Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris (USA/Turkey) is now a retired English-language instructor who spent many years teaching at colleges in the USA and at many universities in Istanbul (Bosporus University, Koç University, Okan- and Piri Reis University). She lives and writes in Istanbul and San Diego.
CUNEGUNES LEAVING HER HOMELAND
She had heard her parents talking about this long voyage and now she saw non-stop activity. “Mother,” she begged to know, “how long will it take us to go there?” “I don’t know any English.” “Neither do I,” reminded her mother. The excitement was building and Cunegundes could not be still. She didn’t really believe that they would leave their beloved homeland, especially when she first heard in the winter that they were going on a long, long trip. “Will we come back?” Cunegundes begged to know. Of course, the answer was “No,” but her mother did not reply.
Cunegundes had mixed feelings about leaving her home, her friends. One minute she felt excited to go to Graz since she had only been there a few times and, then, to try to imagine Wien was impossible. She had only heard descriptions of the stately Greek buildings with the gold-helmeted statues in front. And, even more so, they would go through the German provinces and to the sea and then, ohhhh, to the great Atlantic Ocean and be on a ship. A ship. Why she had not even seen a ship !! But, my school ? Cunegundes loved her school, her little desk, her books, her friends. Ohhhhh.
“Mother, how much longer until we go on our journey?” The spring flowers were just beginning to push out of the earth. Winters in Austria were quite severe. Cunegundes remembered walking on a meter of frozen snow and not even sinking into it. That would be her strongest memory to tell her grandchildren sixty years later. Cunegundes was a strong girl: she was not a silly thing like some of the other school girls. She would hold her friends hands and sing as she led them over the snow-covered ground. Sometimes, she would even sing some church hymns. Her favorite one was “Ave Maria.” There were days when Cunegundes felt sad and she had little conversations with this beautiful Maria. She knew what looked like because she had always studied the statue of her at St. Michael’s church on holy days. That statue was her favorite of all of them. There was another of Maria holding her dead son in her arms but “Cunie”, as her friends called her, didn’t like to think of that sadness. Cunie couldn’t understand why anyone would hurt Jesus. He was the kindest man who taught people to turn their other cheek if someone hurt them. “How could any human pound a nail into another man’s hands?” This was beyond anything that Cunie could imagine. She stopped thinking about this every time the idea came to her mind.
It was good to leave this statue behind in the church. Maybe America would not have such a scary statue. She just wanted to see the beautiful statue of Maria with the golden halo above her head. Cunie loved to pray. She said her prayers in German now.
“Vielen Dank, lieber Gott,” was always on the tip of her tongue. Cunie had a small book with a turquoise cover and golden letter. There was a church just like hers with a high spire and under the church, there was the title in golden letters, “Mein kleines Gebetbuch.”
Some of Cunie’s prayers were simple and beautiful. One of her favorites was “Der Herr ist mein Hirte.” Her mother explained that this is a song (Psalm) from the Bible. Her mother helped her to learn the psalm.
Der Herr ist mein Hirte.
Nichts wird mir fehlen.
Er weidet mich auf grünen Wiesen und
Führt mich zum Ruheplatz am Wasser.
Und wenn ich auch im Dunklen wander´,
So habe ich doch keine Angst.
Denn du bist bei mir,
Deine Kraft gibt mir Mut.
Later, in life, in America, Cunie learned that this was the beloved Psalm 23. Every night as Cunie was falling asleep, she repeated these soothing words. There were other prayers that she repeated but this was the most special. She wondered if God would be in America too and if there would be green pastures and beautiful streams of water that she saw each spring and summer in Celje.
“Lieber Vater im Himmel” was a more sober prayer which she also loved. The children in her church would say this prayer every Sunday at the middle of the Mass. Cunie knew the words by heart and prayed them, especially when she felt afraid.
Lieber Vater im Himmel,
Ich habe Vater and Mutter.
Wir haben eine Wohnung,
Einen Tisch und ein Bett.
Wir danken Dir,
Wir haben gegessen und getrunken,
Wir danken dir.
Wir können laufen und springen.
Wir danken dir.
Wir können sehen and hören.
Wir danken dir.
Wir können spielen and lustig sein.
Wir danken dir.
Wir sind gesund and lebendig.
Wir danken dir.
Segne uns. Amen. (Gotteslob 22,2)
The adults would say their prayer after the children said theirs.
The Lord's Prayer (German)
Vater unser im Himmel,
geheiligt werde dein Name;
dein Reich komme;
dein Wille geschehe,
wie im Himmel so auf Erden.
Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute.
Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
wie auch wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern;
und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
Denn Dein ist das Reich und die Kraft
und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit.
Cunegundes knew this prayer because when she made her First Communion, the nuns at St. Michael’s told the children that they could not go to Himmel if they did not learn it. The German words were a little difficult to remember. When she was younger, she first learned the Slovenian prayer,
SLOVENIAN: Ecumenical Edition Bible 1974
Matthew (Matejev Evangelij) 6:9-13
9 Vi torej takole molite:
Oče naš, ki si v nebesih, posvečeno bodi tvoje ime;
10 pridi tvoje kraljestvo; zgôdi se tvoja volja kakor v nebesih
tako na zemlji.
11 Daj nam danes naš vsakdanji kruh;
12 in odpusti nam naše dolge,
kakor tudi mi odpuščamo svojim dolžnikom;
13 in ne vpelji nas v skušnjavo; temveč reši nas hudega.
More than anything, Cunie wanted to go to Heaven when she died (and she could die going on that big ocean in a little ship!) Even the largest ship was not large enough for Cunie.
Cunie’s parents had taught her so much all of these years. They loved Cunie although Cunie was not their own child. They were her caretakers but she loved them as much as a girl could. When Cunie was alone with her mother, she would sometimes ask questions about her “natural” mother. “Where does she live?” Cunie would ask. “Oh, she lives far far away in Tyrol,” she was told. “Oh, where is that?” Cunie would ask. “Dear Child, Tyrol is way over the mountains and very hard to get there. You have to travel many days to find that place up in the mountains.” This is the real reason that Cunie could count up to twenty in Tyrolean. But, now Cunie was forgetting. She could only count to ten.
Ena, dve, tri, štiri, pet, šest, sedem, osem, devet, deset …
“Can I see her when I grow up?” Cunie could not stop asking sometimes.
Cunegundes was eight now and she understood the months and the seasons. It was April now and Cunie knew that at the end of May, they would travel to Germany and see the sea.
A Post Scriptum to the story about Cunie
Cunie was born 132 years ago this month (March 2020) and renamed Gertrude when she arrived New York at the age of eight. She married just few days short of 16 to a fellow countryman, Anton, eleven years older. They became the parents of nine children, my mother, the youngest, born in 1924. Gertrude and Anton were married fifty years when he died in 1950. They became grandparents to doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, teachers. The extended family lives all over the US while I, the author, live in Istanbul. The story came to me as I was growing up with photos added later. I was able to add details as an adult woman who has traveled to Celje, now in Slovenia. My grandmother, Gertrude, spoke German, Slovenian, Croatioan, some Polish from adult friends. She taught me to count in German and Tyrollean . As a result , I studied German three years at the university so that afterlife we can speak German. I want her tob e proud of me. In case my grandmother´s mother was from South Tyrol, this is where Ötzi, the 5,300 year old iceman is kept in the archeology museum of Bozen, Italy.