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  • Writer's pictureEllen Alpsten

I wish I could ask her...

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

This is my grandmother, Edda, whom I never met. The photo shows her as a young woman in Koenigsberg, today's Kaliningrad. Just these first sentences say so much about history, the passing of time,and why I as an author of bestselling historical fiction love and launch 'Living Legacy'. She was a priest's daughter, who at the age of 16 fell in love with the son of a wealthy Pharmacist. After a whirlwind romance, they married, and had a daughter, Karla.

However, her husband turned out to be an Opium addict, who regularly raided his father's shelves. He was dis-inherited and over-dosed, leaving my grandmother as a young widow. She moved away and worked as a Kindergarten-teacher. In the evening,once Karla slept, she followed her passion: writing. Her debut was published in 1925, in those days a HUGE feat. Brava, Edda!

When she met my grandfather, a throat surgeon, she stopped her 'little hobby', as he called it. She had five more children, among them three boys - in those days, a badge of honour. Yet her eldest son fell severely ill with Meningitis. He survived, albeit heavily disabled: someone always sat with him, caressing his hands, speaking sweet nothings. In the last year of WW II, their large house with a big garden and outbuildings became a safe haven for refugees - friends, family, and total strangers. They had been given their address by someone, who know someone else, who knew them. As a child, I could listen endlessly to my father's stories about the motley crew that there was gathered around the dining table every evening, lessening the little food there was even more. Until today, he eats ravenously quickly - it's a habit of those times of scarcity. During those years, the dog Kasha was an important family member. In summer, the family sent her out hunting - she was a mongrel of two breeds of hunting dogs and never returned home without a hare or a young roedeer. In winter, my Grandmother combed her and spun the hair to thread, knitting sweaters for the family on those freezing winters. They smelled awful, but kept them warm.

When my father fled to the West as a teenager, my grandparents stayed put despute the ever more oppressive Soviet regime. Only when rumours of the Wall being built were ripe, they covered gold-coins with cloth to replace the buttons on their clothes. Their life fitted snug into a small doctor case. Any valuables were hidden in the panelling of the house's dining room. When they left, they never even locked the door, trusting they'd be back soon.

When her second son died of cancer, aged 36, she followed him soon after, dying three years before my birth.

To the end, she had tried to find time to write, but never really managed.

I wish I could find her memoir now. I would love to get to know her better, and her answering my question: What was it really like? How did you feel? And, last but not least, I would love to hold her hand and say: THANK YOU for passing your passion for writing on to me. That, too, is a gift of a lifetime.

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