|| 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.