For her 73rd birthday, in the year 2000, I bought my mother a large and beautiful leather bound, gilt edged book called “The Story of a Lifetime. A Keepsake of Personal Memoirs.” It was, it is, a lovely, heavy book that has satin burgundy endpaper and golden ribbon bookmarks. She thought it lovely. She also, almost instantly exclaimed that her messy handwriting would certainly sully its quality.
After Mama died in 2016 at the age of 89, I brought some of her things to my own house and stashed away this book behind a bookcase door and promptly forgot where I had put it. I hadn’t actually seen it in years. I went looking for it after having the Round Hotel dreams. Dolores was very present after I woke up from the dreams. She basically took me straight to the book. She actually directed to more new and surprising information after that, but I am getting ahead of myself.
This memoir book is divided up into numerous sections such as family tree information, military and religious background, memories of early life and school, and there are also questions, writing prompts and keepsake suggestions. It has 384 pages.
Of these 384 pages of opportunity to actually document in writing my mother’s extraordinary family history and any of the stories and adventures my mother experienced in Germany in the 1920’s 30’s and 40’s, here is how many pages of the book were actually used:
One. Just a single one. And this one page story is in my own handwriting, not my mother’s.
It wasn’t like I didn’t try. I did try. Often. I remember sitting at Mama’s kitchen table writing this solitary story as she told it to me between bites of her breakfast pastry and instant coffee, maybe a dozen years after gifting her the book in the first place.
Mama often promised to write her stories, “when she had the time,” but only managed to put down on paper a couple of them. And other than write her name on page one of “The Story of a Lifetime,” she never opened the book again. One might think rather audio or video would have been suggested as alternatives to capture her stories and I tried that too. Yet, those options were similarly sidestepped. “I hate my accent,” She would say, and “I don’t like what I look like today. Maybe wait until I get my hair done.” Imagine a small eye roll and numerous exasperated sighs coming from me.
But, I insisted this one day that she give me a story while I wrote and she agreed. I opened the book and reread Mama’s story that I wrote with Dolores’ very strong presence over my right shoulder.
The question prompt: What memories do you have of your mother during your childhood?
“She was always sick. She coughed. It was a very big secret because she had TB. Her brother and her sister had already died of TB. Their names were ___________(She couldn’t remember). My mother’s name was Rosa. My father called her Rosita.
Her doctor’s name was Kodiczek. My father tried to get her to see another doctor because Dr. Kodiczek said, ‘She’s fine, she’s fine.’ She never coughed very badly. Only a little. She was in denial.
My father finally got her to go see another doctor. Dr. Hahn, my father’s friend. To have xrays made. The results were that one lung was completely diseased and the other lung had a hole in it. My mother was only 24 years old. My father went to Dr. Kodiczek and punched him in the nose.
Then my mother went to one clinic to another one sanitorium to another. When my mother kissed me my father yelled at her to stop, and not breathe on me. I was only four. She went to a place in Switzerland called Arosa.
This was the year 1932 and we did not have penicillin. She came home from the clinic because she wanted to die at home.”
I closed the book with a sigh. That’s when Dolores said, “Go get your computer, there is more to this story- and I will show you where to find it.”