Much about my mother is not known to me. She came from a small village wasted by the first war. Struggling to make ends meet, but never espousing the grovelling demeanour that afflicts the destitute, she met Franz, then a construction worker, and promptly married him.
I was apparently born in a small flat Franz had managed to rent in a township that was, but not quite, a part of Basel. Time seemed to have stopped, waiting for me to grow from a suckling infant into a disillusioned and weary woman. Everything is as it always was, as I remember it always being. And remained so even as my father died.
My mother took it in her stride, as she did everything in her life – her lost childhood, her loveless marriage, her untimely bereavement. When is it ever timely anyway? And perhaps, not entirely loveless. Franz did care for her. I think he knew, but didn’t mind, that she belonged to a memory and not to him. I, of course, did not know until I was almost seventeen, and he had passed away. The first tears appeared on my mother’s eyelashes, and I imagined I felt her pain in my own way, until I saw her go into our attic that night, pull out a small box hidden behind a lot of trunks and look at a trinket. A nothing, really, just an old button, tarnished by age, and looking ridiculous in the face of my mother’s tears escaping one by one as I watched, hidden by an old table. Then, an envelope… Perhaps sensing the awful melodrama, my mother replaced it, closed and secreted the box away and whispered, simply, “Ah, Manfred, how the time flies!”
I buried my mother two days ago. I had decided to sell the house, and was sorting through my mother’s things. I finally saw the button-box.
With only a hint of guilt, I pulled the box to me and opened it. Old newspapers relating to the war was not what I had expected. Disappointed, I looked for the button I knew was there. An envelope fell out, unleashing a warning cloud of dust. I reached for it, my fingers trembling with need and terror. The echoing melodrama suddenly made me smile, not seeing and then really seeing it. A letter, holding my mother beloved, in a foreign hand.
The next few days passed in a haze of dissociated, half-formed thoughts. I was due soon to return to Paris, where I had made a life for myself. My past existed only in my mind, where Anna Albrecht whispered her secret from beyond the grave. Or was it Anna von Richthofen? The birth record failed to mention it, but the date could not be ignored. August. 1918. Me.
Note: A whimsical perspective on a flying ace, wouldn’t you say?