Chapter 7 – A Very Special Sunday Morning: Father Comes Home
I was always a very happy child. I started school in September and that October my father returned from Canada. I remember that he came home on a Sunday morning. He had been gone over two years. He hadn’t written to Mother that he would be home, so it was a great surprise for us. When someone called through the window that Uncle Martin was coming, we couldn’t believe it. My mother and grandmother ran out to greet him.
As my grandma had just been in the process of combing my hair and as it was hanging unkempt around my shoulders, I could not go out to see him. I looked out the window, and when I saw my father standing there with all the neighbors, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He looked just like a big city man. His big mustache, which I had remembered so well, was gone and had been replaced with an insignificant little one. He was dressed in a navy blue suit and even wore a necktie, and a raincoat was thrown over one arm. As I looked at him, I thought to myself “We cannot be poor because my father looks exactly like a gentleman.”
I sat there gazing at him and the time seemed interminable until he finally came into the house. My Uncle George, father’s brother, had also come home with him and the two brothers standing there talking certainly looked handsome. When they finally came into the house, my father picked me up and kissed me and kept on exclaiming how big I was. How beautiful those words sounded as all I ever heard was “My goodness your little girl certainly is tiny” because I was always three inches shorter than the rest of my friends who were the same age as I. As much as I liked to listen to his words of praise, I hadn’t forgotten after more than two years that I had been promised an orange on my father’s return from Canada.
After all the initial excitement had subsided, my grandmother suddenly realized that I was still standing around with my hair hanging in straggly wisps around my shoulders. She finished combing and braiding it and sent me on my way to church. Just as I was leaving, Dad remembered the orange. He told me that he had had more but that Uncle George had been so terribly seasick and had not been able to eat anything else except fruit, so Father had given him all of his own except the one that he had promised me. I was so overjoyed that I could not remember a happier moment that could have exceeded this particular one.
In absolute ecstasy, I wrapped the orange inside my handkerchief and proudly carried my treasure along to church with me. I even very generously allowed my friends to take turns carrying my precious bundle. Someone came up with the brilliant idea that it was good to squeeze the juice from the peelings and to let it squirt into our eyes as it was supposed to improve ones’ eyesight. We did this repeatedly until our eyes were red as poppies. The miracle was not the improved eyesight, but the fact that we did not impair our eyes permanently.
The priest might just as well have stayed home that day as his message from the pulpit was completely lost on us and was overshadowed by the marvelous orange. Even one of the women took a swift sniff and hurriedly gave it back to me.
We didn’t hear anything throughout the entire Mass until the priest said, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
When I came home from church, Grandma had dinner all ready and we had to sit in different places because Dad was here now. He proceeded to tell us all about Canada, and even though it fascinated some, it was quite uninteresting for a little six-year-old girl who remembered nothing else than the fact that she had been told that there would be presents for her when she got back home from church.
I gobbled down my chicken noodle soup, and as I never did care for stewed chicken and horseradish, I was finished in less than five minutes. I waited and waited and I swear that they were the slowest eating family ever that day. It took forever until their plates were empty and the last bite of bread and chicken had been swallowed. I think I must have been the most restless child at the table that day. My brother Jacob informed me in 1965 when we were back in Europe that I was always a wiggle worm at the table; consequently, I must have been next to impossible on that day of my dad’s return.
At last dinner was over and Dad quickly gave us our presents before more company arrived. Each of us children received a sweater. Mine was red with a black and red striped collar. Jacob’s was brown with little green speckles in it. Josef’s was striped and had every color of the rainbow in it, and Andrew’s was speckled like a partridge. Each of the boys also received a pocket watch and I got a pair of silver drop earrings and a chain with a medallion with a cloverleaf on its face. Everything was so beautiful. But can you imagine a six-year-old girl who looked more like a four-year-old with drop earrings? Well, I can’t. However, that is exactly what I wore that afternoon to play and every Sunday after that until I lost one.
That Sunday all my friends came to our house and everyone received a piece of hard candy, which my dad had brought back from Canada. Of course, I was the center of attention among my friends.