Authors: Joan Hiatt Harlow
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FÃ¼r meine sieben SchÃ¤tzchen
(For my seven little treasures):
Jack and Sam
Anthony, Abigail, Hope
Ich hab euch lieb.
(I love you all!)
he hot July sun crept through the open window by the bed, waking me from another crazy dream. I turned the pillow to the cool side, and closed my eyes, hoping to sleep again.
But bits and pieces of the past week flickered in my brain, nagging at me. I clamped the pillow over my head, not wanting to wake up. Not wanting to remember.
When Aunt Adrie and I arrived here last night, I was too tired to change or bathe. So I slept in the same clothes I'd worn for days. It was a dreamÂ .Â .Â . wasn't it? I kicked aside the quilt and looked down at my crumpled clothes. No, it hadn't been a dream.
I nervously twisted the ruby ring on my finger and everything flashed back rapidlyâmadly. Aunt Adrie gave me the ring a few days agoâwhen she told me the incredible truth: she was not my aunt at all. She was my mother
and I was Wendy Dekker. I was not Wendy Taylor from New York State, even though I had thought I was all my life.
I looked down at the gold ring and its deep red stoneâa rare pigeon-blood ruby. In the morning sun and shifting shadows of the tree outside my window, the ruby appeared to throb like the beating heart of a frightened birdâonly
was the frightened bird.
Adrie had never asked me if I wanted to run away with her. I hadn't been given a choice, but I did want to be with Adrie. I loved her, and I would go wherever she asked me.
However, the next thing I knew, we were deep in the Atlantic Ocean, in the middle of World War II, with bombs exploding around us.
Now, here I was in this big bedroom in this strange house that Adrie said was “where I belonged.” The bedroom was beautiful with Oriental rugs, high ornate ceilings, and dark mahogany furniture. It wasn't a bit like my little bedroom back in Derry, New York.
Suddenly my eyes filled up with tears, and I wanted to go home.
I was wiping my eyes when the door burst open and Adrie came in. “I've been waiting for you to come to breakfast.” She came closer, peering at my face. “What's this? Have you been crying?”
“Um, oh, just a littleÂ .Â .Â . homesick, I guess.” I reached for another tissue on the nightstand and hoped she would understand and take me in her arms and comfort me. Instead she threw her hands up in astonishment. “Homesick?
home! This room, this entire house has been waiting for you since you were born. And now, finally, you are home. So why on earth are you crying?”
“IâI'm sorry, Adrie,” I stammered. “Everything is happening soÂ .Â .Â . fast. I hardly know who I amÂ .Â .Â . or where I am.Â .Â .Â .” I tried hard to hold back more tears.
When she spoke again, her voice was icy. “Get this into your head once and for all. You are Wendy Dekker, my daughter. And this”âshe stretched out her arms, encompassing the roomâ“this is your home.”
I had no choice after all. It didn't matter if I wanted to go back to the States. It didn't matter if I were scared or homesick or lonesome. I opened my mouth to speak, but she silenced me with her hand, palm up, and came closer.
“Forget the propaganda you've heard back in the Statesâlies about Germany, Nazis, Hitler, and this war.” Then, grabbing a hand mirror from the bedside table, she held it up to my face. “
is who you are,” Adrie repeated fiercely. “Wendy Dekker.”
The girl in the mirrorâwith teary eyes and a runny noseâwas a stranger to me.
Adrie went on. “You are not American and you never were! You are a German girlâ
ein Deutsches MÃ¤dchen
. Germany is your fatherland and Germany is where your loyalties lie.” She opened the curtains wide and pointed to the world outside my window. “And that city out thereâBerlin, Germanyâis where youâWendy Dekkerâlive!”
as I hearing correctly? Was this the Adrie I had loved so much all my life? I shivered as my brain tried to register her wordsâher ultimatum to me and my obligations to her.
Adrie is my mother.
I am German.
This house is my home in Berlin, Germany.
Get used to it!
Then Adrie spoke in a gentler voice. “Now, take a bath, get dressed, and then come down to breakfast.”
Still stunned and hardly able to speak, I followed her to the bathroom.
“This is your own bathroom,” she said. “Everything you need is here. When you are done, come down to the kitchen and meet Frieda, our housekeeper.” Adrie left, closing the door behind her. I could hear her footsteps on the stairway.
The bathroom walls were white and sprinkled with blue and white roses. On the shelves were matching towels. Even the soaps were molded into blue flowers.
I turned on the hot water, found a tube of bubble bath in the soap dish, emptied it into the gushing water, and watched it foam. The scent was Lily of the ValleyâMom's favorite perfumeâmy mom in New York, that is.
I never said good-bye,
I thought as tears welled up again.
I must not cry. I must not!
I pulled off my socks and thought about the German sailor who had given them to me to keep my feet warm on the submarine. He was as handsome and young and just as sweet as any American boys I knew. I didn't hate him because he was German. He didn't hate me because I was American. Why did there have to be a war?
Then I remembered Adrie's words:
You are not American and you never were.
I climbed into the tub and sank under the fragrant bubbles.
Maybe everything will be all right,
I told myself.
Maybe I'll be fine here in my new life once I get used to it.
I had no other choice, anyway.
After washing and rinsing my hair, I climbed out of the tub and wrapped myself in a thick white bathrobe that hung on the door. I tiptoed across the hall to my bedroom and came to an abrupt stop in the open doorway. A woman was sitting on my bed, rummaging through my backpack!
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
Startled, she jumped from the bed, spilling some of the contents of my backpack onto the floor. She muttered
something in German and hastily gathered up my belongings.
I dashed to the bed and grabbed my things out of the woman's hands. “Why are you poking through my stuff?”
At that moment, Adrie entered the room. “What's going on?”
“This woman was looking through my backpack.”
“Wendy, this is Frieda,” Adrie said.
“She was going through my things.”
Frieda and Adrie began speaking to each other in German.
“Speak in English,” I insisted angrily. “It's as if I'm not even here when you chatter to each other in German.”
Adrie put her hand up, telling me to be quiet. “Frieda does not speak English, and you upset her with your attitude. Now apologize, please.”
“She should apologize to me. She's the one whoâ”
Adrie interrupted and glared at me. “Frieda has been in this household for years. I would trust her with my life. Now, apologize to Frieda.”
I plopped into a nearby chair. “I've only just arrived in this household. No one told me she's allowed toâ”
“Apologize!” Adrie demanded.
I looked up at the housekeeper. “I'm sorry, Friedaâ”
Adrie interrupted. “It means you're sorry. Repeat after me: Ent-shul-digung.”
I struggled to say the German word then waited for Frieda's reaction.
She simply nodded, folded the clothes that had fallen,
set them on top of the dresser, and left the room.
“You insulted her,” Adrie snapped. Before she left the bedroom, she added, “Bring those things that Frieda left on the dresser. She will iron them up nicely, and they will do for today.”
I picked up the one skirt I had brought. It was plain dark blue and so crumpled from being stuffed into my backpack that I was sure no one would be able to iron it smooth again. The white blouse with blue buttons that went with it was just as wrinkled.
After my outburst at Frieda, I hated to face her. However, I followed Adrie downstairs and into the kitchen. Frieda was standing by the stove. I tried to smile as I handed her my wrinkled clothes.
She gave me a long look, took the clothing, and disappeared into another part of the house, off the kitchen.
It's my first day in Berlin, and I've already made an enemy,
I thought miserably.
drie brought me into the dining room and handed me a framed photograph of a handsome German officer. “This was your father, Karl Dekker,” she said. “He was a loyal officer in the Great War. Sadly, he was badly injured and never got over his wounds. He died when you were about six.”
I concentrated on my father's face, trying to see similarities to myselfâmaybe the shape of his nose or the arch of his browsâbut there were none. I was looking at a total stranger. His expression reminded me of the pictures of German officers I had seenâdetermined, resolute.