‘Heidi’ to Heidegger – page 2

‘Heidi’, was to become my Standard Model for  how the world worked. I read and re-read it.Written in two parts, in  1880, by the Swiss writer, Johanna Spyri, the first book was entitied: Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travelling’. This seemed apt. Here was a heroine I could identify with completely.

I was 5 years old; so was Heidi. Her parents were dead; mine were soon to divorce. She had an aunt called Dete; I had an aunt Dorothy. She was raised by the ‘Alm-Uncle; I was being raised by Elsa the cook, Willi the gardener; and Cecilia, our maid. We four  would all congregate in the warm kitchen of  our last home in Germany at Wahn- a -Heide, near Koln, after I came back to the empty house from school. I then  became ‘Mandylein’ – cuddled, kissed, fed, loved. My hair in golden plaits; speaking in German to my loving, makeshift family.

I still remember the 30’s geometric black and white tiling in the kitchen; the  warm grange, the high stools at the breakfast table.  Love,security, warmth.  The central heating. Apples stored in the attic to ripen; red squirrels jumping from tree to tree. Elsa, scooping me up in her arms, decorating a six-foot  Christmas tree, with magical white candles, secretly for me, then opening the door to show it to me – and my gasps of joy, wonder and surprise. Weihnachten.

One day, I wrote in my exercise book at school, stamped with Overseas Services Personnel Only on its cover that: ‘ My mummy has gone to the UK’. And that was it. She had left  My father was nowhere to be seen.

Now I spent more and more time with my ‘adopted’ family. I visited Elsa and Willi’s home. They were so poor. They seemed to own nothing. Elsa’s legs were blue and mottled with cold.  I adored Cecilia – a sixteen-year-old Polish refugee. How had she ended up here in Germany?  What was her story?  She would chase me round the house; we’d skate on the beautiful, polished, parquet floors. I’d slide down the magnificent bannisters of our ‘sweeping,marble staircase’. A cliche. But true.  I’d hide in cupboards. I adored her; she adored me. She had bare legs even in the bitter winters. Old, broken boots, One day, Elsa arrived wearing stockings – with many holes. We found some old shoes, in the garden; stuffed them with straw and left them outside my bedroom door one night.

For the  imaginary reindeer.

We were all refugees.

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