Until the day I die, I will never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes lying on my plate. I had ordered fried fish deep in the German countryside. I had never ate anything with a face that remotely resembled being of beast.
I remember my mother told me you never cut fish with a knife. It was an insult to the cook. I ate the perennial pomme frites and saw my German cousin smiling at me after exchanging a knowing look from her mother Elsa, my mother's younger sister.
My mother was a war bride. She married an American soldier and left Germany. I was born on American soil, Fort Benning, Georgia. I vaguely remember my dad. He left. My mom worked as a custodian for the education building at a nearby college.
For a long time,she put off walking away from her German citizenship. Germany offered its citizens so much. The month I turned 18, my dad's child support check had Paid In Full scrawled on the memo line. I got an athletic scholarship playing softball. It was a small two bedroom apartment we lived in. Mom said we might move to a smaller place. With a wave of her hand, she said we would need to get rid of things.
That spring, she received a letter from her family in Germany. My mother remembered her older sister burying one of her children on the side of the road towards the end of World War II. She would say that it was a time of war, terrible things happened. She always made that watery cabbage soup shortly after. Anyway, the older sister had died.
My whole life was a preparation for our German homecoming. We discussed the big trip to Germany we would take when I was old enough to appreciate it. I could speak German, We spoke German. I could play the piano and the flute. My grades were good. My mom asked me what I wanted when I graduated from college. I wanted to sing, Germany. But that was too expensive. She gave me $500 for my start in life. I knew her salary was $533 a month.
I was hired to work the reception desk at a model home for a developer. The homes were so beautiful and my glowing admiration of the homes helped sales. I stopped teaching school and sold houses full-time. Anyway, life was so good and I wanted to help my mom. She wouldn't let me buy her a house. I said, lets go to Germany over Christmas. She got quiet and waved her hand. I didn't leave anything there I need to go back to get.
She was content. I knew she was working for her American citizenship. Then like a thief, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the early 1970's, you died of cancer. Here I was alone. I knew who my father was and where he lived. Mom never cashed the check paid in full. She burned it. I was lucky I had met my future husband.
I returned to Germany to try to find my mother. My husband looked at the fish and took a piece of the flesh with his fork. Very good he said. I had told him not to embarrass me with our loud American ways. I wanted my mother to be proud of me and him. I wanted to shout out, I couldn't eat no fish with a big eyeball looking at me. I continued to eat the potatoes.
I had given up speaking German, my cousin insisted it was poor and she would just speak English for us. The large dining room had several prints by Albrecht Durer. I was not familiar with any of them but I recognized the praying hands. My husband pointed the familiar picture from my childhood home. My aunt looked incredibly broken for no reason. She spoke German and did the same wave my mother would do to my cousin. It was then I knew my mother was the older sister. It was my mother who lost the child. I ate the fish.
|Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer|
Taken from Wikimedia Commons