Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She would have turned 106 years old. Incredible how time passes.
When my mother and I moved to Munich, Germany in the mid 1960s I was five or six years old at the time. It was supposed to be a temporary stay. My father was in the Air Force then but had to leave for Vietnam and my mother didn’t want us left isolated in the vast farmlands near the stateline of Iowa and Nebraska. So my mother decided to stay with her mother in Germany for the time being until my dad would return.
Life, fate, or whatever one would like to call it, would have it otherwise. Due to numerous unforeseen circumstances my mother and I, and eventually my father as well, would end up staying and living in Munich for the following 25 years or so.
My grandmother, or Oma as I would call her, was a fully integrated part of my life growing up. She helped raising me as both my parents worked full-time. She was a very old-fashioned and simple lady with a traditional mindset, believing that the world was changing too much and too fast. She had her own worldview and little quirks but that made her so much more special.
She was indeed somewhat disconnected from a world that was going too fast. Progress would somehow not include her. And she wouldn’t allow a new evolving society to dictate how she should live her life. She had her own way of doing things and dealing with problems. Which basically meant sticking with old traditions and a way of life which was less affected by consumerism and the mass-movements of the time but being more entwined with self-reliance and common sense.
Oma lived a life reminiscent of simpler times. And it worked. For her and for us. I was heavily influenced by this way of thinking. Show humility and be modest. One can do much better with less but is not less worthy for it. Always be kind and polite, even if others don’t reciprocate. Always be mindful of your surrounding and use common sense. She taught me things without having to explain it with a million words. I learned and just knew...by watching, by listening, by participating.
She always worked hard all her life. She made sure we were all fed, clothed and everything was in its place and order. To leisurely spend a Sunday afternoon or even taking a vacation was unimaginable in her mind. But she would always be there for me. Despite all the household chores, health ailments and other hardships, she would always take time for me and made sure I was taken care of.
I remember her heartfelt and infectious laughter and her big hugs. I remember her making the most amazing Apfelstrudel, Marble Cake or Topfenkuchen, a Bavarian-style Cheesecake, all made from scratch. I still have yet to find anything even remotely delicious as these extraordinary treats.
I remember her amazement being on an airplane for the very first time when she was already over 70 years old. We would took her on a trip along the Eastcoast from New York City down to Florida. It was quite an effort to convince her to finally go on a vacation trip with us. But she enjoyed every single minute immensely.
I also remember that evening when she would leave us forever after a long sickness, standing next to her hospital bed and having to helplessly watch her slowly slip away. But I also knew that she would finally find that well-deserved rest. As devastating this moment was for all of us she was going to a better place.
Today is the birthday of one truly amazing person.
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Oma.
George and I visited my grandmother’s grave at the Haidhauser Friedhof (cemetery) in Munich last month. It’s very customary for German gravesites to have an area to keep holy water, usually a bowl-shaped mold carved out of stone. The above photo is a close-up of the cover for the holy water.