I don’t often like to talk about my caretaking responsibilities for Ken, but a person told me yesterday I should write about these things because there are so many people out there who find themselves in the same position.
Most of the time I go from day to day without thinking about all the things I need to do for him that I didn’t have to do a year ago. I find this fact hard to swallow because I realize he will continue to fail until I can’t be the person who cares for him any longer.
Death of a loved one is difficult to accept in any situation, but I think watching the degenerative progression of someone you love is worse. It’s like I lose him a bit each day. Because of this one fact, the disease has changed the dynamic in our marriage. I have to coach him to remember things. Sometimes I have to coach him on how to move his body in order to sit straight, or to get up after a fall.
Ken always loved doing little things for me–like buying a corsage for me the first time he heard me sing a solo. Like buying me a dress I loved but didn’t need and running around with it in the trunk of his car until he could give it to me on my birthday. He bothered to know me well enough to ALWAYS give me something that was just right. Whether it be a hug, a smile, or a little remembrance. I miss his thoughtfulness. I miss my husband.
I know as time goes on everyone will experience caretaking on some level–either as the recipient or the one giving the care. Not being independent enough to do simple things like cutting your own meat at dinner, or putting on your own shoes everyday is humiliating. Falling and having to call 911 for help to get up is frustrating, but necessary. I can’t imagine how he truly feels because he never complains.
If Ken were a different person, I don’t think I could do all that is required. But he is the sweetest most loving man I’ve ever met. I loved him when we married almost twenty years ago, and through the years that love has grown exponentially. It’s that love that keeps me steady. I’m no hero. I’m no saint. I just love the man I married. That’s enough.
Here’s the next installment to APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – Book 2
Paris, France — June 1939—Emma traveled from Germany to Paris several times since she graduated from secondary school. She loved the city with its beautiful walkways and parks, museums, and art galleries. She loved to linger in the outdoor cafes while enjoying a conversation with a Parisian. She spoke fluent French and even acquired a Parisian accent. Emma loved Paris because French people worked to live instead of living to work like typical Germans. Life in the city of lights went on at an easy pace. The French found joy in simple things like good wine, beautifully presented food, fresh-baked baguettes and croissants. Every meal turned out to be a special event, even if the meal only consisted of bread and cheese.
When Uncle Klaus requested Emma to accompany Marta to Paris for the summer, she looked forward to spending time with her favorite cousin. Emma recognized Marta possessed the same spark she held for art, history, and culture. Emma looked forward to witnessing Marta’s first impressions of the beautiful city. Expressing a love for culture proved to be something a German woman never spoke about, especially now with the Nazis in power. Women in their eyes could do only one thing–to serve their husbands, even when they showed great intelligence and achieved high grades in school. In France, Emma escaped the ugly whispers of others because she didn’t marry. Rumors circled Emma preferred women to men.
Emma booked a room in a small hotel in Montparnasse, the highest point in Paris. The hotel didn’t offer luxury, but the immaculate rooms provided safety for women traveling without men. The rickety elevator chugged and snorted on the way up as Marta rode with her heavy trunk to the fifth floor. The clanks and clunks of the elevator unnerved Marta so she rode with her eyes shut.
When Emma opened the door to their home for the summer, Marta’s mouth dropped. The sitting room was painted a soft peach with stencils of spring bouquets dancing on the walls. In the adjoining bedroom was the same shade of peach and white lace duvets covered the two beds. A small table with a stained-glass lamp shade sat between the beds. A desk painted blue sat in front of a large window with lace curtains.
Emma stayed at this hotel on another trip, and she requested this room because she wanted to relive the tranquility of looking out over the city every evening, even though much of the scene included views of roofs and chimneys.
Hunger set in for both Emma and Marta after the long train trip, so they agreed to unpack after lunch. Once again they road the rickety gilded birdcage elevator down to the lobby. They traveled through the revolving glass door to step onto the sidewalk. “Do you sense the pulse, Marta?” Emma asked.
“The pulse. The soul of the city. The easiness of this place.”
“Give me time, my dear cousin. My eyes are overwhelmed with so many beautiful sights.” Marta laughed.
Emma smiled at the exuberance of her cousin. “This way. We will go to my favorite sidewalk cafe where we will enjoy a light lunch.” Emma grabbed Marta’s hand and pointed her to a group of colorful table umbrellas in the next city block.
As they strolled down the streets filled with flowers and bright colors, Marta thought up until now she lived her life in black and white. Here life and rich color cried out from every shop window. People dressed in bright summer clothing and wore warm smiles as they strolled down the avenue. The city kept Marta’s eyes stimulated. Her ears listened to the musical French language and let it wash over her like sweet honey. The words gracefully flowed into one another unlike the guttural nature of her German tongue.
As they neared the cafe, a handsome young artist sat at the corner painting a nearby landscape. Above a young woman feed her little pet canary in a second floor window, while the bird entertained the neighborhood with its lovely song. If Marta didn’t experience the colorful sights herself, she would believe she lived in a child’s fairy tale.
Marta said. “Will the whole summer be like this?”
“Of course. We will enjoy everyday! This is only the beginning, my sweet cousin.”
Marta nodded. “How will I ever return to Germany after living in Paris? I think I am destined to live here forever.”
Emma laughed at her cousin because she remembered feeling the exact same way on her first trip to the city.
They sat down on padded floral seat on metal chairs under a bright umbrella. The waiter came as soon as they got situated. “And what do you ladies desire today?”
Emma looked at him and said, “We’ll both have baguettes and brie.”
“Very good mademoiselle.”
After the waiter disappeared into the building, Marta spoke. “Where shall we go first?”
Emma studied Marta’s delicate fawn-like face. “Tonight I thought we would take a taxi into the heart of the city and view the Eiffel Tower lighted against the dark sky.”
“That sounds lovely. And tomorrow?”
“Each day will unfold, darling. We will not plan and rush. But if you would be more comfortable with a strict itinerary, we can sit down and plan one for the days ahead.” Emma teased.
Marta giggled, “Stop. Please do not make me feel like a child.”
Emma laughed. “I am sorry, Cheri, but I want you to learn the whole world does not want to be German, even though the Nazis seem to prefer everyone to be the same. People are quite different in every country. Here you can fill your soul with culture and astonishing beauty, Marta. No place is like Paris.”
Emma placed her hand over her cousin’s fine-bonded fingers. “The summer will whisk by, Marta because good times always seem to disappear faster than the day to day activities. But we will cherish each day like it is our last together.”
They lingered in silence and sipped strong coffee as the sun dipped toward down to the horizon and the sky changed into rich shades of pink, blue, and purple. Both girls stayed silent knowing the summer would be magical.
Berlin, Germany – June 1939 — Heidi Schiller stayed home over the summer helping her mother with the younger children and never-ending housework. She loved her mother and enjoyed their time together, but Heidi grew bored and restless.
“Heidi, you cannot stay home forever.” Mrs. Schiller told her. “With no serious suitors, you must make a life for yourself.”
“You should sit for the entrance exam for the university and become a teacher. You are such a smart girl.”
“Mother, I really do not want to teach. I want to be a dancer.”
“Dancing-all the time, dancing!” Her mother threw up her arms. “Yes, you are a beautiful dancer, but the world does not need a dancer in these times.”
Heidi hung her head to hide her tears. “I think the world would be better with more music and dancing.”
Her mother raised Heidi’s chin and met her eyes. “I sang like a canary at your age, but am I starring in operas?”
“No Mutter.” Heidi’s eyes dropped to her feet.
“Life presents many disappointments, my dear girl. As German women we are limited to a few choices, especially when someone does not want to marry after finishing secondary school.”
Heidi protested. “Mutter, the only boys who come around are brainwashed by the Youth Movement. I do not think like them, and I would never marry anyone who is so rigid.”
“I understand.” Her mother nodded.
Marta continued. “The Nazis closed my church and now the school. They smashed shopkeeper’s windows and beat defenseless men in the streets. How can Vater belong to such a violent group? I do not want to live here any longer, Mutter, but I am trapped.”
“Heidi,” Her mother said in a low voice. “You must be careful what you say. The wrong person might be listening.”
Heidi confessed in a whisper. “You are right. I forgot myself. But do you think neighbors should turn on neighbors?”
Her mother put her hand on her daughter’s hand. “Liebling, do not despair. We will find an answer for you.” Her mother handed her an ad for a nanny position in Poland. “What do you think about this?”
“A nanny?” Heidi said with surprise. “I never considered such a position.”
“My cousin who lives in Warsaw, and she wrote many wealthy people are looking for good nannies.” Her mother continued. “As much as I want you to be near me, Liebling, I too want you to live away from Germany right now.”
Heidi looked at her mother with bright eyes. “This is a good plan, Mutter. Vater asked me about my future plans yesterday. I cannot image him approving of me leaving Germany?”
“You leave your Vater to me.” Her mother said. “By the time I am done with him, he will be convinced he thought to send you to Poland.”