Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oma Stamm and a Lost Language


(Oma Stamm as a young girl.)

Posts will trickle onto the blog from my recent trip back to Germany. (this is the first)

I was spinning my head around like a little kid as we drove along the longest road of my youth - Rohrbacher Strasse. We were nearing the part of Heidelberg where I grew up. Small details, both in the things that had changed and remained jumped from the road and countryside into my eyes. We passed where my older brother went to college, the parking lot where I learned how to ride a bike, the city center where we bought fireworks and candy. I saw a gargoyle in the shape of the Heidelberg Lion near the top of the cement factory at the edge of Leimen and I remembered seeing it years earlier, laying on my back in the backseat of my dads car daydreaming on the way home. As fast as we would pass a familiar house or building, it would approach and exit my mind with that same fragile and haunting speed reserved for memories. I couldn't believe how small everything was. I saw the Hotel Traube where we stayed our last night before moving to the U.S. I stole a small tube of leberwurst from the breakfast table that morning in the end of 1995 and stared at it in my hands as we drove to the Frankfurt airport. I had no idea of the life between that moment and my next visit.
I was 13 the last time I had seen Leimen and remembered everything down to my street as being so much bigger. The biggest reason for visiting was not just to see the streets and buildings of my childhood hometown, but to see the first Oma (grandma) I can remember.
Oma Stamm lived next door to us with her son and his family. I guess she took a shining to me because I remember hanging out with her as a kid. I would hang around her in the back garden, speaking gibberish filled with English and German, she would speak back to me in German. According to our respective families neither of us had any idea what the other was saying but I think it was some sort of lost language, because I remembered thinking I was the bomb at speaking my blend and if I wasn't understanding her words - then I don't think she knew it cause I remember her talking a lot. Either way her kindness transcended language and history.
Her son with whose family she lived was born in the basement of their home up the road a little ways from our street while American soldiers were sweeping through the area towards the end of World War II. Befriending a American family and their little monkey of a child was probably the last thing in her mind at that time. I didn't realize how interesting and dynamic her and her family's friendship to my family was until this visit, when this bit of history was explained to me over tea. She is well into her nineties and it was an honor to be able to return and properly say thanks to her and her family for being so good to us.
I remembered an Easter as a kid, the door bell rang and I went to answer. No one was there, on the mat a small dish with a giant chocolate egg and my name written in light green icing stared back at me. I looked up quickly to see her little body hussling around the bushes that separated our houses. This and a few other of my favorite memories growing up in that house were relayed to her while I knelt next to her chair. This time in German that the family could also understand. Our language; now lost like the feelings of youth perfected in that house. Seeing the old familiar face of your own history stings sweet.

6 comments:

Kitty said...

Beautiful memories well told in pictures and words - a story with a happy ending. Thanks for sharing.

Dave said...

Always look forward to your post....wish they all lived into their nineties.

Mrs. E said...

Beautiful story. I'm so glad you got to visit as an adult. I'm sure your visit reminded her that she will never be forgotten. And that is the best gift you could ever give her.

What's my name again? said...

Your appreciation for the importance of having a connection with an elder generation is heartwarming. I think that link has gone lost with some of our younger generation.

The Zangs said...

That was so beautiful... your pictures and words.

Melvin said...

wow, great post...
thanks for this post...
I like this blog.........

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Melvin
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