Sunday, September 20, 2009
Theresia Baldauf, 1929-2009
On Thursday, we took the night train to Vorarlberg for the funeral for Anette's mom. Last night we took the same train back, and we arrived in Vienna at about 8 am this morning. We're exhausted and cried out. But I want to tell you a little about the woman.
Teresia was one of seven or eight children. Two of her sisters would go on to become nuns. Resi was about 7 when the Nazis took over Austria. In 1946 or so, she was walking home to her village when she saw a young man she recognized from the next town over. He was walking home too. He asked her if she was hungry, and Resi said yes. Then Josef gave her some bread he had in his rucksack. He began to court her, and they married. They were married for fifty-three years, until she died last Saturday.
Ten years ago, when Anette called her mom from the US and said she'd fallen for an American guy, Resi cried. Because she was afraid this meant that Anette would never move back to Austria. I met Resi and Josef on my second trip to Austria, and I may have not made a very good impression on them at first: I was jet-lagged, they offered me red wine, and I was drunk within seconds....
One year, when Resi was sick, I took Anette to the airport in New York, so she could fly home to be with her mom. As she got on the plane, I gave her a Beanie Baby--a little weasel named Runner--and said he would protect her. Maybe Anette misunderstood me, I don't know, but she thought the weasel was a present for Oma, and when she got to the hospital in Vorarlberg, she gave Runner to Resi. For years after that, Resi thanked me again for that weasel.
When we returned from Ethiopia with our Adinah, we made a stop in Vienna before flying back to live in New York. Resi and Josef visited us in the city to meet their new grandchild. As you may have gathered, Austria is not the most progressive place as regards people with dark skin, let alone people with white skin who love people with dark skin. But Resi, devoutly Catholic and seventy-something years old, couldn't stop smiling and hugging Adinah. Even after we laid Deanie down for a nap, Resi kept stealing into the bedroom to peak at our baby.
Christmases at Resi and Josef's house were so nice. We all sang songs together in the stube (living room), and Resi usually made about eight different kinds of cookies.
Two weeks ago, I got the chance to say goodbye to her, as she lay in a hospital bed in that same room. She thanked me--my German is still too shaky to know why--and I thanked her for being such a good Oma. Then I said, 'Tschuss.' (Bye.)
It felt hopelessly inadequate.