As I look back to my earliest memories, I do remember a couple of things that happened when I was in kindergarten:
First — there was a fight with another kid. He took something from me and I went ballistic, with punching and biting and me ending with a bloody nose. I remember very clearly the bloodstain on my shirt getting bigger and panic in teachers’ voices when they couldn’t stop that bleeding.
Second — two teachers standing over where I was playing talking about me. I remember that I built a circus from wooden blocks with a circular arena, and I was pretending other blocks were animals and acrobats and clowns doing tricks. They were talking out loud, I guess they didn’t think I would understand what they were saying. I did understand and remembered it. They were concerned about me, that I don’t interact well with other children, that instead of being a part of the group, I rather play some imaginary games by myself. That I make up strange stories. That I read too much (6-year-olds shouldn’t be reading by themselves). I remember being hurt by what they said, that they see me as somebody different (and worse?) than other children. That thought stayed with me for a while, and I also remember that I desperately tried to fit in just to be seen as normal.
But there is also another memory. It is about my great-grandmother — she died when she was 87 years old in 1978, so I had to be 4 years old when that happened. At that time, she lived with my great-aunt (my grandfather’s sister) and I would visit them once in the while. I remember that I had to be very quiet there, that everybody had to talk in whispers only so she wouldn’t be disturbed. I remember her room with heavy drapes over the window and perpetual twilight there. I remember her, always dressed in her Sunday best, sitting on the sofa just gazing in the space or reading one of the two books on her desk. I remember that once I opened one of those books and immediately got a swift hit in the back of my head — “never touch other people’s things without permission”. I remember the strange letters in this book — only later I realized that those books — a Bible and “Lives of the Saints” were in German and were printed in a gothic typeface.
My great-grandmother grew up in Poland before the First World War in a well-to-do household. And as a status symbol between the wars, she employed German maids and a Prussian governess — my great aunt once told me that she spoke mostly German at home when she was growing up. And those books were most likely printed in the XIX century and passed on as family heirlooms. They were huge and as heavy as German Catholic and Protestant guilt.
I remember asking what she was doing, just sitting there in her room and occasionally reading, and why is she always dressed in that somber and proper way. I don’t remember who answered, saying that she is just waiting to die, and she is always dressed in her best clothes to be prepared when she meets her maker.
I wonder why I remember that particular situation from 43 years ago so well?