HSFTP – 09 Adopted Guilt

While still lost in memories in Harburg, I ignored Alex and Maus and automatically walked up the hill. Now feeling depressed over the memory of the guinea pig and Alex hitting the dogs, I couldn’t help but cry. The past was present, the time in between ceased to exist and everything I felt was now as real as if it just happened. How could I have existed all those years? I asked myself. How could I carry around so many depressing thoughts? How did they affect me? So many questions I couldn’t find the answers to, just as I couldn’t find them at the time they happened.

Even going to church didn’t help me find the answers to my problems back then, but only added to my confusion.

Sometimes I was allowed to attend the confirmation classes which were held by our pastor’s wife. The more I learned the catechism, the more guilt I felt and believed the Lord would not allow someone like me into heaven. I must have broken almost all of the ten Commandments. I truly tried to live up to them and it wasn’t always my fault if I didn’t.

There was one Commandment I couldn’t live up to, “Honor thy Mother and Father”. I thought these Commandments must be for children whose parents loved them.

Then there was “Thou Shall not Steal” Commandment. I wondered if that applied if your parents made you steal? I tried to find an excuse to defend my wrong doing. I wondered what would have happened if I had told my parents no?

Would my brother and I have been driving a car without a driver’s license when we weren’t old enough to have one? Our parents forced us to drive, like common thieves, in the middle of the night to steal firewood. My mother told us where to go and to convince our school friend to use his father’s van. We took the key while his father slept.

I remember telling Nigg what I had learned at the confirmation class about stealing. He got very quiet, then said, “If there is a God who knows everything, then he knows we don’t want to steal.”

He didn’t make me feel better or even take my fear away. He didn’t seem to understand what I’d said to him.

He also said, “Do you have a better way to heat the stove so we can cook?”

I gave up hope that our parents would change. At the time it never occurred to us that children normally didn’t provide for their parents.

Stealing got easier. And we got better at it; it even calmed our father down.

Nigg said, “Maybe we don’t have to steal much longer, I heard Mother and Father talking about some kind of export and import business with a Turkish man. Now they are looking to find 1000 marks to invest.”

As I thought about my upcoming confirmation I thought of the dress I was supposed to wear. I’d already asked my sewing teacher if she would help me make it and she promised she would.

I knew my teacher liked me. She told me I was bright and had much talent. I designed my dress, burgundy velvet, with many little round pearl buttons on the front. All girls in our class constantly talked about their dresses and the shoes they would wear. Heidi got two pair; red patent leather that she would wear on the introduction day to the congregation the day before, and a black pair with velvet bows, for confirmation. Her red shoes were a dream and I wanted a pair just like them.

Confirmation is the most important day in a Lutheran child’s life. It was also my last year in high school and signified my first step into adulthood. What I liked most was that from that day on, we were authorized to use “Ms” in front of our name. After confirmation, girls were allowed to wear high heels. We were also allowed to have a boyfriend.

In order to be confirmed, we had to attend church at least twice a month. Of course I had to fight for it every time I wanted to go.

One Sunday I was lucky; neither of my parents were home and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. It was like a holiday for me!

I met Heidi in church.

Heidi said, “I’m going to see my boyfriend right after church and I would like for you to come with me to meet his brother.”

I knew why she asked me, she needed an alibi and would like to get rid of her boyfriend’s brother. That was all right with me. “Okay.” I agreed, “but only if I can wear your red shoes.”

I told her I had found an old-style Scottish red pleated skirt and had altered it to be tight and short and I would wear it. She hesitated for a moment, and I knew she was trying to tell me her red shoes were only for introduction day.

Heidi sneaked into her house so she wouldn’t have to explain anything to her grandmother, and got the shoes for me. I went home and changed into my new skirt, a tight black sweater and those shiny red high heels.

“Wow.” Heidi said, “You look stunning, so grown up. I know his brother will fall in love with you.”

Since we still had some time before we were to meet the boys Heidi said, “Let’s walk up to the theater and pass by the market square, all the big guys are hanging out there.”

When we reached the square Heidi hesitated, “Let’s walk very slowly, pretending we are looking only at the movie advertising.”

When we reached the corner a whistle concert started. I felt good; I liked it when the men whistled at us.

“You see,” Heidi prodded, “I told you.”

We sauntered past the market place, walked to the theater and stood there discussing which movie we should see. One of the guys came up to us and asked where we were going. Heidi proudly let him know that she had a boyfriend she was going to see. I wished she wouldn’t have told him about her boyfriend since I would have liked to have talked to him a little more. I guess he felt brushed off, because he left.

I was impressed with Heidi’s boyfriend’s brother, Werner. He was good looking. He had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen. He also had better manners than the other guys in town. It was love at first sight. I was flattered when he thought I was sixteen. As we walked on the road leading out of town he told me of his plan to learn engineer drafting and that in a few years he would be an architect and wanted to build bridges. That impressed me. I was sorry when Heidi said we had to go back. But Werner and I agreed to see each other again.

One week before confirmation I still didn’t have a dress. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t go to confirmation if I had to wear one of my every day dresses. The Friday before confirmation my godmother took me to the beauty shop for my first perm. I told her to save her money I was not going because I didn’t have a dress.

“Yes, you have,” she said, “your mother got the dress Margit was wearing on her confirmation.”

Oh no, I thought, Margit’s confirmation was six years ago. And when I saw the dress my worst nightmare came true. I would run away before I had to wear the ugly thing.

Saturday before confirmation all the confirmants were tested in front of the congregation with questions from the Bible. My girlfriends looked so pretty. I was the only one wearing a regular school dress.

Confirmation day was even worse. The church was crowded and there weren’t enough benches and chairs so people stood at the side walls. I looked like an old farmer’s wife. My godmother was the only family member in church. My parents never attended anything important in my life. Not when I was nominated for the having the best art of the year, and not now. My father said he had no time for modern rubbish, and mother wouldn’t waste her time.

Godmother came over to where all confirmants were gathered and tried to encourage me by saying how I looked like a real lady. My borrowed two piece black velvet suit, I thought, was embarrassing. The skirt hung all the way down to my ankles, while the other girls wore short skirts. The jacket sleeves were too long, and the skirt too wide. My mother even tapered the skirt with safety pins but I had the feeling I would lose the skirt if I walked too fast. I stuffed cotton into the shoes, which were a size too big. I felt awful and was on the verge of tears. This was supposed to be my day.

One of the girls in the back row tapped my shoulder and asked where my parents were. I was saved when another girl answered, “They are with their youngest in the Catholic Church now, don’t you know this? They want to have it both ways to heaven, but I know they will not make it, especially not their mother.”

My mind screamed, why hadn’t I run away like I planned? It would have spared me the pitying stares of my school friends and the shame of the rumors that were bound to spread.

After the church ceremony, all confirmants gathered in the church garden for pictures. Heidi asked me, “Is this the dress you made?” Not without a little irony she ended by saying, “Let’s stand next to each other when the pictures are taken.”

When the photographer placed us in the front row I told Heidi, “I don’t want my picture taken in this dress, I will stay in the back row.” I didn’t want any memory of the terrible day and that ugly dress.

Family members arrived from everywhere to lend support to the “new” adults, and wish them a good start for their future. People talked and laughed and enjoyed being happy. Undecided about what I should do, I walked over to the side entrance. I watched large groups of families walking home to a long planned and prepared meal. Mothers served the best on this special day. Fathers proudly acknowledged the confirmants’ achievement. Some people were very poor but they all had a special lunch and a family gets together.

I stood on the church steps daydreaming and didn’t realize everybody had gone and that the streets were empty. Where do I go? I wondered. I wouldn’t have any visitors at home and no one would prepare a special meal.

As I walked down the church hill, tears filled my eyes. I held my head down so no one would see. I am not worthy of something special, I thought. I have no right to ask for anything.

Nobody even noticed when I got back from church. I sat in my room deep in thought about how useless my life was. Then my mother came in and said, “Get out of those clothes, we have no money to have the dress dry-cleaned before we give it back. After that go start peeling potatoes.”

I had three gifts. My godmother sent me a set of towels that my father took with the remark, “These are mine; nobody else can use them.”

I received money, but mother never told me who sent it. I didn’t even know how much it was because it was used for something, but not for me. A week later when I was writing thank you notes, I found out someone had sent me a satin tablecloth. My mother returned it to the store.

A week later, Sunday, Nigg and I were on the road again to collect money. This time we had to drive into the same town where Grandpa lived with his cousin. Nigg and I decided we weren’t going to collect the money and be embarrassed again. We would go visit our grandpa.

The first thing grandpa asked was, “Did your mother send you?” He seemed happy to see us.

We told him she didn’t know we were there.

Grandpa said, “Your mother only shows up when she needs money.”

The aunt where grandpa lived fixed us something to eat and we all sat around the table. After a while grandpa asked me how my confirmation was and if I had a nice dress to wear. I told him about the dress. He got very sad.

“What did your mother do with the money I gave her for you?” He asked.

When we asked how much he had given her he said, “I told her not to use your money for anything else. I gave her 1000 marks as a gift for you and 500 marks for your new dresses and two pairs of shoes and enough to pay for a formal luncheon in a restaurant.” Grandpa got up and paced up and down, then finally said, “I will change my will, she will not get a penny more. I will put you two in my testament so you’ll have something when you are 21 years old.” After awhile we had to leave and grandpa gave each of us ten marks and made us promise to use it only for ourselves.

My mother condemned every person who was not willing to give her money. She turned against her own father after he sold the house and told her she would not get any more money. Slowly, people turned away from her. The people in the town said that she had ruined her own father’s honorable name.