Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Oma's Story-Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop

My Oma (that is German for Grandma) played a huge role in my life.  My first memories are of her and her dog, Heidi, who was a German Shepherd/Husky mix.  I loved that dog.

My Oma was born in 1920 in Germany.  She was the oldest of 9 children, and was responsible for most of her siblings' care.  When she was 17, right before the beginning of WWII, she left Germany for the United States.  She was the only one of her family to come.  She and a friend traveled together.

Once in the States, my Oma settled in New York.  She lived in Queens and worked as a babysitter/nanny.  My Oma married an Austrian butcher, who died of cancer 2 years before I was born.  I hate to say it, but I do not even know his first name.  She had my father in 1944, and my uncle 5 years later.

The family eventually moved to Wallkill, NY.  I remember going to my Oma's house here from the time I was a little girl.  I loved it there.  Her yard was full of flowers, fruit trees, and currant bushes.  In her windows were African violets and aloe plants, protected by green plastic, which she said made them grow better and gave part of her living room a green glow.

Whenever we visited, there was always great food waiting for us.  Goulash with mashed potatoes, liverwurst sandwiches, linzer cookies, fruit tarts, and apple strudel in abundance.  One of my biggest regrets is not learning how to make her strudel before she died.  I tried it a couple times and could never get a hang of stretching the dough thin enough without ripping it, so I gave up.  Since she knew the recipe by heart, I have no written record of it.  Her chocolate chip cookies were amazing also.  They were shaped like Hershey Kisses and were super crunchy  Although I do have this recipe, they never taste the way hers did.  She always put so much love in her food.

Oma also had a house in the Catskills.  Every summer, my dad, my sister, and I went to the cabin all summer long.  It is still one of  my favorite places to be.  Oma took us to the flea market every weekend.  We went to Church on Sudays and stopped at the grocery store on the way home for Entemann's Crumb Donuts.

I remember when Jurassic Park came out.  I begged my Oma to take me to see it at the giant multiplex near her house.  She had no idea what it was about, and agreed.  I was 9 years old.  It is one of my favorite movies ever, and I still watch it whenever it is on TV.  When we saw the T-Rex for the first time, my Oma peed her pants.  Thinking about it still makes me laugh.

When I was in middle school, my Oma had a heart attack and needed triple-bypass surgery.  Once she was released from the hospital, she stayed with us for a few months.   The surgery never even slowed her down.  She used to joke that "they cut me open like a chicken."

My Oma was always feisty and a spitfire, no matter how old she got.  Even when her body was slowing down, her mind was as sharp as ever. 

She always had her German sayings for everything.  They usually made me laugh.  As a child, I was fluent in German, although I have pretty much lost my understanding of it (well, when I hear it and people speak slowly, I can usually understand, but I can't read it or write it at all).  My favorite saying was "mit gegangen, mit gefangen, mit gehangen" (this may be spelled wrong).  A rough translation is "you go with them, you get caught with them, you hang with them." 

She and I went out to California together to visit my uncle.   The airport was a disaster.  My uncle bought the tickets, and we had so much trouble getting them because he was not there with us (and this was pre-9/11).  They eventually called him to straighten it out, even though it was only 4am where he was.  Then a man who was rushing to catch his flight ran into my Oma and knocked her down.  I was furious, but thankfully she was okay.  Then she got searched by security and gave the man such a hard time for making her take off her shoes (again, this was before these things happened regularly at the airport).  Once we finally got to California, though, it was a great trip.

She was so happy when T was born.  I wanted him to know and love his great-grandmother like I did.  However, it was not to be.  I got a call at work that she was being airlifted to a trauma center.  She had gone to the church rectory to get a mass card for her friend (the one she came to the States with) who recently died.  On her way out, she supposedly fell and hit her head on the stone steps.  No one knows how long she was laying there before the priest found her.

I say supposedly because there was an entire lawn and sidewalk between where she fell and where they found her keys (under a car on the street).  I truly believe someone hit her and tried to steal her car (Newburgh is a rough place, and there are a few reasons I think this).  However, I can't prove it and the police say it was just an accident.

She had a brain hemorrhage and fractured skull that was too bad to be operated on. My Oma was on life support at the hospital for 3 days, until my dad and uncle decided it was time.  She was buried next to her husband, in 2008.

I have so many wonderful memories of my Oma.  She was such an amazing woman.  I know I would never have had the courage to move overseas, away from my family, at age 17.  I love cooking and baking because of her.  She gave me a love of nature, although I do not have a green thumb and kill every plant come in contact with, except one of her African violets.  My Oma was such a huge influence on my life, and I still think of her every day.

This was written in response to a prompt for Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop.  The prompt was: tell your grandmother's story.


  1. What a wonderful story. It's obvious you had a wonderful relationship with your Oma. What great memories to carry with you. -Sam from Mama Kat's

  2. What wonderful memories you have of your Oma! Such a sudden way to lose her...I'm so sorry for your loss.

  3. This is a beautiful way to honor you Oma! She sounds like a feisty character full of life. Your children will get to know her through your stories about her.

  4. Sounds like she was a wonderful woman. It's tragic that she died the way she did, but so wonderful that you got to know her for so long. Thanks for sharing her with us.