whatever is coming, comes

How to divide an undividable sky? If I ask Oma, my former mother-in-law, she will know. She escaped Stalin’s power in the back of a wagon pulled by the family’s last milk cow. Driven by the man she would one day marry. Leaving behind everything, including her older brother, Johan, who had been taken in the night by the Russian army. Being of German ancestry was a new crime.

Counting miles between thunder and lightning and when the lightning never comes–this is what fifty years felt like, not hearing from him. Not knowing if he lived, or found someone to love; if he raised a family just as she did. If he survived WWII and Stalin, where was he? And would he wonder what had become of his younger sister? Could he imagine she had found her way past Poland and Hitler’s Germany to find safe passage for her family across the Atlantic Ocean? Whose imagination could stretch that far? Hers.

Imagination shapes our identity.

Fifty years passed before Johan could find his safe passage on a shaky railroad system, out of the Ukraine and through Germany’s back door. To leave the Ukraine meant leaving his children with their Russian names. He and his wife were allowed to leave because of his German surname. Their children and grandchildren were not allowed to leave, having been raised with what was once considered their mother’s safer Russian surname.

And so. Let the years begin. Let twenty more pass of rare reunions and international flights. But in the end Oma stayed in Montana and Johan stayed in Germany with his Russian wife. Pleasure is too small a theme. Came the day, came this week when Johan passed away.

I called Oma to tell her I was sorry for her loss. How hard it must be for her to be here and not be there to grieve. In the end, Johan had lost the ability to walk. Further, he had gone blind. Because I no longer am married to Oma’s son, I wasn’t sure what had become of Johan’s wife and so I asked about Tante Valia.

“Oh, Scherry,” Oma replied with her lovely heart-felt grace, “Tante Valia has Alzheimer’s. So there they were, imagine: The two sharing one married room in a nursing home. She hasn’t been able to remember who Johan is for some years, but still every day she gets out of bed and shakes him to wake up: Get up, get up. And now his bed is empty. And she doesn’t know who is gone.”

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About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

20 responses to “whatever is coming, comes

  1. Absolutely beautiful and moving. I sure hope you’re compiling a book of these blog entries.

    And I’m grateful for you, Sherry.

    With love to you in Montana from me in Florida,

    Karla

    • redmitten

      k-lala, you are a sweet heart! thank you. the first book, the peppermint bottle, is available in both eFormat and tree. click on “the books” in the header and it will lead you to the websites for more details.

  2. Ohhh. What a story. That she doesn’t know who’s gone.

  3. Makes me think of my saddest song: The Dutchman. I can’t remember who wrote it; maybe Steve Goodman. Here’s the part that always gets me.

    “He’s mad as he can be, but Margaret only sees that sometimes,
    Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes.”

    “Let us go to the banks of the ocean
    Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee.
    Long ago, I used to be a young man
    And dear Margaret remembers that for me.”

  4. Oh, Scherry! What can I say. We all wake up some days without knowing what or who is gone. Lovely piece, many lovely pieces you’ve been leaving her for us to ponder.

    • redmitten

      risa, i thought you’d tune to the universality of this. oy. and thank you for the encouragement- sorting out one’s ponderings in public is risky business sometimes but i often find the “missing link” in comments from those who read these posts and so the connections (such as this) are what spins our world.

  5. Hi Sherry, This is a moving and heartfelt post; and Donigan’s quotes, too, get me to thinking.

  6. Sherry how gloriously pungent, heaven scented. Thank you for such a wonderful blog post.

  7. John Riley

    Thanks for this, Sherry.

  8. Kerry

    my oh my, life can be so sad and beautiful and full of the questions we wish we could have answered so many years ago. What a love story…what a life story…thanks ‘Scherry’

    • redmitten

      kerry- that mix of sad and beautiful at the exact same time sure delivers the ache, huh. my dad would say it’s what makes the irish sing….

      • kerry

        I love that which your dad says…indeed! By the way thanks for linking wee Jeremy up to that site. I googled it but couldn’t find it…maybe if you get a chance you could send me the link…cheers Sherry…Hope you and your family have a full weekend of food and song…and maybe a dram or two of whiskey???

      • redmitten

        kerry- let’s see if this works:

        http://cafe-expresso.tumblr.com/

  9. Oh, what a story! And I am thinking now of my own grandparents…

    • redmitten

      kathleen- are your grandparents still living? mine have passed away, but over the weekend i visited an uncle in the hospital and his wife (my biological aunt) looked so much like her mother, my grandmother, i could not move. wow.

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