The correspondences that bind us
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.”