The phone rang incessantly as I waited for somebody to answer. God, please let them answer before my shift starts.
“Hello?” my Oma questioned, with added caution, as she answered the phone; both my Oma and Opa feared the response of telemarketers and the police on the other end of the line.
“Hi Oma,” I chimed, “Happy birthday!”
“Oh,” she beamed back, “Happy birthday to you, too!”
“What? No, Oma, it’s your birthday . . .”
“What?” she asked, unable to understand me.
“It’s your birthday,” I repeated again, with a little more volume, only to hear Oma burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized between giggles, “I just woke up from a nap. Thank you, Cookie!”
And in between laughs, I hear my Opa in the background: “Jesus Christ, Susie! You’re only 83!”
Susie isn’t my Oma. Susie is an identity all on her own.
Before I was born, when my mother was in grade school (ca. the 1960s), Oma went to her third shift job at a chocolate factory (seriously, how cool does that sound?!). She picked up the job since bringing her own mother over to America from Germany, a couple of years after she herself had made the trek. To be able to feed five mouths, rent for their two-flat, and schooling for her two children–my mom and uncle–she had no choice but to work. Sure, Opa worked, but times were tough when you were an immigrant . . . especially a German immigrant post-WWII.
Most of her coworkers were immigrants, as well, from Poland, Ireland, Italy, Romania, France . . . all oppressed by the damaging memories of WWII. Their English was poor as most were ex-housewives unexposed to the neighborhood around them or the English language, while others were fresh off the boat knowing only what they grew up with. It was easy to mix up words, phrases, and even languages, but, in this case names.
“Your turn, Susie,” Opa said, examining his hand.
Oma sighed, examining hers, as well, but we all knew she had a full-house or the highest pair out of the three of us playing.
“Why do you call her Susie?” my young, innocent mind inquired, taking my eyes off my cards only for a second, as if they were going to magically change if my eyes weren’t glued to them.
Opa looked up, too. “I don’t know. Isn’t that your middle name?” he asked his wife.
“No,” she said, shaking her head, as she pulled out a full-house. Son of a gun, that woman and her poker face! “It’s Margaret.”
“Then why do you go by Susie?” I asked as I picked up the remaining deck and discarded cards only to shuffle them again for another losing game.
“That’s what they called me at the factory.”
“Susie?!” my Opa burst, as if he couldn’t believe it.
“Ja,” she nodded, “We didn’t know English very well. Shoot, I bet I call all of my friends from the factory by the wrong name, but we just went with it.” She chuckled at the end, a singular “Ha!”
Opa shook his head, as he examined his new hand and shuffled his cards around. “Fifty years of marriage and I never knew her true middle name.”
Although my Oma will never see this post, as she doesn’t have the Internet, more or less a working computer, I would like to wish her a wonderful 83rd birthday! She deserves all of the happiness in the world as she raised a wonderful woman, my mother, and also helped raise me. Through her hard work, dedication, loyalty, and love, I am the woman I am today because of her knowledge, wisdom, and grace.
I can never thank you enough for the life you have provided for me and the morals and wisdom you have bestowed upon me. You truly are my idol.
Happy birthday, Susie! [And many more!]