‘Your father has always been a selfish person. He doesn’t send any money for you but I bet he sits down for breakfast with a soft boiled egg in front of him. He knows how to look after himself and doesn’t care whether his children have anything to eat.’
The voice of my mother still rings in my ears. When years later I talked to my father about his so called selfishness, he justified himself with a lot of words and by producing the Post Office receipts which proved that he had constantly sent money for us children. True, he never could send much, however Mum’s claim that he didn’t send any money at all was totally wrong, according to Dad. He made sure that I looked at all the relevant slips. It seemed very important to him that I should believe him.
I felt sorry for Dad and I felt sorry for Mum. I used to feel that I could not take sides for either of them: I was totally torn between them. My loyalty belonged to both in equal proportions, that means, I could never decide on who’s side I should be. Mum of course accused me constantly of siding with my father and rejecting her. She probably did not feel supported by me. She just could not stand it when I tried to defend Dad.
Dad was the opposite. No matter how much he complained about Mum and let it be known how frustated he was about Mum’s behaviour, he was never angry with me when I tried to defend Mum. He always listened patiently to what I had to say. On the contrary, he liked it when I pointed out how much Mum meant to me and the boys.
‘You are right, Uta,’ he would say, ‘it is very important for you and the boys that you have a good relationship with your Mum. After all she is your Mum. I certainly would not like you rejecting her. In her own way she loves all three of you. You should never forget this.’ Then he would continue to complain about it that Mum was not willing to leave Berlin and live with him and us children as one family. He also had some gripes about Tante Ilse. According to him it was she who had wrecked their marriage.
I loved this aunt. For me it was very hard to listen to Dad’s accusations about her. Dad claimed in a very angry voice that Ilse had lived a ‘Lotter-Leben’ (bad life) when she was younger. He said that she had now a very good marriage. He was of the opinion that marrying HL was the best thing that could have happened to her. Dad regarded HL as being of very good character. I could only agree. In my experience, this Uncle spoke of Dad always in a respectful way, that is, I never heard him say anything bad about Dad. Come to think of it, neither did Tante Ilse. The way I saw it, only Mum would talk about Dad in a very nasty kind of way. It shows that to her mind he must have been a great disappointment to her. Even as a child I tried to see both sides. This was mind boggling for me. A lot of the issues were about what normally only grown-ups would be concerned about. On the other hand – even though I had no way of being able to tell what for instance the sexual difficulties may have been – I none the less felt those vibes which told me, my parents had those very strong love/hate feelings towards each other. I also sensed Mum’s absolute disgust about the way Dad’s life had turned out to be. Yes, I can imagine what immense disappointment this was for her!
Some time after Dad had managed to set himself up in a secure position again he talked to me about how it would be best for all of us if he remarried Mum. I told him that I could not imagine this happening. And sure enough, when he asked Mum to live with him again, she refused.
In 1959 Peter and I migrated to Australia with our two baby-girls. The following year Dad married Gertrud. Peter and I were under the impression that the new wife was right for Dad in every way, I am sure, Dad had a very good marriage with G. They had only a short time to
gether: At age sixty-two Dad died of prostate cancer. After having stayed in hospital for a while Dad pleaded with G to take him home. She did this and nursed him for the last six months of his life. It so happened, that G received Dad’s pension after he died. This upset my Mum and my brothers immensely! They thought, G had no right to receive all the benefits. They told me that the first wife should get more consideration for having had a much longer marriage as well as children. I felt awful when my family talked badly about G. I know that she had always been very welcoming, kind and supportive towards my brothers.
G is ninety-two now. Over the distance I still have some occasional contact with her. I am never going to forget, how, during the last years of his life, she gave Dad so much of herself. When I received her letter six months before he died, telling me about the seriousness of Dad’s illness, I cried and cried.
PS on the 14th of October 2017:
My step-mother, Gertrud Spickermann, died recently aged 98. Her 99th birthday would have been on the 23rd of November 2017. Not so long ago she skyped with Peter and me. She was always keen to keep in touch with family.