I am the daughter of German immigrants. Whenever my parents were asked what part of Germany they were from, my father answered, Bavaria; my mother, Schlesien. (The English word for Schlesien is Silesia, as Bavaria is the English word for the German Bayern.) Bavaria was recognized by most people; no one knew what Schlesien was. My mother simply explained that after World War II, it became part of Poland, and she could never return home again.
All my life I had the same experience when people asked me where my parents were from—no one had ever heard of Schlesien.
Until about ten years ago. A woman who worked in the office of the school where I taught told me her father was from Schlesien. I was the first person she’d ever met who had heard of it. We experienced an immediate kinship, like twins separated at birth who had finally been reunited.
My mother’s life before I knew her seems like a fairy tale to me. She was born in 1920 in Namslau, near Breslau (present day Wroclaw). She had a brother and a sister. Her mother was a homemaker; her father was a train engineer. She was proud of him; his social status was comparable to a 1960’s airline pilot.
The family’s surname was Stodolka, but my grandfather felt it didn’t sound German enough, so he legally changed it to Stold.
At one point in Mom’s childhood, her mother experienced a severe illness and could not take care of the kids, so they went to stay with their maternal grandparents for a few months on their farm. Some of their cousins were there, too, and they were all expected to help with the chores. One day the older cousins were tasked with splitting firewood. They told Mom’s brother, Joachim, to hold a log upright. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes. They swung the ax and cut off Joachim’s thumb.
Joachim picked up his thumb and went crying to Oma (Grandma). As he put pressure on his wound, Oma boiled an egg, picked off the shell, and carefully peeled the membrane surrounding the egg. She then lined up Joachim’s thumb with the stump, wrapped it with the egg membrane, wound spider web around it, and securely bandaged it. The thumb healed so well that in his teens, Joachim became a masterful violinist and pianist and earned a scholarship to a conservatory of music. I swear, this is what my mother told me. But when I repeat the story to other people, they tell me I’m nuts.
During my mother’s youth, Roma wagon caravans regularly stopped in her neighborhood. One of the Roma women told my grandmother that my mother had “second sight” (clairvoyance). My grandmother didn’t believe it, but my mother did. (I don’t.)
It’s fun to remember old family stories. I’ve posted some other more recent family stories too.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a quirky family story? I dare you to share it in the comments below.