The Relatively Good Radio Show - 8 June 2014 by Resonance FM
rules are rules
no, not that one
Her stories of The War: 02
I often find myself pondering the real story behind my grandmother’s story of her arrival in England.
She has told the story a million times to my dad, my sister and myself, but each version has an unplugged hole, and these little gaps she carefully skips over. Everyone has moments in their past they would rather forget, or wish happened differently, and she obviously had certain things she didn’t want to re-tell, for whichever reasons she had. I doubt that she had forgotten anything maybe she was fluffing up the flawed bits, but then again I can hardly remember being a teenager, she had a long life and forgetting things that happened 60 years ago can be forgiven.
She was always living her reality alongside her memories and stories of long lost dreams, of love and adventure. She loved him, from day one, and she still loved him when he left her, and she still loved him when she re-married, and she still loved him when he passed on for the next realm. She was a Romantic. She left home, from a grey, post-war small town in Germany, left her newborn son with her parents and scarpered to England in search of him. She couldn’t speak a word of English.
She fell in love with the enemy, but he came home to Britain when his post ended. She tried to follow him but all she only knew that he was living in the Isle of White. She found a job in a laundry house on the island but didn’t know where he was. She somehow found him while living there for some months. Then there’s a gap. I don’t know the bit in-between. Somehow she did make everything sound so romantic. Fleeing everything she knows in order to find her long lost love.
They eventually came to London and settled. He took endless photographs, lots of glamourous shots of her in the park and it was so fun when we found them all so many years later. Then there was that terrible road accident. They were all on holiday in Belgium 1959, he was driving the motorcycle, Nan on the back, Dad in the sidecar. The sidecar was fitted it for driving in UK, but in Europe it was on the wrong side.
They were pulling out of a fuel station and a car smashed in to them catching the back of the bike. He was thrown off the front. Dad was safe as he was on the wrong side. Nan was crushed by the force of the impact. She subsequently spent the following three years living in various hospitals around Belgium until she was fit enough to travel, and came back to London. Dad was living with his aunt in Scotland but I don’t know where “he” went. Dad, as a boy, went to visit, both in Belgium and in UK with his aunt and he was allowed to sleep over whenever the hospital had a spare bed. The nurses gave him free meals, extra ice cream portions, let him skid around in wheelchairs and jump around on crutches. For the first 18 months she was in full-body plaster. FULL BODY for EIGHTEEN months.
She remembered eating cherries in the summer and spitting the stones out of the hospital window. She and D played games seeing who could get the most on target through the window.
|| When I was with her at Guys Hospital in 2010 she re-told me this story every morning. The layout of the ward was exactly like her ward in Belgium - all the beds in one long row down the room like a ladder. It reminded her of this story because nowadays at Guy’s the windows are all painted shut “dust-proof” apparently. But fresh air heals the mind and body. In the latter days she asked me to open the window and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to. ||
If her life were to be translated to a book or the screen, it would be a Shakespearean love tragedy. The happy ending would be that she left us, her pains stopped and she was finally back with him. She thought about him every day for the last 40 years, I remember her kissing his photo, and they are finally back together again.
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|| I spent two months in 2010 nursing my grandmother who had been diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. Her serious condition shocked her into a continuous state of nostalgia; she was completely unaware of what was happening day-to-day, but it was a privilege to have been holding her hand whilst listening to her stories of difficult childhood and romantic young adulthood. I tried to write down everything she told me. ||
My grandma told me a story about when she and her sisters and her mother thought they’d lost her father in the war. They lost all traces of him and the letters stopped coming. The family had to keep moving as each and every home the settled in to was bombed to rubble.
They lived out of suitcases for five years and ran and ran. I imagine my great-grandmother as this amazingly tough and strong German housewife, stiff upper lip, terribly unlucky. I imagine her, and my grandmother, and all her sisters and brother, holding hands like a paper chain, running through rubble strewn streets and grey muddy fields, with their suitcases flapping around in the frenzy of escaping the bomber planes. The youngest one still sleeping as the big sisters get him dressed and chase him out of the door, he is clinging on to his mother, and the eldest at the back picking up anyone who tripped over. They were constantly on the move and always changing their address, which eventually lead to the communication with their father to completely disappear (who was serving in the German Army). He couldn’t trace where his family were and they lost trace of him too as he was being re-posted all over Europe.
My great-grandma took the children to the cinema to watch the news. There were moving-picture news reports and were projected in the local cinema for free before whichever film was scheduled to be screened. My grandma remembered that this place had hardly any chairs because they were all removed to be burnt and used as fuel. She remembered the room being packed full of people, the children were allowed to stand at the front in order to see the screen, but it was still no use as they ended up standing too close and couldn’t see anything on a ten foot projection. She remembered the room smelling bad due to there being so many people.
They stood there with every other anxious family and eyes widened at the uncensored images of war. But they found their father on this reel of film. She remembered her mother leaping in to the air screeching at the person in the projection room to re-wind, she was crying and waving her arms and hugging all the children, and they didn’t know what happened. She had noticed in one clip only a beat of a moment, her husband was in the line up of soldiers marching along. She knew it was him instantly, she demanded they re-wound the film, and they obliged. It was definitely him and when they played it slowly all the children recognised him too and the family were in pieces so happy to know he was still alive.
This newsreel was at least a week out of date, as it needed to be developed, edited, the news report written and distributed. They had some help in tracking down where he was posted and somehow they were all reunited at the end of his service.
I find the path of fate truly magical.