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.