Continued from America, here we come!
And forever in the background of my mother’s memory lurks the image of Adolph, whom, much to her disdain, she was expected to address as “Uncle” Adolph. Herman’s friendship with Adolph Levi is documented in a formal studio photograph taken in 1903 with Adolph posed between brothers Herman, 21, and Willy, 18. Mother muttered that Adolph and her father had sworn a blood oath to each other. Was she serious? Isn’t that something ten-year-old boy scouts do when they run out of home-made explosives to play with? I struggle to imagine my stern grandfather swearing a blood oath to anyone. Why would he do that? What on earth could compel him to such an agreement? He treated family with the utmost responsibility. I would consider such an oath superfluous in the larger context of my grandfather’s character.
But it was “Uncle” Adolph who accompanied my grandmother and mother across the ocean in 1924. Why wasn’t Herman with them?
If Mother had doubts about leaving family, friends, and home, she kept them to herself. Instead, she capitalized on the adventure at hand. From her hospital bed 67 years later, in her stilted cadence, she recalled the excitement.
I loved the adventure. I explored all the nooks and crannies of the ship. I was on deck as much as possible. There were games I’d never played before. And a wonderful swimming pool which fascinated me. I asked the crew all sorts of questions. They responded kindly. Occasionally I’d get a special tour. Below deck, everyone was sick. It smelled bad down there. It was dark and nasty. I tried to get Mother to join me in games upstairs, but usually she just lay on her bunk feeling and looking green.
Mother paused, gathering the past—and her breath.
Thank God I had my cat. Poor Pussy. She was sentenced to her tiny cage. But I lugged it around with me. I wanted to show her the sights. Poor thing almost missed the boat.
Another pause. Her sentences were truncated and uncharacteristically flat, with long pauses between them, as if the simple task of talking zapped all her strength.
We were in Hamburg. Waiting for our departure. I opened her cage . . . to show her the fancy cars and the people all dressed to the nines. Pussy wasn’t impressed. The bedlam scared the bejeezus out of her.
Now that’s a bit more like the mother I know, I thought as my fingers raced across the keys to record her memories.
When she saw that door open, she dashed for freedom. She disappeared under the nearby trolley. There were some warehouses on the other side of the trolley. I pulled mother with me and ran over there. We started knocking on doors. Mother was beside herself. She chastised me for my stupidity. ‘WE WILL NOT MISS OUR BOAT for the sake of your cat!’ Finally, time was up. Mother insisted that we return to the dock. I begged her to try just one more door. There, unbelievably, we found poor Pussy huddled into a tiny ball in a dark corner of the attic.