In the wintery spring of 1945, World War II had ended but not the chaos and misery of its survivors. My mother received notice that her husband had been killed. She sought solace in the arms of the messenger, got pregnant, and remarried. The couple moved south looking for work. I was five years- old and left in the care of my maternal grandmother in the bombed-out city of Kassel.

These were the happiest times of my war-torn childhood. I never wanted to leave my grandmother’s side. Days were spent gathering twigs and branches for our wood-burning stove, source of warmth and light. We filled baskets with the white flower heads of chamomile, then dried them for brewing tea. We collected sugar beets in the fields, cooked and stirred them into syrup, a delicious treat over our watery oatmeal. But the evenings were the best. Warmed and protected by my grandmother’s ample body we snuggled as she spun stories of imaginary places and events.

Months later my mother called for me. My grandmother prepared me with allusions to a happy family life and as it turned out, I did thrive in my new environment. We arranged a meeting place where my stepfather waited in a horse-drawn wagon. The exchange was brief. I suddenly felt cramps in my stomach and barely had time to sling my arms around my beloved grandmother’s neck before I was hoisted onto the seat of the wagon.

That was the last time I saw my grandmother. She waved and then her hand covered her mouth as if to stifle a sob. She had to stay behind, war-weary and lonely, while I was ushered toward a fresh beginning. I still see her getting smaller and smaller, sinking into the shadow of the bright morning light.

Ute Carson


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