Friday, July 22, 2011

Tante Inge

People randomly pop into my head at the weirdest times, usually when I’m in the shower. If you ever want to make someone feel completely uncomfortable, mention that you thought of them in the shower. What I really want to know, is what the hell is everyone doing while they’re showering? I’m washing and shaving if I feel like it. If I’m missing out on something good, somebody really needs to clue me in.

Yesterday, WHILE I WAS DRIVING TO WORK, I thought of a woman that I haven’t seen in well over 20 years and probably haven’t thought of in forever either. I don’t know why she popped into my head, but I was sitting at a stop light and suddenly there’s Tante Inge’s face. I saw her so clearly, it was like she was standing in front of my car.

Tante Inge was actually married to my maternal grandfather’s brother, so she’s really my great aunt, not my aunt. When we lived in Germany, there was some family battle, so I never met Tante Inge as a child. When I took my Vacation Extravaganza at the age of 16, I became acquainted with Tante Inge, my cousin Britta and her siblings and I felt gypped that I hadn’t known them my whole life.

At 16, I traveled to Germany with my aunt and uncle, who had never had their own kids. We stayed with my grandmother, who must have been in her early 80s by then. Do you see how this is going to take a bad turn? Yes, there I was surrounded with people that basically had no idea what to do with a 16 year old. The two weeks in Germany while my uncle was there were bearable because we had each other’s backs. My aunt made him diet and complained about his smoking. So we’d head off to the downtown area together. He would hit the bratwurst stand for lunch and a beer, we’d smoke cigarettes, and then he would take me out for ice cream at the Italian place with the hot waiters. You may be thinking that my uncle was a bad sort, drinking and letting me smoke, but times were different then, everyone smoked, especially in Europe. I’ll have to blog about my beloved uncle another time, but suffice it to say that I begged him to take me with him when he left. And I still had another month with Rich Auntie and my grandmother.

There is nothing wrong with Rich Auntie or my grandmother. They’re wonderful women, but they were anxious around me. I tried to be the perfect ‘child,’ and would hit the local Army base bookstore and would read all day long. However, my funny ideas about showering and washing my hair daily and wearing clothes only once before washing them baffled my grandmother and aunt-even though my aunt had been in the US for 30 years by then. I’m not sure why she was so surprised by my spoiled American attitude.

My cousin Britta tried to include me when she went out with her friends and we had some fun times. Things started to go badly when I met up with a group of young Army guys. There was nothing bad going on, but Army guys stationed overseas generally have a bad reputation. They aren’t allowed to drink at home, so they tend to go a little wild when they’re in a country that allows them to consume alcohol. It was only natural that I would want to hang out with my fellow countrymen, and they wanted to hang with me as well. It worked as a band aid against the homesickness.

My desire to hang out with these Army guys caused quite the scandal and had my aunt and grandmother calling my mother regularly. It really was quite ridiculous, but I think my brilliant aunt finally decided it was ok if I met up with the guys if I was with a group and they were in a group and we waved from opposite sides of the street. Despite that buffoonery, I ended up keeping in touch with one of the guys for a few years.

While my aunt was busy pitching her fits to my mother, I would escape to my cousin’s house and hang out with her and her mom. Tante Inge completely understood my need to shower and wash my hair regularly and may have even let me do laundry there. She also cooked and baked all the time. She made a dessert with kiwi and meringue that was delicious. I’ve never had it again and I’ve never seen a recipe that sounds like what she prepared.  She even bought these funny little bags that she would fill with water and make “Eiswurfel” (ice cubes) for my soda.

Tante Inge thought I was a crazy girl with my long purple fingernails, bouffed-out 80’s hair, incessant chatter and bad dance moves. She shook her head and laughed every time I was around.  I realized yesterday when I thought of her, that I never thanked her for giving me what I needed when I was so far from home: a mom.

Tante Inge died more than ten years ago and I hope that she knew how much her kindness meant to me. I find it so strange that she popped into my head like that yesterday. I immediately sent an email to my cousin Britta to let her know, and also to say to her what I should have said to her mother all those years ago… thank you for everything.

I hope I wasn’t such a brat at 16 that I left Germany without telling her I loved her. When I left Germany after that visit, it was the last time I would see many of these relatives. I wish I had known that then.  

Ice Princess

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