Back On Track
Today's Yak (2/3/11)

A Far Away Loss

Back in the olden days, before the Series of Tubes, before the Internet, before the Information Superhighway and the World Wide Web, there were newspapers. And you could learn all kinds of things and even connect to people through the paper. When I was in 8th grade (13 or so) I wrote to other kids my age and got pen-pals. Somehow they were mostly in Germany (West Germany at the time) and we wrote tons of letters to each other. At one point I had about 18 pen pals! Stopping at the Post Office in Paia to check Box F was very exciting every day.

By the time I went off to college, the number had whittled down to four. They are my friends Antonia (Toni), Elfriede (Evi), Andrea and Ute. I have visited them all twice in Germany. First in 1989 and then in 1992. I got to meet all their mom's except for Andrea's and they all were so kind and took great care of me. Toni's mom washed clothes for me and I swear my clothes had never been that clean in my life! There was much drinking of coffee and eating of cake every afternoon and I felt loved and cared for, even though I was this odd backpacking creature from California.

After a few years the letters wore down to christmas cards and I have not heard from Toni in about ten or so years. I would really like to find her again as we had such good letters and we spent time riding horses in the black forest in a driving rainstorm. That was exciting! Ute and I found each other recently on Facebook and have been more in touch. 

So it was awful and sad yesterday when Ute wrote to tell me her mother had died quite unexpectedly yesterday of a heart attack at age 86. Luckily all her kids were nearby and they were at the hospital before she died. But still. Heartbreaking and devastating. Ute said her mom died in her arms. (And that just makes me sob to type it.) UteManuMama

(In the photo: Ute on the left, sister Manu in the middle and Mutter. Look at that face!)

In her message Ute said: "I´m sure you haven´t forgotten her when you were here for the first time. She never forgot you." How could I forget her? Both times I went to visit she was so kind and sweet. Here is what I wrote about her:

August 21, 1989
I left Ute and her family this morning. Her mom drove me to the station. She of course speaks no english so it was a quiet drive. I of course couldn't speak because I was all choked up. I don't know why I get like that. I guess because it's been a long time (2 months) since I've had some real family type love. Big hug from Ute's mom here. She was so cute - little and feisty spunky. I wish I spoke german.
Then in 1992 I wrote:
June 5, 1992
We went to visit Ute's mom and sister Manu. Her mom had ovarian cancer a few years ago and had major surgery. Now she goes back to the doctor's a lot for check ups. She's the sweetest, most wonderful character. Wonderful face and old scratchy voice. She's 67. She seems more like a grandmother. But she's so sweet! She came in and gave me BIG hugs and was so happy to have me. I had tears in my eyes that I tried to hide. She could die soon and she's so wonderful that it would make me very sad.

And I am very sad. (Though I'm glad it was almost 20 years later that she died.) That little woman in the photo had such a big heart and opened her arms wide with big warm hugs for this perfect stranger that she only knew through letters from far away. What a wonderful person to know and emulate. I don't even know her first name, I just knew her as Frau Schafar. 

I'll have to go and pay my respects in person one of these days soon. 

Mein tiefstes Beileid.