Eavesdropping: Gloom and Doom

I like eavesdropping, When I am on the train or out in a cafe I find it fascinating to catch a brief insight into someone else’s life. Once, on the tube in Berlin, I  overheard a man holding some wilting flowers on his lap, begging his girlfriend on the phone to let him back in. Apparantly she had  turned him away at the door, and he kept going on about how much he cared about her, pointing out over and over again that he even bought her flowers and that he  had done nothing wrong, had he, except not turning up on time for her birthday, and after all, she should know that he loves her anyway.

Looking at him, I hoped she had sense enough to kick him out for good. Even while being on the phone he was checking out every female in sight.

I found this small drama entertaining and even if I had wanted to it was impossible not to listen to his loud booming and half drunken voice.

But I remember other voices, the hushed voices of my relatives long gone. Back when I was maybe five, six years old and had just mastered reading.

My grandmother had two brothers, who still lived in the big farmhouse she grew up in. Her brother Heinrich and his wife Alma had remained childless, but her brother Willi and his wife Berta had a son, who with his young wife Emmi also live in the  house. Those two were still childless and my brother and I were the only children on my father’s side.

Every second Sunday my mother and us children were expected to accompany my  grandmother to visit them for coffee and cake.

At that time the rooms in farm houses were  small by today’s standards and the living room was dominated by a massive, dark oak cupboard. On top of it a big clock ticked away the seconds, chiming loudly every fifteen minutes. The sofa was standing at the wall and in front of it was a square oak table that could be pulled out to give place for  ten people. It was set with a white table cloth and the “good” china, a big creamy cake on its center. The windows were always closed.

While the grown-ups talked my brother and I were supposed to be quiet, only speaking when we were asked. My mom, usually the youngest at the table, was not supposed to say much either, she was there to look after my grandmother, who was in ill health.

Talk around the coffee table revolved around the weather, the neighbors and the gardens. I can’t remember ever hearing  any laughter. Even my Mom had a serious face on those Sundays.

After the cakes were devoured, us children were allowed to get up from the table, but we were supposed to stay in the room and sit still. My aunt did not like us to play in the garden, since we might  have destroyed some of her flowers.

So, while the grown-ups talked and my brother played with his toys I would usually sit in one of the plush chairs, browsing through magazines. They were of the kind that had sad stories like “Mother of five suffering from cancer is left by her husband”  or “Young woman lost both legs in an accident and is now suffering from MS” or “I gave all my money to my husband and now he has left with a young girl, leaving me in poverty”. At the same time I picked up some of  the grown-ups conversation. When my younger aunt Emmi wasn’t around they were often talking about her. I heard snippets like “she is trying again and can’t get up” or “she almost died with  the last one”. It was much later that I understood why pretty Emmi had always been so sad. She had lost six babies in later stages of her pregnancies. They blamed her for it.

My relatives spoke in hushed voices and I knew I wasn’t supposed to listen. Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t.  I overheard stories about the sicknesses of people I didn’t know, heard that the woman down the road was acting strange, found out that someone had been to hospital and was now dying.  The voices were serious, sentences accompanied by sighs and now and then there was heavy silence in which the clock ticked even louder.

The air in the room seemed to get heavier and after a while I began to feel apprehensive and uneasy. Often, at this point my mother would make an excuse and take us out for a walk. Breathing fresh, clean air and running through the woods the feeling of being suffocated would slowly fade.

Still, fear of sickness, a feeling of impending doom accompanied me through childhood and adolescent. Even now, almost 50 years later, I have a strong dislike of clocks ticking away, heavy curtains and dark furniture. Even today there is a lump in my throat when I think of these afternoons in the  old farmhouse and its unhappy occupants.


Written as a response to the weekly writing challenge: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/overheard/


When dreams come true

Daily Prompt: About Page of the Future

 Write the About page for your blog in 10 years.

Ten years ago I had resigned to the fact that life would simply continue to trickle away. Going to work, walking the dog, fixing dinner, tending the garden, getting older, looking forward to retirement.

Oh, but  life is full of surprises  and it is impossible to foresee the future. Not long after I started my first blog I came across a small announcement in the paper: “Looking for challenges? We are looking for test people willing to participate in a  psychological research program. For more information ring ….”

Always being interested in psychology I rung the number. The man on the phone told me in few words that a group of researchers from a well-known university were looking for test persons willing to meet one personal challenge  a week. I decided to join that experiment and  filled out an endless seeming questionnaire about my fears, hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes.

The experiments started easy enough. The first week I was asked to eat Leberwurst and drink camomile tea, both things I hate up to this day.  The second week I should take a midnight walk through the park and the third week I was to ask my boss for a pay raise, which I got. As the weekly challenges became more demanding, I started to change. I became more confronting and aggressive and less willing to put up with any kind of nonsense. As a result I earned even more money and when my boss retired I took over the company. The new job involved lot’s of travelling and I met interesting people and saw fantastic cities and landscapes. Finally I was leading the kind of life I had always dreamed of!

But was I enjoying it? Yes, I was. Did I miss being at home, in North Germany? No, I didn’t. Did I miss seeing my partner and my children? I did, but I came home at least once every three months. Did it hurt, when I found out my partner had a lover? Yes, but quite honestly, I didn’t think it was a serious threat to our relationship. Was I sorry I missed the baptism of my first grandchild? Yes, I was, a little bit, but I saw the videos and spoke to my son and daughter in law on the phone. I was busy, I was successful and I loved every minute of it.  The years were passing at an incredible speed and I thanked the psychologists for helping me finally lead the life I had always dreamt of.

During a conference in Monte Carlo I visited the casino and won almost 1. 000 000 Euros. Now I was rich on top of everything else. I decided to take a holiday and spend a my 65th birthday at home.

The house was dark when I arrived and nobody greeted me.  I was a bit irritated  that my partner was not there to greet me. He came home the next morning to tell  me that he didn’t want to be with me any more. He was going to marry Claudia, his new lover. I must admit, I was a bit shocked at that and surprised that my place should be taken by such  an inconspicuous woman who liked gardening.

Feeling a bit lonely in the now empty house I decided to visit my son in Köln and get to know my granddaughter. When my granddaughter saw me she started crying,  hiding away behind her mother. I was a stranger to her. Conversation with my son and his wife was awkward, there was a lot to catch up on, but somehow we couldn’t find any familiarity. I was shocked to see that he had lost most of his hair. Feeling sad and a bit lonely I left them earlier than I had meant to.

Next I visited my best friend, Lydia. She was happy enough to see me and I invited her to the best restaurant in town. I felt glad to be with a friend, but when I asked her whether we could meet again the next day she said no. She told me in clear words that though she still liked me she did not feel we were friends any more. I had not been there when she was sick and needed me. She had found new friends, who really cared about her.

That night I could hardly sleep and after getting up early I went to work and put in my resignation. Now somebody else is  traveling and running our international projects.

I am rich. I have seen the world. I know people all around the globus and enjoy being in touch with them. I still love travelling. There are many things I could write about.

However, life needs to be balanced, and as I need challenges and inspiration, I also need a place where I can be safe and secure, where I can love and be loved. Therefore this blog is about  family and friends, gardening and cooking, reading books and taking trips and building up a happy life. I am just beginning to learn how to be a friend and a grandmother and hopefully, sooner or later, a partner in a relationship.