Germany, Reunion: Surprise and Warmth
In the early 1960s my parents went to Germany, their homeland, to visit their many remaining relatives for the first time since emigrating to America. My father, only three years old when they left Germany, lost his mother a year earlier during childbirth of a little brother, which then made him the youngest in their family.
My mother wanted desperately to return to the homeland to see her siblings and her aging mother. As fate would have it, just weeks before making the trip, her mother suddenly became gravely ill. She died two days later. Many of her nine siblings had also passed before she had the chance to see them, for possibly one final time. She spoke of how very painful that was for her at the time. The limited income from the farm, as well as her large, young family made it impossible for them to travel overseas sooner. I remember a few tear-filled days and hearing her quietly sobbing. Not being fully aware of death’s impact, we youngsters didn’t really understand what she was going through. Not seeing one’s family for some 60 years is almost unfathomable. The routine of daily work on the farm, both in the home and outside, helped her work on her enormous grief. In due time she slowly adjusted to her loss.
Time moved on and we children grew up and had the chance to travel before settling down to a career, spouse and children. A few of us made Germany a travel priority. We met many relatives in predominantly Catholic southern Germany. A cousin suggested we go to the “beginning” of knowing my family. That beginning was the place where my father’s birth mother was buried many years ago, a mother he probably didn’t remember, since he was under three years of age when she died.
Cemeteries in Germany and in several other lands were, at that time, very different from those of today. They may even have been considered somewhat inviting, rather than morose. Each grave had the usual gravestone with a little garden of various flowers in front of it, meticulously groomed by family members. Each had a small cup at the front for water, so that friends and relatives could, perhaps with a prayer, take a little sprig of a plant and sprinkle the flowers to maintain them for the next visitor. It was a deeply touching moment when my wife and I stood solemnly at the foot of my dad’s mother’s grave. We silently bowed our heads for a moment and made the sign of the cross out of respect for my father and a grandmother I’d never met.
Days moved on like a whirlwind. It was a bit uncomfortable for us as my uncle, with no hesitation at all, routinely awakened a cousin or an uncle from sleep, sometimes even at midnight in some little village, to introduce us. When asked what he was about to do next he would say, in his heavily German accent: “Robert, you HAF to see zis people so zay know who comes from za U.S.” Then, once in their homes we’d share cake, cookies and coffee, even at those late hours. We’d chat, laugh and talk with family after family, often in German or in broken English, and many times into the wee hours.
For us, it was a long-planned trip for me to learn of my large extended family there in beautiful Deutschland and to acquaint them with their American relatives. As it turns out I had 23 cousins living mostly in the southern region. Most of them were in agriculture, some in industry and two in religious pursuits.
From those early years of our introduction to another land until today, we have kept in touch, visited and made several new friends as well. They’ve given us a new appreciation of family, with all of them still united, as families should be. We treasure those wonderful memories to this day.