Haibun Today
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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 1, March 2011



Ruth Franke
Emmendingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

 

Homeland

translated from German by Ruth Holzer

"I can't promise anything." She accompanies her short sentence in surprisingly good German with lively gestures of her small, neat hands. There's her father, nearly ninety, in need of care, three other cleaning jobs, the grandchildren. "I'd like to help you, but I can't promise anything. My father—you never know." The petite, still pretty woman shakes her dark curls and has already vanished.

Nina is a jewel. Prudent, thorough, intelligent, adaptable, always smiling. Sometimes she must be slowed down when she runs up and down the stairs too quickly. "I'm used to it," she replies, "back home we start work at six in the morning."

She reveals her story gradually. She's a Volga German, descended from German immigrants who were settled there by Empress Catherine II to cultivate the steppe.

sea of grain
on the waves of the Volga
song of the Lorelei

Independent for centuries, its destiny changed when Hitler's troops approached. The wheat was just ready for harvest when Russian soldiers appeared in Nina's village, herded the inhabitants together and loaded them into freight cars.

day and night
the rolling of the wheels
where to where to

After a four-week journey, the train stopped in Omsk, Western Siberia. They had set out in summer clothing, here it was winter. They stayed together and endured. On the outskirts they established a German settlement, solid brick houses. Nina attended the Russian school, grew up under the Stalinist regime. German was spoken at home.

old wedding dance
beautiful is youth
it doesn't return*

When it became possible to emigrate back to Germany, Nina's sisters and children went first. "And then my husband died of a heart attack," she says. Now she was alone with her parents. She sold the house and ventured to make a fresh start with her parents, already frail. Here they were viewed as Russians, and unwelcome. "But we're German," she'd say again and again. She remained a foreigner. "Here people don't laugh much."

Nina worked hard, went out cleaning houses, cared for her mother until she died, and then for her father. The doctor wants to apply for a nurse, but her father refuses. "You're my daughter, after all." There are dark circles under her eyes.

When her father dies, she fulfills a dream: she flies to Omsk, to visit her husband's grave, her friends and relatives who remained there. "We were always so happy together," she says, "like one big family."

wild geese in flight—
on distant rivers now
the ice is breaking


* Hessian folk song, ca. 1820

 

 

 

 

 

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