Day 3 pt. II: Discovering A New Branch Of My Family Tree

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“You’ll finally see why Caroline has such a wide forehead; he has it too,” Dad would excitedly say. “He” being Dad’s cousin.

After a horrifying morning earlier that day, the rest of 03.12.2015 played out pretty magically. Mum prepared a few goodies to pass over to Dad’s cousin (Georg Schulz) and his lovely wife (Hildegard Schulz) – a loaf of Stollen (a traditional German ‘Christmas bread’) and a packet of chocolates which we’ve managed to grab hold of during our time at a Christmas market the day before.

Before too much of the morning was over, we dressed up nicely and got on our way to meet them. It would have been the first time in twenty years that my father has met them and the first time ever for Mum and I.

During the days leading up to this special trip, I had been struggling with how I should address Dad’s cousin. “Papa’s cousin,” I’d say. He isn’t my uncle because he isn’t Dad’s brother. He isn’t a cousin of mine either because we aren’t of the same generation. A little reading led me to realising that he is my cousin, once removed.

I quote, “The words “once removed” mean that there is a difference of one generation.  For example, your mother’s first cousin is your first cousin, once removed.  This is because your mother’s first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents.  This one-generation difference equals “once-removed.”

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It was 2 – 2.5 hours of driving from Berlin centre to Solzow, which is a part of Eastern Germany. East Germany, formally the German Democratic Republic or GDR (oder DDR auf Deutsch), was a state in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War period. From 1949 to 1990, it administered the region of Germany that was occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II—the Soviet Occupation Zone of the Potsdam Agreement. The East was often described as a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

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Throughout the drive, Dad shared with Mum and I how difficult communication was with the side of his family residing in East Germany during the period of the Eastern Bloc. Those in the East were treated badly – rationing wasn’t done fairly, work was tough and there was no way of climbing up any (figurative) ladder of sorts, i.e. no way to advance in life. Life was stagnant, monotonous and dreary.

<flashback> I’m eating a fiery pink dragonfruit as I type this out and it brings me back to 6 months ago when I shared Cold Storage-discounted dragonfruits with Niki and Miriam, sat atop a shower curtain-cum-picnic mat in one of the many pretty wooden huts around sunny Botanical Gardens. That was the last time I ate a dragonfruit before I moved to Munich. That was six months ago. </flashback>

Now we were getting closer and closer to the northern part of Germany too, where the North Sea is at and we knew this because flocks of sea gulls flew over the highway more and more frequently. At that point in time, it had been already quite a while since I last saw the ocean and seeing the seagulls reminded me of the trips I had to East Coast Park with my family as a young child,…

… when I fell off a bike. My Mum teared while I laughed because I didn’t see the severity of my wound… it left me a scar which I still have to this day.

Or when Dad and I stood at the edge of the pier and watched fishermen reeling up their hooks after a day of fishing. He’d explain to me that different fishes are attracted to different baits and advised me the best ways to tell if a fish was fresh or not.

Or when Canoe training at MacRitchie Reservoir was substituted with a cycle at ECP with Coach Kengwi and my team and I ended up spending close to an hour looking for coach.

I was a little amused by the situation and made a short video collage of that day. I titled it, “Where’s Coach?”

Oh my my but I digress. Point was that we were getting nearer and nearer to the ocean. We were quite close to Rostock, too, then. Rostock, where Annie came from. Annie, who studies Nutritional Science in Munich. Munich, where we fatefully met.

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As we drove closer and closer to my cousin, once removed, we spotted large greenhouses – nothing fancy, they resembled an enlarged Cervical Vertebrae with a plastic sheet draped over its entirety – and expansive irrigators which would go on from one to the other end of the fields. We also saw many distribution centres where Dad said people would get their rationed portions of fertilisers, seeds and such. None of these are operated today. None. They’re all just left to rust.

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 We arrived slightly later than expected, around 3.30pm, due to a couple of pit stops along the way – one of which involved food. That was my favourite pit stop (hahaha).

As we drove into their little driveway, I saw a mini stand propped up right at the entrance. There were two signs sticking out from behind it, which read, “Kartoffeln” (Potatoes) and “Radieschen” (Radishes). We learned later that evening that there was once a naughty boy who came by and ran away with the entire container of money that had been placed on the stand to collect the monetary worth of the sold items. After that incident, they screwed the container to the side of the aged, woody stand.

Two cats welcomed us. One rolled on her back, inviting a soft tickle on her tummy from Dad, before she rolled back up and joined her buddy by the front door, where they began purring. The door was old, one could tell by looking at it. Scratches etched their way along the bottom half of it and the edges were uneven and cracked. There were marks right beneath the doorknob from being so old and used so much. It was an ancient beauty.

We heard soft thuds approaching the door and seconds later the door swung open with a… “Ahhh haaaallooo!!! Ihr seid eeeeendlich aaaangekommen!” I giggled at the sound of her excited squeals and stretched vowels. She hugged Mum then Dad then me. She urged us all to come inside into the warmth, not that was any cold, it was a pretty warm winter day.

It was only later inside that we met Dad’s cousin.

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This very warm lady squeezed my shoulders and urged us all to take a seat around a pink satin-clothed rectangular table that had already been set with carved glass plates sitting atop festive reindeer napkins, encircling a spread of Christmas goodies. Everything was so simply and lovingly set up – from carefully sliced cakes, to neatly scooped jam, and to a strategically placed bread knife.

As we got about with feasting (during which I tried coffee for the first time in my life), there came to a point where sweet Hildegarde (Dad’s cousin’s wife) picked up the bread knife to slice the log cake in front of her. It seems she may have gotten lost in her train of thoughts as after picking up the knife, she went on with talking about what a wonderful visit it was instead of cutting the cake. With the talking came the hand gestures and many close shaves with her husband’s face! “Pass auf den Messer auf!” (Watch out for the knife!) exclaimed Dad’s cousin, after which the entire table erupted with laughter.

After fifteen minutes of catching up on twenty years of life, Margo disappeared into the next room, saying that she wanted to retrieve some photo albums.

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“Kannst Du sie finden?” (Can You find them?) Dad’s cousin asked.

“Ja, glaube ich. Ich habe meine Brille schon geputzt,” (Yes, I believe. I’ve already cleaned my glasses,) replied Margo.

Occasional chuckles, oohs and aahhhss could be heard coming from the room next door. And then she’d come scurrying out with a mountain of photo albums piled up in her hands with a big kind smile on her face.

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She’d lay everything out in front of us on the table and begin sorting out the pictures and explaining which ones matched the stories that were just shared.

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It was when she sat down analysing the pictures when I could really look at her. She had time-chiselled skin, fatigued, cerulean-green eyes and a river-silver shade in her hair. She looked oh so lovely.

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She pulled out this picture and said that the boy all the way to the left was her brother who has unfortunately already passed away, the girl in the middle was she and the girl on the far right was either her sister or her neighbour (pardon my memory, I can’t quite remember). The girls had a dog in their hands and were trying to pull him in opposite directions so he’d ‘grow’ and become a ‘longer dog’.

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This was a photo they took at their wedding. They were the two on the left. I couldn’t help but notice that despite the years that have gone by, nothing about the look in their eyes and the shape of their smiles have changed.

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This was Dad!!! He still has that naughty cheeky smile and the playful glint in his eyes. Dad has a heart of a young boy and I absoluuuuutely love that about him.

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This was a banana tree they saw during a trip to Turkey a few years back. I didn’t know bananas could be grown in Turkey!

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This was taken twenty years ago the last time they met.

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This was taken that day.

“It is impossible for me to remember how many days or weeks went by in this way. Time is round, and it rolls quickly.” – Nikos Kazantzakis, Saint Francis

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After a mere thirty minutes, the table had already been completely overwhelmed with decades and decades worth of memories and so Margo reacts by quietly shifting the milk carton to the floor to make space for more pictures. Mum and I saw that and shared a short laugh.

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Then came pictures of me. I’m not entirely sure how or when they got to Solzow, but I’m pretty sure the post had something to do with it and also that it was some time between the 26th of January 1996 and the 9th of July 1997 because my sister had not been given birth to yet.

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That was Mum and her great big beautiful smile!

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Dad said I loved movement as a toddler and so this rocking toy became my first love.

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Somehow, I preferred this over Facebook. I loved being able to touch and feel the pictures which were held up too in the past – by other people of other generations with other life stories. People I would have otherwise never ‘met’ or heard about.

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This was a calf which roamed into Dad’s cousin’s farm one day. What a beauty she was!

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Deer roamed freely, too, without the fear… without the knowledge that hunters were roaming around intending to hunt them for their beautiful antlers. Oh how times have unfortunately changed.

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“The last 33 years of my life have been a blur, like a hummingbird’s beating wings. Time flies, but not backwards, like a hummingbird can.” – Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

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The sun was setting quick, really quick. I didn’t like how time was slipping away from us. If I could, I would’ve wanted to stay there for so many soooo many more hours just reminiscing about a past I never knew existed.

“I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.” – Michel Foucault

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