Molded after Oma Ida.

For whatever reason, there’s only a single picture of Oma Ida and me, a keepsake I’ve always cherished throughout my life. She’s the only grandparent I’ve met in person; all others had long passed on when I was born. 

My life with her began on a hot summer day when my mother labored to bring me into this world. So hot that dad dismantled their bed and brought it into the living room, which was cooler than the second-floor bedroom. And here’s where I was born, smack in the middle of the living room in Oma Ida’s house. She heard my first cry.

My parents met during a carnival dance that was held in the village. WWII had ended four years ago, and dad had just returned from a prisoner-of-war camp in France. The war had washed my Pomeranian mom into our village by coincidence. They were in dire need of a new teacher, and she was available. Money was scarce, and the aftermath of the war was quite tangible when they married in the same church where I would be baptized a year later. They kept living in Oma Ida’s house, along with two families of war refugees.

My baptism was a small affair, with only the godparents present. My parents made photos in our yard after returning from church. The one where Oma is holding me is the one I love most. This old black-and-white photo is so small that it’s hard to see the details. Until yesterday, when I scanned a copy for my hard drive. I now could zoom in and take a closer look at her face.

You’re smiling at me, touching my face, Oma.” 

I feel such tenderness. Her resemblance to my father and my daughter is striking. They look just like her, and I would have looked like her too, had surgery not altered my looks. She had white hair, similar to what I am sporting now. 

“Oh Oma, I would have loved to spend more time with you!”        

My heart is beating faster. I have a few memories. Precious, so precious. 

“Go, bring Oma Ida her bread. Put the plate on her night table; she will nibble on it when she’s ready,” mom puts the small plate with Oma’s breakfast into my hands. I carefully carry it to her room. She’s in her huge bed, covered with heavy eiderdowns that seem to pile up like a white mountain. Her head is sunken into the thick, soft pillows that support her. I tiptoe, unsure if she’s awake, and put the plate down without making any noise. Standing beside her enormous bed, I feel so small and shy. It has a large wooden frame with a tall headboard twice my size and a thick mattress. “The heavy covers are to keep her warm,” mom explained the other day. I know Oma is sick, but no one told me why. She moves a little and I touch her hand, which lies motionless beside the covers. It feels a bit cold. She turns her head but doesn’t say anything. I keep silent too; I am feeling a little scared of my Oma.

“Let’s go to the cemetery and bring Oma some flowers.” 

Mom and I pick flowers in our garden to make a colorful bouquet. The cemetery is outside the village. It’s a long walk, but I love bringing flowers to Oma. Her grave is close to the cemetery’s entrance gate under a row of tall Linden trees. 

With my flowers in hand, I sit down on the grave’s stone border, waiting for Mami to fill the vase at the fountain behind the chapel.

“Oma, you know, the cat has kittens. Six, Oma, six little kitties. Their hair is white, but some have black spots…”

I am telling her my life and keep chatting even when Mami returns. We arrange the bouquet. Mami helps me push the vase with its long pin into the earth under the headstone. Ida Meinecke, I cannot read yet, but I love tracing the letters on the marble stone with my fingers. Mami picks the dry leaves from the grave, which had fallen from the trees above. 

“Good, this looks good now. Come, say goodbye; we have to go home.”

Mami tries to stop my chatter, but I want to tell Oma everything, even things I didn’t tell Mami yet. She doesn’t talk to Oma. Only I do.

We are about to walk to the gate when an old white-haired woman walks up to us, coming from the other side of the graveyard. She greets us with a friendly smile.
“Ahh, you are visiting too. How are you? I haven’t seen you in a long while.” 

I look at her, stunned. Keep staring at the small-framed woman, her face, her hairdo, her posture, and burst out,
“Oma, you are back alive! Oma, Oma, oh, I am so happy you are not dead anymore.” I run up to her and give her a hug. She smells different but I take her hand, “Come, Oma, let’s go home.” 

Mami frowns and shakes her head. Oma smiles. Walking between Mami and her, we pass through the iron gate and take the road to the village. They are talking. I don’t pay attention. My heart sings, my Oma is alive. Holding their hands, I’m skipping and hopping between them, overwhelmed with happiness.

We arrive at a crossroads. Suddenly Oma lets go of my hand.
“Sorry, but I have to turn here, my home’s over there.” She points in the opposite direction.

“No, no, no, Oma! You forgot where we live?”

I grab her hand again and pull. She wants to free herself, but I hold on tight and pull with both hands, putting my whole weight into it.

“Come, Oma, we have to go home this way.” 

“Anne, sweety, you have to let go. She is not your Oma. This is Mrs. Bormann.” 

“No!! Yes, she’s Oma. Don’t you see?” 

Mami is stupid. She doesn’t know my Oma anymore?

Mami frees my hands from hers, while tears are spilling from my eyes.

“No, no, no! Oma, come with me!”

But she walks away, down the wrong road, while I scream for her to come back. She turns around, smiles, and waves, “We’ll see each other another time; I’ll come for a visit.”

This cannot console me. My Oma wants to live somewhere else. Why?

Mami holds my hand tight and walks faster. I stumble alongside her and weep and weep.

“My Oma, I want my Oma.”

For years, I sleep in Oma’s bed; under her huge eiderdown covers, I feel safe.

On my tenth birthday, my parents surprise me. They’ve transformed Oma’s room. A new bed, built by my father, bookshelves for my beloved books, light wooden furniture pieces to hold my toys and clothes, a table, and a comfy chair to snuggle in for reading. I am delighted, smiling from ear to ear. With its light and airy look, the room is beautiful. Most of all, I love that now I will truly be living in Oma Ida’s room. 

Fast forward. 

It’s 2003, and my daughter and I are living in Jamaica.

On the eve of March 20th, we put our bedsheets and covers onto the floor in front of the living room TV set, which is already running day and night. Philippe is at the Kuwaiti border awaiting marching orders to enter Iraq. My son is with the 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd FSB. The war seems imminent. We haven’t heard from him for three weeks; they have had a total communication blackout. We are praying day and night that this war will not happen but negotiations for a peaceful solution seemed fruitless. The news channels are talking about chemical weapon threats and other horrors. My heart refuses to comprehend that my child is in the middle of this, only days, hours, or minutes from invading Iraq. 

War – a theme that has marked my childhood, like that of my friends whose parents lived through WWII. My dad’s psychological scars from the three-year POW camp were soul-wrenching. I believed having a mixed-race child with parents from two continents could prevent any idea of marching against another nation. I was wrong. He became a soldier. Ironically, he is serving in the same army that fought against my father in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest in WWII. 

“It’s happening… they gave the order,” Michaela screams, “the troops are advancing, good God, look… through the desert.” I cover my mouth, want to scream, and my womb aches like hell. Like pangs of birth. My son, my son is in this madness. I bend over, feeling sick. 

We watch the scenes unfold and try to recognize his unit. In vain, despite the embedded journalists trying to show and report as much as permitted. These images are mind-boggling. The sound of the immense amount of machinery speeding through the desert is unforgettable. An armada of rolling metal is racing through the sand.
Lord God, Almighty, why?
I keep praying for safety, for a reverse of this madness, for a miracle, for my son, and for all the soldiers in this nonsensical event. Their mothers must be feeling half-crazy, like me. My heart seems to galop to the sound of the pictures coming through the news channels. 

In disbelief, Micha and I exchange looks. Tears in our eyes, and fear.

An idea, a sudden feeling. Oma Ida seems to uphold me.

“Oma, Oma, intercede. Ask God. Wherever you are, intercede, please. This is your great-grand-kiddo. My little one, Oma. I want my Phili back. Oma…” 

We spend days and nights on the floor in front of the TV. We would crawl into the screen if we could; do anything to keep us as close to the action as possible. Unable to go to work, we handle everything by phone. Refusing to comprehend what’s unfolding. Out of our minds, because we don’t receive any news other than what the news channels are showing. 

Oma Ida is with me. On my mind, day and night. As the mother of a war hero, she understands what I feel.

“How did you manage? You lived through this when Papi went to war. You lived without his news for weeks, months, or years. How did you do it, then? Why didn’t you go crazy? Oma…!”

I often looked at her photo – the woman holding me as a baby – and asked her to hold me through this too. 

“You know what I feel. You knew how to cope. Help me cope with this.”

How did Ida do when she received the first Feld post letter from the front? A letter that took weeks to reach her. She lost her husband while her only son was a prisoner of war in France and had to write him the bad news, not knowing if her letter would ever be delivered to him. How did she cope without knowing where he was or if he would be beaten, starved, and mistreated as a POW? He was her only child, the miracle she had late in life.

“Ida, help me pray. Give me strength. Intercede for us.”

I often called her by her first name, feeling her beside me more as a friend than a grandma. I felt closer to her than I ever thought possible. The fear of losing my boy was overwhelming. Knowing she made it through a similar ordeal was giving me strength. Between her and Michaela’s presence, I survived the first days and weeks of war without losing my mind. 

Relief came when his first email arrived, with a photo attached. The fears never subsided but became bearable.

The day Phili came home from war, healthy and unscarred, I was flooded with an incredible, overflowing joy and relief to hold him in my arms again. The child I feared losing was hugging me tightly. Seeing his bright smile was all I wanted. Micha and I welcomed him home, elated, and overjoyed. The gratitude we felt was overwhelming, the relief immense. God is good. What I feared lost had been returned to me, to us.

“Oma Ida, thank you for standing by me.” 

I knew. I knew with all my heart that she guided me through this, acting as a guardian angel for exceptional cases sent by God. 

Our shared time on earth was short. I was so young when she passed, but the intensity of our encounter from the beyond was so real, it feels as if we spent a lifetime together. Oma Ida and I went through hell, each our own, but we both came back. She was always described to me as a strong woman. I know she was. And so am I.

Whenever I am in Germany, I visit her gravesite. There is no more headstone, only grass. Strange enough, her space was never prepared to receive another’s remains. The trees are still standing tall, and the hedge is still surrounding the area.
Every time I visited, a white feather with black spots was laying on the grass where her headstone used to be. I picked them up, one by one, every time, and kept them safe, Ida’s hello from beyond.

I look with love at her picture, holding me, barely two months old. I see her face, so familiar, with that slight smile I’ve seen so often on my father’s and my daughter’s faces. Our bond is strong and will never lessen. Time is not of the essence. Love is. 

Oma Ida, I love you with all my heart.                                           

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