How quickly the world forgets.....
|We were all sitting in the Thursday afternoon session of Multi-cultural Communications 201. I had grown used to the fact that in the majority of my classes, I was by far the oldest student in the class and in this case, I had perhaps 15 years on the professor as well. At 51 and determined to finally have my degree, it no longer bothered me to be teased and called Grandma by the other students. In this particular class, the ages ranged from 19 to the second oldest in the class, Laura who was 32. And me.
We had been sitting, for the past almost two hours, listening to students read their reports. We had an assignment to interview someone from a different culture. Thus, I had been listening to a number of reports written about interviews of Iranians, Afghani, and Iraqis. Given the events of the past few years, this was not in the least surprising. In the interest of trying to be different, I had written about a 91-year-old Micmac Indian storyteller who was the oldest Micmac Indian in the country.
Laura had written about a lady named Bertha Golanski. Laura told us about this woman in her mid-seventies who had grown up in Poland. Taking the stance, that to her, Laura, a member of the Jewish faith was also a cultural difference, she wrote about this lady as a little girl.
Part of her report went as follows.
"I remember in the summer of 1944 living in Warsaw. It was very hot that summer and our apartment was crowded with my parents, my grandparents and my 2 brothers and 3 sisters, and I all sharing it with my Uncle Frid and his family. We laughed a lot. I remember the laughter. I went to summer camp in Austria. Only my mother, the girls, and I were able to go. We rode on a train to get there and it was a popular camp because everyone else was going there too."
I looked around the classroom. Heads were held up by hands, people doodled as they do when bored by the reading of endless reports. My eyes met those of the teacher and they reflected the puzzlement I, too, felt by the tone of her story. Laura continued reading.
"We all took showers when we got to camp. It had been very dusty on the train and we were dirty. It was time to eat but there wasn't enough food to feed everyone, so some of us missed dinner. It was Friday, but I guess Momma forgot the candles."
I continued looking around the class. No real interest. The man next to me was far more interested in the text messages he was receiving from his girlfriend in another class.
"It was funny taking a shower with everyone together, but momma said it was a camp tradition meant to bring us all closer to each other. There were two sets of showers. Aunt Frieda and Sara and Rachel went into one and we went into the other. I waved to Rachel and she waved back, and Rachel limped away to go take her shower. She was my best friend even though she'd never been able to run like the other kids did. I never saw her again after her shower. Momma said she must have gone to another camp or something. I missed Rachel for a long time. I still miss Rachel."
My eyes met the teacher's again, and she just barely shook her head. At first I'd thought that Laura had chosen a particularly powerful way to tell about her interview, but now, I wasn't quite sure. But she continued reading in a voice that suggested that she was no more comfortable 'reading aloud' than she'd been as a kid in 6th grade.
"There was never enough to eat at camp. We ate once a day and the cooks there were nowhere as good as my Momma. I told her that she should cook our dinners. She told me to hush. That afternoon we smelled meat cooking. I was hungry and it smelled so good. I told momma that it smelled like we'd have lots to eat that night. It was the only time my mother ever slapped me. I cried. I didn't know why my momma slapped me.
"That night we were all given wine to drink. It was the first time I'd ever been allowed to drink wine. I didn't think Momma would let me but she did. She even let me drink hers. It was good, but it made me sleepy. In the morning I had a new bracelet. That's what momma called it. It was numbers and momma said it was like a secret name. It hurt. Momma said that sometimes it was good to hurt. It meant you were alive.
"During the day we raked the dirt. It was like sand only there was no ocean. We had to make sure we raked in straight lines. There were men there who would yell at us if the lines weren't straight. Sometimes when someone was yelled at, they went to the other camp.
"Momma was so pretty. She never talked about losing weight anymore. She had always teased my poppa and he always told her he loved all of her. I worried that poppa wouldn't love her as much anymore when we got back from camp because momma was getting skinny. Momma stopped raking the sand with me. She had a new job she told me. She was working as a nurse in the doctor's office. Momma was a nurse before we went to camp and I was proud of her that she had an important job here. One day Momma was bleeding. She said it was her monthlies and everything was fine. I was old enough to know all about the monthlies and momma had said I should get them soon. I hoped I wouldn't bleed that much."
Perhaps ten minutes had passed and still, the boredom was palpable in the classroom. No one was getting it.
Laura continued her story.
"One day strange men came to the camp. They said we were free. They said we could go home now. Momma said we had no home here. We would go to Paris. We lived there for a long time, I think and then we came to America. I met my Daniel and we've been married for 50 years this summer. We were at the same camp, but we didn't know it. He has a bracelet too.
Laura ended her report by saying that even though Bertha grew up in another country, sometimes the cultural differences weren't all that different. She grew up and went to summer camp and fell in love and was married. She made the comment that different cultures didn't have to mean that people were any different from you or me, that we were all people and that was the bottom line. Laura sat down and the teacher asked if there were any questions about Laura's report. There weren't. The bell rang and everyone gathered their belongings and went on to the next class.
I sat there. Stunned. Totally, completely, stunned. I felt as if a huge, threatening cloud had moved overhead and blocked out the sun.
Had no one 'gotten it?' Not even Laura? The teacher came over and said that this was typical. It was too long ago and people forgot. Towers falling and best friends in Baghdad were more interesting. And in time, I wondered, would that story, too, be lost?
As I walked to my car after class, I heard thunder rumble in the distance, and it began to rain.