Friday, 28 November 2014

Permutations on Lamps and The People Who Owned Them - (V)

At Grammar School my trials and tribulations hadn’t quite come to an end, but I learned to keep my head down and follow the rules. I was now a pupil at a fee-paying Catholic Girls’ School, the child from a poor background and the offspring of communist/socialist atheists, who took their convictions seriously; I should therefore have been totally out of my element. Like many children lacking in confidence, I was only too happy to blend into the background; I’d had enough of being the focus of attention, temporarily anyway.

I made friends with girls whose background was as unlike mine as possible; girls whose parents were well on the way to renewed prosperity, girls from professional backgrounds, business people, farmers who had got rich during the period when most people were starving, and the daughters of minor ex-Nazis. Germany's ‘economic miracle’ was taking hold but there was still a lot of confusion.

The last time a lamp made a particular impression on me was at a birthday party at the house of one of these friends. Birthday parties were rare and modest affairs, and I didn’t really feel like going because Mum couldn’t give me money to buy a present. On the very few occasions I accepted an invitation all I could take was a tablet of chocolate or a second hand paperback. Sigrid was the daughter of a businessman, she had new clothes and a proper haircut and lived on one floor of a large house in a once well-to-do area. I remember the living room as enormous, although it would probably not be as grand today as it seemed to me then. The room was well and comfortably furnished, with a special and separate seating area near the large window: three upholstered easy chairs around a small table, and a standard lamp in the corner behind it. The lamp drew me like a magnet and I asked if we could sit there instead of at the dining table at the other end of the room. Sigrid was surprised when I sat down in the chair under the lamp, leaned back and stretched out my arms on the arm rests. In the end we sat on the carpet and admired her presents, until her mother came in with hot drinks and cake for the three of us, Sigrid,  Elke, whose war widow mother was a teacher, and me.

I’ve got used to all sorts of lamps now; our lighting is slightly haphazard, some lamps have permanent positions, others are moved about the room to wherever they are needed. Ceiling lights are strong and have shades; Beloved with his poor eyesight likes them best and, if he had his way, they would all blaze away at the same time and cosy little corners with dim lighting would be done away with in our house.


Writing this necessarily abbreviated series has not been easy. I’ve smoothed over some of the rough edges, yet a whole host of painful memories came flooding back and I felt great pity for the sad and lonely girl who didn’t really fit in anywhere. As an only child I carried the full weight of my parents’ hopes and aspirations; inevitably, they were disappointed many times. Ungrateful, they called me when I displeased them yet again. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child. Away Away!” so said King Lear in a fit of rage to Cordelia, and, like her, I left.

None of that matters now, one can’t live ones life in permanent regret for what happened in the past; it becomes a story to tell like so many other ups and downs one lives through; looking back, events become distant and unreal. There is, however, one aspect I regret very much nowadays, particularly when I read bloggers’ posts or listen to friends’ accounts about their close connections with siblings, the places they lived in as children and throughout adulthood, from school years to university and through professional lives. I envy the continuity and the ties that keep such lucky people firmly anchored and deeply rooted. I know that rarely do two people remember their joint past in quite the same way but I would love to be able to argue about it. I have lots of unanswered questions and no one left to ask, much less answer them.


  1. Reliving parts of our past can certainly cause us to go over old wounds. I enjoyed your tale, so different from my own experiences.

  2. Sadly I have learnt that I cannot argue about our past with my siblings. I remember wrong. No negotiations, no compromise. Wrong.
    Perspective is all.
    Thank you so much for these stories. And I hope the pain they stirred was short-lived.

    1. Elephant's Child, your answer resonates with me, though not regarding my siblings (they are a fair bit younger so some of our memories don't overlap, aren't shared). However, my mother will bend the past to breaking point. It's - and has been for a long time - the one bone of contention for me in an otherwise loving relationship with my mother. Instead of just saying "yes, this, that and the other wasn't so good, could have been avoided, should have never happened, sorry you were hurt and yes by the way I don't feel so good about x, y and z either - hope you'll understand". No. Not a bit of it. As an adult I have had to hold my tongue (and do more so than ever) because I most certainly don't want to hurt her. There is no point. She has painted her life and that of her husband, her children, her grandchildren, even that of people she only knows by proxy in the hues that suit her - and let me bite my tongue and hold my peace now and forever.

      I don't normally prescribe to popular psycho babble but whoever said that nothing throws a child (not least an adult one) into more turmoil than when his/her mother doesn't acknowledge the past as perceived by the "child" was right. One example so terrible, shortly after my son was born, I nearly broke with her because she emphatically denied one of my most precious memories (to do with the death of my beloved grandmother when I was eight). Why did she have to dispute it when either way it didn't serve any purpose other than her denial nearly destroying me? I don't know. And my mother is a good woman.

      I hope you, Friko, will forgive me for this rather lengthy emotional outpouring. I believe you'll understand. Remember the saying about echo in a forest?


  3. So, you've brought us round again to table lamps, and I'll never think of them the same way again. Indeed, I'll never think of them, I suspect, without thinking of you and Beloved, and of our visit together. Although far too recent to be useful for childhood recollections, there's a bit of continuity in that, as well, and I cherish it. Love to you both, and Milly, too.

  4. Friko, when we do next meet, perhaps next year, I would so like to have a long conversation with you about my own memories that these Lamp posts of yours have set free. And lots of other things, too, of course.


  5. Sharing with siblings enhances what happened. sometimes my brother reminds me of things. Other times I remind him. the German people went through trying times after the war. We had many German immigrants come to our area as we were a German community in Canada.

  6. It is important to remember that even though there are somebonds, they may have been and might still be strained by times remembered. I enjoyed your short story, and you should do even more writing! God bless.

  7. Thank you, Friko, for this long look into your young life. I know how the memories can come back and back and back until you wish you'd never begun to think about any of it. You're brave and strong to have come through and now to be able to look back long enough to describe it for us so thoroughly.

  8. Your eloquent memories speak to me; Your ruminations speak FOR me too!

    ALOHA from Honolulu

  9. I count myself among those lucky people you refer to in your last paragraph, Friko, and I am fully aware of how lucky I am, having my parents, my sister and some of my old class mates live close by, all in the same town where I was born and - after short stints in other places - grew up in.
    Staying here and not going away was my own choice, just as going away was your own choice back then when you left. The "what ifs" are something I ponder over every now and then, but they remain in the realm of hypothesis. I like my life too much to go away.

  10. Hi Friko - I'm very lucky in many ways and I'm so grateful I haven't been through the hardships you've experienced - and your lamps ... which shone a light on different areas of your life, and continue to do so today. I too reflect back and have tried as best I can to rationalise many things and satisfy my queries that way - perhaps slightly easier for me ... but there are certainly things I'd like to know and like you cannot now ask - I didn't want to upset my mother when she was ill .. so we avoided those sorts of subjects - essential for her wellbeing.

    I've loved these permutations on lamps and people .. they've given me time to reflect too ... as well as put some continental life into perspective, and realise my own fortune (even iwth its challenges) - have a happy weekend ... cheers Hilary

  11. I was rather lucky as I lived in a part of Bonn in which the government had built buildings for the employees.
    The worst for me was starting a new life in Brussels being German !

  12. Dear Friko - As I read your story, I am thinking of you today, many years later and look at what you have done. I know how it feels to disappoint parents and remember being awkward and oh so shy in school. I was smart, knew the answers but too shy to talk. The straw on the camels back came when the teacher placed a dummy hat on my head and sat me in a corner. I came home defeated and crying and my Mom pried the story out of me. She made an appointment and directly talked to the principal about such a wicked, embarrassing act to do to a child. As a result the Teacher was let go. I reflect back on my German School Teacher. He came to Canada as a young boy, went off to college and became a teacher. He Taught history at our junior school. I fell in love with him and to this day still remember his wonderful smile. He taught history mostly away from the book. We had the most wonderful discussions in class and everybody loved him. Mr Reiter was very smart, kind, considerate and patient with his students. He brought out the best in all of us, especially the shy ones. We all became more confident, and I became a "History Buff". WE all go through "hard knocks" in life and if we are smart and able, we just keep going. WE LEARN. I heard one time that every bit of life is challenging to some, not so hard for others, but those that accept the challenge and keep going are stronger and will succeed longer in life. FAMILY - well, that is a whole other story for another time. Thank you for your story. I felt it in my heart.

  13. And I too felt your stories in my heart, Friko. I realize, when I read this last one, how fortunate I am to have my sister who is two years younger than me. When we talk, we often reminisce about our younger years, and it amazes me, always, that we remember them so differently. She is an introvert, like you, and I am an extrovert. I've learned that because of growing up with her, I gravitate towards introverts because they are often thoughtful individuals. You certainly are, and I have enjoyed hearing of your trials and tribulations growing up. You are one of my favorite virtual people! (I know you are real, but to be you will always be virtual as we will probably never meet in person.) :-)

  14. it is good for us to revisit these memories though, no matter the rough edges...sometimes it gives us perspective we did not have in the moment as well.....i rather like the soft light of a lamp...i can relate though to keeping your head down growingup...i learned that quite well....

  15. That entire series of events altered your path...led you to a new school and meeting a variety of new people you would never have met had it not happened. I believe we are meant to be whoever we are and the circumstances and events are there to form us. Some of us are just not meant to be close to our birth families--even if we had siblings--even if we had wished it was different. I constantly butted heads with my folks and, to this day, there is little or no communication between us or between my siblings and I. We remain uncomfortable with each other. No letters, calls, or emails. At the most, obligatory awkward visits once a year for a few hours. But I notice all three of us siblings are closer to our own kids and that's a good thing. Maybe we have broken the cycle.

    You do always speak from your heart, dear lady. You are not alone. Most people's hearts have been mended many times. Love and hugs!! :)

  16. I can feel the loneliness in this post. I have living brothers and sisters who live far away, but we try to get in touch every other year or so. Some conservative, some moderate and some liberal. We all seem to get along and avoid what we disagree about. I have distant friends, but no one close here where I now live, so I sometimes feel a loss of gal-talk and stuff to do. Hubby and I have a great friendship, but he collects friends like lint while I do not. I do see you are a wise one from this post as well and that is a good thing.

  17. I can understand that disconnected feeling. It makes you the keeper of the past.. at least for the parts which remain in your memory. You did a beautiful job of presenting that here.

  18. May I just say thank you for all these posts (I haven't commented on all of them, but I have read them).. They're vital in keeping alive our human memory. Even if you have edited some of yoru experiences out and that's understandable, you have given us a powerful insight into your life.

    Greetings from London.

  19. Your story was so interesting and many of us know of your pain. We are all wounded people and no one in life gets by without taking some punshes. Having siblings can ease ones burdens, but I have found friends can do the same and often without judgement. We get through the tough times and move forward, but the scars remain. I just don't look at them anymore.

    Your story was so i

  20. "I envy the continuity and the ties..."
    Me too. We moved around so much when I was little, we changed states and towns, then when we arrived in Port Pirie, we still kept moving. I'd lived in 18 places by the time I was seventeen. At 18 I married a soldier and the moving began again, so my own children also lost that continuity, with the result that my older son now keeps moving. And myself? Here in Adelaide I have moved 10 times since we arrived in 1986.
    I'm glad that you are able to write about your life and "get things off your chest" so to speak; it is always much better than keeping things bottled up. a problem shared is a problem halved they say, and talking things over, or writing them down, can help you see things in a new light.

  21. Painful memories Friko, and so well expressed! I have a sister, but she was one of my chief tormentors in childhood and getting away from her was my prime motivation for leaving home as soon as I could, never mind my father... I still keep her at arms length - families are difficult.

    Did you, like me, look longingly at uncurtained, lighted windows, glimpsed tantalizingly on dark winter evenings and dream of a safe, happy family life?

    This reminds me of the concept of Margaret Forster's new book where she weaves her life through the houses she has lived in - which started me along the path of doing something similar myself. I have the first draft post but haven't got any further and not really sure I want to go there. Anyway, I have lost count of the houses I have lived in during my rather peripatetic life!

  22. I've just had a long sit-down and read your "perambulations" from beginning to afterword, Friko. Thank you for all the lamps you've lit in the telling, hard as it must have been for you, and for giving me a deeper appreciation of the family I do have, warts and all. When we rattle the drums of war, we never think of the real toll and aftermath.

  23. It is said that when you share a burden you cut it in half. Hopefully, sharing this burdensome past with your readers dissected it into many tiny particles, invisible to all.

  24. Siblings and families can be a very mixed blessing, Friko, but at least there is the possibility of connection and continuity which is so much harder for the only child. My sisters and I often have markedly different memories of events, places and people and aren't always very good at compromising.

    Thank you for this thought=provoking series of posts.

  25. My two siblings and I view our childhood through very different colored lenses. I, of course, am the one who sees with the clear lens. The others are variations. I am also the eldest and therefore the bossiest. Sigh. Siblings are a joy and a torment all in one. But I'm glad for them both.
    Your experiences are unique to you and your situation, but I felt some of the "not fitting in" anguish. I think everyone does. I hope that writing this out and thinking it over will, perhaps, banish some of the old ghosts of the pass.
    Enjoy the lovely lamplight.

  26. You were brave to write about those painful memories. Your writings were painful to read, but now I understand the woman who writes such brilliant posts a little better.

    My mother, at 98, is alive and well. She helps me connect the dots of the present to the past. I've not always agreed with her. I often am upset by her, but I am fortunate to have her. The WWII years were hard for so many, but for us in the US, it was not at all like what you had to suffer. I know there were lives to be rebuilt when men came home from the war. I'm not sure that many of those lives in my family were ever rebuilt. You, and the political entanglements that your family had, suffered much more than any of us did.

    Siblings are blessing and a curse. My mother was an only child. She always told us we should be grateful for each other. I can't say that we ever will be. I wish we saw the past in ways that were the same, but we do not. Therein is the rub with siblings.

  27. I struggle with how to write about painful childhood memories - I'm not always sure I want to dredge them back up.

  28. I come from one of those happy families. As a child, teenager and even as a young adult I assumed my experience was common but as I have grown older I have realised that the intelligent, supportive, adventurous warmth we grew up in is quite unusual. I still have very good relationships with my siblings, although my brother's stroke has profoundly altered his life and all his relationships. My sister and I are thankful that we have each other, particularly as my father's descent into the hell of motor neurone disease and the sudden death of my mother has laid a huge burden on us both. I don't know how I would cope if I had no one to share it with. I was fascinated to read your stories and had a strong desire to take care of your young self.

  29. I come from a root family of denial and secrets and now and again the pain overwhelms me but the more I write about it the more this pain gets diluted and transformed. I hope I make sense, but this little girl would have been very much drawn to your little girl. Seems like my eccentric friends from those days are still with me, though some are in disrepair. And my precious sibs and I've managed to unclench our jaws and talk about all of it.

    Special hugs Friko dear.

  30. You are such a writer, Friko. It runs deep in you, and I am glad to be one who benefits.


  31. Your closing musings are such a privilege to read, as they give us insight into how the writing process affected you. Small solace here, but your closing thought--"I know that rarely do two people remember their joint past in quite the same way but I would love to be able to argue about it. I have lots of unanswered questions and no one left to ask, much less answer them" has been the focal point of recent weeks for me, as my sister passive-aggressively, sometimes cruelly, objects to my honest memories of the past. We remember things quite differently, and her certainty that she's right and I'm a manipulator has cost me sleep and fills my innards with dark clouds. In short, I've actually been wishing of late to be allowed my own memories, as they exist for me. So there are two sides to your point.


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