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Conversations with Grandma

Which values determine upbringing when you grow up as a young girl during war and what is it like to be a full-time wife and mother throughout your life? What is it worth fighting for? What advice do you want to give to your 30-year-old granddaughter, who is living a completely different life? I had intense conversations with my grandmother for half a year about her life and learned a lot about the perception of women, family models and her exhausting balancing act between self-esteem and selfless love. A protocol.

'You can't tell by a woman's face what she has achieved in her life'. For me there was never a break. I met your grandpa when we were kids. When our first son was born, I was 19. Except for big dreams we had nothing.

Today I am 83 years old, 59 of them I was married. I have four children, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Since the death of your grandfather five years ago, I have lived alone in our townhouse with the steep stairs that he wasn't able to climb anymore in the end. My parents-in-law helped us back then with the deposit so that we could have our own roof over our heads. Sometimes they brought us sugar or custard powder.

For my own mother I was actually always the bad guy. And if I am honest, I blamed her most of my life for sending me away as a child. I was born in 1936 in Halle, in the middle of the Second World War. When my sister was born five years after me, we moved to Berlin. Then my parents brought me to relatives in a village of 500 souls in the Sauerland region, where I was safe from the bombs which came down on the city almost on a daily basis. My sister was allowed to stay, my father was drafted in 1944.

Why I was taken away, of all people, I do not know. I have never asked. I remember how sad and jealous I often was. I would have needed someone to turn to, in those young years! The aunts had no time, their men were at war, they were alone with their own children and also running the business. And some were left alone for good.

My parents never talked much about that time, nobody did actually. I remember one Christmas Eve when my oldest son, being a young adult, started asking questions. He asked about the war, the experiences my father had in the army. That's when the situation escalated. My mother was so angry about my boy's curiosity that I had to expel her from my house. Your grandpa spent that evening in the workshop in our cellar. The subject was never brought up again.

I think there is some truth in saying wisdom comes with age. I didn't understand what's going through my mother's head for a long time. Today I am glad that I was spared from the war as far as possible. Berlin was in ruins when I took our cows out to pasture. One school after the other was bombed out, the children climbed through collapsed buildings to attend classes. When I see pictures from war zones now, I think differently about my childhood. And how my mother must have felt. My sister complains about her more than I do, although she was always her favorite. She says: Mom was always terrible, she didn't have anything to spare, she only ever thought about herself.

I'm glad that you can't imagine what it's like when suddenly you lose everything. When you have to move all the time, have so much responsibility at such an early age and don't receive any help. I am still hoping that the older generations learn from this and would pass something on, but now the old people are soon gone. I have forgiven my mother, although she often made my life hell until her death. Snide comments about my painted fingernails or my new shoes, criticism of my children and husband. So many times I have been crying in the car on the way home from visiting my parents and been thinking about not going there anymore.

It is difficult to find the right way. Now and then you have to bang on the table, after all you are somebody yourself. In my generation there are many women who have been oppressed. By their families, their husbands. I have never understood how to completely back down. Before I married your grandpa, I earned a lot of money in a bank for two years. When I bought a white cardigan from one of the first salaries, my mother forced me to give it back. When I met your grandfather, she didn't allow me to work. Being a wife, that wasn't the proper way.

But I grafted hard all my life and earned my money that way. I was very lucky with your grandfather, we always decided everything together. I supported him in his work wherever I could, administering the money, raising our children. We always treated each other respectfully and therefore I was very happy because I didn't know this from my parents' house. I had to justify myself to my mother all my life, my sister even insulted me once as a legacy hunter. The argument about parental recognition divided us so deeply. That should not happen.

I often had a good cry with a friend who always told me to hold out and continue visiting my mother. Today I am very happy that I listened to them. You simply don't abandon your parents. Most people stay away when you get old and lie there miserably. My mother-in-law has been involved in the parish all her life. Nobody cared when she stopped coming. They just forgot about her. I had to pick up the stinking laundry by train to wash it at home, cleaned her neglected apartment and took her to ours every weekend. It was often terrible but I always did my best. I am proud of that and I now look back on my life with complete satisfaction.

Of course, difficulties and quarrels are also part of it. Then you pull yourself together again and become happy. We as women can put up with more than you think. Life as a mother of four is not easy and being a grandmother also brings with it many challenges. I don't want to miss the time, but don't want to relive it either. The best thing today is to see that everything went quite well and that it was worth the effort.

Being alone now after so many years of marriage is the hardest thing for me. I often feel very lost. It was especially bad at the wedding of our grandson two years after his death. I had to sit at the table with the other old people. This is really not pleasant. Sometimes I also have the feeling that my grandchildren are not interested in me and I am disappointed. Are they really too busy to call me? I know what it is like to work hard. I never had much free time either, but when I look at how hectic things are everywhere today, I'm not so sure if life has become better. When I am on the tube I am shocked to see everyone looking at their smartphones. Nobody talks to their neighbors anymore, everyone is under stress and nobody has enough money. I'm happy for you about so many opportunities, but I also miss the sense of community from a time when people simply had a sense of tranquility.'

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