Lore was my mother’s cousin. She lived in Germany, survived WWII and all the misery that preceded and followed that stain on humanity. In the aftermath, the family lost their home and many of their possessions, Lore cared for her devastated parents and severely injured brother, and witnessed the severing of her country into two angry parts: East and West. She was a force of life far greater than the events that conspired to bring the entire world to its knees.
Until I was about 25, Lore and the entire German side of the family were nothing more to me than strange names, onion-skin letters, and delectable holiday treats arriving in exotic tins and wrapped in endless cardboard and brown paper.
In 1978 my mother asked me to accompany her on her first visit to Germany since her family left in 1924. Lore was in her sixties when mother and I arrived like bedazzled orphans. Lore’s own mother was in her eighties. While Lore escorted mother and me on sightseeing excursions, her mother stayed home and joyfully prepared—in a kitchen not much larger than my bathroom—extravagant meals for gatherings of ten to twelve people. We talked until late into the night, catching up on 50 years worth of history, both the tragic and the triumphant. Well, I say we, but my grasp of the German language was so rudimentary that I understood only every tenth word. But I was enthralled to watch as my mother slid back into a language she had abandoned so many years earlier.
As each evening drew to a close, Lore would announce that it was time for “Punktion!” Lore’s Punktion was the exclamation point at the end of a sentence: chocolate—not a lot, but very good, dark, rich chocolate, perhaps only one square for each person—accompanied by a glass of red wine. This combination initially shocked me. But in short order, I came to appreciate how the creamy chocolate dissolves more eloquently when mixed with a sip of Cabernet.
After a round of Punktion, the rest of the family members bundled up and headed home. Lore offered her bed to my mother. Lore and I slept on the dining room floor. I remember collapsing onto my mat on the floor, exhausted by the strain of trying parse meaning from every tenth word, combined with a belly bloated from too much delicious food and endless glasses of wine, topped off by Punktion. I glanced at Lore, lying flat on her back, arms crossed over her chest like carefully staged corpse arms. We chatted amiably for a few minutes. Then she announced “Gute Nacht, meine Leibling (Good night, my dear.)” Her next breath was a soft kitten snore. It was about 1:30 in the morning. At 6 AM sharp, Lore rose from the floor like a Jack-in-the box released from its cage. “Guten Morgen, hast du gut geschlafen (Good morning, did you sleep well?)” And off she bounded to prepare coffee and breakfast, while I struggled to rub the sleep from my bleary eyes. We repeated this routine each night that we were guests in Lore’s home. Punktion, indeed!