An entry into the column contest for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists consists of three articles published in the previous calendar year. This year, I placed in the General Interest Category! On June 28th, at the conference in DC, I will find out if I placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
Here are the articles that made up my entry–
The Mystery of my Grandfather’s German Love
Originally published 9/23/2013
Today is a melancholy day. I am sitting in Berlin, listening to the rain drizzle against the slanted windows of our attic apartment. In the distance I can see the American flag flying over the U.S. Embassy, and beyond that, the glass dome top of the Reichstag which is the German Parliament building.
There are tourists below, wrapped in sweat-inducing, plastic ponchos from the souvenir stand, fighting the elements in order to get a glimpse of history. If I crack the window, I can hear the thick accent of the tour guide explaining that our apartment building sits on top of Hitler’s bunker; the bunker where he died.
I am fascinated with Germany due to my ancestral ties. My family immigrated to the U.S. long before either of the World Wars, but my grandpa was stationed here during WWII. He was fluent in German because it was one of the languages his mother spoke.
Recently, my dad produced a shoe box that he had found deep in the recesses of grandpa’s garage. It contained letters and pictures from grandpa’s time here in Germany when he was still single.
The faded black and white photos draw me to speculate on a part of my grandfather’s life about which we know very little. They depict a young soldier resembling Clark Gable, posing with a woman; holding her hand, laughing with her, kissing her. I can imagine how easy it would be for a good-looking soldier, who was fluent in the language, to get involved with a local girl.
There are several pictures of him with an unidentified child just a few years old. Was she the girlfriend’s daughter? A buddy’s daughter? Perhaps she was his daughter? I don’t think he was here long enough to have fathered this child, but my romantic mind likes to wander that direction. Sometimes, on the bus, I will study the faces of women over sixty-five and look for family resemblances.
I have not yet had a chance to scan the letters and make proper notations so that I can fully research it. There is one that Grandpa’s girlfriend wrote to his mother. The handwriting is beautiful, and the sentiment is precious. I cried when I read it, causing my sisters to think I am crazy. After all, he came home, married our grandma, and created a happy family of which we are blessed to be part.
But I can’t help but wonder about those years in Germany, and the woman he once loved. How did it end? It was clear she thought he would come back for her. Was he a cad who made promises he had no intention of keeping, or in his youthful ignorance did he believe they could make it work?
It is possible she is still living. Perhaps she tells her granddaughters the story of the good-looking, American soldier who swept her off her feet. Or maybe it’s a secret she keeps buried from her family, in a shoebox, in the back of the garage.
Today is a melancholy day. I peer through the rain running down the window, and picture the city war-torn and destroyed. I imagine my grandfather on clean-up duty, making the best of a bad situation by falling in love with a girl whose voice would have sounded like those floating up from the street. I am fascinated with Germany due to my ancestral ties, but I am captivated by the mystery one particular ancestor left behind.
Someone please tell me I don’t look old enough!
Originally Published 8/6/2013
Last week, on the occasion of my eldest child’s twenty-first birthday, I spent most of the day trying to garner compliments. Perhaps “compliment” is the wrong word. It was really reassurance that I needed. I didn’t care who said it, I just wanted to hear those magical words, “My goodness, young lady! You do not look anywhere near old enough to have a twenty-one year old daughter!”
Truth be known, I was pathetically desperate. I carefully stopped the gas pump at $19.79. When the cashier handed me the change, I laughed, “That’s really funny! Twenty-one cents. My daughter turns twenty-one today!”
“Uh-huh,” he muttered as he looked past me to the next person in line. If he had had taken two seconds to make eye contact, he would have been shocked to see such a young woman claiming to have a twenty-one year old child. Someone really needs to work on their customer service skills.
Next stop was the grocery store. I was picking up the usual-bread, milk, double chocolate fudge brownie ice cream-when inspiration hit. I stocked the cart with six boxes of wine, two cases of beer, and a gallon of Sangria. Nothing says youth like liquor in boxes and jugs.
There are occasions when I get carded even though the sign says, “Any customer clearly under the age of 40 must present an I.D.” I always appreciate the rare clerk who can’t tell for sure if I’ve reached forty. They will never be hired as carnival age-guessers, but they would do well in any business that requires ego boosting. I should ask them to guess my weight too.
But on this all-important date, the clerk rang up my cartful of boxed liquor without batting an eye. As she handed me the receipt, I gave her a second chance, “I guess I could have had my daughter pick this up for me. She turns twenty-one today!”
“Uh-huh,” she chirped, snapping her gum and turning to the next customer.
Glancing at my to-do list, I cringed.
An hour later, I signed in at the front desk. Required fields were Name, Date, and Procedure. I sat in the waiting area, grumbling to myself about the poor magazine selection. Golf Digest, Architectural Digest, Travel and Leisure; who reads this stuff? I wanted something lighthearted to take my mind off of the impending discomfort. I said to the old man sitting next to me, “I should have brought my twenty-one year old daughter’s fashion magazines.”
He responded while turning the page of his AARP mag, “Uh-huh.”
Suddenly, I became aware of some commotion at the desk. Two receptionists and a nurse glanced furtively in my direction while whispering over the sign-in sheet.
Finally, one approached me.
“Are you Mrs. Truitt?”
“What procedure are you here for?”
“The problem is, we don’t do mammograms here.”
“But I’m certain I’ve been here before.”
“Yes, ma’am, you were here two years ago for a scan of the soft tissues in your neck.”
“Oh. So, where would I have scheduled my mammogram?”
“I’m sorry, I really couldn’t say.”
“This is so embarrassing! I guess I’m just really distracted because my daughter is turning twenty-one today.”
“I understand,” she reassured, “the same thing happened to my mom once. She said it’s just part of getting old.”
Hope Heals the Pain of Death
Originally published 4/14/2013
Fifteen years ago, today we celebrated my mother’s life at her funeral. Because she was a school teacher, it was a grand funeral with hundreds of people in attendance. The memory that stands out most is of her third grade class, tearfully singing a song in her honor. They had only been back from spring break one day when she fell ill at school, and was rushed to the hospital.
She died at the age of 47. In four years, I will be 47. The closer I get, the more I realize how truly young my mom was.
I’ve written each year about her death, and I always try to inject a public service announcement. If you do not have a spleen, or your spleen has been damaged, get a pneumonia shot every year. Not every three years, or every five years, but every single year. It could very well save your life. It would have saved my mom.
I didn’t want to write about it this year because it’s just so darn depressing. I’ve started at least three other topics, but they fall short, and the words just won’t come to the forefront of my beleaguered brain. Nothing will do until I write about that time.
For the past two months, a very specific subject related to my mom’s death has been swirling in my mind. That is the subject of hope.
On February 19th, my nephew turned fifteen. As his birthday approached, I recalled a sweet memory.
In my mind’s eye, the day we buried my mom was dark and dismal. At the cemetery, my younger sisters and I said our final farewells. I turned away as my dad stretched his arms across the top of the casket, and my grandmother broke into sobs. There was so much pain. So many loose ends. So many things I’d never said, and too many things I wished I could take back.
As I turned, I saw my mother-in-law at the edge of the crowd, quietly waiting with my sister-in-law. Sitting on the ground next to them, was an infant seat. My nephew was a baby of absolute angelic perfection. From between the blankets, the most precious brown eyes gazed up at me. It was then that I felt it. Hope.
Maybe the sun had been shining all along. I have no idea. Maybe it never actually broke forth that day. But when I recall that moment, I remember the warmth of the sun shining on my face. It seemed as if those eyes were penetrating straight into my soul, and reassuring me that all would be well. It was peaceful, and serene, and I was so thankful that my sister-in-law made the effort to come that day. It’s not always easy when you have a new baby.
Fifteen years later, he’s over six feet tall, and has blue hair (we’re hoping it’s a phase), and I still feel hope when I look into his eyes. Hope that somehow the wrongs in life will be righted, and the world will become a better place. People in every walk of life encounter times when they need to know that the sun will shine again. Sometimes, you only have to look into their eyes to convey hope. And sometimes, you just need to take a baby to a funeral.