My mother was born too early. If she had been born in the right year, she would have given Marie Kondo a good run, tidying up everybody’s home, tossing whatever didn’t bring her joy. The problem is she might have tossed me or my brothers.
Her name was Harmke, an old German name that few women in the history of the world have been bequeathed, and she refused to be called anything else, not Buffy or Missy or some other cute nickname that might have been thrown her way. The moniker fit her personality, so Harmke it was. And I did my best to stay out of Harmke’s way. I was smart that way. My brothers? Less so.
Yesterday, I did something that I swore I would never do; I became my mother. She’s been in the ground for 10 years, but I heard her very words and voice cackling to my granddaughter. I was surprised—shocked actually—to see her face looking back at me in my mirror. She stood there defying me to be my normal, sweet-tempered, kind self. Instead, I just saw gray hair, glasses, and a stodgy German shape.
For us Germans—my mom, and I guess, now me—the trains always run on time. Give us a hoe and a field and we’re happy. We can hoe that field, deliver a baby, and not miss busting up a single stubborn clod of dirt in the row. We will then carry the baby into the house and fix dinner before chopping a cord of wood. My brothers called her Field Marshall Von Harmke, and, upon receiving her orders, snapped to attention, clicked their heels together and said ja sofort, Frau Kommandant…right away, ma’am.
The worst part of my day occurred after I cackled at my granddaughter. She stood, mock-saluted, clicked her heels, and quipped, “Right away, Grandma.”