For My Oma

I am feeling guilty that I did not talk about her in January, her birthday month… so let’s talk about her today… on the anniversary of her death. And when I say my Oma, I mean Karolina… not Declan’s Oma, who is my mom Greta. A bunch of confusing Germans, I know – but you get the idea.

Karolina was born in 1919 in Naila, Germany… the tiny little town that Greta and Heidi were also born in – and that my relatives continue to live in to this day. Don’t bother looking on a map for it, you won’t find it. But, if you think of Germany as a bean, Naila is near the inside curve of that bean.

My mom has told me that the house she grew up in was always filled with laughter and music. I remember that too – of course I did not appreciate as a child – that German oompa boompa crap – but I have learned to appreciate it now… because it reminds me of my family.

Oma and Opa emigrated to the United States after World War II – trying to find a better life for Greta (11) and Heidi (5). Opa worked at the brewery… for those Marylanders among us, can I get an Amen because the brewery he worked in was none other than Natty Bo. Oma worked in a shoe factory. She worked so hard at that shoe factory in fact, that later in life, when her arthritis was crippling, her fingers shriveled up into the shape a hand makes as they are pushing hard leather through an enormous sewing machine.

The things I remember about Oma as I was growing up revolve around the Kit Kats she would always bring us, playing Mensch Arger Dich Nicht with her (sort of a German version of Sorry), sitting at her dining room table trying to look at her framed mirror in the the only angle that was possible to see the TV that was around the corner in the next room through the mirror, having her stay in my room when she visited my mom’s house and snore like nobody’s business – snores that rival Rio in loudness and inconsistency, that she drove fast sometimes – her nickname was “Hot Rod Oma,” that she kept her house neat as a pin and in doing so made me vacuum waaaaay earlier than she made my sister do any damn vacuuming, that she survived breast cancer and a mastectomy with complete dignity, and that when she laughed, she would curl up into the most adorable ball and giggle her head off.

The cancer came back in late 1994 and she passed away on February 13, 1995. I had been living in Colorado for a year by then – but when we knew things were not going well… I flew in to surprise her for her birthday weekend in January. That was the one weekend she had been home from the hospital in months… And I will never forget the look on her face when I stood over her and woke her from a nap with my surprise visit. “Aim-Aimee?”

We spent the weekend looking at old photographs, and new photographs from Colorado, which reminded her so much of home in Germany. She told me that she would not be there for my wedding in 1996. She knew her time was near. We all did. And as I drove away to head back to the airport, the silhouette of her standing at the door with her hand to the glass, saying goodbye, will be with me forever.

She died two weeks later, on my first day of work at a new job. My mom was kind and tried to wait till later in the day to call and tell me she passed – but I knew. I just knew. And I couldn’t afford to fly back for her funeral… it was just as well. We said our goodbyes at the door.

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