09 March 2011

Reading Mentors

An embarrassment of riches.
March is Women's History Month and today is World Read Aloud Day, and the two got me thinking about someone very special to my life. My German Oma. She was really my first mother, since I lived with her for a time when I was a young child.

Oma was the wife of a very prosperous barge owner and captain in Selesia/Prussia, now Poland. She was his second wife and married him, a widower with three daughters, in her late twenties. She considered herself lucky to be married so late in life. They had four more children together, three daughters including my mother, and the only son, my Onkel Gunther. Oma was widowed when her youngest was two-years-old, and went to work as household help for a Jewish family, but she had her house and her land, so was relatively well off.

My mother was the youngest, and when she was 14, Oma and she fled the country during WW2. They hid all their silver and china in the chimney of the attic, let the animals loose, grabbed small travel bags with paperwork, and hopped the nearest train with hundreds of their fellow citizens. They figured they would be able to return soon.

That didn't happen. Oma lost her home and land to an unknown Polish family (they found out later when the Berlin wall had come down and travel to East Germany was again open), and in West Germany where she settled on the German/Austrian border, she lived as long as I knew her in two rooms with a bathroom she shared with several other renters. I never got the sense that she resented losing a grander position in her life - just that she was grateful for what she had, which included a comfortable pension for the rest of her retired life, a roof over her head, and enough money to take care of herself and buy gifts for her grandchildren.

Today, what I love in life and how I live is in large part influenced by my Oma. I love small spaces and clean, bright places to spend my days. No big houses for me! Especially don't ask me to sleep in one. Simplicity is a concept I chase everyday, and that comes from my grandmother, too. There was not very much complicated about her. Not her diet. Not her interests. Not her wardrobe. Not anything. These are the habits I vividly remember about her: Quiet moments of daily meditation especially after meals. Having to take a regular walk. Always with a book near at hand for reading throughout the day.

Oma loved her "crimmies" and like her, my favorite form of entertainment is a good cozy mystery book. It's definitely in the blood. I can't remember now whether we shared this love when she was still alive and I was a teenager. I certainly was a reader through childhood, and I sometimes wonder if she noticed and was secretly amused or pleased by this.

So today, on World Read Aloud Day, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to the German woman who gave me my love of books. Vielen Dank, Omi. I shall read a few words of German to her in honor of this true heroine in my life. 

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.”  Christopher Morley (1890 - 1957)
Temp: 52 degrees and all the snow has melted
Writing: 2 pages (500 words)
Reading: Crying Blood by Donis Casey

1 comment:

Lee Ambrose said...

What a beautiful story and tribute to your Oma, Dani!

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