Chapter III

Family Reunion

Do You Want It…?

A Normal Family

Family Reunion

My life was pretty exciting and successful until 2001. The castle restaurant, which I had been running for some time, was successful and then I fell ill and suddenly I found myself at rock bottom. I had to slow down. During this time, I began to reflect on myself and my life. I was determined to come to terms with my producer father, as I called him that time, so I wrote the US Army and asked for clarification.

With all the information that I had, it was not a problem and answers  came quickly. My father had  died  in 1996 alone, not married. I felt pity for him, the poor man was without a family.  He probably  was one of those ‚life-long soldiers called lifers‘.

I imagined him sitting solitary and unaware at the bar for NCOs drinking beer. I knew this from my work with the Americans in Bremerhaven, the Lifer, as they were called, usually had no families and lived all their lives in uniform on military grounds.

Well, on the other hand, it was okay for me. When my mother handed me the letters from him, I was very torn, could but would not make contact. Now that he was dead, he could not hurt me anymore and I would stand by his grave and talk to him. I was afraid of being rejected, that was without a question, the reason. This was completely unfounded as I should find out later.

Carrie, my daughter-in-law, wanted to know, ‚Rebecka, what do you want to do when you come to Chicago this time?‘

‚I’m going to Buffalo to finally come to terms with my father‘, I answered. ‚I just have to find out in which cemetery he was buried‘.

‚What would you do?‘, Carrie replied.

‚I would search the obituaries‘, I let her know. I had not given up hope that there was probably one person who would miss him. Carrie did not let up, ‚I can do that for you‘, she said, and with that the whole thing took its course, which I could not stop.

It was not long before the call came from her, ‚I have good and bad news, which one do you want to hear first?‘

I swallowed, because all I wanted was just the conversation at the graveside, for more I was not ready. So what could the bad news be? ‚Shoot‘, I told her, ‚No matter what, talk‘.

‚I found your father‘, Carrie let me know. I had to breathe deeply and asked ‚…. and? What’s the bad news?‘ ‚There is more, do you want to hear it?‘ … ‚tell me‘, I heard her say. ‚You have six siblings and I have talked to the widow. They want to get to know you.‘

It took me a while and a deep breath to say something, but then I heard myself saying: ‚Carrie, let me think about it for a while‘.

I was just an only child and now I suddenly had six siblings. It took me a long time to come to terms with this thought and it took me exactly that long to let it happen. Talking to them or contacting them was unthinkable at the time. I buried myself in work and disappeared from the scene. In the meantime, the phone line at my son’s home in Chicago was running hot. The siblings wanted answers, I did not have any, my strategy in terms of producer father was going down the drain. I had just felt pity, had suspected the old sergeant at the bar and now a widow with six children.

Then the moment came when my son got annoyed, ‚You must talk to them now‘, he told me. On the other side was my husband, who was constantly talking to me pushing me to contact them ‚.. you will see, all normal people’, was his saying. Today, the phrase is a ‚running gag‘ that we use for all the craziness as an explanation in our family.

The time had come, I had to contact them . So I decided to announce my email address and communicated with my siblings via email. And indeed, it initially seemed like a normal family.

My heart was thumping when I called Geraldine, my father’s widow. What would she say?  What is she thinking?  Did Eugene tell her about me or am I a collateral damage, a sort of war reparation.

I cannot remember anything about this phone conversation, which proves to me that I was out of order except for a small sentence that I remember.

This sentence made me doubt again, it could not be a normal family. What happened?

I let Geraldine know that we; Tom, Jan, Carrie, and I would come to Buffalo during Autumn.  No big requirements just a weekend to have a conversation at the graveside of my father.

‚Rebecka, you must know, your father has been cremated‘. ‚Yes, but he needs a final resting place? ‚, I asked. For a long time Geraldine did not reply until she answered in a muffling voice: ‚… he has that too, under my bed with me‘. Then I need my time-out, I must have been silent for a while, until my voice was heard again. ‚Are you still there, Rebecka?‘, Geraldine asked. I hesitated to speak again … my need for a ’normal family‘ was covered at the moment.

If You Want It, Help Me ..

My desk is never big enough to accommodate my projects. I’m always looking for something. For quite a while, I have been digging for the rest of my father’s records. Pictures and the letter from the US Army, that I had left at my desk, were not found. The letters to my mother I had burned in an ashtray years ago. So where were the pictures and the writing of the US Army? I searched frantically. I rummaged through the unfathomable depths of my desk drawers, stack trays, folders and other places where you can bury something. I knew exactly what to look for. I’d put the rest of the pictures and writing in an envelope and had last seen them on my desk.

Impossible, the envelope was missing. I left the office, came back.  You know this game certainly from your countless searches. At some point I had stopped searching, turned around and was about to leave, as I approached my father: ‚If you want me to meet your American branch, then help me find the documents!‘ I turned around again, reached into a pile of documents and pulled out exactly this letter. You may think, now she is crazy, then you will be surprised just how much is still to come. If I had spoken these words only out of a joke, they suddenly had a deeper meaning. I was convinced I had examined the table with a tunnel look. In this case, my catholic educated friends would call this the call to Saint Anthony:  ‚Holy Anthony something is lost and should be found.‘

My view of life and death has always been different from common views. I did not get this view through my education, no, it was always there. For me there was never a death, for me it was always a step aside. As a kid, I quickly learned not to talk about it with the adults. They did not understand when I talked about a person’s death in the morning, so I left that knowledge with me. It did not happen that often, and soon I thought that I was in a jumble of ideas. My childlike openness was often described by me as a nine-year-old as stale and cheeky, I turned quiet. Until then, I just felt that someone had left. When I was fourteen, I saw symbols such as slippers pointing under the bed instead of ready to go in front of the bed. It was very difficult to organize my thoughts. I did not understand what was happening. And one day, I decided never to receive such pictures again. I could not handle them, could not talk to anyone about them. Whenever it became too much, I had become accustomed to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously the souls have seen it that way, they left me without conscious farewell.

A Normal Family

The preparations for the family reunion in Buffalo were finished, we were about to leave and the tension increased. Either way, I did not know how the whole thing would develop. I was scared and glad to have Tom by my side. The trip to Buffalo hung over me like a sword of Damocles, I was alternately in a happy and then in a negative euphoria.

During the travel preparations I talked with my siblings, we communicated via email and the traffic was lively.  A kind of introductory round and then the day came when we met for the first time, it was like it had never been different. Although we had never met before, it was not a question; That was my family, we were and are carved from the same wood.

As we sat around the table in the dining room the first evening, and looked at the pictures that Geraldine kept sorted out in a cookie jar, the pictures, with which the children were allowed to play a call came in.

There we sat and looked at family history, which I had not experienced. And then the phone rang. Colleen went and answered ‚Hello‘ …. hello? …‘ then she hung up. ‚Who was it?‘ the mother asked. ‚Dad‘, said Colleen. We laughed.

Then I asked my sibling’s mother: ‚Have you never doubted, never asked the question, who is this woman who claims to be your sister?‘

‚No‘, said Geraldine, ‚Erin talked to Eugene‘.

Holy Cow, there it was again, this feeling of being in the wrong movie. My father was dead, what should I think? I did not dare to hurry to ask another question that came into my mind. I had the feeling that this family was strange. It took me a long time to reach and ask, ‚Who else can talk to Dad?‘ Everyone shook their head, nobody wanted to have anything to do with it. Colleen pointed a finger at Erin. She was the youngest and I turned to Erin and said, ‚Consecrate me, I have some questions for the guy‘. Everyone laughed and Erin answered, ‚I was in Lily Dale‘. What should I think? What is Lily Dale?

I preferred to approach the cookie jar, reached into the pile of worn pictures, and asked, ‚Who is that, does anyone know that?‘

That evening when we went to bed I looked at my husband, and said slowly and unmistakably, ‚A normal family, huh?‘

forward