Wednesday, August 26, 2015


    I am joining fellow writers on Kate Motaung's blog who are doing a bi-weekly online discussion group.We are using On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits For A Writing Life That Lasts by Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig. I am personally reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg as inspiration.

"The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative."

                                          Bruce Feiler

 This requires you to notice and record the details of your life.

   My Aunt Hanni was hugely interesting. She joined an American church in her twenties with her aunt without approval of her family, she survived World War II with her mother, traveled across the border more than once to help her sister get out of Eastern Germany, wrote letters to a German American who she later married, emigrated to the US alone, married an older man in her later thirties and together they joined a polygamist sect. She was the skeleton in my family's closet bur we loved her openheartedly because she loved us passionately.

   She wore her waist length dark hair up in a bun, secured by combs and pins. A tendril frequently escaped and waved in the breeze. To hug her meant you were enveloped in her ample bosom which brought the lovely smell of soap and perspiration to your face. I liked that. She was real, with rock hard opinions yet soft responses.

   On my summer trips to her farm as a child I often stayed for an entire week. Jumping out of my father's car I approached her front door with excitement. A screened in porch preceded the front door. There on the porch table she always had a puzzle, at least a thousand pieces. Off to the right of the doorway was a little couch where we sat to watch the trains go by. We played a game called Guess What Color The Caboose Is. We would give our guesses, red, black, yellow and shout with glee if we were right. Through the front door was a dining room with a beautiful table laid with a handcrafted tablecloth. I made a beeline to the closet under the stairs. There she stashed the toys. Lincoln logs seemed such a new and exotic toy to me. I was raised alone and did not have building toys.
Through a doorway we entered living room which had the comfortable couch and recliner and right above the couch, a painting.

   As a child I looked at this painting often, especially when I was supped to be taking a nap. I yearned to know what was behind the trees along the path. I believe my aunt purchased this painting because it reminded her of her homeland and the Riesengebirge, (Huge mountain range).

  Some weeks ago, while visiting with my aunt's friends they offered me this painting. Luckily, my daughter and I had taken a car on this road trip instead of a plane. We carefully managed to fit the painting in the backseat.

    At home I started noticing how muted and faded the painting appeared. I decide to take a huge risk. I re-colorized the entire image with acrylic paint. It did change the style of art but I like what I did.

    It made me fall in love with the details again. The red roofed huts, reflections in the lake, changing seasons of the trees, and especially the pathway around the lake. As I was painting I decided the pathway went around the whole lake, just like the pathway around my brother's cabin in Colorado.

      This painting now hangs above my mantle where I look at it everyday. I feel close to Aunt Hanni in an intimate, connected way. She would be pleased. Her deepest desire was to see her family happy and connected. Her story is an important family narrative and this painting makes it easier for me to share it with my grandchildren.

  "The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come."
Bruce Fieler


  1. Oh, Gabriele, this is a beautiful, beautiful post, which spoke to me on so many levels. Loved your description, "rock hard opinions yet soft responses", so wonderful. Loved the quotes you used (which made me cry, having lived what we have lived through and being so, so, far from "home")...loved your memories of the painting and the obvious deep love you have for it (do you think it was your Aunt Hanni that prompted your own love of art?) and I so, so love that you decided to 'renew' it in the way you have....(so, so much I could say but I'll leave it for now....not only do I have tears running down my cheeks but I also need to go and pick my daughter up from her first day of Big School!) Much love, Helen xxx

    1. Wow! Helen you make me feel so good. Not that I like that you got teary but that you found something worth reading here.

  2. You noticed it once and again, with your inner eye, brightening the colors to match what you'd seen before. What an eye! You are modeling a personal and creative way to notice and work with what you capture. And the memories from your childhood visits to Aunt Hanni's? Well, I'm a tad jealous. My inability to retain such a level of detail makes me yearn to have a memory like yours. Do continue to write these things down. They are precious not only for your family and yourself, but even for us, the blog reading public. You've introduced us to a lovely woman and the space she created where you spent significant, formative time. May you continue to find satisfaction following those creative nudges.

    1. Thank-you Ann. I will continue to notice and write what I see.

  3. Like Ann, I'm a bit jealous at your recall of such detail from your childhood. I have found some of the prompts in the book help my recall more. You have a treasure in the painting and you've made it more special by your personal touches.

    1. That is so nice of you to say, Debby. I think we will all be waking up our memories in the next weeks.

  4. Gabriele, this is a beautiful post. I loved all the detail you included, and as others have said I'm impressed at the level of detail you remember. Your Aunt Hanni sounds like an amazing lady, and I love the painting too. I really just love everything about this post.

  5. Carly, thank-you. Comments make the writing more fun. I love having these digital conversations.


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