Chapter 1 The Beginning
Back to the beginning of the story.
"Why don't we have a grandma?" my children asked one day. We were staying near Ballina while I recovered from hepatitis and David from malaria... a legacy from five months in New Guinea, having unsuccessfully tried a reconciliation with my husband, Bill. My cousin Nancy lived in a house large enough to contain a big family and grandma too, when she came to stay for a while. My children thought this luxury of a grandma was something special.
"You do have a grandma in Germany," I explained. "She sends you parcels. She's your Daddy's mother. And you've got a grandpa in Mudgee. He's my father."
The intricacies of relationships beyond the immediate family were too much for Jacqueline and David, then aged three and five, to fathom. Peter at seven was trying to piece the family tree together. They had never known my mother who had died many years before, and this, as well as the remoteness of their father's people, made it difficult for them to comprehend.
"Can we go and see grandma in Germany?"
"Yes, but not just now. It's a long way and costs a lot. I'll have to go to work and we'll have to save hard."
It was a nebulous idea. But ever since my first trip to Germany when Peter was a baby, I'd had vague thoughts of another trip. When my husband and I were saying goodbye to his family, we had promised to return after ten years. At that time we didn't know we would not be together much longer, and I wondered if his people would think it strange if I arrived without him now.
My husband's mother wrote and regularly sent parcels for the children. I wrote that I had left New Guinea and he was still there. She wrote that she hoped we would all be together again soon. I wrote that I didn't hear from him, but she still wrote that she prayed he could be with us soon. Eventually the day came when she must have realized that we were permanently parted, as she ceased to include him in the address. Photos of the children were what she wanted most from us. As I had no camera, I had to ask friends to oblige from time to time, mainly at Christmas.
One day, Uncle Willi, who was married to Mutti's sister Gretel wrote that he knew I had not heard from her for some time, but that I should continue to write and send photos. They gave her pleasure, but she could no longer put words together coherently, nor write legibly.
"What's wrong with grandma?"
"She's getting a bit old. She's sixty."
"But your grandma in Sydney is ninety-five and she isn't sick," said Peter. "She can still write and she always remembers our birthdays."
"My grandma is extra strong and healthy. The people in Germany eat a lot of fatty food and that can block up the arteries so that the blood can't get to the brain, and then it can't work properly."
An article appeared in the Education Gazette about exchange teaching in Britain, and I decided to apply. My insurance was due to mature in the coming year, and I had saved what I could since going back to work. From Britain we could visit Grandma in the vacations and the children could meet her before she became worse. With typical optimism I told myself that if I were lucky enough to get an exchange position, I would then worry about how we were going to overcome the difficulties. Peter, now twelve would be full fare, the other two would still be "halves".
A phone call from the Department of Education in Sydney announced my success, and my plans began to take a more definite shape. We would fly to Rome and spend a few days in Italy and arrive in Germany for Christmas, then continue to Kent, England for the start of term in January, we would buy a campervan in England, returning to Europe in the long holidays.
Departing at Sydney airport