Wednesday, July 29, 2015

December 19, 1939: Always a Mother

Original Letter from Ella to Opa

Translated by Rose:

Berlin, Dec. 19th, 1939

My very beloved boy,

So far away are you and I am longing for you so terribly. Hilde W. visited on Sunday, I think your ears must have been ringing, as much as we talked about you. She read to me from a letter from the Young Friends in Holland, in which they all said they were sorry that you were not with them anymore.
They had actually expected to hear from you and wrote that Tom has so many new things and did not think of his old friends. But surely they know that you are a true friend and will remain one.
In the meantime you have probably written to them and all your Berliner friends. I also have not heard from you since the first letter. I sent that letter to Papa and Patti and am waiting impatiently to have it returned to me. Papa did not send me your letter.
Lilli Pollatz wrote also, how happy they were that you spent your last evening with them as well as the first. I am so glad that everybody likes you and hope that it is that way where you are now.
I am awaiting your next letter longingly.
Henschenkind, I already asked you to keep a daily log and send me every word of it, about your work, your thinking, about your inner and outer life. I want to at least live with you that way, even though it cannot be done in person.
In the meantime you should have heard from Ellenruth, and with her together try very hard so I can come to be with all of you.
Patti sent a contented note, also sent some nice pictures.
I saw pictures of you, which Hilde had. They were taken on Isa’s (I think) roof. In one of them you are singing with a lovely young girl. Why don’t I have these pictures?
I would really love to have some pictures of your new home, the college, your room, your friends and of course especially of you, my boy.
I will write more in detail during the Christmas holidays.
Today I kiss my child very very very very very much.
Your Mama

A note from the translator: The last sentence ending: mein Kind ganz doll, is Berlin slang "doll" which stands for very very much, it has nothing to do with a toy doll.

As I read this letter, I couldn’t help but think: Ella really was first and foremost a Mother wasn’t she? And I mean this in the way that we all mean it when our mothers are making us a little crazy with their guilt trips. 

My Grandmother, who you will learn about later in this blog (she’s the Marjorie of Tom and Marjorie), was an expert at guilt trips. You would think she and Ella were blood related. When I would call Grandmother to tell her I planned to come by, she would say “Oh I know you are so busy, I hate to bother you!” Basically assuming that every time I came by was an inconvenience to me. I got used to it eventually, understanding that her guilt trips were from years of parenting practice and from a genuine desire not to impose on me (she harbored an unfair amount of self-guilt over feeling she was burdensome on others). But my parents and I laughed about it when I would give them updates on how she was doing. She was so politely guilt-trippy. It was an art form.

So here we have Ella, whom I have developed a deep admiration and connection with - if only through letters and my imagination of what she was like. But letters like this remind me that above all else, she was my Opa’s mother- and just as crazy as the rest of us mothers. (I have a theory that all women become insane the moment they have children- it’s a rampant disease.)

It actually made me laugh and warmed my heart. She misses her son so very much, and it doesn’t stop her from this amazing guilt trip:

“They had actually expected to hear from you and wrote that Tom has so many new things and did not think of his old friends. But surely they know that you are a true friend and will remain one. In the meantime you have probably written to them and all your Berliner friends.”

Hahahahaha! The next best thing is she follows this paragraph with:

“I also have not heard from you since the first letter.”

Ella just puts it out there- plain and simple. He knows what she meant. There’s a bit of energy in this letter, Ella is up to her mothering standards: loving him, chastising him, and asking for pictures and details. I love it.

And though I hope Opa saw the love in it, I’m sure he wondered how he was supposed to write every friend and relative while keeping a detailed diary, making new friends, excelling in school work, and mastering the English language. He also had to earn a living. He couldn’t depend on financial help from home, so he worked several jobs in order to pay rent, buy groceries stamps. I wonder if any of Opa’s letters to Ella said: “MAMA! I’m busy!” I would bet they didn’t- because as much as he may have thought these things, surely he always remembered that she loved and missed him.

It seems natural, when you are a part of someone’s everyday life and suddenly are stripped from all the details that you took for granted, you hunger for the minutia. You no longer know what time they left for school that morning, what they had for lunch, who they hung out with in the afternoon, what they talked about in the family room. You don’t know what they wear, what they smell like, did they brush their teeth? You go from an abundance of details that make up the bigger picture of our daily lives, to only the highlights- if even that. You miss the nuances that you’ve trained yourself to notice. You can’t ask the right questions based on the moods. Communication is relegated to the hall of fame of your month, and misses the casual conversation around the dinner table. 

I think the details are why I get homesick for my family. The little jokes and funny expressions that don’t happen over the phone or a letter. What’s worse is that you get used to it. You get used to missing that person from your life. You get used to not knowing. And that is something that Mama Ella wasn’t ready to accept. She wanted details, she wanted to know Opa’s inner thoughts and the names of his friends. She wasn’t ready to let go just yet. She yearned to join him.

Always there is the hint of the background noise that is Nazi Germany... Ella asks Opa to work with Ellen Ruth “very hard” so that she can join them in the US.

1 comment:

  1. I think perhaps this "back-door guilt trip", as my family calls it, is in fact a generational art-form! LOL Both of my grandmothers are masters of the craft. G'ma Hanna in particular can make you feel as though she believes that each visit to her is an act of duty and couldn't possibly have been enjoyable for us! (Maybe not quite to that extent, but occasionally!) Some day perhaps that hidden gene in our DNA will turn on and we will suddenly be so adept!


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