Renate touched the water-colour of the Christmas rose she had made the evening before. It was meant for the inside cover of the exercise book. Was it dry enough yet to be stuck in yet? It was so clever of Anika to think of this Rundbrief. Now that their school had to close, each girl was going to write a letter in the book and post it on to the next girl on the list. That way they could stay in touch. Renate had volunteered to start it off and had chosen a pretty little note book yesterday.
The painting was dry but she wasn’t too happy about the stem on the flower. She opened her paint box, dipped her brush into the jam jar of water on her desk and then into the green paint, and added a little more to her picture. There. That was better.
She opened the window and placed the painting on the sill, weighting it down with the candlestick she always kept there. The sun was just about rising. She stared out at the garden and the woods beyond. They still looked black. One of the dark days before Christmas, she supposed.
She reread the letter while she waited for the paint to dry.
22 December 1938
This is such an exciting idea! I’m really glad you asked me to be the first. I had thought of waiting a week or two, until I’d got something to report about the Christmas holiday and the new school. But in the end I couldn’t wait. The sooner I send it on to Anika, the sooner it will go round to the rest of you. And the sooner I’ll get it back to read all of your news.
It’s going to be a glorious Christmas this year, anyway. Two weeks of snow, in Stuttgart, they say. We are off to stay there with Oma for Christmas as usual. I’m looking forward to those walks through the hills again- it’ll be such fun in the snow. And I’ll be seeing my cousins and my friend Hanna.
We lit the Adventskranz at coffee time yesterday afternoon. Wilma had made a really lovely one with fir branches and nice fat white candles. Mother had baked one of her famous Apfelkuchen. She makes them so nice with big chunks of apple and lots of cinnamon. My favourite.
I love this time of year. Even father seemed in a brighter mood than usual. Both he and mother have been so serious-looking recently. There’s something wrong, I think, and they won’t tell me what. Do you remember all that fuss mother made about me going to Mostviel last summer? Well, it’s gradually got worse. Father looking more and more worried, and mother cancelling dinner-parties and refusing to go to the opera. I hope they’re not falling out or anything.
But yesterday they got into a bit of the Christmas mood. I almost choked, though, when the telegraph boy came round.
“Heil Hitler!” he said.
And my father replied “Heil Edler!” Thank goodness the boy didn’t notice. But I was going redder and redder with trying not to giggle. After he had gone I almost spat the whole mouthful of Apfelkuchen out.
That scene repeated itself at dinner. Father knows very well that I hate spinach. And that I just hide it in my mouth until I can get rid of it later. He kept trying to make me laugh. Then it happened. A great explosion of green all over the white table cloth. Mother made a terrible fuss and muttered something about young ladies in her day. Wilma was trying not to laugh, I could tell! Father just roared.
It’ll be funny in January, all being in different places. I’ll see you some of you at the Gymnasium, next autumn. I’m looking forward to hearing all about what the rest of you do at your new schools and about your Christmases.
So I’ll finish now and get this in the post!
Love to you all,
Yes, it was going to be a lovely Christmas. She smiled when she thought of Hani! She would have appreciated the Apfelkuchen. She liked her cake – and it showed. Renate looked down at her own thin arms and tutted. She looked so bony! If only she could curve a bit, like Hani. Oh it was going to be such fun staying with her for the few days before Christmas.
The picture was dry now. Renate carefully glued it into the little exercise book. This was exciting. She placed the book into the brown envelope and neatly wrote Anika’s address. Then she made her way down to the kitchen.
Wilma was there, preparing the breakfast.
“Are there any stamps?” asked Renate.
“On the shelf in the hall. Why don’t you leave that, and Johann can take it when he calls?”
“Oh no!” replied Renate. “I have to take this myself. It’s special.”
“Well, don’t be long. Your mother says you have to pack. And wrap up warm. It’s bitter out there.”
“I’ve done my packing,” replied Renate. She’d decided to wear most of what she was taking. Layers that she could peel off. The train was always so cold at first, and then, usually when they were almost there, it would get unbearably hot and stuffy because by then it would be absolutely packed with people.
She walked quickly to the post-box at the end of the street. It was such a promising day. The sun was getting higher in the sky now. Something ran in front of her, into the nearby woods. It was much too quick for her to see what it was.
So some of you aren’t hibernating, then, she thought.
She felt like skipping but thought that perhaps she was a bit too old. Nothing could spoil this day, though. Not even the huge swastika on the fence opposite.
The house was oddly quiet when she got back. No wireless. Her father was not arguing loudly with the newspaper like he usually did and Wilma was not singing in the kitchen. She could hear her mother and father talking softly but urgently in the dining room. The usual smell of strong black coffee and warm bread greeted her as she went into the room. But the coffee cups were empty and the rolls were still in the basket. Both of them jumped when they saw her. They stared at her, then looked at each other and then back at her. Her mother looked straight into her eyes and opened her mouth to say something. Her father looked away. Her mother’s lip wobbled and tears formed in her already red eyes.