Michaela Merz

Karl and his mother

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They were always very short of money. As long as Karl could remember, at the end of every month there had been a yawning hole in his mother’s housekeeping budget, the result of which was that he had to take stale bread for his snack or in the worst case no bread at all. But Peter, Karl’s classmate, always shared his sandwich with Karl. So Karl was never really hungry. By helping with the maths tests Karl had returned the favour, so that between Karl and Peter there existed a well-functioning exchange economy to the satisfaction of both.

Karl even received some pocket money. At the beginning of the month his mother gave him the money for the month. Karl always put it in his piggy bank, because he really wanted a new bike. At the end of the month his mother begged him to lend her the money he had saved. And Karl did so. Mother then fished the money out of the piggy bank with a knife and entered the amount borrowed in her little black book. Karl never saw it again. That was the only exchange economy in his life that didn’t function at all. But Karl did not dare to refuse his mother the money, because he was not sure that she wouldn’t have taken it in any case and he did not dare to spend the money and perhaps to be abused by his mother.

For the problem with the snack, he had a solution. For the problem with the pocket money, there was no solution and with clothes and shoes it was even worse. As Karl’s mother was always short of money, Karl had never worn what his contemporaries had worn. That was bad. Karl had not suffered from a lack of self-confidence, but he also hadn’t had excessive self-confidence. Lacking modish clothes, he was always different and that made him an outsider. Only in gymnastics did he not stand out and there in a white T-shirt and blue shorts he could shine like the others.

It was difficult when Uncle Thomas, the much older cousin of Karl’s mother, died. They didn’t really inherit anything, but because Thomas was tall and very slim, Karl was the only person, whom Uncle Thomas’s clothes fitted. Karl was not very enthusiastic. His mother was, because she said that from now on nothing will be bought until Thomas’s clothes are worn out. Uncle Thomas dressed very expensively and very well, but he was in his late sixties and his taste was not that of a 14-year old.

From then on Karl wore tailored shirts with embroidered initials, which weren’t his and every day he was laughed at by his classmates. It was unbearable, but Karl couldn’t change anything.

Karl told me this as we sat at the airport and by chance started a conversation. Karl was approaching 80 but this humiliation in his youth was deeply embedded in his soul. I wanted to know whether they were really so poor. Karl said no, not really. His mother worked, she received a widow’s pension as his father had died in the second world war. The grandmother, who lived with them, helped with the housekeeping out of her pension and his step-father, who brought him up, but whom his mother never married, to avoid losing the widow’s pension, also worked and earned. No, said Karl, we were not poor, but mother couldn’t cope with money. Her whole life.

 

Bildquelle: Annamartha  / pixelio.de

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