The “big” Inheritance even a Thief rejected

I think I’ll turn my inheritance into cash,” Jack said suddenly one morning at the breakfast table.

He had been rather quiet munching on his toast. Betty was wondering what Jack was thinking about, because he always had something to say.

What inheritance?” Betty wanted to know. “You never inherited anything from anyone.”

You remember my father’s wedding ring?” Jack asked.

You call this an inheritance? It is just a trinket and the thieves didn’t even take it during the last break-in. They must have thought it is a brass curtain ring. Ridiculous, you won’t get anything for it.”

Dad is dead for forty years now and I thought he won’t mind me getting rid of it. As long as I get a good price for it. He used to own a beautiful silver Italian pocket watch and I, as a young, very young, boy took it and swapped it for an ice cream. He was furious, not because I took it, but because I only got an ice cream for it. He thought I was stupid, not very business minded.”

He knew you wouldn’t amount to anything and he was right,” Betty said with a knowing face. “He wasn’t the only one disappointed in you.”

Jack ignored her remark and said instead,

With the gold prices what they are at the moment, I thought, I can make a quick buck.”

After forty years? You call this a quick buck?”

Jack ignored her sarcasm again.

I hung on to it for sentimental reasons. There is not much that reminded me of Mum and Dad being married twice to each other. We weren’t even invited to the wedding. We were just informed of the fact. He wanted her to be the sole beneficiary of his Super when he knew he would die soon. He was a good man, but never got any credit for looking after the family – right to the end.”

Poppycock, Flemington was his second home and I remember your sisters telling me he was there feeding the horses. That’s what they called his betting habit.”

Ah, well, by leaving his Super to Mum he paid us back handsomely. I never felt deprived while he lived with us.”

And what he didn’t spend on the horses he shouted to his friends at the pub.”

What is your point?” Jack asked now getting irritated by Betty’s sarcasm.

My point? He was a no-hoper and you feel proud of him? Inheritance my foot!”

Mum shared the Super with us and it helped us with our bills in the early years of our marriage.”

I know, I know. I did not want you to get your hopes up too high,” Betty said becoming more conciliatory.

I did not want the ring to lie around and get stolen during the next break-in,” Jack explained.

The next time they went to a shopping centre they approached a stand that bought gold. Those stands have sprung up everywhere to make use of the high international prices for gold. There were even ads on TV with young people trading in old jewellery for cash and one could see them coming out of shops loaded with merchandise. Jack and Betty did not have any illusion of getting so much money that they could go on a shopping spree.

The attendant, a young woman of Indian appearance, was busy wiping and cleaning her little stall from the outside. It is a boring job waiting for people to come to have their jewellery and gold valued. Sometimes she was lucky and they sold the precious metal to her and she could expect a bonus. When she saw the elderly couple approach she hurried into the stall and took an official posture.

What can I do for you,” she asked.

I have here an old ring I want to sell,” Jack told her and showed her the ring he had already in his hand.

You want to sell it now?”

We will see what you offer and if the price is right, we might just do that,’ said Jack, but he really had no idea what he could expect. The ring was big and heavy; bigger really than an ordinary, simple wedding ring. He could not remember his father having big, fat fingers.

The young woman asked permission to run a few tests to establish the gold content of the ring. In the end, it is not all gold that shines and this ring did indeed look suspiciously like a curtain ring. She busied herself with the test while Jack and Betty looked at each other, silently agreeing that they probably will be cheated out of a substantial sum of money.

The woman rubbed on the ring, poured acid on the dust she had rubbed off, weighted it, photographed it and even x-rayed it.

I have to make sure it is gold right through,” she told them. Yes, it was and Jack and Betty were relieved that they would not be seen as a couple of fraudsters. She told them it is 18 carat, meaning it is 75% gold and weighs 12,750gr. Jack felt the giant ring was shrinking by the minute and with it the amount of money he would receive. The woman consulted her computer, punched a few numbers in her calculator and announced she would offer them $190.

Betty and Jack must have looked dumbfounded as they looked at each other – questioning. The woman interpreted it as dissatisfaction with the price offered and added another ten Dollars to the offer. So, that was it. The inheritance did not turn out to be a big surprise but rather a “little” one. They had never seen the ring on Dad’s finger – it was just a piece of shiny metal. If people had told them is was brass they would have believed it, as much as the thief, so many years ago, thought.

They had to fill in forms and they were informed that the ring would not be melted down for another fourteen days, just in case the police took any interest in it. Jack put the two hundred Dollars in the wallet and they walked away.

What we’ll spend the money on now?” Betty asked.

I don’ know,” Jack answered quietly, tired of the whole subject. “We could have a quiet drink or put it in the bank for a rainy day.”

It rains too often for that and won’t last long,” Betty chuckled.

Will a cup of coffee do?” Jack asked.

Yes, let us enjoy a cup and think of your Dad.”

Great-Aunt Marie

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Great -Aunt Marie

The 17th June, is a special day in my life. It marks the birthday of a sister of my maternal Grand-Mother. Great-Aunt Marie, we called her Tante Mietze, would have had her 139h birthday this year. She was born in 1873 in Kirchhain, Lower Lusatia, a small town south of Berlin,. She came into my life in 1938 after our Grand-Mother died. My mother needed help with us kids as she was in full time work.

Tante Mietze became a full time help for my mother. She had an apartment in the same street but later moved into the flat above us to be closer to us and to look after Granddad. We had got used to our Grandmother who was a lovely old lady and we loved her very much. I have fond memories of her, despite being only 3yrs old when she died.

When Tante Mietze took over from Grandmother I did not like her at all. She was not the cuddly type and was much sterner in her application of disciplinary measures. She would not stand any nonsense from us kids and declared that we were she worst children she had ever encountered in her long life as a domestic and mother of her own step-children. As far as I was concerned she could have been right in regards to my terrible sisters, but I was just me. What could be wrong with me?

Over time, by her sheer sense of duty and application to the jobs at hand, she made herself the all important part of our existence. She took us to the Kindergarten and back home again in the afternoon, she cleaned the flat and cooked the meals, she darned our socks, washed our clothes, cleaned up after us – the lot. Later she got us ready for school and supervised us after school before Mum came back home late from work. She worked for us about 12 hours a day during the week, to lunch time on Saturday. Only Sundays she did not come down as it was Mum’s day off from work.

For the first two years Aunty looked after Grand-Pa too. When he died she had more time to work for us. She did not get paid but shared some meals with us. All her efforts for us earned her no credits with my father. As far as he was concerned she made it possible for Mum to go to work and neglect her responsibilities for the family. He hated aunty as an intruder to the family. Aunty had a very low opinion of him, as someone who promises much and doesn’t keep any. She said, ‘He is building castles in the air only.’

Once a month we took a long tram ride to Spandau, the Western most suburb of Berlin, just to pay a life insurance premium. It took nearly two hours and she regularly visited the cemetery there where her late husband was buried. We also visited another cemetery where my grandparents were buried, but this was in another suburb.

I hated those excursion to the cemeteries. Aunty walked fast and I could hardly keep up with her. Sand was everywhere. I tired quickly and sand got into my shoes. But once there, my sister and I, we investigated the graves with their different grave stones. Some had angels guarding them. We were surprised to find the graves of children. Surely, children would not die. Yes they do, my sister informed me, but they go straight to heaven. She would know, because she was was one year and three days older than me.

One of the cemeteries had many Chestnut trees, and in late summer we would pick up the shiny, brown chestnuts to take them home to play with . Because of all those trips to different suburbs, I learned about the different locations in Berlin and how to get there. Public transport became as easy as pie at an early age.

When I was little Tante Mietze took me on her lap in late afternoons and told me stories from her life before 1900 and when she was a little girl in the 1870(s). While talking she was constantly twiddling her thumbs. It got darker and darker and she refused to switch on the lights. The Cuckoo in her Cuckoo clock screaming his head off at every hour.

I learnt of the year 1888 when Germany had three Emperors in the one year. She told me of the snow storm during the funeral of the old Kaiser Wilhelm and boys were climbing on trees and lamp posts to see the cortège. When she worked as a domestic she had only one afternoon off during the week. That was on Wednesdays. This must have been a great day for singles in Berlin and the entertainment industry catered for that with special matinees in the music halls and dance music in the beer gardens. She told me about WW I with the shortages and the civil war in 1918/19 that followed the war. In 1923 they had the great inflation when people got paid every day and then spent all their money the same day, because the next day it would be worthless.

She was a very small person but had lots of energy. She wore long frocks or skirts. Her hair was white and long, done up on the back of her head in a bun. Sometimes I watched her when she did the bun and was amazed at her ability. Sometimes we were allowed into her flat. That was an amazing place. Pictures of old, long departed people were on the walls. Her furnitures were from the 19th Century. There were lampshades with tussles and beautiful leather bound editions of Schiller, Goethe and Kleist’s writings. In a chest of drawers we found soap that must have been at least 50 years old. The soap was hard and dry as a rock but still smelled good of a time long past. Some of the soaps had old fashioned pictures on it of ladies in their underwear.

Saturday was house cleaning day. The carpets had to be taken out, thrown over a wooden beam and then beaten. She showed me how to throw the carpet over. In winter we rubbed snow on the carpet, which gave it a beautiful sheen. There is nothing like beating a carpet in the bitter cold. One gets warm quickly and the sound of it is reverberating in the court yard.

Once a month the curtains had to be washed and hung again. I, even as a little boy, had to climb the ladder and help put them back on again. My mother knew nothing about it. She went to work and our apartment was always in good order. Mum would cook the Sunday meal and bake the most beautiful cakes. In winter the windows were all frozen or misty and we children were drawing pictures on them.

Then came WW II. At first all was all right, but slowly circumstances turned bad. We had to endure air raids and shortages became the order of the day. Then we had to wait for hours in queues before we got what we needed. There weren’t any supermarkets but for all products there were different shops: the green grocer, the butcher, the baker and the dairy shop. As the war dragged on the quality of the produce deteriorated. Tante Mietze complained bitterly that the bread was not the same, white bread became darker and black bread was not properly baked and was sodden. And the potatoes, we learnt were not the same either, they used to come in different colours, she told us. She told us a lot about ‘before the war’ and when there was peace. For us kids it seemed to be wonderland of which we had no memory. War was all we knew. Aunty told us, when she was a child she and her siblings were discussing what they would do when there would be another war. They would dug out a big hole in the backyard in which they would hide.

There was no hiding from World War 2. The bombs were falling regularly on our home city Berlin. We always were in the air raid shelter together and she did not complain when we were thrown out of the air raid shelter because we children made too much noise. In fact Aunty did not like the shelter at all. Once in a while, when my mother wasn’t there, she would refuse to go to the shelter at all and we stayed in the apartment.

Her cooking was supreme. When we asked her what we would have for lunch, she would say, “Don’t be nosey – what the ladle will dish out to you.” Her own favourite dish was potatoes in the jacket and cottage cheese. Of course she cooked other meals. We kids loved potato pan cakes best. She made lots and lots for us. We screamed that we wanted more. There were never enough. In the end she was lucky to get just one for herself.

The end of the war came with the final battle and the Red Army occupying the city. With it came the fear, a real fear I can assure you, that the women could be raped. Women dressed themselves older and Aunt Mietze did likewise. She put a head scarf on to look even older then the seventy-two years she was. When the Russian soldiers were looking for women they approached her and lifted her scarf to look at her face and then said, “You don’t have to do this, you are old already!” She never had to go through the indignity of being raped.

During the same time she snapped one day and had enough of the Russians. She confronted a thieving Russian soldier who came into our apartment to steel silver cutlery. There is a fictional account of the incident on another blog, but in German. I will publish that story in English at a later date.

There was never a letup in her dedication to our family. When my parents broke up we moved in with her in her one room flat. That was during another bad time in Berlin. That was the time of the Blokade.

In 1953 was her 80th Birthday and the Mayor of our Borough promised to visit. Once again history intervened in her life and in East-Berlin was a big uprising against the Stalinist regime in East-Germany. The Mayor had to cancel the visit. But from that date on, until the Reunification of Germany in 1990, her birthday became a national holiday. What a fitting tribute to this remarkable women, I felt.

She died in 1961, at the age of eighty-eight, the same year the communist put up the wall in Berlin. Shortly before her death, we were already in Australia, she sent us money to help with any expenses she felt we must have owing to the illness of our eldest daughter.

This is only a short version of what could be written about Aunty Mietze.

Aunty Marie and me August 1958

I will never forget her!


Relaxing Afternoon

Jack and Betty were looking forward to a happy, relaxing afternoon as their good friends Mick and Maud would be coming for a game of ‘Rummikub’.

Their daughter Carrie, who was visiting at the time, had to go out and was happy to leave the oldies to their own design

‘I’m off then. Be good,’ she said.

‘We will. Have a good time,’ Betty said and soon they could hear Carrie’s car roaring off. It did not take long before Mick and Maud arrived. Soon they were sitting at the table and enjoying coffee and hazelnut cake.

‘Have you settled into your new home at the retirement village?’ Betty wanted to know.

‘Oh, yes,’ Mick said and continued, ‘they call it independent living, but let me tell you, I was pretty independent all my life. Still it is pretty good.’

‘That is the first step to the cemetery,’ Jack said as he picked up the last crumbs of the cake from his plate.

‘Don’t be silly, Jack,’ Betty said, ‘living there would make things much easier for us too and there would be no need for us to look after the house and garden any more. We are getting on, you know.’ Mick and Maud agreed and explained that this was their main motivation too and the kids had less to worry about.

With all this talk time passed and they started late with their game. The first couple of games dragged on, because they had to renegotiate the rules of the game.

‘You can’t do this,’ Mick said as Maud wanted to break up a string, ‘there is a Joker and you can’t break it up.’

‘Why not,’ Maud demanded, ‘we always do it at Smithies’ place?’.

‘But here, we play our house rules,’ Jack said.

Maud blow a raspberry and shook her head, ‘All right, all right, don’t get your knickers in a knot.’

Slowly it became quieter around the table as it took longer to check their tiles against all the possibilities offered on the table. Maud could not help herself saying to her husband:

‘You’re taking an awful long time to make up your mind. We ought to have an egg timer running.’

‘I have to be careful what I’m doing,’ Mick said, ‘and besides, the colours are hard to see. This row over there, is it black or blue‘?

Blue,’ the others said in chorus. Tiredness was setting in. Outside the sun went lower as it prepared for the long winter night. They strained their eyes but did not think of switching on the lights. The room filled with shadows and the players got quieter and quieter till hardly a word was said.

Jack was the first to nod off; then Maud and Mick. Betty had only one tile left and tried all sorts of combinations in her head. She wanted to win and she took her time as the others did not complain about her taking too much time. How could they? They were all asleep.

Jack’s head fell back and his mouth opened. If Betty had taken any notice, she would have said, that he looked the same as her father did when he had died. But she did not take any notice as her eyelids too started to drop. Maud’s head fell onto her left shoulder and Mick’s to his right shoulder as if they were sleeping in their beds at home. Finally, Betty’s chin settled on her chest, the right hand on the table still holding her last tile. She was dreaming she was playing ‘Rummikub’.

Darkness took possession of the room and those brave senior citizens, overcome by mental fatigue, forgot about the world around them. Schumann’s Träumerei, the last track on the CD Betty had insisted she wanted to hear, had finished a long time ago.

They did not hear Carrie coming back and entering the house. She was wondering why the room was completely dark. She searched for the switch and turned on the light. When she saw them all sitting at the table, fast asleep, she thought, ‘My God, they are all dead, poisoned or gassed.’

‘Mum, Dad!’ she screamed.

They opened their eyes and were wondering where they were.

‘Must have nodded off,’ Jack said and the others agreed.

‘And I know how to finish the game now,’ said Betty triumphantly. She rearranged the tiles on the table and exclaiming, ‘I won!’

‘Good, we can go home now and go to sleep,’ Mick announced with a smirk.

‘I’m refreshed now and could play another game,’ exclaimed Betty. However, she knew, the others wouldn’t be in it. They said ‘Good bye’ to each other as Carrie started to prepare the evening meal. 

Confused

“We haven’t been to the  new shopping centre,” Betty said during breakfast while dipping her strips of toast into the soft boiled egg. From time to time she looked at the catalogue, lying on the table beside her plate, advertising the grand opening of the extension of the shopping centre.

Jack was not particularly interested and tried to correct her.

“It is not a new shopping centre, only the old one done up a bit,” he corrected her.

“You said we would go and have a look,” Betty said and turned over a page of the catalogue not even looking at Jack.

“I said if he have some spare time,” Jack said.

“What’s wrong with today? We have nothing else to do. Betty asked.

“I have to think about it,” said Jack as he emptied his cup of coffee and started to gather the dishes so he could clear the table. He hated it that Betty came up with new ideas always when he wanted to relax and take it easy.

“All right, you do the dishes and I have a shower,” she told him and left him to do the chores.

“Why is it, that I always get the wrong end of the stick?” he asked himself and did as he was told. He was amazed. that two people could create so many dirty dishes. The common joke was, that they were thinking some other people must be living with them in the house or that the maid had taken the day off when so much house work had to be done.

Betty, while under the hot, relaxing shower, was musing that it was not that difficult to motivate Jack. He was putty in her hands and that thought made her smile.

It did not really take long to get ready and soon they were on their way. They had not been out that way for a while and they were amazed how much  progress, if you could call it that, the former sleepy village had made. Jack used to call it the ‘the forgotten village’ because it was off the highway. Former cow paddocks had been turned into a shopping paradise that had grown, over the years, out of all proportion.

When they turned into the road to the former car park they got their first surprise. There wasn’t any car park. Instead a large complex consisting of multi story parking facilities and grandiose shopping centre entrances rose from the street level.  Soon they were swallowed up by the parking house.

“It looks so different,” Betty said.

“You can say this again.” Jack agreed and said, “look, they have built such a big park house and still one can’t find a spot.” Indeed all the convenient spots were taken. The old adage of the developers “We will build it and they will come!” seems to have become true  again.

“Look,” Betty shouted, “you just passed a spot. It is always the same with you. Your reaction time is not very good any more. God help us in a dangerous situation.”

“Ah, stop winging, I’m looking – ah, there –  someone has enough  of this place and is leaving already.”

Jack parked the car and got out.

“Where are we?” Betty asked.

“I don’t know, but  we are on level 2C, take note of this. But where is the entrance to the blasted shopping centre?” They turned around and saw some lights in the distance, but no sign pointing towards the shops.

“Jack, lets walk out where we came in. This leads us to the main entrance.”

Jack agreed to that and they started to walk. Having sat in the car for a while had made all their limbs stiff. Their legs were aching and they had trouble keeping their balance. They were wobbling along and  felt like fish out of water.

“Why do they keep changing things?” Jack asked.

“To annoy us, I suppose,” Betty answered. “I want to be out in the sun. I’m cold,” Betty said with a sigh. She was exhausted from the effort of getting out of  the car.

They reached the outside and took a deep breath before they walked slowly up the incline. Then they had to walk up a set of steps. They could see some activity up there and got a kick out of that. They wanted to sit down and have a refreshment and when they saw a café Betty said, “I have a cup of tea here – look at the view!”

Jack did not look but tried to find a table on the outside. It was a beautiful mild autumn morning and the sun did her best to warm their old and tired bones. 

The view was indeed beautiful. They could see across the sparkling water of Lake Illawarra with the escarpment in the background and a blue sky above it.

Betty was sitting and wouldn’t budge.

You go in and order, Darling,” she said. Jack sighed and limbed inside. His knee was particularly bad this morning. Always was in shopping centres. Immobility struck him as a rather nasty inconvenience as a former runner.

A long queue was awaiting him. All was new and people wanted to try out this enticing place that smelled of coffee and chocolate. The young waitresses were busy delivering the delectable food and drinks to the tables. While he was waiting, a young man was handing out samples of the delicious, handmade chocolates they were selling in the shop.

Slowly the queue worked it’s way to the front and as he came closer he could see the prices on the wall. “Oh, boy,” he thought, “they know how to hurt you for that momentary pleasure of the taste buds.”

When it was his turn he ordered the tea for Betty and Italian Dark Chocolate for himself. The price was outrages, but what the heck, one only lives once. He limbed outside and found Betty turned towards the sun and soaking up  all the warmth she could get.

Jack looked around and saw, as usual, young people, with a sprincle of mature women, everywhere. They, Betty and Jack, were as usually the oldest for miles around. 

But they were not bothered by this. What bothered them more was the waiting. Soon they became grumpy.

What are they doing?” Betty asked, “still picking the tea in Ceylon?”

You should have seen the crowd inside, its mayhem in there.” Jack said.

I need some water,” Betty said and got up and walked into the premisses.

When she came out after a while she was was announcing that they would bring out a bottle of water.

One could die of dehydration waiting for a drink,” Jack murmured. The water came long before their hot drinks. There was a coming and going all around. After about thirty minutes waiting, the hot drinks arrived.

I believed they had forgotten us,” Betty said, “This better be good!”

It is good,” Jack said, after he took the first sip of his cocoa, “well worth the waiting!” He held the pear shaped, warm cup with both hands and lifted the spout to his lips again. “Ah, this is good!”

I like my tea too,” Betty chimed in.

You like everything they dish out to you,” Jack said with a frown. For a while they were quiet, enjoying their drinks. They often felt life had to be endured for some moments of pleasure and this was such a moment. This moment was created by the cooperation of so many people around the world.

We really live like the Roman Emporer,” Jack mused, “we get everything we want…”

…yes, from Ceylon and South-America.” Betty completed the sentence.

The slaves have been busy everywhere to get the stuff over the oceans, just for us.” Jack finished the thought. 

When they finished their drinks they decided it was time to do a bit of shopping. Jack wanted to see an optometrist and order a new pair of reading glasses. He kept losing them and it costs him quite a package to replace them. This time he wanted the cheapest one.

In the new part of the shopping centre all looked so unfamiliar and they could not see what they were looking for. They felt they were swimming in a sea of people. Sometimes they were in the same stream and sometimes going against it.

Even in the old part all looked different. Some parts were closed off and the familiar shops gone. Betty and Jack were quickly disoriented and anxiety took hold of them.

If I can’t sit down soon, I’ll collapse,” Betty said.

Sorry, I’ll have to find out were we are and were we have to go to,” Jack said. They approached one of those modern touch-screen directories. When they tried to find the category “Optometrist” it would not show up. When asked for the name of the shop they did not know.

A great help they are,” Jack complained.

You will have to find a service desk,” Betty said, “ they’ll will know.

They stumbled further and finally found an attended service desk. The young women behind the desk were busy answering the queries of the people. When Jack reached the desk he was asked,

How can I help?”

We are looking for a shop and can’t find it,” Jack said exasperated.”

What is its name?”

I don’t know, I forgot.”

Alright,” the woman said with a frown, “what do they sell?”

Sorry, glasses, we are looking for an optometrist.”

The woman named a few and Jack shook his head till she finally said the name.

That’s the one! How will we find it?”

They got their instruction but still had trouble finding the way because the old part of the centre looked like a building site.

All the walking made them tired again. They had not been walking for long, but their self awareness had nothing to do with the limited reality we experience through our senses. For them it seemed hours since they had left the café. Betty especially yearned to sit down.

I need to sit down,” she said. “I can’t breathe in here. It’s the air-condition.”

We are nearly there,” Jack tried to encourage her. And they were. It did not take long to hand in the prescription.

Lets go home, Jack,’ Betty asked and Jack agreed and took her hand and slowly they waddled the long way back to the car park. The original idea of going shopping was forgotten.

Let’s grab some cake and have a cup of coffee at home,” Jack suggested.

Oh, yes – we’ll do this,” Betty chipped in and the thought, that their ordeal was  over soon, made them happy and they were able to walk a bit faster.