Saturday, January 31, 2009
Tante Nana lived a quiet life in a town in Northern Germany. It's a beautiful town, small and charming, with a university there. She had an older sister who died a few years ago, and they occupied two very large, nice homes, sharing a huge backyard between them, on the canals in that city. Those canals led to the North Sea. The two sisters kept a sailboat on a lake nearby their city and took it out together until they were both in their early eighties!
Tante Nana was married once, to a distant cousin, and had two children, a girl and a boy. The thing about her life that intrigued me enough to write about it here is that she was so SOLID. She was born and lived her whole life within one city block. The large house on the canal was the house she was born into. When she married, she made the 'big move' into the huge house on the main street in town..... just around the corner from the canal house. There, she raised her two children and lost her husband at a very early age. She continued living there, downstairs in this very old home with her two children, while her husband's brother lived upstairs with his wife and two daughters. It was that family upstairs who welcomed Mr. Z into their home when his mother died. He had lost his father when he was 2 years old, so this family meant a lot to him. When his aunt died two years after his mother, Tante Nana became the female figurehead of the whole family and was always loved and respected for all she did. By the time I met her, twenty year ago, she'd moved back into the house she'd been born in and left the house on the main street to her son's family.
We once went to Germany and surprised her at a birthday party the family held for her. It might have been her eightieth. She couldn't stop saying Mr. Z's name because she was so pleased to see him! It felt so right to be there for her and it felt so good that she'd been so pleased with our surprise! The year before that, we had spent half our honeymoon in Hamburg and visited Tante Nana, in her town not too far away, on one of those nights. She had a fabulous little wedding party for us with about ten relatives and amazing food! Even Los Angeles hadn't yet caught on to serving delicious individual hors d'oeurvres off the end of large silver soup spoons but Tante Nana's caterer in that small town had! Elaborately garnished bite-sized delicacies on silver platters were served and we had a terrific time. When we went to pay the bill the next morning at our hotel, after one of those delicious German inn breakfasts of sliced meats, soft boiled eggs, warm breads, sweet butter and jams, we were told it had been taken care of. Tante Nana's generosity knew no bounds.
Tante Nana was always interested in hearing what we were all doing and I got to thinking today about what she did. She started traveling when she was older, mostly to spas throughout Germany, but I wondered what she did all those earlier years of her long life. I guess she did what women did in those days; she shopped and cooked and kept a home. She helped her children with their school work, she was there for whatever extended family needed, she arranged birthday celebrations, she lived a quiet life in which the days passed without much excitement but, I hope, much fulfillment. Mr. Z remembers that every single Sunday's lunch was roast veal, boiled potatoes and peas. Every single Sunday, the same lunch, served around Tante Nana's dining table for the 2 families who occupied that big house.
A favorite memory from Mr. Z's time with those families was the weekends on their motorboat, Puck. Uncle Erich, Tante Nana and her children and her sister, Uncle Erich's 2 daughters, and Mr. Z, and a guest now and again, would spend Saturday night on the boat! Tante Nana would have packed nudel (pasta!) salads, cold sausages and breads, beer, and water for the kids. In the harbor in Bremerhaven, they'd see big ships, like a ship called The United States, the second largest passenger ship after the QE II at that time. Uncle Erich would always make sure they'd moor next to a big tugboat, with people on them he knew, and Mr. Z and he'd play cards with the captains late into the night.
Tante Nana took her position as matriarch of the family seriously and handled it with grace and dignity. Her solidity, that way she took life seriously, but with a smile on her face, and was always there for family, is why I loved her and why I wanted to write this today, two days after her passing. She's one of the last people, I guess, in the Western world, to have lived in one city block all her life, a phenomenon not rare at all until the last fifty years, I'd guess. With so much moving and so many more divorces and so much changing of jobs, living one's whole life in one block doesn't happen much anymore! People move on, they leave. She didn't. Who knows, maybe she always wanted to! But, this was the life she knew, this was the life that passed by quietly, and a life that leaves many people behind who'll never forget her and all she was and all she did.
Tante Nana was blessed with a long and healthy life. She'd have been 98 this coming November, and hadn't really had a sick day all her life, but she'd developed dimentia about five years ago and had been put in an old age home....about 1 block from that one city block in which she'd spent her whole giving, loving, respectable and solid life.
Mr. Z is grateful for her always being there for him and for her affection. Tante Nana's son went to University in Munich with Mr. Z and, Mr. Z tells me now that, as absurd as it sounds for 2 guys to send laundry home by post, they did! And, every time he'd open his little suitcase with the newly returned, cleaned and folded clothes, there was a delicious dry sausage in there from Tante Nana, too! These are the things people remember, these are the things that make life good. THIS is the kind of thing that filled her days. She had a good life.
We'll miss you, Tante Nana...it feels nice and fitting, and even important, to share you and your life with our friends here.
z (the photos are of the boat, the PUCK, the house Mr. Z moved into after his mother died, and the street that was right across the street from his high school)