(From my memoir ‘to Paris for lunch’)
I feel very honoured to have been asked to publish more tales about my family, so here is another one:
My Father’s parents’ house was always such a busy place when we all came to visit, especially when it was Oma Erna’s birthday. We would arrive with a car full of gifts for her; my Father loved his mother very much and could not help himself from wanting to spoil her.
Her husband, my Opa Fritz, who never spoiled his wife, saw us unload the car and proclaimed, ‘She does not need all of that!’ His comments would make my Father so angry, but my mother was able to calm him down a little. ‘Look he will not change. He can’t help himself, he is probably jealous.’
‘You shouldn’t have, that’s too much!’ Oma Erna stood in the kitchen watching us stacking present after present in the hall and started crying.
My Father, who was trying to ignore Opa Fritz, pushed passed him and into the kitchen, giving his mother a big hug. ‘And what are you cooking for us?’ He would lift all the lids off the pots and smell the familiar aromas of home cooking. ‘Ah, my favourite dish, come here’. He got hold of her and lifted her in the air. ‘Manfred, let me down!’ she would scream happily and Hilga, the poodle, joined them, barking and jumping up, wanting to be part of the excitement.
My Oma would have prepared lunch, dinner, in fact enough food for the next two weeks, and the house smelled delicious. My Opa, in his checked slippers and grey cardigan, could not stop talking, complaining about this and that, mainly about how quickly his wife was spending all his money.
Only moments later more relatives would arrive; my uncle and auntie and their son Bernd, my cousin. My uncle’s voice was the loudest and Renate, my Father’s sister, gave a constant nervous commentary. To add to the noise level, the TV was still switched on to high volume, as both of my grandparents suffered from a loss of hearing.
So there we were: everybody talking, nobody listening. The poodle was barking, not knowing whom to greet first and the TV was on in the background – in short, it felt as if we had entered a mad house.
And straight away we had to eat, Oma Erna insisted. My Opa busied himself with opening a bottle of wine, which seemed to take forever. ‘We are all going to die of thirst before you get on with opening the bottle!’ my Father commented impatiently. But after a lot of shuffling to squeeze everybody around the dining room table, we slowly settled for dinner and the madness calmed down, and for a moment there was even silence.
Just then we heard a loud knock on the ceiling, right above us. Everybody looked up surprised, when my Oma, carrying another huge dish of stewed rabbit, shouted, ‘Holy spirit, we forgot Oma Ostpreussen!’
My Father got into action and walked quickly upstairs to the first floor apartment to fetch my great-grandmother of ninety-three, Oma Ostpreussen. That was her name! I don’t remember anybody ever calling her anything else.
She was a small woman with huge hands. Although her face was very weathered, she must have once been quite a beauty. She always wore several skirts on top of each other and had long grey hair, which she put up in a bun, pulled very tight on top of her head. She hardly spoke any German and refused to learn it. She definitely came from another world and I was completely fascinated by her.
On the night of our noisy arrival, she shuffled down the stairs holding my Father’s arm, wearing her many skirts, and was helped into a chair. She sat back, crossed her arms and looked around the table at all of us, giving us a toothless smile.
Everybody watched her suddenly wave her hand in the air saying ‘Ja, ja, ja!’ My Father raised his glass and we all thanked Oma Erna for having provided us with such a splendid meal and everybody started to tuck in, chatting away again.
But from time to time I could not help but look over to my great-grandmother. I saw her smiling at me and I felt as if she was trying to say to me: I have seen many things in my life, I know all about it!