During WWII a very young sick child, Alice, was unable to understand the upheaval and turmoil around her. As an adult she railed against God. "God where were you?" But this book isn't a story of despair, rather hope for those who are hurting.
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Words from a Garden
The Last Day at Home
“Death stared me in the face…I was frightened and sad…and He saved me” (Psalms 116: 3…6) The Living Bible. I didn’t know it then, but my life was about to drastically change to fit those verses. All I knew was that this day felt all wrong, right from the start. On most mornings when Nacia came into the bedroom to pick me up, she would play peekaboo with me for a while before dressing me. Nacia was my nanny, our live-in Polish maid. Like any three-year-old, I loved playing peekaboo, especially with Nacia. But today she just picked me up and got me dressed, barely talking to me at all. She seemed tense and preoccupied. She ushered me into the kitchen where Mutti was nursing my baby brother Dieterich and continued out through the foyer to the attached animal barn to start her morning chores.
Mutti is the German word for mom. We were Germans, and though our family had been living in Poland for many generations, the language spoken in our home was German. Nacia, however, always spoke to me in Polish. I liked her almost better than my own Mutti. I would have felt very lonesome without her since Mutti always seemed to be preoccupied with my baby brother and other household concerns.
Today, Mutti was even more preoccupied than usual. There was something strange going on. I could feel it in the air. Excitement? Fear? I could not identify it. It made me feel jumpy, like there was a windup toy bouncing in my tummy.
Mutti didn’t let me play outside anymore. Ever since we had heard the big guns all the way from the town of Wola, she kept me close to her. The Second World War was ravaging the European continent and Germany was losing. I didn’t know what all of that meant, but I would soon find out.
After breakfast, Mutti went back into the bedroom, got a suitcase from on top of the wardrobe, and set it on the kitchen table. All the doors between the rooms were left open, which was strange since they were usually kept closed. I could see the asparagus fern on the white wicker table under the living room window from where I stood in the kitchen, and if I looked in the other direction, I could look clear through the foyer and see the door to the animal barn on the other side.
“What are you doing, Mutti?” I asked.
“I’m packing,” she answered.
“Why are you packing?” I scampered up onto the wooden bench that stood behind the kitchen table to see what she was putting in the suitcase.
“I’m packing because we are leaving.” She sounded angry. I wondered why.
“Why are we leaving?” I asked as I started to reach into the suitcase for something.
“Don’t touch that,” she snapped. “Quit plaguing me with your questions. I have a lot to do.”
Just then Dieterich started to cry and demanded her attention again. Since Mutti was too busy for me and I wanted to know everything that was going on, I got down from the bench and went out to the foyer to see what Nacia was doing. I held onto the door frame with both hands as I stepped down the one step into the foyer.
This was one large room, connecting the house to the animal barn. It was used for many of the dirty jobs that need doing on a farmstead. I saw that Nacia was baking bread. Our huge masonry baking oven that stood in one corner of the foyer was fired up this morning and was warming the whole house. I saw six loaves of bread rising on a long flour-covered board that was sitting on top of the wash tubs near the oven. The boards on top of the wash tubs served as a table or counter during the times when no washing was being done. Papa had built the baking oven, just as he had built everything else on our farmstead. He had even made the adobe-like bricks that were used in its construction, out of clay found on our property.
Nacia had earlier built a fire directly in the oven where the bread would later be placed. As soon as the brick had absorbed all the heat it could and the fire had gone down, Nacia scraped the coals out of the interior and swept it clean with a goose wing duster. After that, she took that long board on which the bread had been rising, stuck it into the oven, and slid the loaves off the board right onto the adobe surface of the oven. Since the oven had no real door, she set a piece of sheet metal in front of it, and then went out to the barn to get some fresh, dripping cow pies. They were used like modeling clay and were smeared all over the surface of the sheet metal and around the cracks, sealing the bread completely into the oven. By the time the oven had cooled and the cow pies had dried into tinder, the bread would be done. I liked to watch the process of sealing the oven, although I could not picture myself ever doing it.
I looked up at the window and saw the row of face mugs smiling down at me from the windowsill as the low winter sun was shining through the glass. I liked the red one best. That dwarf had such a cheery, smiley face with squinty eyes, white hair, and whiskers. I thought he liked me. I winked back at him. I was wishing Mutti would let me play with him.
After Nacia had finished sealing the bread into the oven, she started sweeping the cement floor of the foyer. She then reached into a barrel of white sand which was standing near the door, took a handful, and started to sprinkle it onto the floor in little heaps. When she was all done, it looked like a gray cake with streusel topping. That’s how it was done on farms in Poland at that time.
I heard the animals shuffling around on the other side of the barn door. I imagined that they felt like they had windup toys in their bellies too. I heard our cow moo. Papa was in there. He was leading our horse Schimmel out into the yard. I heard the clip clop of his shoes on the floor. Our horse was named Schimmel because he was dusty gray. That is close to the word schummer which means twilight. In English, he would have been named Twilight.
I went back into the kitchen. Mutti was just finishing doing something with Dieterich. He was fussier than usual too. She put him down and walked to the door of the house. Just as she was opening the door, I tried to sneak past her and run out into the yard to Papa.
“I want to go to my Papa,” I said. Papa was standing in the middle of the yard near our stone flour mill, shoeing Schimmel.
Mutti grabbed me and pulled me back before I could get even two steps away. “Are you almost done?” she yelled to him.
“Almost,” he yelled back. “I’m just finishing up. As soon as I have the wagon out and the horse hitched up, I’ll come and get you.”
Mutti closed the door and led me back into the kitchen where she continued packing. Clothes for me, clothes for herself and Dieterich, official identification papers, family photos, and some pretty things of sentimental value to her, all went into the suitcase. She packed her hand made wedding dress that was made of fine cotton batiste with hand crocheted lace insets and pin tucks on the bodice.
Finally, Nacia came in with the six loaves of fresh-baked whole grain bread, made from the grain that Papa had ground into flour out on our stone mill. The bread went into a large bag. A big can full of fried out bacon fat, some sugar, a hundred pound bag of flour, and a few other food goods were also put on the table to go with us on our journey.
Papa came in very soon after that. “Everything is ready,” he said. “Let’s get going.”
“Help me with the bedding,” Mutti said.
Papa helped Mutti stuff some goose down quilts and pillows into another large bag which had been sewn just for that purpose, then carried them out to the wagon.
Mutti put outdoor clothing on me and Dieterich. Then she put on her own coat and scarf, closed the suitcase, and picked Dieterich up to carry him out to the wagon. I followed along.
“Where are we going?” I asked as I clung onto Mutti’s coattail following her out of the house. I felt scared because the adults were not acting normally. They were too busy for me. Nobody was telling me anything. I blinked away some tears. “Where are we going?” I repeated the question anxiously.
“We are going to Grandma and Grandpa Teske’s house,” Mutti answered.
But this felt different from the other times we visited Grandma and Grandpa Teske. This time it felt all wrong. The bouncing windup toy feeling in my tummy told me so.
Papa went back inside to get the suitcase and our food stuff.
Nacia came out with a big black and green plaid wool blanket and several heated bricks. She had heated them during the bread baking. Mutti set Dieterich into the wagon, then me. Then she also climbed in. Nacia handed her the blanket and a brick. I was set down on the floor of the wagon box near Mutti’s feet, and the blanket was wrapped around me with the heated brick under my feet. Mutti sat up on the seat and held Dieterich close to herself wrapping another blanket around the both of them. She also had a heated brick at her feet. Nacia just stood there. She was sniffling like she had been crying. Maybe that’s why she didn’t talk to me much this morning. Maybe that’s why she had turned her back to me when I came out to the foyer. She didn’t want me to see her tears.
Papa came out with our suitcase and food bags. He put them into the back of the wagon next to the....
Excerp from Chapter 5 The SS
There was a loud banging on the front door of the Schiller house. Heavy boots were kicking at the door. Mrs. Schiller went to the window to peek out to see who it might be. Her face was white with fear when she turned around. “Quick! Hide! Disappear!” she hissed to her family.
“Pretend we are not here,” she told Mutti. “You don’t know who we are! You are the mistress of the house now! Go and answer the door in a few seconds!” She gave Mutti the key, then she also disappeared. I didn’t know where they all hid so fast. There was another louder banging at the door.
“Open up. This is the SS.” (The SS was the paramilitary branch of the Gestapo.)
“Open up, or we’ll break the door down!”
I was standing next to Mutti. She wagged her finger at me and told me in a stern voice, “Don’t you dare open your mouth, not even one word! Do you understand me?” I nodded wordlessly as a deep frown was forming on my face. What did I do wrong now? Why was Mutti angry? Or was she frightened? Why did Schillers hide?
She held my hand very tightly and walked with me to the front door.
“Just a minute,” she said as she fumbled with the key.
“Hurry up,” the voice from outside demanded.
Finally with shaking hands, she opened the door. There at the door stood two uniformed officers. I noticed their big black boots first, because they were eye level to me. They went up almost to their knees. My eyes went up from their boots to their belt buckles which were in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings. The bird was sitting on a small circle that had the swastika emblem on it. Also, I noticed the leather cartridge pouches on either side of the buckle. As my eyes moved further up, I saw their hands, or rather what they had in their hands. One of them was pointing a revolver at my mother’s face........