149 Of 365 (366) For 2012

[ All credit to Olivier-B, whose lovely picture may be found here. ]

“We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven,

a God who said of anything we happened to like doing,

‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?”

[ C. S. LewisThe Problem of Pain ]

What Do You Mean?! Since When Is It Not Okay To Hang My Cousin?

“A child is a curly dimpled lunatic”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

My cousin’s fiancée is 4 months pregnant.

I know, I know this should make me happy. I mean really happy. Dancing-in-the-streets-naked-happy. Or at least running-out-to-get-some-gear-for-her-baby-shower-happy.

But it doesn’t.

Somehow, it just frustrates me.

Let me try to explain:

My father has an older sister, who has two sons. For the sake of this post let’s call them “Marc” and “Oscar” (which are not their names).

Well, Marc and I were really close growing up. The kind of close you usually find between siblings. He might have even had a chance at becoming the elderly brother figure, that holds you down and tortures you with spit, but it didn’t happen. Somehow we grew apart, before we got to the wonderful loving torture phase – I regret that.

Actually, we didn’t just “grow apart” (how does anyone age 7 – 12 just grow apart?!).

What happened was, that their mother, my aunt, decided to become a Jehovah’s Witness.

I’m not really sure why.

None of us are overly religious. I mean we are christians (the german side is predominantly protestant, where as the american side is predominantly catholic, but in all honesty the way we practice religion, it’s the same difference), but no one is really caught up about it.

Religion was never the thread that kept our family together: It just was.

My father thinks the reason his sister became a Jehovah’s Witness, is because her husband, my uncle, is a loveless, ignorant fool and she wanted to feel like she was part of a tight-knit community.

That might be right, but then again my father never liked her husband. It’s mutual. They can’t stand the sight of each other ever since my uncle beat my father up in 3rd grade during recess and he told on him, which in turn got my uncle into detention. There might be some unresolved anger issues there, who knows. Obviously today, they have moved on from the beating-up to the hurtful-comments-and-ignoring phase. I mean after all they are mature and civilised adults.

In any case, before my aunt became a Jehovah’s Witness, I spent a lot of time over at their house or at my grandmother’s old house with Marc and Oscar.

Marc and Oscar are three years apart in age and I am right in the middle between the both of them.

The brother’s were as different as night and day.

Marc’s the loving, caring type (or at least he was), but a bit on the slow side mentally. Oscar, on the other hand, was incredibly bright, but cruel and sly (and even though 7-year-old-Kianys would have never admitted this: “Maybe a bit scary”).

I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” around this time (for the first time) and thinking: “Well I guess the Wizard gave Oscar all the brains and Marc all the heart.”

Oscar was the kid, that convinced his three years older brother to repair the socket in their nursery with a damp cloth and a screw driver. Marc was the kid, who would do it over and over again. And I? Well I was the kid standing on the sidelines, holding my sides laughing till my little belly hurt.

One of my fondest childhood memory with my two cousins might not even be a real memory.

I don’t know why, but many times when I ask my family stuff like “Oh do you remember when we almost strung up Oscar?”, they give me this funny look and adamantly agree that such a thing never happened. I was a very imaginative kid, so based on that there might be some allowance for doubt, but I remember this occasion. Vividly remember it.

It might be, that I am truly confusing my imagination with my memory (as Josh Billings was quoted saying – well not about me, just in general), but I am pretty sure, that they are just trying to negate this ever happened for the sake of their own conscious.

It must have been (that is, if it ever was) in the fall of 1988, making me about 6, Oscar about 4 1/2 and Marc about 7 1/2 years old.

It must have been fall, because my grandparents steep back yard was covered in yellowed and red leaves.

And it must have been between 1986 – 1992, not just because we acted like stupid little morons (I was capable of doing that way into my teens), but because my grandparents sold that house to move to a smaller place (cheaper and easier in up-keep) in the summer of 1992.

My cousins and I shared one common love: We loved old cowboy and indian stories and we loved to beat each other up (so I guess technically that’s two common loves, but they just kind of went together).

It didn’t really matter, if Marc and I were the good Indians and Oscar was the bad Cowboy and we got to tie him to the totem pole (or stake or whatever Indians back in the day tied bad cowboys to before scalping them) and scalp him or if he was the bad Indian and the both of us were the good Cowboys and we got to hang him for stealing our horses. Really didn’t.

All that counted was, that the two big one’s could mercilessly gang up on the young small one with glasses and beat the living daylight out of him (or well, you know, at least hold him down and pummel him a bit).

(Side note: I highly recommend having your safe search turned on when doing a google image search for: “vintage boy with glasses getting pummeled by two kids”Highly recommend!)

Ah those were the golden days!

Well, maybe not for Oscar and maybe all that 2-on-1 unfairness had something to do with him becoming bright and sly, but that’s just one of those redundant what-came-first-hen-or-egg-questions.

In any case, that fall afternoon of 1988 we were outside in my grandparents back yard, playing among the leaves and doing our best to keep the noise down for fear of our grandfather waking up from his nap or our grandmother fearing that grandfather could wake up from his nap. Both cases were a sure shot at the threat of a beating and no desert (the daunting part obviously being the no-desert-part: One hasn’t truly lived, until one has sampled my grandmother’s baking!)

Keeping it down in our minds obviously wasn’t the same as keeping it down in any adults opinion (but my guess is, if you ever were a kid and remember still remember being a kid today,  that goes without saying). Suffice it to say, that I can’t remember EVER hearing a car, although their house was located right on the brim of one of the main roads in town.

I might have to add that the hill behind their house was steep, really steep, I mean really, really steep and someone (my guess is my grandfather when he wasn’t napping) had attached a swing to one of the trees on the steep hill.

I have added an image to better illustrate the surroundings

(Please let us pretend this is an original 1988 picture and not something I threw together a couple of minutes ago using Paint – agreed? Great!)

In any case, this was our playground and with the exception of playing with the harmless snakes (they are called “Blindschleichen” in german – google translate translated them into “Blindworms“, but somehow I have my doubts about that translation), the “it-place” to be was on or at least next to the swing.

The fatal day, I am referring to, is when Oscar wasn’t sitting on the swing, but instead had been placed standing upright on it with a make-shift noose (using my grandmother’s clothes line) strung around his neck.

No doubt the evil indian had stolen our horses and we were about to make him pay: Wild West Style.

Marc was still trying his best to get the other part of the clothes line attached to the branch and we were all quite intrigued with the task at hand.

Suddenly, out of the blue, my grandmother stormed up the hill in her house dress, curlers in hair. She grabbed Marc and slapped him right across the face with one hand while holding on to Oscar’s legs and lifting him of the swing with the other hand.

As usua,l I was the “innocent” bystander, witnessing the events wide-eyed and shocked. My grandmother never slapped us! She would wake up our grandfather to give us a royal spanking, but she never layed a hand on any of us. Something big must have happened, which I wasn’t able to grasp.

Somehow the three of us hurried down the hill back towards the house. I remember Marc being dragged, but I just walked with them quietly. The thing that stuck with me most was Oscar bawling, kicking my grandmother and all the while whining “But they have to hang me, you stupid cow (we never ever insulted my grandmother either), don’t you understand?! They have to hang me!”

Not sure, how all the rest of it played out, but to this day I can still smell the crisp autumn air and hear my grandmother huffing and puffing out of breath, glaring at us like some arch-angel avenger came upon us from the heavens.

So what has all of this got to do with my cousin’s fiancée expecting a child?

Well, children grow up and sometimes strange things happen to them, when they do.

My cousin Marc got married at 18 and they had a son within two years of their marriage. His wife obviously was a Jehovah’s Witness as well.

Then 10 years later, they got divorced, which ment Marc lost all contact to his family (brother, mother), because Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t stay in touch with people, if they break the rules of their faith, even if they’re their own flesh and blood.

Marc was engaged within a couple of weeks of the divorce and him and his fiancée bought an appartement together.

Weeks before the wedding it was called off with no reason given and Marc moved out and in with a new girl.

This new girl, barely 20, is now pregnant and they are engaged and it was a planned pregnancy.

I don’t know, to me it feels, like we are all playing pretend again, except this time, it’s Marc standing on the swing with the noose around his neck and there is no one there to pull him down.

God Is Like General Patton

“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value”

[Albert Einstein]

My mother’s father passed away last year.

He was a decorated World War II Lt. Col., who had served under General Patton.

He was also a noted historian, a knight of the italian republic and a beloved husband, father and grandfather.

He was a great man, even greater because he had a quiet and humble dignity about him.

His personal history was that of many sons of jewish mothers in the dark ages of Germany between 1930 – 1945. Since the jewish belief is carried by the mother, it made no difference to the german nazi government, that my grandfather’s father was catholic.

Both my grandfather and his brother were forced to leave Germany in 1938 to avoid a dark destiny awaiting so many in Germany at that time. The brothers left Germany on a Harvard University Scholarship designed especially for jewish and half-jewish Germans.

My grandfather was a born scholar, whose intellectual curiosity attained fluency in many languages, even taking on the task of teaching himself ancient Greek by reading the Bible cover to cover in its ancient tongue.

Upon his summa cum laude graduation, he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent back to Germany to fight in a country, which had been his home for so many years.

He was one of the first soldiers to cross the Rhine-river dividing the town of Düsseldorf and claimed back his old family house that had miraculously survived the bombing with a big sign saying “American Property – Keep Out!”

Of particular note during his war-time service was that his native fluency in German tapped him as the on-spot translator of Adolf Hitler’s last will and testament. After the war, he led a section of investigators of the provost-marshal’s office involved in investigating Nazi crimes.

A stoic member of the Greatest Generation he never spoke in detail of the great personal suffering the World War II service must have exacted, saying only that those were dark days of great suffering for everybody.

He met his wife, my grandmother, while stationed in Czechoslovakia. Three years after that chance meeting, she would become one of the first war brides in 1948.

They went on to build their family together and in the process had three children, one of which was my mother.

The last years of my grandfather’s life were challenging for him and the family, as he slowly succumbed to Alzheimer’s. This once so intensely intelligent man could not remember anything beyond a couple of hours.

What he did remember, through bad and good days, was italian history: His first (scholastic) love. Never would he be happier, than when questioned about Justinian and Codex Iuris Civilis.

Throughout his illness he remained as he had always been: Gentle, sweet, quiet and humble. This man who had so much to say was more a listener, than a talker.

One of his last days, before he passed away, he spent with his daughter in the garden of the nursing home, where he was treated for Alzheimer’s. They talked about God and Life after Death.

Among the last clear statements my grandfather made was: “God is like General Patton. He is my direct commander. Jesus, however, is another story. It’s more personal. He gave his life for me.”

Note: Apparently “embedding” has been deactivated for this video. Please follow it to YouTube, I promise it is worth it