24 January 2017
My paternal grandmother is sitting in the front row, the fifth child from the left. The year is 1897. The school is in Feuchtwangen, a prosperous Franconian town in northern Bavaria.
This is the oldest picture I have of my grandmother. A cousin (from my mother's side of the family), a retired historian, tells me that the children in this picture are all from prosperous families. How can you tell, I ask him. Look at the shoes, the white lace collars, the aprons.
My grandmother's family has lived in this town forever. I have many cousins there, all I need is to knock on a door and ask. Apparently. I never have. We meet every couple of years, birthdays, jubilees, funerals, and everybody is polite and friendly. We promise to visit each other. But we never do. This family is utterly divided, there are feuds that go back generations, about land and money, brothers returning from WWI unwilling to talk to each other, the women whispering mean gossip behind closed doors, my grandmother in her element.
I only know of the feuds because she always talked about them. Endless stories.
Here, she is just a small girl. I don't for a moment believe she was ever shy.