Today is my grandmother's birthday. She is 82. In her 82 years she has lived a life that, no one that I know, can even compare their life to. I find her life fascinating. I love to talk with her about it, hear her stories. She was born in Germany to an un-wed mother. Her mother punished her for this fact all of her life. Her brother was born 10 years after her and he was never punished because he was male. She lived a childhood of daily hard work, constantly trying to stay out of her mother's way in a small (but beautiful) town in Germany. It was a Germany that had just lived through the first World War and was about to enter into another. The Second World War stripped her family of what little they had and she moved out even though she longed to stay and protect and care for her brother. She met my grandfather after he had become injured fighting in the war for the Germans. He was from a prominent family that had also been brought to its knees by the war. He saved my grandmother from a lifetime of poverty and hopelessness. He saw in her a fighter, a wise soul, a woman that would never leave his side. They rarely saw one another as he fought his way through veterinary school in Germany. They married and applied for sponsorship so that they could safely come to the U.S. Their first child was born in Germany and less than a year after her birth they were accepted for sponsorship by a small town doctor in Western Kentucky. My grandfather left and my grandmother came across the Atlantic alone with their few possessions and an infant in tow. She knew no english. She made her way to my grandfather in Kentucky and there they made a life for themselves. She taught herself english with the help of television and the sponsor doctor's family. My grandfather flourished as a veterinarian in their area and eventually took over his sponsors practice when he retired. They had two more children and my grandmother stayed at home and devoted her life to taking care of her children and her husband. The first thing that my grandfather did when he became financially stable in Kentucky was to buy land and pay it off. He believed that land was something that could never be taken away from you in the U.S. He relished the freedom that the United States gave them. A freedom that was never found back in Germany. My grandmother and grandfather never deluded themselves about the fact that they were Germans living in the middle of Kentucky right after World War II. They knew that they were being eyed suspiciously and even mocked at times. They did everything that they could to make themselves Kentuckians. To make their children "fit in". This was done at the expense of their German heritage. It was a heritage that they hardly ever talked about even to their children.
When I was two years old my grandfather died and part of my grandmother died with him. There is a longing in her eyes that is ever present. It is obvious that they had the kind of love that is soul deep. In college, I went with my grandmother to Germany. We spent two weeks exploring her past and my grandfather's past. I saw the house where she was born, the house where she was when the Americans raided their town and took it over from the Germans, I saw her mother's grave, saw my great grandparents graves, met untold number of relatives, and saw castles and land vastly different from Kentucky. Two treasured weeks.
I thank God for making her my grandmother. For delivering her straight into my grandfather's arms and then across the ocean to this place called Kentucky. My roots on my father's side might not be generations upon generations old in this place, but they run deep and they are strong. She made sure of it.