9/14/14

A letter and a kid (6)

Mother and father became a regular item. After some mutual probing and testing, father proposed, and mother accepted. That’s how you did things when you were a young couple in love. They married in July 1970.
For their honeymoon, my father bought his first car, a light blue VW Beetle. He took my mother to the Tyrol. The photos of their trip show a happy young couple: a black-haired, handsome, manly guy in grey knickerbockers and a blue shirt dashes his bright smile at the radiant girl at his side, who is wearing huge Diva-sunglasses, knickerbockers and a matching shirt, with the majestic, snow-covered mountain range in the background. You can almost smell the freshness, the crispness of the air, the couple’s bliss drawing like a white halo around them.
The photo underlines that my parents couldn’t take their eyes off each other.
Nor their hands, it would seem.
As a result, my sister was born nine months later: a beautiful, healthy girl with a shock of black hair screaming her anger of landing in this world.
Mother wanted to call her Doris; father preferred Kerstin. Finally, grandma Berta proposed Klara. She had always been fond of that first name. My parents shuddered and formed an immediate coalition.
A week later, my sister was christened Kathi in the plain, white church of Kleindorf.
The months after Kathi’s birth were no easy ones for my mother. As my father was working alongside Ferdinand in the coalmine, he didn’t earn buckets of money. Thus, it was decided that my parents would live with Berta and Ferdi for a while. Mother and father occupied a small, unheated room, hardly big enough for a double bed and a small cupboard. My mother had to share Berta’s kitchen, Berta’s stove.
That was no undiluted pleasure because grandma could be peculiar. Small and frail like a sparrow, she was a stern, proud woman who didn’t easily show whether she appreciated someone or not. She accepted her daughter-in-law in the manner in which she had always accepted the twists and turns of her life: with an unmoved, stoical face. She appreciated my sister’s birth in her own, inimitable, wry style, too. “Neat,” she said, nodding in my mother’s direction. “She’s good at girls. That’s better than nothing.”
My father was Berta’s youngest and favourite child; as a result, my mother’s arrival in the family provoked some kind of passive-aggressive resistance. This female… newcomer wouldn’t encroach on Berta’s territory or upset her ways of doing things—no way! Therefore grandma continued to cook the meals for her husband and her son, leaving a small corner on the stove for my mother, who would prepare her own food and warm the milk for her baby.
Thus, some months passed by, my mother swallowing her pride and bearing with Berta, getting some discreet help from Ferdinand once in a while. He wouldn’t take sides in the mute war raging between his wife and his daughter-in-law. But whenever my mother needed something, he’d mumble, “Certainly, certainly.” Which counted as a non-negotiable decision.
In the still of their chilly bedroom, my parents continued to fiddly-diddle. Comfort fiddly-diddling—didn’t cost much, eased tensions.
And surprise! My sister was only six months old when my mother became pregnant again.
The day she found out, she was immediately reminded of her uncomfortable situation. She hadn’t planned to raise a second kid in grandma Berta’s shadow. Anger, frustration and helplessness welled up in her, with no one around she could let it out on.
Huh! When my father came home from work that evening, expecting a peaceful moment with his beloved wife and his daughter, my mother had transformed into a pressure cooker in high steam. Oblivious as usual, he stroked her cheek and said, “You look a bit tense, darling.”
Tense?” my mother screamed. “Tense? I’m not tense, Mister Don’t-worry-I’ll-be-careful! I’m outright bloody livid!”
That was the only time he came within a whisker of being slapped by my mother. But remembering her dignity, she straightened her spine. And broke the news without further ado. Adding that this was the bloody straw that broke the bloody camel’s back. To crown her speech, she threatened my father that she’d bloody never bloody uncross her bloody legs again. Ever.
Unfazed, Father said, “Hush, hush, darling! What if we tried to find a flat for our own?”
Oh, he knew what my mother wanted to hear! Open-mouthed, she stared at him, dried her eyes—six “bloodys” in a row had made them quite teary—, forced a feeble smile, and asked, “Can we afford it?”
“There’s always a solution,” my father answered. Then, he drew her into a tight hug and murmured into her ear, “I love you darling. And we’ll love that new baby, too!”
That’s when my sister started to scream. She was hungry. Or jealous in advance.
I was born in July 1972 in the maternity ward of the nearest hospital, in a town called Knittelfeld. The first environment I discovered must have consisted of clinical whites and shiny steel, the small town, the meadows and peaks and forests of the Alps shimmering outside the hospital windows in idle summer colours.
To my utter disappointment, no fairy was stooping over my cradle whispering promises of a lucky fate. Only the round face of a midwife in her forties, gleaming cheeks and red nose testifying to the woman’s healthy penchant for high percentage liquors. We locked eyes, both flushed, one smiling, the other one frowning.
Me.
I was scandalized, sensing that this was just the beginning. Life would be a long series of disappointments, things would go downward from now on. I decided that a neat and piercing scream would best express my disarray, not knowing that my sister Kathi had already come to the same conclusion some months before.
That’s how I left a state of perfect, primitive and original happiness and entered life.

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