Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prayer in the Outland

My great-grandmother, Margarete Kayser, was born in 1883 in Boerrstadt, a little farming town in the Donnersbergkreis area of the Rhineland-Pfalz region in Germany. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven children. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother died just before she turned 19. She went to work for her father's cousin's family in Frankfurt. They had a bakery and an apartment building there. While she was there, she met my great-grandfather, Fritz (Friederich), one of the family's younger sons, who was home doing his required military service. They fell in love.

Fritz (hereafter known as Great Grampa) returned to the United States (he had come to the US earlier and returned to Germany to fulfill his compulsive service) and Gretel (his name for her) followed a year later and they were married in Springfield, Massachusetts where they settled and lived out most of their lives. They visited Germany a few times, but never stayed for long. They operated a bakery until fairly late in their lives. My great-grampa died when I was 18 mos old, and she died about a year later.

My great-grandmother inherited some of her mother's books, prayer books and hymnals and the like. Lovely little books printed in the heavy gothic German script of the late 1800s. She also kept a Book of Days (my term), a beautiful little printed book with a poem/verse for every day of the year. In it she recorded births and deaths in the family. In the back there were pages for notes, and she wrote in it. Her mother wrote in her books too. Unfortunately, even native German speakers are having a terrible time deciphering my Gr Gr Grandmother's writing. The books were not expensive, and the cheap paper and ink has deteriorated significantly. And the writing is in the old German style, which is very hard for even native speakers to read. However, my Great-Grandmother's day book had clear writing.

I asked one of my son's preschool teachers if she could translate it since she is from Germany. And she gave it to me this morning. It was a poem.

Prayer in the Outland
By Julius Sturm 1816-1896

Oh, it must be so sad, if you have to die so lonely (alone)
If no eye greets us to sweeten the pain

No one fluffs our pillow
No one squeezes our hand
When strangers stand around us
Who look at us coldly while we are dying.

For this I am praying to you, God
Oh, don't call me earlier from here to come to you.

Until I find again my dear Homeland
Where love is greeting me
sweetens every pain
And loving hands (from a friend) lower me into the grave.

There, where my cross is standing on a (little) tower
In a golden shine
Where also my brothers' coffins are
A green hill (hold "the coffins")
Not far from my sister,
There I want to be buried.

I read it to my mom this afternoon. Apparently Great-Gramma had talked about going back home, eventually, but she never did. And although my grandmother was able to find a Catholic priest to give her last rights as she was dying, and she became more peaceful as she was able to recite the familiar words in German, she did die alone.

But she isn't forgotten.

1 comment:

Julia said...

When you find things like this and feel so connected to your family's history, it makes me see the appeal of the genealogy thing. What a lovely thing to see the humanity of your great-grandmother in such a real way...