Friday, December 18, 2009

Humble Beginnings

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:12b,7b).

Arguably this is one of the most well known and retold stories of all time. Growing up I can imagine Jesus asking his mother to retell the story time and time again. The odd circumstances surrounding his birth -- from his conception to his actual birth. A miracle given from God for all time. I also imagine Mary never expected her first born child to be born under the intrigue and hand of God Almighty himself.

Personally, I look at the details surrounding my birth and find them rather unremarkable. Yes, I had the RH Factor resistance and received 7 blood transfusions pre- and post-birth after being given almost zero chance of survival. My mom said you have never seen a needle until you see one long enough to be inserted through your abdominal wall and into your womb. Never mind the little injection needles; they are nothing, she would say with a smile. Perhaps my story is fascinating enough that my children, particularly Elise if she is lucky enough to be blessed by children, would enjoy hearing retold over time.

I suppose it is the ordinary nature under which most of us are born that I never really thought much about my parent's early years either. Obviously my mom has a unique story of her childhood, but honestly, I never really took a closer look into the life she lived before the internment until this last spring as I watched the SHOAH Foundation tapes.

She was born one wintry day in the late 1930's in a little village named Veliko Srediste in the South Banat district of Yugoslavia. Despite the translation in German for Veliko to mean "large", this small Serbian town is often not found on maps. The largest town nearby would be Vrsac located near the Hungary border. Before the Russians invaded her small village, my mom recalled beautiful trees and gardens that cascaded across the acres often found between homes. Mountain peaks were visible along the outside of town. The small homes were overshadowed by the beauty of the countryside. Yugoslavia was a beautiful green, lush country.

Born to mother Anna and father Franz Bohn, her earliest remembrances began around age 5 while living with her mom's parents Anna and Thomas Dernetz and her Uncle Josef, who was approximately 15 years old. It was not uncommon for multiple generations to live under one roof. The house the six of them lived in was a small white-washed home with dirt floors. When asked about the details of the home for her visual history testimonial, she could only recall two rooms, the kitchen and a bedroom. The central piece of the kitchen was the homemade kitchen table and chairs. The memory of the bedroom was limited to one, recalling sitting on the edge of a bed playing with her doll as her mother said goodbye-- the prison guards waiting nearby to escort her to go by coal car to Russia as a slave laborer.

When asked she could only recall a handful of happy memories from the first few years of her life. Sadly, even the earliest of memories distinct from the concentration camps were marred with abuse and hardship. Her favorite memory was of a beautiful mulberry tree in her yard. The fruit was plentiful and she recalled being covered in red juice from eating as much as her belly desired. She also remembered going in the orchards with her mom as her mom worked. She would run and play and explore nature, gathering small flowers, trying to keep out of her mother's way. Times were not easy but my mom remembered them being carefree days since my grandma insisted she was too young to help out.

As she was recounting memories, it struck me that what she did remember was solitary. The other children she remembered interacting with were older school aged children, who were too busy with school work and helping out with chores to take time out to play with her very often. Having grown up as an only child without memories of having friends until she was in America, my mom was very purposeful in providing us siblings and to create a lot of happy memories for us growing up. Every generation wants their children to be happier and have more than what they had the generation before. My mom was no different in that desire. And neither am I. I want to give my kids as good a childhood as I had, if not better. We cannot change or re-write our history but we can preserve it by talking about it and making sure that we do not leave this earth with stories that are better shared. Every day we are creating that 'history' for our children to one day talk about with their children and the generations to follow. And that legacy is one I am proud to claim as my own and pray will become a family tradition.


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