Arrival in Abilene
A new life in Mangum
Margarethe and Arthur – a love of 52 years
David and the new beginning
A novel about love, pain,
forgiveness and perseverance.
About life and its disappointments,
and about new beginnings.
This book is dedicated to my daughters Delia, Margarethe, Elisabeth and Sarah.
Thank you for making me the woman I am today. I would not have survived emotionally without your unconditional love you showed me by not keeping count of the many mistakes I made. While trying to be a good mother, I was lacking a good example to follow. Thank you for your forgiveness. To forgive also carries a responsibility to help a remorseful heart heal and forgive itself, which in my case is an ongoing process. Watching you grow up to be the women you are - some of you mothers yourselves now - has given my life purpose and me the feeling of having accomplished something of value, something much greater than myself. Life taught me not to measure my happiness by disappointments over unfulfilled expectations, but by the wonder of love that flows beyond my expectations, for love does not always come from those we look to for love.
To my brother Andreas.
Without you, the story of my life and therefore this book, would not have this happy ending. You are the only one who has ever asked for the desire of my heart and truly cared and acted upon the answer. Thank you for your hard work to make my greatest wish, of returning home, come true.
You are the true manifestation of love (1 Cor.13:4). You are patient, kind, without envy, without boastfulness. You are humble, you give me honor, you are not prideful, you don’t anger easily, you keep no record of wrong, you are full of truth and honesty. Because of you, I am a better person today. Thank you for completing me!
The weather was typical for a summer day in Stuttgart Germany on June 26th, 1977. The air was mild and clean from a light morning shower and the temperature was slowly climbing. To sixteen-year-old Laura, it was the most wonderful day of her life because she, her mother Hildegard and her step-father Kurt were on their way to the airport. Laura was so nervous from excitement and anticipation that it still felt like she was living a dream. She had counted the hours to this day for several weeks. It was the day she would travel to America, to visit her Aunt Barbara, Kurt’s sister.
A few months ago, Aunt Barbara came to visit her family in Stuttgart for the first time since her emigration to Abilene Texas some eighteen years ago. Laura was fifteen at the time when she met Aunt Barbara for the first time, who immediately opened her heart to the lovable but quiet teenager. Laura was so interested and intrigued by her stories about America and hardly left Barbara’s side while she shared story after story about her life in Texas. Barbara did although notice that her sisterin-law Hildegard kept somehow finding all sorts of random and unimportant tasks for the teenager to do, as if she resented the kind connection that was developing between Barbara and the girl. The aunt was drawn to the tall girl with light brown thick hair who was dressed very modestly and rather old fashioned, not like most teenagers of the mid-seventies. Her deep blue eyes that reflected a mysterious sadness, made Barbara wonder what kind of hurt was buried in the depth of those eyes. Before the end of her visit, Barbara appealed to her brother and sister-in-law to allow Laura to come to visit her and her husband Wayne the following year. After discussing all the details, they agreed on Laura's departure to take place a month after her high school graduation.
It all began on November 29, 1974.
Laura had just returned to her class room from recess break. The 8th grade students of Realschule Heumaden were scrambling to their seats before their mathematics teacher Mr. Kautter arrived. Instead of Mr. Kautter, the Principal entered the room and called Laura to the office. Everyone froze and total silence filled the room. What did their classmate do, to be called to the Principal’s office? This certainly was not good news. He instructed Laura to bring her school bag, as she wondered about the reason for his appearance. Arriving in the office, she almost couldn’t breathe because of a weird feeling that something was awfully wrong. With wrinkles on his forehead and a very serious look, he proceeded to tell Laura to go home for a family emergency. Immediately, she remembered the loud, almost animal-like moaning, she that had awoken her in the early morning hours. She knew it had to be her Papa, but soon she drifted back to sleep. When she got up to get ready for school, her mother told her about the severe headaches her Papa had suffered from during the night and that he had stayed home from work on this day. She could not remember him staying home any other day before and thought to herself that the headaches must have been very severe. Somehow, she knew now that it had something to do with this emergency the Principal spoke of. She waited at the subway station for the U-5 train to take her back home to Heumaden, where she had been living with her parents, her brother Phillip and sister Becky for the past four years. It was raining the whole way home.
The subway ride and walk to the apartment house seemed to be never ending. What could be wrong with Papa? As she reached the third floor of their apartment house, she pushed the doorbell. Holding her school bag in one hand and her umbrella in the other, she could barely breathe until the door opened and her Oma appeared. Why was Oma here? And not only that, why did Oma have a devastated and pain stricken look on her pale face and swollen, red eyes? Before she could ask anything, her grandmother proclaimed “Your Papa died.”
The words reached her as if muffled through a wall of fog. In disbelief over what she had just heard, Laura screamed to her grandmother “What?”
Again, her grandmother said “Your Papa died.”
Feeling as if she would faint from the impact of those words, Laura dropped her bag and umbrella and fell to her knees with a blood curdling scream. Somehow, she couldn’t wake up from this nightmare she seemed to have ended up in and hoped, the screaming would wake her up, rip her away, back into her intact and whole world. Then her mother and grandfather entered the hallway, both with pain written all over their faces and swollen, red eyes, much like Oma. An ominous, eerie feeling overcame the 13-year-old, as she entered the hallway of the apartment and Oma took her into her arms and again broke into tears. Her mother and grandfather had gone into the next room in their grief, unable to comfort the girl, who repeatedly screamed “No… Why…? No Papa... Don't leave me!”
Finally, Laura's grandmother told the girl in the most painful words, that Eugen, her only son and Laura's Papa had quietly transitioned from exhaustion to sleep, to unconsciousness and finally to death, without the awareness of his wife, who thought he had simply fallen asleep. Her mother encouraged the girl to go the bedroom, where her father still lay in his bed. Slowly, while her young heart was breaking, the girl kneeled by his bed and took his lifeless hand. His face had an expression of peace. His skin was still warm as she held his beloved hand that had so tenderly touched her all her life.
The family was told by their family physician who came shortly after that the young man of forty-five years had suffered a massive stroke and apparently died sometime after falling into unconsciousness. At least he did not suffer, it was said.
At this moment, her whole world fell apart. The sun turned gray. He was the one who truly loved her, unlike her mother, who had always shown a preference for her brother. Ever since she could remember, Laura longed for the same affection her brother received and couldn’t understand why her mother didn't love her the same.
While being raised by her father’s parents, she knew the reason why she remained at her grandparents’ home until the age of ten. It was that the one-bedroom apartment her parents lived in, was too small, especially when her younger brother was born three and a half years later. She only saw her brother once a week on Friday, when she and her grandparents came to visit for coffee. Oma always made home baked cheesecake. Laura was therefore very excited, when her parents found a three-bedroom apartment and she joined the rest of her family. Not long after she came to live with them, it became evident how different the mother’s feelings were for the eldest daughter compared to her brother and Laura quietly suffered from to the lack of affection. She desperately tried to please her mother, only wanting to be loved the same. Occasionally, her mother became jealous when the girl's father showed affection to his eldest, as they shared a deep emotional closeness. This jealousy often caused fights between the parents. Laura then felt her mother’s revenge after such incidences. Once her parents fought over her and her father stormed away, not knowing that her mother was following closely behind him. He slammed the door, she reached out to catch it and her hand was caught in the door, breaking her middle finger. Laura felt so horrible and directly responsible. She tried to do everything for her mother out of remorse, but she found cruel ways to make the girl feel guilty for causing this fight. She subtly punished Laura for receiving her father’s affection. One year later, her sister Becky was born. She seemed to be her mother's lovechild and now Laura noticed even more difference in the way she was being treated.
Laura remembered many times when she sat in her room, doing her homework. While correcting Laura's work, her mother seemed so impatient and frustrated when Laura would make mistakes in math, or had spelling and grammar errors in her short stories. Laura's thick, long ponytail was her mother's favorite handle to grab, so she could jerk Laura's head and pull her off her chair onto the floor. While Laura was in tears, still trying to answer the question correctly, she was being dragged across the floor by her ponytail. Her mother would end up with strands of hair in her hand and Laura's many hair clips repeatedly ended up being broken. She was required to rewrite her essays over and over, before they were deemed good enough. Math wasn't then and never would become her friend. Laura tried everything to please her mother, especially because she very much liked writing. Maybe it was exactly this cold and heartless treatment that made her put her heart into writing and become an author later in life.
Eugen who knew his eldest daughter well, sometimes seemed to sense the sadness in her heart and occasionally inquired whether everything was fine between Laura and her mother. Feeling the resentment coming from her mother, she denied any problems between them, in fear he would confront her and cause her to retaliate against her daughter even more. She could never let him know about the abuse she was suffering! She just always knew her mother did not love her.
Now the one, the only one, in whom she found comfort in, was gone. Her world crumbled into pieces as she mourned the death of her Papa and felt all alone in this family to which she didn't feel she belonged at all.
Laura was in her room on this Saturday morning in spring of 1975, a few months after the death of her beloved Papa. Life at home had become sad and empty. Laura often wished this nightmare would somehow end and she would simply wake up in her intact world from before. Instead, every day she awoke to the painful realization of the great emptiness his death left behind. Her 10-year-old brother Philipp and 3-year-old sister Becky seemed too young to fully understand the grave change that took place in their lives and somehow just adapted. In Laura’s heart, however, was a huge emptiness. Her Oma and Opa seemed to have lost their purpose for living since the death of their only child. Their eyes too had lost the glow they once had.
Suddenly, the door opened and her mother entered the room. With an awkward attempt of an unusual, friendly smile, she handed her a typewritten letter. “I need you to read this. Take your time and think it over; then come talk to me.”
Confused by the apparent importance of this letter, the girl took it from the mother’s hand. As her mother left the room the girl slowly opened the letter and read the typewritten lines.
it is difficult to tell you this because your father and I had planned to wait until your 18th birthday to do it. Because of his passing, I was urged by the child welfare department to tell you that I am not your birth mother. I couldn’t find the courage to tell you this in person, so therefore this letter. Your father was married before he married me. Your parents separated when you were one year old and the both of you moved in with your grandparents. He successfully fought for and gained custody over you when they divorced and you were four years old then. Your father and I married the same year when your brother was born, in 1964. Therefore, you probably don’t remember your birth mother, who had no contact with you from that time on. As you know, your grandparents resisted until you were ten years old, to finally allow you to move here with us. This was only a result of constant urging by your father, who wanted his family to be intact. Your grandparents, father, and I, felt it best not to disclose this truth until now. Since I never officially adopted you, I am now obligated to allow your birth mother to contact you for the first time in ten years. You will also be allowed to decide about whether you choose to remain with your brother and sister and I, or move to your mother and her new family. Your mother is married and has a son Michael, who is six years old. You don’t need to decide right away.
The lines seemed to grow faint and out of focus, as the girl tried to comprehend the news that had just been revealed to her. Two emotions presented themselves simultaneously: Betrayal and relief. Betrayal, because everyone allowed her to believe this woman was her mother. She had suffered all these years because she couldn’t understand why this woman didn’t love her. Relief, to finally have an explanation for why she didn’t love her and possibly couldn’t love her the same: she wasn’t her own flesh and blood. Suddenly, she felt the heavy weight falling off her shoulders, which had kept her constantly trying to gain love and acceptance from a woman who never truly opened her heart to her. Now she knew at least that it wasn’t her fault that the stepmother didn’t love her.
Now a burning question took over her initial thoughts: Who then is this mother of whom she had no memories? Eagerly, she went back into her childhood from which she only had fond memories involving her grandparents. She went through the list of relatives, placing them all in the known categories. Suddenly, she ended up in a scene: She was preschool age, walking near the grandparents' home in the south part of Stuttgart. Walking hand in hand with her grandmother on the side walk, she suddenly saw two young women going the opposite direction across the street. The girl excitedly recognized them both as Aunt Gerda and Aunt Hildegard. She immediately tried to run to them, when Aunt Hildegard held out her arms and called her name. Quickly, the hand grip of her grandmother tightened around her wrist as she held her back while speeding up her gait and pulling her harshly along, saying “No you are not going there.”
In passing, she acknowledged the disappointment and protest of both her aunts, as they resigned and kept on walking.
Was this blond Aunt Hildegard her mother? She obviously favored her in hair color and facial features more than her black-haired Aunt Gerda. After sorting out her thoughts, feelings and memories for a few moments, she decided to go to Ingrid and find more answers. As she came face to face with her step-mother, the first question she asked was “Is Aunt Hildegard my mother? She is the only one I can’t remember seeing in many years.”
Ingrid answered “Yes she is. You do remember her?”
Laura shared the brief and only memory of her mother. As Ingrid had mentioned in the letter, Department of Child Welfare Social Workers recommended a meeting between the girl and her mother. Laura was very anxious and nervous as she waited for the day when she would meet her.
Hildegard, her husband Kurt and their son Michael came for an awkward visit. Awkward, because Ingrid didn’t exactly show her best hostess side, as there were obvious signs of past resentment between the two women. Even Laura didn’t know what to make of the overly dramatic behavior of her mother, who seemed to want to make it known how much she had suffered all the years from not being allowed any contact with her child. And partly because of this, it occurred to the girl that surely, this real mother must love her - unlike her step-mother. She started considering getting to know this new family better, starving only for one thing: to be loved.
Ingrid agreed to allow Laura to spend the summer holidays with Hildegard, Kurt and her brother Michael. Her new family was kind and she felt as if they enjoyed her as their new family member as well. When it was time to return to her other family, they spoke of the possibility of spending all her school vacations with them and maybe come to live with them for good after finishing high school. Excited to break the news to her stepmother, she called her on the phone. Before Laura could offer her suggestions, Ingrid sharply interrupted “I know what you are going to say. You want to stay there. That’s alright. I don’t want you anymore now. You can stay there. You can come and get your things next weekend, I will have everything packed.”
Laura was shocked. She certainly didn’t expect this and didn’t know what to say. “No, that’s not why I am calling” she uttered.
Again, she was being interrupted by her step-mother repeating what she just said. Not knowing what to say, she handed the phone to Hildegard, who was standing nearby witnessing the conversation. The conversation ended abruptly with Ingrid giving instructions on when they were to pick up the girl’s things. She gave no option to negotiate.
They made the drive to Ingrid’s apartment where they were given Laura's belongings in large trash bags at the entrance of the apartment building. She was not allowed to go upstairs to say goodbye to her brother and sister. “Everything is there,” they were told.
Speechless, they carried the bags to the car and went home. Thus began her new life with her new family. She soon began to understand why her grandparents were so adamant about breaking the contact between Laura and her mother after her parents divorced. While at first, she was overly nice, her main intention seemed to be trying to convince her own family of her worthiness as a mother.
After a few months, she slowly changed into a critical and unloving parent, incapable of giving the love Laura had so yearned for. It appeared as though she made the girl suffer for all the injustice she felt life had dealt her, especially in her failed marriage with the girl’s father, who had been granted custody of their daughter. The more she saw the likeness of her father in the girl, the more stories she told of horrible things he had apparently done to her during their marriage. Laura felt that her mother was slowly trying to ruin her father's memory. More and more, she began to criticize and belittle her daughter. She strictly limited her curfew and freedom as a teenager, gave her excessive responsibilities much like an in-home housekeeper. Hildegard never seemed to acknowledge the girl’s constant effort to please her, nor offered her any praise. Laura was often accused of lying and generally was being mistrusted, without ever being given opportunities to prove her trustworthiness. Frequently, she managed to stand in the way of relationships with Laura and other relatives who showed the girl affection, as if she was jealous of the girl’s ability to capture the heart of others. Desperately, Laura sought her mother’s affirmation without prevail. Much like with her step-mother, the kindness and love that was given to her brother was being denied the girl.
Soon, the girl’s spirit was broken and the sadness, which her Aunt Barbara would later notice, settled in her blue eyes. The love of a mother, she so desperately searched for, remained absent. After about a year of living with her new family, Hildegard became very ill. She suffered from a kidney infection which caused extremely high fevers and weakened her so much that she had to remain in bed for more than a week. Laura cared for her so tenderly. She bathed her, fed her, dressed her, gave her medications and maintained the household with the same high standards as her mother did. In addition, she also helped caring for her brother. Kurt was thankful when he saw the compassion with which the young girl took her mother's place at home. On Friday, as was the weekly custom of her mother, Laura even baked a cake, so that the family would not miss their usual routine. Kurt seemed very pleased with his stepdaughter and the girl savored feeling his appreciation.
While Hildegard was confined to her bed, seven-year-old Michael showed no concern for his mother. Although knowing that she was ill, he never inquired about her, nor went to see her in her sick bed. Frequently, in the delirium of her fever, Hildegard asked for Michael and cried out how much she missed seeing her little boy. She called for him to come to her, but he showed no interest. Instead, it was Laura who was constantly at her bed and met her every need. Her mother paid no attention to the girl.
When Hildegard was well and able to leave her bedroom again, she immediately went to find Michael to love on him. Repeatedly, she proclaimed how much she had missed him. As if it had caused her great pain, she kept asking why he didn’t come to visit her during her illness. He offered no explanation, just as would be expected from a seven-year-old boy. Her mother never made any mention about the cake Laura had so lovingly prepared, nor mentioned anything about the loving care she had received from her daughter. Again, Laura waited hopelessly for affirmation which never came. Though her heart was broken at the time, perhaps a seed was sown which would someday grow into a heart of a caregiver, a loving nurse, who would spend her whole life caring for the sick. Her profession would give her recognition and her patient's gratitude, unlike her own mother.
After her Aunt Barbara returned to the States, her parents agreed to allow Laura to visit her and her husband in Texas. The girl was numb with joy. She would be able to get away from the emotional cruelty of her mother. She entered her last semester of high school full of excitement about the upcoming trip. As she finished high school, her report card was very pleasing and reflected mostly B’s and only a few C’s. Her greatest pride was the “B” she received in Biology. This had been one of her most difficult classes. Proudly, she brought her report card to her mother on the last day. “Look, Mama, my report card. And I even got a “B” in Biology!”
Surely her mother would be quite pleased! The young girl’s heart crumbled as she heard the mother’s cold reply. “Really? Are you sure you didn’t cheat to get that grade?”
Crushed and with the feeling of total defeat, she turned around with tears in her eyes and went to her room. She was just never quite good enough for her mother.
Hildegard had signed up for temporary work at the local community pool, as it was preparing to open soon. She would be part of a group of women cleaning the indoor pool after completion of its construction. Although the girl technically was too young to be gainfully employed, Hildegard made her daughter go with her to work every day, because she never would trust her to be at home alone. Laura worked every bit as hard and long as her mother, although she did not receive any pay, not even a share from her mother’s.
One day, they met a young electrician named Markus, who installed electrical lines in the building. Hildegard was immediately fond of the young man and so was Laura. Each day they both came, they chatted with him. Laura liked the honest, kind personality and sincere blue eyes of the twenty-one-year-old man. When their work was done and the pool was scheduled to open, Markus asked the girl’s mother, if he could take her out for an ice cream or something alike one day. Because Hildegard had developed trust in the young man, she agreed and they exchanged telephone numbers.
Very soon after, Markus called and scheduled a date with Laura. She was excited. Her mother had not allowed her to go out with any of her friends before, much less boys outside of school. She was very surprised by her mother’s generosity for Markus. The pair went to a pizza parlor at nearby Schwieberdingen, where Markus still lived with his parents. They were immediately fond of the young girl and treated her very kindly. Every weekend the two spent together, she blossomed in the company of him, his friends and his parents. Very soon, she only lived for the weekends, so she could meet Markus and be away from her cold, unloving home, where she didn't feel like a welcomed member of the family. Every time her parents left without her, all the doors in the apartment would be locked. To Laura, this only confirmed how untrustworthy she was perceived to be.
Markus and Laura had dated for over a year and Markus had long fallen in love with her. He gave her a silver promise ring and wore a matching one. Laura only wore it when they were together, to hide it from her mother, who surely would have taken it from her. Laura had a strict curfew. Even at sixteen and being a senior in high school, she was to be at home at 10 PM on Saturdays and 7 PM on Sundays. Occasionally, when Markus took her to dances or other events, Laura called to ask her mother if she could stay a little longer. Sometimes her mother gave permission. One Sunday, she promptly denied her request and instead she ordered her to be home immediately. When she arrived at home, her mother welcomed her with yelling and screaming “How dare you ask for more time! Haven’t you been gone long enough this weekend? What have you been doing that you need more time? Haven't you had enough? Aren’t you ashamed, loitering around who knows where?”
She pushed her around, grabbing her by the shirt and shoved her into her room. “What have you and Markus been doing anyways? Are you still clean?”
Laura didn’t understand what her mother meant by this. What sort of clean did she mean?
“Are you still clean and untouched?” her mother went on.
Laura was appalled. Apparently, her mother referred to her virginity. She had been much too afraid to experiment sexually! It was the furthest thing from her mind and had not been part of her and Markus’ relationship. Besides, she had not been loitering around, but merely spending time with other decent young people, who were their friends. Maybe, her mother thought of her as dishonorable, a daughter she was ashamed of? “Yes, of course I am still clean!&