he smelled like old men, besides I did not like how he was handling my beautiful, blonde pigtails. And then they disappeared with a snap. What was left was cut straight to a strange hairstyle. From time to time I had a white bow in my hair on top of my head. I found the whole thing stupid and combined it with my enrollment into another school.
And I was right about that, each change of school was initiated with a hairdresser's visit cutting my hair. One hairstyle was worse than the other and that is proven by the photos, which were taken to show this step of life. At the age of fourteen, I was confirmed and again there was a change to another school. 'You're growing up', my mother said and took me to a ladies salon. There, the women sat under hoods and made even more about it than the men at the barber shop. A long waiting line was obviously common, the magazines with suggestions for hairstyles testified it. I should regret being there, because now I was given a perm. My beautiful straight hair, looking like the hairstyle of Françoise Hardy, the curls terrified me.
I howled through the nights, looking like the miniature edition of my grandmother. I hated this hairstyle even more, so it was clear to me that I had to break the adult life. I did not realize how I could do this, because I was kind and obedient and yet I tried to break out to get my freedom. It took me four years to recover my beloved hair. In the meantime my taste in music had gone in a new direction and the hair was now an expression of my personality. From that point on I realized that learning could only take place for me if I did not have to give up myself. It took another 55 years until I was ready for the life I had chosen before I came into this world.
Moving to a New Environment
In 1955 we moved away from Grandma. That was a terrible moment in my life. I felt so bad that my grandmother had to come every night so I could fall asleep. All my friends, the beautiful garden with the play area, that I should have to leave all that. There was no reason from my point of view. My schoolwork fell into the cellar, my notes went down the drain, and I became quieter. I did not see my friend Gisela anymore and could not know that her mother, who was seriously ill, was in the hospital. One night I woke up wondering about my nine-year-old's unusual dream. I dreamed Gisela was an orphan. My grandmother, whom I confided, was appalled by the thought. All the more she must have been shocked when she heard about her neighbor's death. What happened? I went my way into spirituality without knowing it.
There was this new bedroom closet that my father had built. At some point I had watched him while I noticed a secret compartment. Why did my family need a secret repository? What did we have that was so worthy to hide treasures in it. I decided to take a closer look. Undoubtedly I had at this time more of the future content in sight.
And then the day came; I was alone at home and the secret compartment sent me signals. An enormous tension spread and I went to this subject more backward than forward. Keeping my ears on the stairwell, I felt like a thief on forbidden terrain. And then this disappointment, the compartment had a lock and I saw no key. I got this far and should give up? No way, started looking, carefully digging down the brassieres and undershirts, there it was, the key. Now my excitement was at its peak to get so close to a secret. I reached into the compartment and found nothing but paper. What did I expect, chocolate? No, but it could have been a little more exciting, when my eyes fell on a bundle of letters. Why keep letters in the secret compartment? Christmas cards are still in the bowl on the table, why hide these. I took the bundle and unfolded the first letter. It was a short page written by a man. My English was good enough, that I could read the simple sentences. Questions came up and yet I could not ask my mother. And so I started to make up my own story. Mind you, I was just twelve or thirteen years old, had survived my first English lessons and asked myself, 'Why is a man writing to my mother and asking about me and where is he now? So I assumed that the poor man might have died in a war. I felt sorry for the man and imagined how he had suffered. My discoveries remained secret, I was glad about it. Had I known then that there are six siblings, I would not have been surprised. For me there was always an imaginary sister. I gave her the name Susanne, one like my sister Colleen, boyish and adventurous. So I sat alone in the cherry tree and talked to her, the sister, whom I should meet only decades later.
From a distance, these supernatural thoughts always came to my mind when something threatening happened to my childish soul, such as the great storm surge of 1962. We had a television and pictures came into our living room. It was frightening for a teenager like me sheltered and cared for, I still remember this today. In school, the strong boys were picked out, they were exempted from the school service for filling sandbags. What happened there? It just rains and it storms. For me it was only stormy maybe partly hurricane. Everything was secured at my grandmothers, the garden and house were prepared for something bigger. Then the wind uncovered the roof of our neighbor. Uncle Lohmann was like a relative to me. His cherry tree was the best retreat for me as soon as it had leaves.
Uncle Lohmann got on his roof at the age of eighty and repaired it when a gust swept him from the roof. A broken hip was the diagnosis and the hospital had its hands full, he wanted to go home. So he was fixated to the bed and I stood there crying at his bedside. At night I had another dreaded dream: Lohmann showed me his slippers and he had put them with the toe under the bed. I immediately knew he had left.