November 9, 2009
Day 9 of Nanowrimo
Nothing, it seems, is simple.
I prepared some work for Klaus, my German student, and ran it into the village. CBC Radio was celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by pointing out the schisms that exist all over the world, including ones between former East and West Germans in the now re- unified Germany. I thought of the tensions between Germans and Turks that Klaus fears may cause terrible problems in Germany. He sees examples of intolerance daily and wonders where it will all lead.
I thought about all the rifts in my own family, the examples of intolerance, the walls that needed to be torn down. We have a pretty bleak history too.
My Scottish grandmother, the nurse, came back into my mother's life for a brief time to create a hell for my German father. It was war time, 1940, when my mother delivered me in a difficult Caesarian section. My father had lost his job because he was a German, and so he stayed home to look after my convalescent mother and me. My grandmother arrived one Sunday morning to find my mother serving him breakfast in bed as a treat. That set my grandmother on a mission of hatred and intolerance. She went all over the neighbourhood screaming imprecations against the dirty lazy German who was forcing a frail wife out of her sick bed to wait on him.
No wonder I find it hard to forgive her for her sour nastiness. My only connections with her were negative and showed her in an ugly light. She was the woman who dressed beautifully, wore veils through which she gave perfunctory kisses, and fox furs with tiny little heads with sharp teeth hanging where a soft bosom might have been expected .
She was the woman who threw Christmas presents in people's faces ... because they were the wrong size or colour ... because her grand daughter was squinting against the sun, not smiling in the photo.
Eva met her when she was vulnerable and needed help. I saw her when she had clawed her way to some kind of stability through deception, when her whole raison d'etre was to cling to it. Still vulnerable, I guess, because life was precarious. But I wonder what might have become of her if she had partnered with Eva, if she had given of herself to those who needed help more than she did.
Some people believe that if you ask you will receive. I believe that if you give, you are more likely to reap benefits you never anticipated. My grandmother seems to have lived her life according to a more Scroogelike philosophy.
On-line, yesterday, I read of a book I want to get hold of, Saved by Karin Winegar. It's about rescued animals and the humans they more subtly rescue. I thought of Remi, the Golden Doodle I have known since he was a six week old puppy, the two and a half year old dog who will join my household this evening. Remi snapped at his baby, likely out of fear and exasperation, perhaps clumsily. Remi loves Lucas and is one of the softest dogs I know so it was not out of viciousness. Lucas is almost ten months old and he pulls hair and ears hard. But Remi has to go because Sarah can't take a chance, not with Lucas nor with the other babies she looks after for a living these days. So I am taking him in for a couple of months until everyone has a chance to make some final decisions. I wonder if Remi will save me ... and from what.
Was Eva saved by the women she rescued? I thought of her when I learned this morning that a 61 year old woman burned to death last night in a fire at a women's centre in Ottawa. It wasn't the Well where my wonky women reside, but another Anglican shelter, the Cornerstone. The Anglicans continue their long history of concern for homeless women, it seems.
And did Grandpa earn a place in heaven with his efforts to help women? Would those acts of kindness have cancelled out all the acts of self indulgence? Is there some kind of cosmic scale?
I wrote the other day about someone I care about, some who inspired me to scrawl on the corner of a page your cowardice makes you cruel. And I elaborated with a string of adjectives including the one he shares with Grandpa: self absorbed.
One part of me wants to let things slide, to enjoy what we can have, because he's more than a self absorbed coward; he's someone with many qualities I love. The other, more sensible part of me, tells me to build walls, end it before I can be hurt. I wish things were simpler.
Eva would likely tell me to be more accepting of human frailty.
My friend Pat wrote last month: "No advice, I'm afraid. Just hold on to a small corner of your heart that is for you alone. I have everything available crossed for you. XXXX"
Just as I have everything available crossed for her.
One more mystery, and probably more important than discovering how my grandfather died ... and lived.
But who knows? Perhaps if I give him what he is asking for I will learn something I need to know.
You Could Start By Realizing that Everything is 50% Good and 50% Bad ...
My father's ghost! No dream. I'm wide awake and he's been dead for almost fifteen years, but I'd recognize that voice and that line anywhere. And he was the embodiment of his philosophy.
If ever I had a love-hate relationship with anyone, it was with him.
First he orphaned me by taking me away from my mother and putting me in a foster home. Then he went to live 1200 miles away so I had neither parent. After a few years, my mother attempted to see me , and he immediately imprisoned me in a boarding school ... an Anglican boarding school, where the all-female staff showed none of Eva's nurturing love of their gender. When I was released two years later he let me grow up unparented for two more years. One day he actually looked at me and discovered I had become a little ruffian wearing a gash of red lipstick for a mouth out of which issued forth most unladylike language. He sent for my East German grandmother who arrived as a new immigrant with no English and was handed an impossible charge to civilize. Poor woman she couldn't cope herself; however was she to tame me?
And yet, I never doubted that my father loved me. Or perhaps I didn't dare imagine something that unthinkably frightening.
And my grandmother loved her son more than he deserved too.
A few years later, after he had wrung all that was useful to him out of her he sent her back to Germany to die ... not to her home in Saxony where she might have died among friends, but to a rooming house in West Germany where she locked herself into a tiny room for the last four days of her life.
Years later my father redeemed himself by being a better grandfather than he had been a father and suddenly taking great pride in the adult daughter he had ignored throughout her entire childhood. I really was loved by my father in his last years. But it was too late for him to make it up to my grandmother.
Were those years enough to gain him entrance to heaven? That scale still seems pretty unbalanced to me.
And what about my mother?
Was she blameless in all this? She ran around. She had enough of her father's genes to look for gaiety and fun in life, and she wasn't used to the poverty they lived in as a young couple with a child. That doesn't excuse my father of course. She didn't deserve to lose her only child.
She had other excuses as well. She had grown up in her grandparents' home with neither a mother nor a father ... with money and the love of very old people. They spoiled her ... let her run wild ... didn't attempt to teach her responsibility. These were the people who had raised Grandpa to be a playboy. It must have been easy for her to choose to play instead of being a helpmate. And perhaps it seemed normal to her to give away her five year old daughter; after all, her mother had given her away when she was still a baby.
My half brother told me, when he was in his mid forties and I ten years older, that the affection I so desperately wanted and needed was all lavished on him. I was starved and he was drowned in our mother's love.
One hell of a family tree, eh?
A playboy grandfather, a bitch grandmother ... their child abandoned by both.
A playgirl mother and a possessive father who could be coldly cruel.
And on my father's side, no relatives at all except his mother ... his father killed in WW1 ... he'd left any vestiges of family behind when he left Germany in 1929 ... and after WW2, no way back to the past because the world's heaviest fortified wall had been erected splitting his homeland into East and West, socialist and capitalist, social safety nets on one side and proud individualism on the other. No wonder re-unification hasn;t been a resounding success.
Maybe Eva is right. Maybe I should start forgiving all these poor lost souls who screwed up so badly ... and maybe by doing so I could learn to forgive myself too.
Maybe we are all just doing the best we can. Maybe that's what everyone does ... the best she can ... at the time.
And yes, my father was right ... nobody ... nothing ... is either perfectly good or perfectly bad.
No matter what choices I have left to make, there will never be any simple answers. All the choices we make in life are impossible choices -- Sophie's choices.