Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: Germany

Common people

Family_Lines_peopleThere’s a theory that we’re connected to every single person in the world through six degrees of separation. That is, we all have someone in common everywhere and anywhere we go: a friend of a friend of friend of a friend… It’s a small world after all as I rediscovered during a recent trip to see a client in Burlington, Ont.

My client has a German background and we’ve been working on her stories about living in Hamburg and growing up during the Second World War. She came to Canada with her husband for work years later and her three children were born and raised in Burlington. I met my client through her daughter, who is a good friend of mine. We met in Vernon, B.C.

I went to Ontario two weeks ago to finish my client’s story. We were looking for photos to add to her memoirs and I was flipping through the pages of an old album when a picture caught my eye. I thought I recognised the people in it: a friend and her family. It was them.

I’m from Nova Scotia and met my friend playing floor hockey in Grade Six. We were opponents and my friend high-sticked me in the mouth. And I had braces. There was some blood shed on the Port Williams Elementary School gym floor and despite this, we became friends and stayed friends. I visited her in Montreal and Germany and went to her wedding in the States. She came to my wedding a few years ago. So what ties me, my friend and my client together?

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington, Ontario.

Burlington. It’s the common denominator. My friend is of German background and when her parents lived in Burlington, they made friends with my client. When I went to Burlington, I saw the photos. It was a random discovery but a cool one. It certainly made the world feel a lot smaller.

Do you have a six degrees of separation story? Tell me about it.

A rose (or grocery store) by any other name

Sign.

The Gominion sign. Photo credit: Violet Sky.

Grocery shopping in the late 70s for my family meant going to the Dominion store. I could never understand why it was called “Dominion” when the D was clearly a G: as in Gominion. Don’t you see it?

One of my clients is from Germany and grew up in Hamburg during World War II. She said no one spoke much English in that country then but products being exported from there had ‘Made in Germany’ written on them in English. In German, a ‘made’ is a type of worm found in cheese. My client couldn’t understand why items had ‘The worm in Germany’ stamped on them.

What signs or labels have you mixed up as a child?

Not just your story

Friends.

Photo credit: Omwoods

As a memoir writer I recount many, many interesting stories. Stories about growing up in Germany during the Second World War. Stories about conducting surgeries in Baghdad when bombs are flying through the air and could hit you and your patient at any time. Stories about escaping Cold War Poland and building a new life in Canada. What all these stories have in common are they are not just about the person telling the tales and anecdotes. These stories are about everyone who came into contact with the narrator, good and bad.

You might think telling your life story means you’re the sole focus of the tale and it’s all about you. But we didn’t shape ourselves. We had mothers and fathers and siblings and relatives and friends and strangers and even animals help make us who we are. Without these people our memoirs would just be one long stream of consciousness. A bunch of thoughts strewn on the page. A journal entry and not a story.

One of my client’s didn’t talk a lot about her father, who has been dead for many decades. Her dad was, of course, a major part of her life but we only had a few anecdotes about him. Then the client’s husband died in May and through her recent grief she was able to tell me about her father dying, almost 60 years ago. The sadness she felt today let her come to terms with what happened a long time ago. She has told me a lot more about her dad and he’s a major part of her story now too.

The characters in our lives come in all shapes and forms – the kind grandmother, the angry aunt, the mixed-up parent, the sarcastic brother and the thoughtful friend. They all feature in our narratives. Use them to add colour to your tales. They’ll make your stories that much richer.

 

Happy New Year’s from Germany

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

In 1993 I spent part of New Year’s Eve in a small mountain town near the Black Forest in Germany. The other part of the night I spent in a hospital. It was an evening to remember although not one of revelry.

I was in Germany for two weeks visiting my friend who was attending the University of Freiburg on an exchange program through Acadia University. I was in my fourth year at Acadia and feeling rather provincial so I went to visit Digger.

My flight to Europe left Halifax on Christmas Day (flights were cheaper on December 25.) The plane went from Nova Scotia to Amsterdam, where I waited in the airport for seven hours because I was afraid if I went sightseeing I would miss my connection. That flight was on to Mulhouse, France, the closet airport to Freiburg. After landing and picking up my baggage at the terminal I was given the option of entering either France or Switzerland. Oh oh. Which country did Digger say she was going to meet me?

This was before 9/11 so security was rather lax and I had no trouble walking into Switzerland. When I looked over to France, there was Digger waiting for me. I just had to walk back through to the other side.

Once we got to Germany we did a lot sightseeing around Freiburg, a beautiful town that had white Christmas lights and other elegant festive ornaments all over the streets and houses. We also climbed the many icy stone steps of the Freiburger Münster (a big medieval church) and ate lots of pretzels and Berliners, the jelly donut John F Kennedy made famous. The highlight of the week was going to be a rocking New Year’s Eve party where Klaus, Digger’s German boyfriend, would be playing with his band.

On Dec. 29 we got all dressed up and climbed in Klaus’ shaky olive green car for the ride to the party. I was excited to be going to an event with new people. Maybe some cute guys would be there too.

It was dark out during the drive so I didn’t get to see any of the German countryside. I knew we were going up and up in elevation though. In about an hour we arrived at a small community hall not unlike ones in Canada.

While Klaus set up his drum kit Digger and I got a glass of wine and some snacks. However, not even 15 minutes later Digger started to feel sick. Sick enough we had to leave the party filled with interesting looking people (cute guys) and drive straight to a hospital.

As soon as we walked into the hospital I started to feel ill too. I had drunk only one small glass of wine but it really affected me. Maybe it was the altitude but I felt like I had finished off the whole bottle.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, putting my hand over my mouth while I ran around searching for the first bathroom I could find. Man, I was not feeling well.

I threw up all over the restroom. All over it. I painted the town red but in a different way. When I emerged from the toilet I felt a lot better but Digger and Klaus were nowhere to be found

I attempted my poor German on hospital staff but no one knew what I was talking about. So what do you do when you’re half cut and lost in a foreign country? Call your parents.

“Are you drunk?” they asked.

“No?”

They advised me to sit down and stay in one spot. To wait. I followed their instructions and slumped down by the hospital door. It was an entertaining place to be.

I watched a steady stream of people come in with all sorts of injures. Cuts, scrapes, bruises – one young man was clutching his blood-covered head and moaning. Wonder what happened to him?

When midnight chimed the only way I knew it was the new year was because all the nurses and doctors came out into the hall with champagne (or sparkling juice?) and said “Happy Silvester!”

Happy New Year to you too.

I’m not sure how long after that, maybe five minutes, maybe longer, Digger and Klaus popped out of one of the rooms. She had had an allergic reaction to something but was fine now. It was 1994 and time to go home.

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