Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Happy Birthday Mom

We've been working from early morning each day trying to get my mom's house ready for renting.  We got new beds, cleaned the yard just to fill the compost garbage for Monday night pickup, fussed with the alarm system, got the electrician, someone to steam clean the sofa and other upholstered furniture.  We visited my 96 year old step mom, who was briefly awake and engaged in a limited way.  I got ride in to the beach to simply to work off all the anxieties that were building up - it worked.  We had the electrician and the repair man.  Moving furniture back into the house from the garage now that the wood floor has been sanded and redone.  Maybe the car will fit in tomorrow.

picture from previous visit
Also squeezed in a trip to the cemetery today to wish her happy birthday.  I cut some flowering jade plant, a bird of paradise, and some epidendrum from my mom's yard, and we took out some of the dead flowers from last time and stuck in the new ones.  My wife's parents, my brother, and another close family friend are there too.   Last year I put some soil in the vases and stuck the jade plants in.  A caretaker at the cemetery waters them and the jade plants are growing and healthy.  So the flowers were just to add some color for a while.  She would have been 96 today.

And so as I was sorting out the books I opened Erich Maria Remarque's Shadows in Paradise to see why my mom  still had that book.  Here's the prologue:
"I lived in New York during the last phase of the Second World War.  Despite my deficient English the midtown section of New York became for me the closest thing to a home I had experienced in many years.
Behind me lay a long and perilous road, the Via Dolorosa of all those who had fled from the Hitler regime.  It led from Germany to Holand, Belgium, Northern France, and Paris.  From Paris some proceeded to Lyons and the Mediterranean, others to Bordeau, the Pyrenees, and across Spain and Portugal to Lisbon.
Even after leaving Germany we were not safe.  Only a very few of us had valid passports or visas.  When the police caught us we were thrown into jail and deported.  Without papers we could not work legally or stay in one place for long.  We were perpetually on the move.
In every town we stopped at the post office, hoping to find letters from friends and relatives.  On the road we scrutinized every wall for messages from those who had passed through before us addresses, warnings, words of advice,  The walls were our newspapers and bulletin boards.  This was our life in a period of universal indifference, soon to be followed by the inhuman war years, when the Milice, often seconded by the police, joined forces with the Gestapo against us."
My mom's Via Dolorosa was a little more straightforward.  At age 17 she finally got her visa and a ticket to sail from Hamburg to New York.  It was late August 1939 when she left home for Hamburg, leaving her parents behind.

Reading this and thinking of my mom and other family members whose trips were more arduous and followed Remarque's path more, the journeys of today's refugees seemed more real, and I seemed more connected.  Lacking visas, at the mercy of local police, finding word from relatives wherever you can (for those with cell phones today, this is probably easier), and getting advice from other travelers - some of it good, some of it not - wherever you can.


  1. Good god, man. Yes. As well, the cemetery you describe is not entirely common today as scattered families make us refugees in more subtle ways.

    The human condition, isn't it? says a man who lives thousands of miles away from his first home and family.

    Ah, well.

    1. Just read this about your mother's book:

      ... and the posthumous, Schatten im Paradies (Shadows in Paradise), depicts the lives and suffering of anti-Nazi emigres, their often ambivalent feelings towards Germany, and their sometimes difficult adjustments to life in exile.

      Must pick it up. Thank you.

    2. He's an author I haven't read, but whose name I know. All I saw was the prologue. From the description you quote, I understand your interest. I also took the copy of "My Family and Other Animals" that I wrote about in December and then learned from comments that it was made into a popular BBC series.
      Looking forward to a day when I can come visit here and not have to do a ton of work and can just relax and read.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.