I grew up in Germany as an only child and I remember that I always wanted an older brother. Not necessarily a sister or a younger brother, no….it had to be an older brother who could protect me. Im not sure where that concept and ideal came into play or what made me believe that all little girls needed protection, but the theory found its way into my mind and it was there where it lived.
Perhaps it wasn’t that far off and despite of becoming a successful and independent woman, there are times I yearn to take a break from having to be strong. I envision a time where I can just be, a time I’m allowed to lower my guard and a time where I’m protected by a bigger brother or perhaps a friend that is standing up for me while I replenish my warrior cells to fight another fight. I can’t help but wonder if I knew then already that life can be tough, maybe I was looking for my own protection vs. having a little sister or little brother in need of my protection? Perhaps already a sign emerged in the unrecognized wisdom of taking care of myself before being able to take care of someone else. It could be anything that I wanted to believe in and I knew in my heart that there was a meaning to everything and anything.
I never had an older brother and for that matter no other siblings at all. I grew up alone and in a way it was my Father who also took on the role of being my older brother. He was my best friend and he was my protector. I once heard people make remarks in regards to the “Only child” case. Some found them to be spoiled in many ways, getting what they want, being showered with gifts while leaving important life lessons to be unlearned. I’m not sure if this rings true in any case, but I didn’t consider myself spoiled at all and as a matter of fact I had to work for anything in life and nothing was ever just given to me. Besides the normal things I should say, the things that we often take for granted in today’s society. The basics that make us much richer than some other poor souls that don’t have a roof over their head, who don’t know what and when they will eat next and who are far from all the modern conveniences we have today. I was blessed to have those things free of charge but it was also the only free ride I ever received from life.
I inherited my Dad’s sense of humor and his laid back nature, his silliness and his overall relaxed outlook on life. You could say I was a “Mini me” version of him. I grew up as his pride and joy, as “Daddy’s girl” and that was the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. I remember us spending time whenever possible and it was him who taught me how to write my name, who helped me complete my homework, especially math since I didn’t cared for it much in school. Math and politics, still not my favorite subjects today but not a hinderance in any way.
I remember an incident as our family car was in need of new tires. My Mom had given the money to my Dad and from the looks of it, it appears that my Mom was the financial keeper of the family. Giving my Dad money?…. how ironic and hard to understand in today’s modern world where everybody has their own bank account, their own money. But times where different then and instead of dividing more and being independent, there was a closer partnership, a joint sense of a deeper cohesiveness. Instead of tires, my Dad came home with a brand new bicycle he had bought for me, my first bicycle. Bright orange with black tires and a whitewall stripe. I remember my Mom getting mad at him, initially, which soon fell to the wayside. Standing at the side of the road my parents became spectators to watch me ride up and down the road, over and over again. I never heard another word about why he didn’t buy the tires or what had possessed him to come home with that bicycle, but it meant the world to me. I was so happy as I was rushing down that little hill on the lazy side street we lived on. Smiling from ear to ear, chanting and prompting my parents to watch me. I also swallowed my first fly during that display of happiness and riding with my mouth open far enough to catch anything within the airstream. A lesson and something I would try to avoid in the future.
A girlfriend came over to the house after school one day. Homework completed we played in the attic of the enormous house we had moved into by now. There was a first floor where my grandparents lived which is not uncommon by European standards as the family often stays close, perhaps living in the same house as it was in our case. The second floor belonged to my parents and then there was a two story attic in addition to the old limestone cellar I hated to go into as a child. It was always a little creepy, sealed off with a heavy iron door, spider webs hanging from the rounded limestone ceiling and home of two enormous oil tanks that always made some weird noise to startle me at the perfect time.
As always after school my Dad would stop by to see if we wanted to join him on his work errands through the country. He was driving a company truck while making his rounds of pick ups for the day. Packing sandwiches, singing along, it was family time spent together. My Mom was busy that particular day and couldn’t go and I remember being torn between going and staying behind with my girlfriend. After some initial back and forth, I decided to stay and my Dad left alone. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that I got into a fight with my girlfriend and I started to run out of the house. Chasing after my Dad, I was waving and screaming but my cries were left unheard and all I could do was to watch my Dad’s truck disappear into the distance. There were no cell phones to call him to return and the opportunity was lost and missed. Little did I know how much this incident would come to haunt me later and disappointed and angry at myself I returned into the house. My girlfriend had left by now, my Mom was busy and I was left alone, without my Dad.
The weekend followed and it was Saturday morning. My Dad was at work and had volunteered to switch shifts with a coworker that needed the day off. I was woke but still in bed, rewriting the roles of a play for the neighborhood kids, which my cousins and a few friends would perform in my aunts cellar (which by the way had rounded limestone ceilings too, including the spiderwebs, but was bigger, taller and roomier than ours). I guess my first job was that of a director and I would write everybody’s part which we would practice until we felt that we were good enough to perform. Homemade flyers were handed out informing the small town that there would be a play with all the important details to know. $10 cents was the admission of which profits where equally split amongst the actors and always resulted in a well deserved trip to the local country market to buy candy as a reward for our efforts.
My Mom was doing housework and I could hear her working as the doorbell rang all of a sudden. Next I heard the voice of my paternal Grandfather talking to my Mom and what followed was a painful cry that echoed through the closed door into my room. I sat straight up, the noise piercing my soul causing me to hold my breath while listening with such intensity that immediately arose a feeling of panic. I was too scared to move, too scared to go and learn what had happened and I just sat there, frozen and waiting which seemed like an eternity. Eventually the door to my room opened but I don’t remember if it was my Mom or my Grandpa that entered into my room. Much of anything remains a blur and all I remember us standing outside the building, the place my Dad used to work at, staring at the black hole of an open door that led inside to where my Dad was. It was guarded off with the entrance being blocked. I heard the adults talking while everything appeared as if I was in a fog, I felt isolated which caused me to hear their voices as if they were far off in the distance. My grandfather held my Mom back who was starting to head towards the door, urging her to remember my Dad the way he lived in her memory vs. the way he was now. I learned that there was an accident, a explosion that had claimed the lives of three man and I tried to comprehend that my Dad would never return home to my Mom and to myself. All of a sudden it became obvious that yesterday, the day I had chased after him as he drove off in his truck, was the last opportunity that I could have gone with him and now I would never have this opportunity again. It was the last time that I saw my Dad. I was ten years old.
It remains to be a painful lesson until today and I miss him more than anything. From time to time my Mom makes a comment, saying “You are just like your Dad” when I get goofy and remind her of his behavior. To this day it is the highest compliment she could ever give me and it is with pride that I carry on his characteristics as he lives on within me.
What I have learned is to not take anything for granted and to enjoy every moment with each other for we never know when it is our last. It’s a reminder to make time and to slow down in this hectic world which is not always easy. It has taught me to tell those closest to my heart how much they mean to me and not to wait or put it off.
It has taught me to not harbor and hold on to grudges, to resolve issues before bedtime whenever possible and seize every moment.
One of my original paintings named “The strings of my heart”