Part 13: Musical Instruments No One Played Anymore

The stepsiblings did not stay twelve for too long. The girls left home at 14 and worked as house cleaners for rich people in the city.

The boys looked for an apprenticeship somewhere or they became miners like their fathers. According to my father’s stories, life in the extended family was poor, but the stepsiblings got along well and stuck together. Despite the poverty, there was a lot of celebrating, making music, singing, and dancing on the farm. In my homeland there is a saying: ‘Where there are pigeons, pigeons fly to.’ When the siblings played music in the yard in fine weather, very soon all the young people from the neighborhood met.

When I visited Grandma, that time was long gone. Only a few relics reminded me of the past. Under a long bench stood a slightly dusty accordion. On the wall hung a mandolin that no one played anymore. In the ‘Trecke,’ as my grandmother called the drawer in the kitchen cupboard, a slightly out-of-tune harmonica lay among all sorts of miscellaneous items.

The brothers and sisters were scattered to the four winds. Of my father’s stepbrothers and sisters, I only met Uncle Bernhard. In the very first days of the war a bullet had torn off his left forearm. Now he was unfit for the front and was allowed to study mining at state expense. Father’s biological siblings had also all flown the coop. His youngest brother Edmund served in the labor service and brother Otto in the police. Aunt Melitta had married a small farmer in a distant village, and I never saw my father’s oldest sister Maria.

After all the hustle and bustle of the past few years, Grandma’s house had become unusually lonely and quiet. When I appeared unexpectedly at the door as a seven-year-old, she was always happily surprised. Grandfather was rarely home. He never said where he was going, and Grandma didn’t care either. She had grown accustomed to this during the many years of their sham marriage. When step-grandpa was around, he didn’t see me. He seemed to look right through me. He never greeted me or spoke to me, not a single word. To him I didn’t exist, I just wasn’t his flesh and blood.

My relationship with my grandmother was even more intimate. We read the newspaper together. Reading in German was difficult for her, and she only ever read the big headlines. She would run her index finger under the letters and her lips would slowly form the words. I could do that much faster, and so I helped Grandma read the newspaper. When she stuffed the straw sack for her bed with fresh oat straw, I was allowed to stay overnight. In the evening she untied the strict knot, and her dark long hair fell far over her shoulders. In her white nightgown she appeared to me like an angel. In bed we snuggled close together.

The fresh oat straw crackled in the straw sack, and Grandma’s body was warm and firm. I felt secure. Above the bed hung the crucified Jesus. From the next room I heard the big grandfather clock strike the hour. Grandma ended our conversation, praying quietly. But she did not urge me to pray, and we never talked about religion. Visits to grandma’s house are among my fondest childhood memories. With the move to the big city, I saw my grandma only rarely. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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