by Josh T. Alto
A man recalls the memories of a far-off summer when he met someone he would never forget
|It is Sunday morning and I am sitting in the village church with my wife and our two daughters. Right now our priest is citing from ‘The book of Genesis’. My daughters find it boring. It is late April, the sun is shining, birds are twittering outside.
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go", I hear the Priest say. First I freeze when I hear the words but then my heart fills with warmth; I look around and have a kind of a feeling as if someone were watching me, or is it only a fantasy? These words take me back to a summer twenty-four years ago, the most thunderous summer I ever had.
It was a hot summer, the sun was shining a lot but it rained almost every day. One rainstorm followed the other and our old walnut tree, which was planted when my father was born, died in a very strange way. It was a sprout of a tree my great grandmother had had in her garden and we all loved it. It somehow symbolized the continuity in our family. But it broke suddenly and that summer my family and I left my hometown and returned only twenty years later.
I do not know what brought me back but I bought a house near the forest; quite similar to the one we had had when I was young, just like our old house with lots of trees around. It was a wooden house with carved ornaments all over, cut by my grandfather, a very skillful carpenter in his time. The house had been our home since I could remember and even lots of years before but on a hot summer day, the 25 August when I was eight, we left it for good, or should I say it left us instead?
That was the day when I saw that house and our first and only babysitter for the last time. Her name was Marianne and our first meeting with her and the series of events, which led inevitably to the mournful end, started somehow unusually, I mean in a very strange way. My parents told us they were too busy with their jobs and could not stay with us the whole summer so we needed a babysitter for a couple of weeks. I could not understand why, I was not a baby anymore nor was my sister. What did we need a babysitter for? They discussed it over the weekend and decided to make an advertisement on Monday but as it became obvious later it was not necessary at all.
Rather late that Sunday afternoon a young girl rang at our front door and said she had worked as a babysitter for the Winstons for four years, a rather distinguished family at the other end of the town, but now, as their kids had grown, she was free and they gave her such a superb recommendation that my father hired her immediately.
I liked her from the first time I saw her, she was nice with a smile like an angel, rosy cheeks, a lovely nose and eyes, which make you feel comfortable in any situation. In a few days she became like a family member to us, I found it amazing how she protected us; she knew everything about us, even our most secret thoughts. I wonder how she knew about those things but she told us a lot about our great grandparents, stories I suppose not even my father had known but there was like a secret agreement, anything she told us remained between us, I would never tell them to my father it was like a conspiracy, kids against the cruel world of the adults.
There was also something curious about her but I was too young to formulate my suspicion in an appropriate way. Sometimes I wondered where she was from, she often used a language I could not understand but she explained that her parents were from a country somewhere in Europe. It made the whole summer only more adventurous somehow, but there was still more adventure in that summer than we ever expected, I must say.
Already the first week as she joined us, there was a big storm, a lot of lightning more than an hour long, lots of rain had fallen. She brought my sister and me to a room on the first floor that faced the backyard, she looked scared in a way, she prayed all the time, repeating the same words over and over again, holding us tight. We kids thought she was afraid of the storm and cuddled up to her but never mentioned it to our parents. After the storm my father came home earlier and found a ladder in the backyard, leaned against one of the bedroom windows on the first floor. As our babysitter explained she wanted to clean the windows when the storm came and she did not have time to put it away. I would not pay any attention to it but a few days later when a storm came again and we sat in the bedroom on the first floor I looked out of the window and saw the ladder against our window the same way as it had been before. I did not mention it to my parents, I was sure it was something that they should not know at all. I suppose she removed it after the storm had gone because I could not see it later.
Between the storms, she looked totally normal but as soon as the first thunder could be heard she was in a panic, gathered my sister and me and ran upstairs. Should I find an excuse, I could not, but I never told it to my parents not even later when she was gone, it was something I thought must be kept between us forever.
As it turned out later, one way or another, our fate has brought us together, our fate that we could not escape even if we wanted. The following week the weather seemed to have calmed down so we were very surprised when there was a storm coming again. The sound of thunder could be heard continuously, so we ran upstairs into our room as usual, cuddled up to each other praying that the storm would go away. Suddenly there was a big bang somewhere in the house, the earth trembled, and annoying noises were coming from the stairs. We looked out of the door and saw the whole basement burning, we closed the door and watched how smoke crept in under it suffocatingly, unstoppably. She opened the only window and we crawled down the ladder, which was again supported against our window, we did not even wonder why, and ran into the trees watching as our house burned with flames that seemed to swallow my whole past life in a big gulp of yellow and red whirl. Our parents arrived quite soon but at that time our house had burnt down totally and remained nothing but ashes glowing in the faint wind.
As the newspapers described it later, there must have been a miracle. Our big walnut tree got struck by the lightning and fell to the entrance door in a way that the whole basement caught fire immediately. Because of the iron bars all over the basement windows it would not be possible to escape the inferno from there. The only possible way was through the bedroom window on the first floor, where we fortunately found a ladder that saved us. The whole town was talking about it and we soon became famous as the two children who were saved miraculously from certain death.
Unfortunately our babysitter disappeared that night and never came back again, the family who wrote the recommendation letter seemed to have never heard of her. We searched through the ashes hundreds of times hoping to find something that we could keep as a memory of our stolen youth there or a memory of her but we could not find anything. My only memory was a medallion that I found in my pocket after she had left; she probably put it there when she helped me climb down the ladder. It was a medallion with an inscription in a language none of us understood at that time ‘Gott schütze dich’ that, years later, we learned was German. On the face of the medallion there was a small child being protected by an angel figure. I kept that medallion by me all the time ever since I had found it; it was my amulet through all these years.
Whether it was from her or not we could never find out, nor her real name or where she came from. But one thing I still can recall even decades later, the last prayer she told us before the storm that burnt down our house, the storm that we hardly escaped; her last words, her last prayer still echoing in my ears forever: "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go".
(Word count 1526)