My grandfather used to be surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke, tinted with a tangible air of frustration. With each cigarette he lit, he desperately tried to escape his reality, being trapped in a life he had chosen for all the right reasons.
He had sleeping problems and tried to combat them with crime stories he’d read. As a kid I competed with him for the remote control. I wanted to see a children’s programs, where the main act was a bee called ‘Maya’. He wanted to watch sports or Derrick or Tatort. Derrick and Tatort were both german crime series. His name was Rolf and he often reminded me of a lonely wolf. Even in Germany Rolf is a somewhat unusual name. I haven’t come across it very often.
Rolf had a full, grey beard, slightly thinning hair, wich was combed back and he usually wore darkened glasses. He had trouble looking people directly in the eyes. When talking to him, his head was often tilted in another direction all together.
My granddad had an air of grumpiness about him, protecting his soft heart. He laughed rarely. They weren’t a good match, my grandma and him. This was a couple that didn’t get each other in the least. When my grandpa for example tried to crack a joke, my grandma would always get it in the wrong throat and hiss something back at him. Even 40 years of marriage didn’t help her to understand his peculiar humor. It was heart wrenching to witness.
When I was already in my late twenties my grandpa once confided in me, that his big love had been a french woman he had met during the war. He was engaged to my grandma but not married yet. Rolf decided that duty was more important than matters of the heart. He broke it off and didn’t look back once. His french love’s letter was shredded and never responded to.
One thing is for sure. My grandparent’s generation has been deeply traumatized. The war, the horror that was happening in Germany couldn’t leave anyone possibly unscathed.
Both my grandparents on my father’s side were originally from Eastern Germany, which they fled just before the wall came up. My grandpa told me, that they came back one night to fetch their furniture and would have nearly been discovered by the Russians, wouldn’t it have been for Rolf’s mom, who hid them in the basement underneath the coal briquets.
Rolf was running his own practice as a dermatologist, like his stepfather had been doing before him. His life had been hard. Making ends meet, working several jobs at the same time to feed his wife and baby son. That was before he was able to take over the practice.
As a doctor he seemed to be a kindhearted, compassionate man, but for his family there was nothing much left. They had to sit with him in his smoke of frustration. His son, my father, displayed the anger, he so successfully tried to escape. Rolf surely didn’t like what he had seen reflected back in his only son.
My grandpa didn’t play with me, when I was a kid. The only place where he showed some playfulness was when my grandma had laid the table for supper and she was still doing something in the kitchen. He’d provoke me to steal a piece of sausage. It was a big thing at the time. We were committing a crime …
Apart from chain smoking, my grandpa loved to look after his garden and he kept on building things in the house. He’d extend his room with a balcony and at a later date he’d get rid of it again. He could also call a little hunting lodge in the woods bis own. I absolutely loved it there. The place was full of magic.
Rolf was a man, who desperately tried to do things the right way. He was very concerned about what other people thought of him. I believe that most of his anger came from the feeling of having been wronged by other people. But in the end he wronged himself greatly by not following his own heart. It wouldn’t have changed the circumstances he had been thrown in, but it would have changed the way he would have dealt with them and he might have married his first love, the french woman. But then chances are great I wouldn’t exist either.
My grandpa was part of a traumatized generation, which was unable to recover from their inflicted, deep, psychological wounds. No one would go and look for help. It was unthought of.
And so Rolf smoked, had many kidney stones, was grumpy, read crime stories and built things that didn’t need building. Long, withheld, frustrated anger was oozing nearly throughout all his actions.
If we were fined for all the emotional baggage we often pollute our surroundings with, we all wouldn’t have any money to spare. The state would be rich. Imagine, 20.000 £ for dumping your emotions in a public place. Oh boy …
Of course people should not dump their rubbish, but it was also about time that people stopped dumping their suppressed, unexpressed emotions in the atmosphere. And most of us don’t have the excuse of being part of a traumatized generation! It is about time, that our own worlds are more ruled by our hearts than by our minds, telling us what is right.
I loved my grandpa for who he exactly was. And I know he loved me to bits and pieces. I could get away with almost anything.
But I so much would have loved him to have a more fulfilled and happy life!
I bet you, he’s probably still reading his crime stories on the other side.