Inge’s Folly

Mother

This story is being slightly edited years after I originally posted it. My family in Germany have pretty much decided that I am the devil reborn for having written this, they don’t understand (probably because of cultural differences) that what I’ve written here was intended to honor my mother and speak of the hard life she lived, instead they decided that I was airing the dirty laundry of the dead. I loved my mother more than they can ever know and I think about (and dream about) her often. I would never thinking about defaming her with lies, I just feel like I don’t want her to simply disappear because after I am dead and my German family are dead there will be nothing other than tombstones or cremation urns but my mother’s story will be here, forever, unless WordPress or the Internet go away. Otherwise, Mom I love you and I just want people to know how hard you had it, and to my German relatives… You can all go to HELL!

Many years ago my father purchased a boat and boy did my mother hate that boat. She thought that it was a huge waste of money but my father had received an inheritance (a very small one about $20,000) and told my mother that the one and only thing he wanted was a boat. It really didn’t cost that much (if I remember correctly) only around $5,000 but in the early 80’s and considering my father and mother’s income as compared to others at that time this was a huge deal. My father named the boat “The Joker” (I thought that was a stupid name and didn’t fit his personality at all). I remember suggesting “Inge’s Folly” after my mother but he hated that idea and so the boat became the Joker. Years later when I think back on how little my father actually used the thing, it was truly a waste of money. Its sat in our drive more than it was ever put in the water.

My mother didn’t have the best of times from what I remember, I remember her smiling at times but also believe she was depressed and in turn I think my father was depressed as well. I often think that they caused each other to be depressed, neither of them having what they thought they would have in life. I believe they loved each other but the circumstances in which they lived affected their happiness.

My mother was born in Germany in 1932 and died in the USA in 2007.  She married my father in 1962 in Germany and she came with him to America where she lived the rest of her life. My father died a few years prior to my mother’s death and she spent most of her last few years alone with the exception of the all too infrequent visit from one of her children. She had three sons before marrying my father and she had these children during a particularly hard time in her life. I don’t know whether my mother was working when she had these children but she used to tell me about two jobs she had prior to meeting my father, one in a shoe factory and the other as a barmaid. She told me she met my father as the barmaid but I’m not sure if these jobs were at different times in her life or at the same time. My mother was not financially able to support all three children so she decided to give up the youngest for adoption to an American couple. She didn’t tell me about this child until I was nearly a teen and it hurts to think that somewhere out there is a sibling that I will never meet and unless his family told him might not even know that he his birth mother had been living in the U.S. My mother told me it was one of the hardest decisions she ever made. It makes me think of Sophie’s Choice only instead of sentencing the child that she picked to death hopefully the child she was giving up would live a full and wonderful life.

My mother didn’t remember much about what happened after this American couple took her child, she said that she was in a fog during this time, it was all so surreal. I don’t know if my brothers (the two my mother kept) remember much about the child’s departure. My mother did say that the man (or father) was a military officer and she believed that he was a Major. They took the child (Dieter was his given name) and left $20 on the kitchen table for my mother to buy her remaining children some food. At the time my mother believed that the adoption was on the up and up because she did go through a official at an adoption agency but later determined that he had not handled it legitimately and probably profited from it, in fact years later in the late 70’s she heard the adoption agent had hung himself and she would swear it was because he had somehow been found to be selling babies illegally, I’m just not sure this isn’t skewed coming from the memories of a distraught mother who wanted some justification she was a victim and not a culprit in giving up her child.

She told me that the people of her town would call her names and spit on the ground before her for giving up this child and she would insist the only reason she did it was so she could afford to feed the first two as well as give Dieter a good life. I do not harbor any ill thoughts towards my mother’s actions because she was doing what she thought was right at the time, I would have done the same, however as the years passed she started regretting what she had done and would talk more and more about giving up the baby and in fact asked me to use the Internet at one point to try to find the child (or adult man as he would have been by now). She had received a letter in the mail shortly after the adoption containing a couple of pictures of the baby and while there was no return address there was a name on the envelope of McMillan, McMahon or McArthur she wasn’t sure anymore. I ended up calling a lot of Mc’somethings asking them if they had adopted a son but it was an impossible request that never really went anywhere and my mother died never seeing Dieter again.

My mother met my father at work as barmaid. The story she told me was that it was payday and my father had given his extra cash to a buddy to ensure that he would not spend his entire salary but apparently had done a good job of spending what ever amount he had kept because he went broke while partying with his friend. My mother told me she was wearing a tight blouse that revealed her cleavage and my father put her tip between her breasts. She said she jokingly told him he could put more there and when he attempted to find some cash in his pockets he discovered he had none, he had spent everything getting drunk that night. He told his buddy to give him his money and his buddy refused however my father threatened him physically and the man gave up the cash some of which my father did insert into my mothers waiting bosom. I think recounting this story of how my mother and father met upset my German relatives along with the story of giving up the baby. But my mother fell in love with my father, and I don’t blame her nor he for falling in love with her, in their youth they were both lookers, extremely attractive.)

Eventually my parents married they along with my mother’s two remaining sons came to America to live. She told me that she was so disappointed when she arrived in America not quite believing that the streets were lined with gold as had been rumored in Germany but expecting much more wealth. As they drove from the airport to the location of their new military housing my mother turned to my father and with disappointment said “This is America? It’s no different from Germany.” My memory of Germany is very limited to a period at some point when my parents were stationed there while my father was still in active duty. I was born in a military hospital in Germany and we lived there until moving to United States around 1972. I don’t know much about Germany and today as an adult regret my lack of knowledge (see Losing My Identity) but I do have some vague recollections. Most of what I know came from the stories my mother would tell, or the German music she would play, old LP’s (Records for those born in the 1980’s, before CD’s were invented) or the occasional visit from German relatives. Oh how I used to look forward to my family from Germany visiting. It was so much fun getting to know them but we always felt like they were better than we were, my mother was not a good housekeeper and she made us all clean up when the German’s were planning to come visit.)

My mother used to try to tell me stories about growing up in Germany and during the war. I remember a few or her tales and not in any particular order. She told me that she could remember the air raids when the Americans would drop the bombs. She said everyone would run to the woods during the raids and while they were hoping they or their town would not be hit the children would run trough the darkness trying to catch fireflies. She remembered her family being moved away by the government and forced to live with another family for a short period of time. She told me that her Grandfather believed in democracy and was totally against Hitler and the war. She would tell me that she remembered the Jewish people being forced from their homes and stores. She had so many fascinating things to tell me but I really didn’t have time nor had any interest in sitting and listening to these tales. I so regret not taking the time now. God dammit! I miss my mother!

As far back as I can remember my mother loved to gamble. My mother told me one of the first places they (we) went to as a family was Las Vegas where my mother hit it big on a slot machine. She said it wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough to pay for the family’s entire stay in Vegas. Growing up she would always play the lottery and would constantly utter “When I win the lottery I’m going to do (this or that)…” I think she truly believed that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when”…she never did. During the 70’s my father was mostly unemployed which greatly reduced my mother’s ability to gamble.  It also reduced our ability to have a lot of food in the house too. Things had gotten so bad that while my father wasn’t working his car had broken down and he and I would pedal to the grocery store on bikes. One day in particular my mother said to me “I have one dollar and I don’t know if I should get a lottery ticket or a pack of hot dogs”. She sent me to the store for the hot dogs. That night she cried when her lottery number came out. She would have won around $500. My mother’s lowest point was when she would start going to the pool hall and would sit at the poker machine desperately trying to win something. Paying customers on their winning was illegal at the time (I think it still is actually) but the management would payoff those customers they trusted and unfortunately my mother was one of these trusted customers. My mother would write checks for more gambling money… sometimes she had the money to cover the checks and sometimes she didn’t. Often she would send me up to the pool hall after my father was paid to satisfy her debt when one of her checks were returned for insufficient funds. I hated that pool hall. My mother wasted so much money there.

Whether it was my mother’s gambling or my father’s lack of income (he was a smart man but always got jobs well beneath his ability… like pumping gas) there were times when our stomachs growled but we weren’t starving. Every month my father’s army retirement check would come in and we would go to the Commissary on base and buy enough food to get us through the month…it was always that last week before the check would come when things became really scarce in the kitchen. I hated that last week, looking through the cabinets and refrigerator for something to eat but usually there wasn’t anything there. When the week would  arrive when the retirement check came – Woo Hoo… Mom would buy some really good stuff and make some fantastic dinners. I loved her fried chicken and her goulash. Everyone loves their mother’s cooking but I have to say my mother was truly the best cook ever! However, I didn’t care for it much when she would cook German food, not because she couldn’t cook it well, I’m just a bad German and despite my regret of my lack of knowledge of the country, culture, and language I was too Americanized to truly enjoy the cuisine (if you can call potatoes and cabbage cuisine).

Often between my father’s retirement check and his working pumping gas, during his many months of unemployment my mother would work to supplement my family’s income by cleaning military quarters or housing. My father didn’t go the route of most of the retired guys in our neighborhood who mostly found jobs working as civilians on the military base, despite all his years of training which included a huge knowledge of engineering (after he died I found certificates and letters of commendation from the military and even pictures of him teaching engineering classes) he seemed to prefer laboring at low paying jobs such as pumping gas or as a maintenance man. Not that there is anything wrong with these types of jobs its just that my father was way too overqualified for these and my family could have lived much better than we were living, he was a lazy man and would often say “Why take on all that extra responsibility?” He preferred to lay on the sofa and do his crossword puzzles.

My mother was very sad during this time.  As I said when I started this posting I believe my parents were both depressed and my mother’s depression was reflected in her gambling and her extremely poor house cleaning.  My mother was the opposite of what one envisions of the stereotypical German and contrary to my Aunts and every German woman my mother associated with her house was pretty much (this is going to sound cruel) a “pigsty”. Among all the other issues we had to deal with growing up my mother was a bit of a hoarder too, not as bad as you see in some of these people on TV but it was very difficult for her to throw anything away and it was for this reason we had a couple of “junk rooms” in our house. My younger brother and I shared a room for many years so my mother could store decades of outdated clothes, magazines, books and broken furniture. When I was very young I used to have a “secret spot” in one of these rooms where I used the junk furniture and garbage bags full of clothes to construct a bit of a fort where I could lie and read and listen to the radio and just have private time. It was my sanctuary from the world.

My mother was never physically well and always had back and leg problems which really limited her in a lot of activities even more so the older she became, and of course this did affect her housekeeping abilities. She did bowl for a while and really loved the sport but that was about as physical as she got and eventually even this got to be too much for her. My mother’s physical ablitiies (or lack of) and her depression combined affected so much of her life. I was a bit of the black sheep of my mother’s children despite her reminding me on several occasions that I was her “love child” meaning that after meeting my father she wanted so badly to have a child with him and that child happened to be me. She loved all her sons but I was the only one she planned for however growing up I turned out to be her biggest disappointment, especially when she discovered that I was (am) gay. (See Am I Gay!).

One summer when I was about 14 years old I stayed with my Aunt (Tante in German) and her family. Tante was the extreme opposite of my mother in regards to cleanliness and her house was immaculate. Unlike my mother, she used her resources on hand to help clean, these resources were her children. She was very smart in this regard because as I remember correctly her children would make their beds and clean their bathrooms and even cook dinner at times. My mother would never require us to help her with anything and to this day I can’t understand why, sometimes I think my mother felt threatened when we helped as if we were saying “You can’t do this good enough on your own”.  When I returned from Georgia and visiting my Aunt’s family I was determined that I was going to be as responsible as Tante’s children acted and help out my mother as much as possible, I was going to show her how much I had changed and I was looking forward to going from black sheep to superstar.

I cleaned, washed dished, did laundry, vacuumed the carpet, just everything I could to help but instead of understanding what I was trying to do my mother either though I was mocking her ability to maintain the house or saw the sudden change in her son as a direct reflection of how my Aunt was doing better when it came to keeping her home and taking care of her family. Her response, despite my having not yet come out to her I guess her suspicions of my being gay and her anger compounded in her screaming at me “What are you trying to do, be more of a woman than you already are!”. I will never forget that statement, to this day it stings. It was like being bullied by my own mother, something that in the past had been limited to kids at school and from the neighborhood, now my mother in my own house might as well as have called me a “Fag”. I stopped cleaning and never tried to help her again, as long as I lived there, I was done with helping her. It wasn’t until later in her life after I moved out that I would help her again, but that’s another story. I have to say that later in life and in regards to my being gay my mother became one of my biggest advocates and supporters. Her opinion of gays in the beginning was a reflection of the times but when she realized that her own son was gay she learned to not only accept it but to embrace it.

In reality Inge’s Folly was not the boat that started this posting rather it was every aspect my mother’s life… when I look back now I see so many ways things could have been different but my mother was a formidable character, stubborn, and frustrating and she made things harder than they had to be, but so did my father. Regardless of her flaws I love and loved her and miss her so very much… despite what might seem like a negative portrayal in this synopsis, this was only a portion of her life and she was truly a good woman that deserved so much more.

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5 Responses to Inge’s Folly

  1. wie kann man so Respektlos über Tote Personen reden, die sich nicht mehr wehren können.
    Ich würde mich schämen, noch dazu Sachen zu schreiben die nicht der Wahrheit entsprechen.

    • I don’t know whether it was in the translation but as can be seen from the response by my cousin she believes that I have disrespected the dead (my parents) when I spoke about their lives and their difficulties. Let me make it clear that this posting was in respect of my mother and father and the difficult times they lived through. I have so much more to say but what galls me the most is that my German family listens to the rhetoric of my German born brother while he moans and cries that he was cheated out of an inheritance and bad mouths the two sons my mother depended on the most during the last part of her life while he did nothing for her but bring a token carry out meal once it a while which she generally reimbursed him for. I think it is more disrespectful to forget about my parent’s hardships and pretend like everything was hunky-dory and happy for them… it wasn’t. I knew my parents better than my German cousins and quite possibly better than any of my siblings. I spent more time with her and did more for her than her German son with whom you side. So be ashamed, hate me if you like… I just don’t care… What I care about is that I honor and remember my mother for who she was and not the fantasy that some distant German relative (or Georgian relative for that matter) might have of her…

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