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In the Attic

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Eva White

Ever since I was a child I heard her stories about hunger. How all there was to eat were cabbage leaves, turnips, sometimes rotting potatoes. Except when she found bread and that was the best. It didn't matter how stale, she 'd search for a little water, break the bread into small cubes, soak it carefully, just enough to soften so that we could munch it, not too soft that we wouldn't swallow it quickly without chewing. It was a feast, she said. Especially if there was a crust, for that lasted longest in the mouth, could be chewed a little longer.

My mother loved bread till the day she died. Rye or white or pumpernickel, with seeds or without, round loaves, long loaves, square loaves. Rolls and sticks and twists. Her bread box was always full. With bread in the house she felt a little safer, the worst might not happen. When it comes to bread I'm my mother's daughter, I love it too.

Some years after the war we emigrated and eventually my mother opened a millinery store. Winter wear was her specialty, warm, practical head coverings. She had loyal customers who kept returning for years. My mother worked hard, she had a good business sense and she was very careful. So she was able to buy a house. She relished the house, it was her achievement. Still she was never at peace, never able to relax.  I believe it was because she buried her memories. She thought she was protecting me, protecting herself, from the nightmare, but I think she was mistaken. I wanted to know more, she should have talked to me.

Of course I loved my mother but most especially I felt grateful to her. That's natural, mothers give their children life, then sustain them when they're small. But for me, and people like me, there is something more. I owe my life to my mother in a special way. Had she not been so determined, so strong, so resourceful, I would not have survived. Countless didn't.

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