My mother always gave total support and she had a strong mind. As a young girl about nine or ten years old she had the sudden realization that religion was just old wives tales and since then she believed only in science. What science could not explain was better left alone. She became a chemical engineer and was working in chemical physics. In nineteen seventeen she was engaged to be married, but her fiancé died in the Spanish flu in 18. He left a teen-age son Jørgen and my mother was close to him and took care of him. When he became an officer in the army they drifted apart and in I my time they didn’t see each other often. He had married a woman who suffered from depressions. In the end she committed suicide by going away and taking an overdose of sleeping pills in a hidden place. My mother talked about this and I remember her having some admiration for a job well done, so to speak.
Jørgen shot himself when the Germans invaded Denmark. The government didn’t put upany resistance and his soldier’s honor was shamed.
After the death of mother’s fiancé she moved in with her elder sister, Eva, and they had great sisterly love for each other. Two independent women, young, free, educated, and spirited, living with a circle of friends in the liberal middle class.
They both had a couple of serious amorous affairs. I never could make my aunt Eva tell me about hers, but I knew about my mother’s.
She had an affair with her married boss, professor B. How many years it lasted I don’t know, but if it hadn’t already ended it was broken in the summer of 24 when she met my father and they fell in love and conceived a child.
My father was a painter with some succes in academic circles, married to a Polish artist who painted lyrical and genuine still-lifes with flowers. They had a daughter who was thirteen years older than I.
To be a single woman with child was not common in 1925. But my mother stood up for herself and she told family and friends how happy she was, and was generally accepted.
The birth was difficult and she had some complications, but they were soon healed, and that summer she often saw my father and I imagine they had a happy, romantic time. He promised her to get a divorce and to marry her, but I think they must have known that their happiness was fragile, for marriage was still a strong institution at that time.
When I was about a year old my father’s wife found a picture of me in his pocket and with her wife-power she made him promise never to se my mother or me again. He wrote to mother that he felt obligations towards his wife, whom he had brought to Denmark, and he thought my mother more able to be single.
I wonder what she felt, but it is my guess that she realized that life with my father might have been difficult and that living with Eva and having a child was in many ways ideal. I never felt that her life was not fulfilled, not until circumstances changed and her strength gave in.
She loved me totally and in spite of working 9 to 5 she gave me ample time. Every night we would sit by the lamp at one end of the sofa and she would read to me. She didn’t want to read things that she didn’t like herself. Of the early things she read I remember Hans Christian Andersen, Winnie the Pooh, Oliver Twist, Gulliver’s Travels and The Three Musketeers.
She was like a lioness if anybody threatened the apple of her eye, mama’s boy!
The time we were closest was when I was thirteen. That summer I traveled with mother and Eva to France where we visited with my former schoolmate. It was a fairytale trip for me, a new world opening up while I was still protected and taken care of. After that I began more and more to pass time with my peers, the war came, and decline set in.
Professor B had turned bitter and began to torment not only my mother but also his other assistant, who was easier to get to. My mother had reached menopause and the bitter unfriendliness at her workplace began to take its toll. She brought home a notebook where she had written down his harassments and she would often cry when telling about it. The assistant comitted suicide, and according to my mother it was he who drove her to it with his unpredictable rages when his unclear orders were misunderstood. Added to this was the gathering tension in Germany, the persecution of Jews, and also an estrangement from her old friend Holger. The cause of this was Holger’s wife, who could not accept her daughter’s marriage to a young teacher of proletarian roots. My mother gave shelter and help to the young couple, and as a result she was not invited to Holger’s 50th birthday. That was like a slap in the face. Years passed without communication and it was a thorn in my mother’s heart.
In 1940, three weeks before my 15th birthday the Germans invaded and occupied Denmark. My mother’s depression had completely taken over and incapacitated her. She was bedridden and every day when I came home from school I visited her and tried to cheer her up – a Sisyphus task!
She was scheduled to be hospitalized in a few days, when one day I found her bed empty.
“Your mother has gone to get her hair done”, said the new housekeeper, and so, when I later heard the front door I went to the top of the stairs to see mother. But it was Eva.
“I thought it was mother”, I said, and in that moment I read the truth in Eva’s face, and we both knew that there was no doubt; she had taken action and nothing could be done about it.
The impressions from the final years have always seemed to overshadow the feelings from happier times. There are images in my mind, of course, from these times, but I was still a child and her love was the very element in which I lived. With her sickness the communication turned into something more like a chore. You had to be careful what to say since everything could be the cause of new worries in her troubled mind.
It felt like a betrayal that I, who had always participated in every aspect of our family life, had been kept ignorant of the suicidal thoughts that mother had in fact expressed to Eva. She had preferred to leave, and even though I knew that she had done it in part because she knew she was a burden to us, I felt both bereaved and guilty.
Now our two lives span 120 years, and I still often think what she would have made of my life and times.