Short Story – The Babies, 1950 ©Elsa Wolf

*This short story helped me formulate aspects of my published novel. It was originally a version of the prologue, but I changed in the final version. Please enjoy this rendition and find my completed novel on Amazon: Buried Truths, A Daughter’s Tale

Rita kept Mitch’s baby and sent her second born away. After regaining her strength, she returned to her two jobs. Working at the grocery store was never quite the same after Mitch left, but making ice cream for parlors—Eis Dieles—helped her hold onto his memory. Rita never found out what happened to him, but she tried. She had one of his American dog-tags, with his social security number, and she wrote the army. When their return letter arrived, she ripped it open. They didn’t respond in a way she could dispute. The powers that be declared they could only forward letters or give addresses to immediate family. Since Rita and Mitch hadn’t yet married, the army was not obligated to help her in any way. Was he dead, was he alive, where had he gone? Rita thought he must be dead since she was sure he would have come back. He knew where she was. She considered traveling to his hometown to search on her own, but New York was too far away and too populated to do a house-to-house search.

To get her mind off Mitch, Rita hoped to either see her second baby or at least see if they’d found her a new home. Many months had gone by since the child was born. Nothing in her life was working out the way she hoped. Her friends didn’t understand or know how to help, and many of them had abandoned her over the last two years. She had become somewhat of an outcast. They all knew Mitch was gone and couldn’t have been the father of the baby she gave up for adoption. Her friends labeled her a pariah, an undesirable woman, who would never find a respectable husband.

Rita scooped up Mina and they took the thirty-minute bus ride to the convent. The nuns might be more likely to reveal information if she had her older daughter in tow. She watched Mina, who seemed to be happily peering through the window while the scenery sped by. Rita’s eyes teared up on a regular basis and today was no different. Why, why did all these things have to happen? When would life become less turbulent? The nuns were surprisingly kind and said Mina was old enough to have supervised play time with a few of the orphans while the adults talked.

The nuns were surprisingly kind and said Mina was old enough to have supervised play time with a few of the orphans while the adults talked.

 “Go on,” Rita said. “Go with the nun. I’ll come collect you, don’t worry.” Rita nudged Mina toward the nun in the hallway. The woman took her hand and escorted her away with another child.

Rita went into the Reverend Mother’s office and sat in the same chair she had sat in when she’d given up her baby. The Reverend Mother said her baby had been adopted quickly. Her hopes of having a glimpse were gone in a flash.

“Who has my baby? Is she well cared for?” Followed by, “What’s her name, and, where is she?”

“Remember, you relinquished your rights to such information,” the Reverend Mother said. “The child’s new parents are living in Paris. I can’t tell you anything else.”

Rita stared into the fireplace behind the nun and watched while the white smoke took her heart away.

“I’m sorry your life has been difficult, but know you are not alone. The Lord has not abandoned you. Your baby is in good hands and will never want for anything.”

“I understand, but I’m sad all the time.”

Konzentriere dich auf die Tocher, die du behalten hast (stay focused on the daughter you kept).

“Thank you for your help. Rita couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Excuse me, I must get back to my duties. Sister Mary will take you to Mina.”

Rita followed the nun into the meal hall and scooped up Mina, who complained with fits and screams. She wanted to scream like a child, but adults didn’t do such things. On the bus trip home, she finally came to terms with what she had done. The decision made, she would stop pining away for Mitch and find a father for Mina. How to find a suitable husband was unclear, but she had to find someone since her mother was getting older and be able to help with Mina much longer. Rita vowed to find an eligible man who could accept her and Mina. Once married, she could take care of Mina herself rather than relying on her mother. If anyone asked about Mina’s father, Rita would say he was dead. There had to be someone somewhere, perhaps outside of Munich, where no one knew her.

She decided to travel to the village of Buchloe on weekends and established a regular pattern coming to and from home. Gertrude, a friend from primary school, who had moved to Buchloe three years before, might be able to help. As predicted, Gertrude stepped-up. Rita spent the night on her visits and Gertrude introduced her to new friends. In town, Rita walked the streets visiting shops. On every reoccurring visit, she made a point of going to the same spot for lunch. Soon the locals got to know her. She asked if she could make ice cream in their shops. They, like Gertrude, were accommodating.

Before summer’s end, Rita became reacquainted with Gertrude’s brother, Claus. They had not seen each other in years. He was a bit older and had married a lovely woman from Buchloe. Claus mentioned that their friend Dieter might get along well with Rita, but he was a widower and carried a mantle of sadness. There weren’t too many single people left in Rita’s age group. He was ten years her senior. Perhaps Rita could mend his broken soul. Claus arranged a casual group dinner at the local pub.

The months sped by and Rita and Dieter enjoyed each other’s company within the group, but they had not gone on any solo dates. They had shared many conversations covering their day-to-day experiences. Dieter took a particularly long time to open up about his wife’s death. When he did, he explained she died from complications related to appendicitis. He felt responsible for not taking the warning signs to heart. The loss haunted him.

Rita stuck to her story about being a widow and didn’t tell Dieter about the baby she gave away. She was getting impatient with the evolution of their relationship. She had grown to love him, but she was not in love. Perhaps, given enough time alone, her feelings would change. She knew Dieter needed to meet Mina, who was a three-year-old and a hand-full. So far, he had accepted the idea, but a meeting in person would be the final test. After a great deal of thought, Rita decided to bring Mina on her next visit to Buchloe.

Mina was so excited to take the bus to Buchloe, but for Rita the bus ride brought the memory back of their trip together to the convent the year before. Mina stood on the seat the same way she had done before, with her eyes glowing with happiness, while she watched the scenery go by. She was oblivious to her mother’s sorrows.

When they passed pastures of cows and other animals, Mina kept saying over and over, “Mamma, look…” She had never been exposed to so many. Mina fell in love with animals that day.

They walked into Buchloe to Gertrude’s home. Mina was greeted with open arms, but she was a bit shy and clung to her mother’s leg. An hour later Gertrude was reading her a children’s story. While they rested, Rita slipped out to make some ice cream at the nearby shop and pick up a few things for the evening party. She returned to find Mina curled up on the couch, sound asleep.

Rita and Gertrude got to work in the kitchen. The six guests arrived shortly thereafter. Dieter would finally meet little Mina, but Rita was nervous. Her daughter was not like most children because she learned more from her grandmother than her mother and often behaved like a little adult. Rita needed her relationship with Dieter to evolve before Mina started school. They would have to move to Buchloe and start a new life.

Mina began the evening sitting on Rita’s lap, but soon warmed up to all the guests. She showed each of them her new stuffed bear from Gertrude. Everything seemed to be going well.

“Mina, go get a book and bring it back.” Off she trotted and returned with a book of photographs.

Rita was wondering what Dieter would do. She wasn’t sure, but soon discovered he was quite interested in the book and offered to go through it with Mina. This, she thought, could be the next step, and it was. Dieter asked Rita out on a real date before he left. He had not done so before because he said the mysterious child had created an obstacle in his mind.

Rita and Dieter went on their first date, and then another and another. Their relationship developed and Dieter soon learned to love again. The love between Dieter and Rita was not full of sparks, but a love of understanding. The loses they had incurred made them older and wiser than they actually were. She was now 25 and he 30.

They agreed to start a life together. Dieter bought a small house for them that had a spacious yard with a separate building and plenty of rooms, but stalled on having Mina come to live with them. He said, “The house needs a lot of work before Mina can come, let’s see how much I can get done this summer.” He was handy with tools and converted the spare building into an ice cream shop for Rita.

Mina was ready to go to school, but Rita changed her mind and decided she should stay in Munich with Magda. Her daughter could join them on holidays and eventually move permanently to Buchloe because the renovations were taking longer than Dieter expected—Rita accepted his excuse. After all, Magda had spent more time with Mina than she had. Rita promised to visit often.

Rita knew Dieter didn’t really understand what it meant to be a parent. He didn’t see Mina very often, but when he did, he was aloof since he didn’t know how to relate to her as a step-father. It didn’t help that Rita continued to travel back and forth from Buchloe to Munich on a regular basis to see Mina. He often said he was jealous of the child and hoped to feel more complete with a child of his own. He didn’t have to fret too long. Rita became pregnant with his child. Dieter was elated with the news, but his negative behavior toward Mina remained constant.

When Rita visited Mina, she became confused by her mother’s growing belly. She wanted a brother or sister, but she didn’t understand why she lived with her grandmother. By this time, Mina was almost six years old.

“Mina, I have to tell you something important. Before you were born, I had another baby. I couldn’t keep her with me or your grandmother because we did not have enough money.”

“Mommy, are you going to give me away too? Are you going to keep this baby?” The questions poured out with the tears.

In some ways Rita had given Mina away to her mother, “No, little one, I am not going to give either of you away. We have money now.”

“Mommy, where do babies come from?”

“You will understand when you are older. We will not talk about this today. Think about what I’ve already said.”

Mina’s world was shattered. She often asked about her lost sister. “Where is my sister? I want my sister! You are so mean! I will be angry with you forever!”

The New Birth

Rita gave birth to another daughter; they named her Eva. Dieter was a proud father, but he was away many hours each day minding the local hardware store and taking odd handy-man jobs in the neighborhood. It was difficult for them to pay the bills and sending money to Munich each month for Mina irritated him.

Four years flew quickly by. The ice cream business was so busy in the summers that Rita needed extra help that her now four-year-old, Eva, couldn’t provide. Gertrude helped serve on Sundays, which was a great relief.

Rita had finished three new batches of ice cream when she heard the phone ringing in the house. She ran inside and pick up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Frau Richter?”

“Yes?”

“I am calling from Mina’s school. Your mother has fallen in the market and is in the hospital. You need to go to the hospital and then come for Mina. We have not told her anything.”

“Yes, I understand. I will be there as soon as I can.”

“No, you need to be here when school lets out for the day.”

Rita hardly knew how to handle this new development. She rushed back to Gertrude. “My Mother is in the hospital… I need to go. Please stay here and take care of things. I have to do something about Mina. I will telephone you.”

She left Eva with Gertrude and hurried off to the hardware store to talk to Dieter.

He flinched and said, “We knew this day would come.” He turned and walked into the back room. His reaction was cold. She left with fear in her heart.

She jumped on the bus to Munich and arrived’ with only a few minutes to spare before Mina walked out of school. They would go to the hospital together.

“Hi Mommy, what are you doing here?”

The interaction was strained; Rita didn’t know how to explain why she was there unannounced. “It’s my turn to pick you up after school.” Her voice trembled.

They walked for a few minutes without speaking of anything except Mina’s day, while Rita tried to figure out how to explain.

Rita hailed a taxi cab and abruptly told the driver to go to the hospital. This was the first clue for Mina.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?”

“Your grandmother was at the Market and fell. The shop keeper said she needed to go to the hospital. So, she went. That is why I am here today. Let’s go see how she’s feeling.”

When they arrived at the hospital, Mina had to wait in the lobby, because they wouldn’t permit her in Magda’s room. She sat on a bench, while Rita went to speak with the doctor.

“Your mother had a stroke and can’t speak…. She will not recover completely…. If she is stable, in a week or so, we will need to move her to a nursing home.”

Rita was at a loss and was suddenly zapped of all her energy. In her mother’s room, Rita pulled up a chair and scowled while she figured out what to do next. Her mother was unresponsive. Fifteen minutes later she went back out to Mina.

“Mommy, is grandma going to be alright? I have been waiting and waiting for you to come back.”

“Grandmother Magda fell because her brain stopped working properly. She can’t speak anymore; she had a stroke.”

Mina broke down, “A-a-a stroke? What is that? What will happen to her?”

“It’s difficult to explain. The hospital will move her to another home for nursing care for the rest of her life, and you will move in with me and Dieter in Buchloe.”

“Noooo, I don’t want to leave grand mama.” She began to sob convulsively. “I want to stay with her and go to school with my friends.”

“I know things seem horrible right now, I will stay with her for the rest of the school year. In the summer you will have to leave with me.”

Mina pulled away from her mother and ran down the hall to her grandmother’s room. Rita rushed after her as a nurse attempted to stop Mina in mid stride.

“Child, child, you cannot go in there. Hospital rules say….” The nurses’s voice trailed off.

Rita and the nurse plunged into the room simultaneously. They froze in their tracks when they saw how quiet and statue like Mina had become. She reached out and touched Magda’s hand. Magda opened her eyes and her mouth twitched. An indiscernible sound emerged.

“Mina, Grandmother Magda needs to rest. Let’s go and get things organized at her house.”

“Grandma, I love you. See you later.” Mina reluctantly left while her world crumbled. She was only eight years old, and she had been through too much.

Grandmother Magda was dead within the month. Rita telephoned home and Dieter sounded rather agitated. He and Gertrude had been taking care of both Eva and the ice cream shop while she was away. They were exhausted and wanted her to return, but school wouldn’t be over for another 6 weeks.

***

Dieter soon found himself a full-time father of Mitch’s child. He thought it wouldn’t bother him, but deep down he was troubled. He loved his bride, but he really didn’t want to be the father of this child. He continued to try to relate to Mina, but reading to her was all he managed to accomplish. He wasn’t committed to her, like he was to his Eva. He decided he would spend more hours working, while Mina settled into their home with Eva. God willing, he could think things through and get used to the idea of the alien child. He didn’t like the thoughts that plagued his mind. He was ashamed of himself; he knew what he was getting into the day he married Rita. Knowing and experiencing turned out to be two different things. Dieter doted over Eva and lavished her with attention.

***

Mina wanted to love her baby sister with all her heart, but she was jealous. Over and over, she stood back and watched the family of three in front of her and wondered where she fit into the puzzle. Was she a freak? Her life could be complete if her lost sister returned. They were so close in age and circumstances. Mina knew they would have each other to depend upon when Dieter doted over Eva.

Rita attended to Eva, while Mina helped with the ice cream business, went to school, and did household chores. By the time Mina was ten and Eva was four, Dieter began to drink too much and put fewer hours in at work. They needed more money to support four people, so her mother tried to relieve him of his burden by keeping Mina out of his path. He was a selfish man. They worked harder selling ice cream, but money was still scarce. There wasn’t an immediate clear solution until her mother heard the government was looking for foster families to take care of abandoned children.

There were so many children in German who needed homes and not enough families to adopt them (that is why her sister was adopted by Americans). Her mother believed she could give back something to these children and make up for giving away her sister. Dieter agreed, but only because they needed more money and the government would pay them for their cooperation. The agencies were overrun with children. They were all living in overcrowded orphanages with poor conditions. By the end of the month there were three more children in their home and Mina’s mother was determined to make a happier life for all of them. The duties of the house multiplied and Mina soon became the Cinderella sister. She tried to keep an upbeat attitude so Dieter wouldn’t scold her, but he was never satisfied.

***

The money was flowing into the house, but Dieter still behaved like a stranger in his own home. He spent most of his time either working, playing with Eva or drinking more and more alcohol. He became so dependent on his evening “cocktails” that he was drinking away a lot of the extra income Rita had been bringing in for the foster children. Rita had to find ways to hide a portion of the money so all the children would have enough food and clothing. There were days Dieter became verbally aggressive and was known to throw a thing or two across the room. He became more and more difficult to live with.

Rita regretted the day she thought a husband would make their life better—it was not better—he was not the right man. She was stuck in her Catholic principles and would never leave him. Divorce was not an option. Her sentence would be over soon enough; the liquor was sure to kill him.

***

Mina felt helpless, but she continued to help her mother and became surrogate to the three foster children. Her life was filled with school, work, and limited time with friends. Often, she cried herself to sleep at night while she dreamed of her lost sister. Mina wished she was sent away for adoption, too. Life was too hard, and Eva was getting everything she wanted. Mina was left with all the work.

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