Find #1: I went to the bookstore this week to buy a marker for a book I’m reading. I went with this one, a design based on the British in-case-more-hell-eventually-breaks-loose morale-raising poster of WWII days:
Find #2: I’ve brought home a wonderful new cup. It’s a nice white porcelain mug with an old-style black silhouette image of a lady. I loved the look and shape of it, and upon studying the packaging, found out that “a hot beverage brings out the zombie within.” In other words, when I fill the mug with my hot drink, her silhouette turns into a monstrous Lady Undead. I thought the cup charming enough on its own, but was curious about the lady-turned-zombie aspect of it, so I prepared a coffee. As the hot liquid poured down, the beautiful lady turned into a shell of her former self! It’s a fun addition to my cupboard. I feel like I’m drinking coffee with my own little porcelain Dorian Gray portrait. Unfortunately, I can’t point you to a place online where you can check it out or purchase it because I can’t find anything about it online, but if you’re curious I got mine at Barnes & Noble. It’s presented in a very nice box, costs $10.95, and also comes in a male silhouette version. Nice gift idea, I think.
Pseudo-Find #3 (a pseudo-find because I found it, but did not buy it): I walked through the bargain shelves and a book caught my eye. It was this one:
Extreme Survival: Wilderness, Terrorism, Air, Sea and Land. I am amazed–there’s a book that teaches you how to survive both Grizzly bear attacks and terrorist attacks. So I stood in the aisle, flipped through the pages, read some different passages, laughed pretty hard. I’ll be honest, there is some useful information in there, but so much of it is presented with this paranoid tone that anticipates a myriad of such unlikely scenarios. Yes, yes, any one of a million bizarre things “could” happen, but good God, to sit there and prepare yourself for each of those scenarios… The text in the following picture reads “hair spray or deodorant can be used as an effective way to interfere with an attacker’s vision. As with the rolled magazine and the keys, the aerosol needs to be carried in such a way that it can be brought into use quickly with the dominant hand.”
So now when I’m out for a stroll, I’ve got to carry a rolled-up magazine or a bottle of deodorant angled just so, eh? I think I’ll stay home and study this book instead; it’s obviously far too dangerous out there. There is a section on how to make a debris shelter; this prompted me to go to the index in search of a chapter on “How to Make Your Own Ghillie Suit.” I was sorely disappointed–nothing in the book about it! Pity, as I had high hopes for a good Halloween costume. Maybe 2011…
If you do buy this book, leave plenty of space in your travel/gear bag for it–it’s a big hardcover coffee-table book and weighs a few pounds. Maybe not the easiest book to carry around for all those disastrous just-in-case situations.
Mind and body are in hyperdrive at present…To be fair, I am a bit inebriated as tonight was a wine night, but anyway, I was watching TV waiting for my show to start (the brilliant Boardwalk Empire starring Steve Buscemi). HBO was playing an ad for future programming and I saw a quick glimpse of that face, but that’s all I needed to see; I’d know that face or voice anywhere. It was Sean Bean. I literally screamed out loud. Twice. Again, there’s wine at play, although I can’t necessarily say I wouldn’t have had the same reaction had I not had anything to drink. There’s a new HBO original series starring Sean Bean. Mark Addy’s a main character too apparently (thumbs up; I’m smiling). There are no words…
Oh yes, the series…It’s Game of Thrones, based on the fantasy book series by George R.R. Martin. I’m sorry, I can’t even think clearly–Sean Bean is starring in an HBO Original Series, set to air in 2011. And there are ornate costumes and swords. That is all.
Some of you are already familiar with another blog post of mine, “When the kids malfunction.” When I had written that post, I was having a hard time finding photographs of myself misbehaving as a small child–I’m sure a few exist, but scout’s honor, even my family will tell you that they are few and far between as I was a well-behaved happy-go-lucky child (I do, however, have some awful diva-proportioned meltdowns captured on home video at different times during my toddler years…). Today, I was looking through photographs and came upon a couple old ones of myself and was reminded of a kiddie malfunction that I experienced well past toddler age.
I clearly remember the malfunction taking place: it was an early Sunday morning at home in Miami. I was nearly 11 years old. I was sitting on the ottoman in front of the television watching Looney Tunes. I decided that while I watched my favorite cartoons, I would “reshape” my eyebrows…
As the morning went on, the rest of the household began to crawl out of bed for late breakfast and lazy day lounging about. I went to greet my parents in the kitchen and my mother gasped. “LISE! WHAT DID YOU DO??” I feigned ignorance and gave a weak “What do you mean?” in response. “Bas! BAS!” my mother called out urgently–my father’s nickname. My gut sank a little further when my father walked over. See, my father is an ophthalmologist (translation: eye doctor/eye surgeon), and he was about to find out that his foolish daughter was now without half of her eyebrows. He cupped my face and peered down, squinting, studying my face. His commentary: “OH! (the quintessential Haitian Creole interjection, which defies description; you’ve got to hear it in person to understand it) Why did you do that? You shouldn’t have done that. Don’t do that again.” My older sisters saw the damage soon after, looked a bit shocked, then laughed hysterically, chiding me (gently) for my actions whenever they could get a breath in between the fits of laughter.
My mother looked slightly heartbroken the next morning while she prepared me for school, as it wasn’t a regular school day. That particular Monday, I wouldn’t wear my traditional Catholic school uniform of plaid skirt and monogrammed white polo shirt; that Monday was Picture Day, the day that we get to wear a nice outfit of our choosing in order to look our best for our photo session. Removing half of one’s eyebrow hairs the day before Picture Day without using a mirror–not recommended. All I can say is it’s a good thing I’m not easily embarrassed.
I’m pleased to report that in the roughly 20 years that have passed since Picture Day, my eyebrows have made a full recovery.
Was feeling a tad disenchanted with mail service recently… Mail service musings in haiku and limerick form:
Bad Mail! by the Sunny Global Diva
The Post is pissed at
UPS and FedEx, but
Post takes too damn long.
The Phantom of Philly by the Sunny Global Diva
There once was a postman named Willy.
He used to take parcels to Philly.
He was eager to work,
but turned into a jerk
who steals insured mail willy nilly.
***Photo by Oran Viriyincy
**This originally began as a straightforward blog post about the errors that plague our common written language these days, but then I decided that these errors would be best showcased in an example of personal correspondence. So I’ve taken the liberty of creating a character through whom I can communicate this oft-seen nonsense–Hayley Dunce. Hayley is emailing her friend, and I’ve purposefully peppered her message with a plethora of colorful grammatical/spelling/word usage errors that we see all day in emails, printed advertisements, facebook, online messageboards, etc. Dear readers, I give you Hayley unleashed; let’s see how many sentences you can finish before the headache starts to creep in.
To: Alexia von Veltheim <Alexia_VV@normal.com>
Subject: pleeeeeease read and respond!
From: Hayley Dunce <HayleyD@whatever.com>
You really hurt my feeling’s that nite when you wrote me that note. I know that I dont always have the best speling and that my emails and messages have lot’s of grammatical mistake’s in them, but beleive me, I mean no offense, and im definteley not stupid. You didnt have to start preaching about apostrophe’s this and plural that. I went to 1st grade two. The thing with apostrophe’s is that there almost always followed by the letter “s.” So yes, I put them into lot’s of word’s that end with “s,” you know…just to be safe. And its not like you cant figure out what Im saying. Whatever. Anyway’s, whats a few mistake’s between best friend’s? I dont know anyone with a better friendship then hours, and I know that are love and understanding is fur real and will stand the test of time. Thats why its such a waist when we spend so much of are time fighting. Your the best friend Ive ever have had, the best friend I could of ever have had hoped for. And girl, thats sayin allot!
Are you going to my cousins birthday tommorrow? Supposably its a surprise party, but i think she prolly already knows about it, HAHA, my family cant keep secret’s! I was thinking of comming to your place first so we could do a little shopping, get are hair done and maybe get some new clothes’s? I could of used a new outfit last Wensday when I met up with David. Speaking of David, we were spending allot of time together, but he was just taking way to long to make up his mind about me, so i gave him the boot. He hadnt even asked me out for cofee yet! So Im sorrey, I had to say “BY BY DAVID!” I refuse to sit around waiting for boy’s to make up there minds! I dont understand guy’s sometime’s! They say they want girl’s to sit back, let them take the lead. But you sit around and wait, and weight, and way for them to do things bye theirself, than they sit their and want the girl’s to do all the work! Whatever! Their’s lot’s of fishes’s in the sea! Didnt you have the same problem with that guy Mark last month?? Arent we a pare?! HAHA, we should be guest’s on the Orprah show or they should do a TV show about are luv lifes! Between your relationships and mine’s, their’s enough material their to fill a libary! HAHA, or at the very least they can fill an encyclopaeadideiea! Luv is sooo complex. I mean, everyone wants the same thing–we all want happinness and contemptment–so why do we make areselfs and each other sooo unhappy?
Bye the way, I think we should quit the weekend job’s at the pool. Did you see those guy’s who took all the credit for cleaning the floor’s and washing the dishes’s when where the ones who did ALL the work?? Beside’s, ive been eating way to many burger’s and chip’s while im their, and ive gained a little wait. My lo-rise pants dont even fit anymore, and to go out to the movie’s last nite, i had to pull out some aweful high-wasted jeans from like, 1994! Holey crap, rite?! HAHA, totaly infashionable that nite! Soooo hummilliating!
Oh, my mom told me you called this morning to thank me for dropping off the or-durves and desert last week before the party. You know you dont have to thank me for that crap! But your welcome anyway’s, HAHA!
OK, let me know about tommorrow, weather you wanna go shopping before my cousins party, or if you wanna get together for some cofee. Or we could pretend were from Englend and drink tee! Ive always wanted to do that–HAHA, very sivilized and refined, just like royaltey at a cassle! Im good with whatever you choose.
Luv you fur EVER and fur ALWAY’S!
P.S. – My dad and brother and there friend’s are going dear hunting up north in for months. You wanna do a Medditerrannean cruise or something during that time?! Ive never been to Itlay or Grease, but you no what they say : europe is like having babie’s–its a pain in the ass but you gotta do it! HAHA, sooo histerical, i LUV that joke! No one id rather have their buy my side then you. We will disgust tommorrow over cofee. I have to go make a list of thing’s i have to get done by the weekend. I wood of done them already, but you know how it goes–hear one minute, their the next. Ill call you tonite. You better pick up the phone, you know i hate it when you scream your call’s. Thats fine for stranger’s but dont do that to me or ill totaly kick your ass! HAHA, just kidding! Luv you fur EVER!
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” – Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I walked into my office this morning, disappointed to hear the receptionist tell me that a highly anticipated package due my way still hadn’t arrived. I sat down at my desk, feeling slightly worried about the whereabouts of my parcel, opened my email, and smiled upon finding a “Happy Tolkien Week!” message from Biblio, online purveyor of rare, used, common and uncommon books. September 22nd marks the birthday of feisty Bagginses Frodo and Bilbo of Middle Earth fame (and the date of the Long Expected Party thrown in honor of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday), and this day has long been observed as “Hobbit Day.” The week containing the 22nd is “Tolkien Week.” Tolkien week honors J.R.R. Tolkien as well as his son Christopher, and the books of the Middle Earth cycle.
How could I have forgotten? Tolkien’s stories have been such an important part of my life. One of my best friends joked to my family long ago that I would inflict horrors upon future offspring one day, giving them names like Boromir and Frodo (for the record, I draw the line at Frodo; Boromir’s a toss-up but only because of the lovely Sean Bean). There’s no telling exactly how many days of my lifetime have gone into reading and dissecting the Middle Earth cycle, how many have gone into watching Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. I can’t tell enough about how a shared passion and excitement for something can bring people from all over together–I have a friend whom I met through an online Lord of the Rings forum. Geeky/nerdy? Yes. But we’ve known each other for almost ten years now, and our wonderful conversations and exchanges moved on well past elves and Mordor years ago.
I’ve always had a great love of fantasy, so these stories were right up my alley. My favorites are The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales and the more recent Children of Hurin, as I’m a sucker for backstory. I haven’t thought about the beloved Middle Earth books much this year–I spent a good chunk of 2010 fixated on acquiring one particular hard-to-find book that I’ve really been wanting to read (the package that I now eagerly await in the mail). Shame on me for forgetting my favorite escapist writings! So in honor of Hobbit Day, I think I’ll revisit Middle Earth and forget about other books for a short while. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a sorted list of Biblio’s collectible Tolkien books so that you can check out delectable decades-old leather-bound editions of LOTR, gorgeous first edition copies of The Hobbit, and a slew of other beautiful old Tolkien books that my shallow pockets and I admire from afar.
For tonight, I’ll head to my bookshelf and pull out Bilbo’s Last Song, gifted to me through mail several years ago by a sweet woman I met online through a Lord of the Rings forum. It’s Bilbo’s farewell poem as he stands at the Grey Havens preparing to leave Middle Earth forever, published posthumously and beautifully illustrated by the late great book illustrator Pauline Baynes. That will be my happy read for the evening. Hope you find a happy way to celebrate this Happy Hobbit Day!
I leave you with my absolute favorite tribute to Middle Earth: an awesome song and video by brilliant New Zealand music/comedy act Flight of the Conchords. Enjoy…
I’ve always had a great appreciation for china, stemware, things of that sort. I value both the functionality and beauty that they bring to my meal and drink. I had this one favorite latte/macchiato glass that I would use to make beautiful coffee drinks in the mornings. One day, I heard the unmistakable sound of broken glass. I came into the kitchen to find my coffee glass shattered and an expression of guilt and horror on my husband’s face. I reassured him that it was alright, that I would get a new one sometime soon.
Months went by and some mornings, I really missed my glass. ‘It’s just coffee,’ you may say, but as someone who tries to celebrate each meal and drink, it’s not just caffeinated black water for me. It’s good coffee that deserves to be served in a beautiful vessel. One day recently, I decided that I would replace my glass and get a few extras, so I went onto the Nespresso website to buy some and was sorely disappointed–no more of their signature latte glasses. And none on ebay or Amazon either.
Fortunately, I’ve acquired many beautiful cups over the last few years and they bring a smile to my face every morning as I admire the artistry that went into their design. A couple of them are pictured below:
As is obvious, I have a thing for coffee cups and teacups. I have many different kinds, and love collecting them; I consider them little pieces of art. There’s one particular set of cups and china that I’m happiest to have acquired, mostly through different auctions: a vintage collection of the Acapulco china by Villeroy & Boch, designed in 1967 (pictured below). The Acapulco line’s pieces are covered in groovy vibrant bird and flower artwork, inspired by Mexican art. Villeroy re-introduced this lovely look a few years ago in a more modern form–they applied the Acapulco pattern to their popular New Wave china for a masterful blend of sleek and artful. But I like the old collection better. It’s incredibly charming and I feel that the colors pop more. I often drink my coffee out of these pieces. I love that the old run of Acapulco yielded lots of oversized/in-between sized cups, which means I have cups that are perfect for espressos, but also ones that are perfect for lungos, cappuccinos and whatever else I make. Since I like to add whipped cream to all my coffee drinks (because coffee rocks a little harder with whipped cream), I like to use these bigger cups to run one or two shots, and there’s still plenty of room left for the whip without it overflowing. Some of my pieces are from the ’60s, some are from the ’70s. I ended up loving the cups so much that I’ve bought several different pieces here and there through auction– trays, teacups and saucers, plates, trivets, coffeepots, teapot, egg holders, teabag holders, ashtrays (I don’t smoke, but these ended up being bundled in with other pieces I liked, so I’m glad to have them anyhow) and I’ve amassed a great collection.
For our anniversary, my husband presented me with a big, heavy, beautifully-wrapped box. Inside was a set of beautiful latte glasses. These particular coffee glasses (pictured below) are tall ones by Villeroy, with removable stainless steel handles in the curved New Wave shape. The glass is a classic, pretty window to the drink; the steel gives a funky modern finish. So, I pine no more for long-lost coffee cups as I’ve been given this lovely set of replacements. I’m happy.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (wow, that’s a lot of capitalized words) is currently making the rounds in the States–promoting his book, doing the talk show/news show rounds, receiving big awards like the prestigious 2010 Liberty Medal.
People love him, people hate him, people feel weird about him. What do I think? I just feel disconcerted every time he walks onto the screen. I hear a newscaster say “Former PM Tony Blair,” and I fully expect to see Michael Sheen’s face. Instead, I get the real Tony, and find myself feeling cheated for a brief moment. That is all.
Hair is nothing, but hair is everything. As a brown girl who is naturally curly, I’ve grown up obsessing with my hair, and the adult women in my family did the same. Hair is a highly sensitive topic for many people of color. All my life, I’ve seen black people deride others for the “quality” of their hair. They speak of “good hair” and “bad hair,” nappy hair, rough hair. There’s no choice in the matter if you have such hair– most often, during childhood the hair gets straightened by harsh burning chemicals. And once it’s done, it’s never undone. I felt like I was walking the plank the very first time I got my hair chemically relaxed. Puberty kinked my curls too much for my mother’s liking, so out came the tub of Creme of Nature No-Lye. My oldest sister Farah, the hair expert who still to this day regularly devotes entire 24-hour periods to haircare, explained to me several times in an ominous tone: “Once you relax your hair, you have to relax it for the rest of your life. There’s no going back. Ever.” Well, Jesus. What the hell’s a 10-year-old supposed to say to that? And those of you who have met Farah know how staunch and unbending her pronouncements can be, so I took it as Gospel.
My mother applied my first relaxer. When I rinsed it, I was left with super straight silky long hair, which then had to be put in rollers, followed by an hour and a half under a hairdryer. I loved the results. Of course there was no way I had the patience to do that regularly. I know women who roll their hair every week, or blow-dry their hair every week, or do the salon thing every week. More power to ‘em; their hair looks great. For me, when I’m sitting under a hair dryer, I start thinking of all the other things I could be doing. I’ve always refused to put that kind of time and effort into my hair. A multi-hour ordeal every week to straighten hair that wants to do nothing more than curl up? Please.
What no one tells you, of course, is that once hair is chemically relaxed, you become a slave to it. They also don’t tell you that chemical relaxers don’t actually make your straight; they weaken the curl pattern and leave your hair more dead than it already is so that the hair can easily submit to other straightening methods such as blow-drying, using rollers, hot combing, etc. If your hair is relaxed, you end up doing a lot of planning around it. If you’re invited to a pool party, your first thought goes to your hair (because all black women with relaxed hair know how complicated life gets once the hair gets wet). If you hear the word “rain,” your first thought goes to your hair. Before going on extended multi-day canoeing trips through the Everglades, I had to lay out plans for what to do with my hair during that time (usually by the first or second night, I threw any planning out the window because I just didn’t care how I looked). And if you’ve lived this way, you know your friends and relatives will actually tell you to your face that you look bad if your hair’s not looking good. They’ll ask you outright, “Hmm, when was the last time you relaxed your hair?” while they frown and squint at your head and run their hands through your tresses. Or you’ll be conversing with a girlfriend and she’ll be staring at the top of your head, and she’ll tell you “I think it’s time for a relaxer.” Because I was never one for time-consuming hair maintenance or daily/weekly hair straightening, I almost always wore my hair loose and wavy/curly, much to the chagrin of my mother. She would ask me point blank on certain days “Did you do your hair today?” Or her younger sister, my aunt, would smile at me and run her hands through my hair asking, “Hmm, what are you trying to do with your hair these days?”
Aside from being annoying and a waste of time, my biggest problem with this whole hair drama is that it brings highly charged emotions to the surface for all people involved, and that’s way more input than hair ought to have in one’s life. I remember one time I came home from a three-month trip to West Africa. Just before coming back, I had gotten my hair braided there. Back in Miami, I worked at my father’s clinic on the weekends and one of his longtime elderly female patients came up to me and chided me harshly for having my hair in braids, asking me over and over “why someone with such ‘good’ hair would do that,” telling me that “it’s not nice at all that [I] did that, it doesn’t suit someone of [my] background and upbringing.”
I can’t count how many arguments my mother and I have had about my hair. To this day, if she and I are both attending a social event, she will phone me beforehand to ask me what I’m wearing and how I plan on styling my hair. I tell her, “Don’t worry about me, I know how to be appropriate.” She’ll usually respond with a heated “Don’t come with your hair undone!” Of course, what she means is ‘don’t come with your hair unstraightened.’ At that point in the conversation, I usually change the subject. Other times I’ll ask her, “You do realize that I have curly hair, right?” I sometimes feel I have to remind her–she is, after all, much lighter-skinned than I am, has straighter hair than mine, and never experienced life with relaxers. She hems and haws and ignores my question, replying “Your hair looks so nice when it’s smoothed out (translation : straight).” Why the sense of shame over curly hair, or hair in its natural state? Or in the case of my father’s elderly patient, why the sense of shame over a hairstyle that–gasp–makes me look black. That was the bottom line of course, in that unpleasant little situation at the office. She was appalled that someone with lighter skin would style her hair in a way that was distinctly African. Being only 16 years old at the time and rendered speechless by her rudeness, I didn’t gather up enough voice to inform her that straightening my hair didn’t fool anyone–unless legally blind, even with my hair straight, people could still see the brown skin on my limbs and face.
Yawn. Eff that. I have better things to do with my time anyway and have no silly self-limiting beliefs about skin color or hair texture having anything to do with sense of self, personal identity, or character. Last year, I made the conscious decision to stop swimming upstream : I was going to embrace my curls in their natural state. After nearly two decades of relaxers, I was going to let my hair transition slowly and awkwardly to what it was meant to be. This can be tricky. New hair comes out of the root curly, but thanks to years of relaxers, the rest of your old hair is in a weird semi-straight brittle condition. This is the reason that people end up having to relax their hair every few weeks or months–once the roots of new curly hair begin to show, you’re roped into that cycle of having to relax your hair all the time so that all the strands look uniform.
Having a hairstylist who’s confident about your transition makes a world of difference. The stylist whom I currently see is Israeli and is used to dealing with super curly hair. Michael was also the very first hair professional to tell me to stop relaxing my hair. The very first time I sat in his chair, he began studying my hair for a haircut and working his hands through it. After a couple of minutes, he paused and looked at me in his mirror and said, “Promise me that you will stop relaxing your hair.” He said this to me completely unbidden, and I was secretly pleased since I had already been contemplating stopping the relaxers. I was also surprised–the first thing old stylists wanted to do whenever I walked through their doors was relax my hair. Now here was a stylist telling me to stop doing all that, telling me that curly hair is wonderful and versatile, that I don’t need to abuse my hair with such harsh chemicals, that I should let the hair grow in naturally and wear it curly. Quite a breath of fresh air. Lots of women who decide to stop relaxers do a “big chop.” This is the term for cutting off all the relaxed hair and growing the hair from scratch, so to speak. I’ve never had super short hair, so that would have been a touch too traumatic and dramatic for this sunny diva, so I opted for cutting off several inches of old relaxed hair so that I could transition slowly. Michael just keeps cutting my hair to just around the shoulder, getting rid of the relaxed bits little by little. They’re almost gone now, and soon enough I’ll have a full head of completely natural unrelaxed hair.
I’ve been relaxer-free for over a year and a half. Rather than a difficult marriage, I’m now engaged in a happy love affair with my hair. I love touching my curls and feeling how soft they are. I love not using toxic hair product. I love being able to jump into water wherever I am without any worries that I’m going to mess up my hair. My haircare routine is easy–it’s pretty much wash and go, which is all I have patience for when it comes to hair. When I feel like wearing it straight, I go to the salon since Michael’s better and faster at blow-drying than I am. These days, when I see young black girls with beautiful wild curls, I find myself wondering if their mothers, grandmothers and aunts will let them keep their hair this way, or whether they’ll relax it. If you chemically alter your hair and you’ve been thinking about going natural, I would tell you that for me, it’s been a wonderful, liberating and fun trip; you should try it. Besides, you may think hair is everything, but hair’s actually nothing.
This is a photo-centric post, featuring pictures of my family. Many of these photos came to us in horrid condition, most likely a result of lack of care and Haiti’s hot, wet climate, but I’m excited to restore them in the coming weeks, and will probably do a post just about the restoration of the pictures in the future…In the meantime, try to see past their tattered condition.
I regret that I know so little about family that came before me. I’m always asking my mother question after question and she tells me everything that she can, but it’s never enough to fill in the large gaps of this passionate story. My grandmother, Erna, born in 1917, was a young girl when her father Walter Stecher died. His wife/her mother Simone died soon after. Once this happened, she and her brother Robert were quickly taken in by Simone’s family, and for reasons that are not known to me, contact with Walter’s family ended completely.
The Stecher family emigrated to Haiti from Germany. Haiti is a small island, and Port-au-Prince is smaller. Most of the Germans in Haiti knew each other. Yet for whatever reason, my grandmother wasn’t curious about the fact that she and her brother were growing up completely separately from closely-related family who no doubt lived closeby, frequented the same markets, attended the same schools, moved within similar social circles. If she was curious, she never let on about it to any of her children–my mother says she never mentioned these cousins/aunts/uncles.
I’ve heard various things about Walter–that his life was hectic at times, that he didn’t get along with the other Stechers. My mother didn’t asked all the questions that I would have asked, but I can’t blame her for that; our minds work differently. Today, she is as interested, intrigued and excited about piecing together our history as I am. Fortunately for us, her cousin–my grandmother’s brother’s son– is well versed in my family history, and is a close friend. Fortunately, he is in good health. I feel an urgent need to sit him down for hours (or most likely for days or weeks) to pick his brain so that I can commit this story to paper before more knowledge is lost.
One thing we do know about Walter is that after settling in Haiti, he still traveled back to Germany often for work reasons. I’m blessed to have some touching personal correspondences between Walter and Simone. The postcards are mostly from 1920. It was a tad difficult to translate some of Walter’s words because his penmanship was hard to read at times. Also, being German, French was his second language; he tended to make certain grammatical errors and leave out key words every now and then–charming little mistakes that non-native speakers make. His wonderful sentiment is clear nonetheless.
I have four postcards and one photograph that has a letter written on its back. These five brief pieces are full of thoughtfulness, love, sadness, frustration, and longing. These beautiful, mysterious people have fascinated me since childhood, and they come to life through their own simple words. I share them below…
“A thousand kisses, Simone.
It is noon. I have but the time to tell you the names of two foreign ministers that I just met right now. The minister to France: Tertulien Guilbaud. Theramene Romain: Holland. A sweet embrace.”
“My dear little Erna,
I hope you are as happy, just like this little girl [on the postcard]. And I hope that soon we can take walks together in Haiti. A thousand kisses from your father.”
My little heart tells me that soon you will be near your little boy who, each day, asks for the return of his dear father. To you I give my small caresses and happy birthday wishes.
“My dear young Willy,
Well, my little unknown, wait a few months more, and we will get to know each other and I am sure that we will be good friends.
With a thousand kisses from your father,
***Unfortunately, the time that Walter and Simone shared with their young son Wilhelm was all too short– he succumbed to smallpox as a baby.
“Darling of my heart, my dear little Simone,
I’m sorry– I’m sorry, forgive me if my last letter was too abrupt, too brutal, even. I’m sorry my dear. Now I know that soon we will be in the same bed again. It affects me deeply, knowing how poor I am here. To this day, I don’t have any money and I am obliged to borrow cent after cent. It leaves me sad.
Thank you. Thank you so much for the gift.”