My grandmother was born into wealth. Her father owned a coal mine in Germany.
She was an only child and her mother did not love her. She came from a long line of women who did not love their daughters.
When the war came, her family fled Germany. They became poor, and poor people have goats. They unlearn their love of cow’s milk and become accustomed to goat’s milk. Every day the smell of that milk permeated their cramped home like an intolerable reminder.
The goat sickened suddenly, died the next day.
In her new school my grandmother became one of the poor children. They sat away from the children from well-to-do families.
The most well-to-do was a girl named Maya. Maya was plump and well dressed, my grandmother was gaunt and shabby. My grandmother would watch Maya unwrap her school lunch every day and stuff delicacies into her pretty, plump face.
The day before school let out for the summer the nurse’s thermometer was stolen; it was found broken, the pieces stuffed into the trash. Maya became very ill, and when she returned for the next school year her cheeks had lost their plumpness and her appetite had vanished.
My grandmother almost became a doctor. In the end she didn’t; she married unhappily and birthed a daughter. Her whole life people wondered why she had squandered her talents.
My whole life people have been telling me that I am bright, that I could have done more with my life. Maybe. But this is what I did with it.