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Anne Frank, Neighbors, and Memories...

I just watched “The Diary of Anne Frank” on PBS. I found myself in a bit of a teary puddle afterwards, and a memory came to me.

When I was a very little girl, our next door neighbor lived only a driveway’s width away from our house. A whole family lived there, but the person I remember most was named Joanne. I didn’t know her well, but she played a role in our home.

Our house wasn’t large, but there always seemed to be alot of people in it. And they were usually busy doing something. So it wasn’t uncommon for my older sister to be typing something with the window open in her bedroom while my other sister entertained some friends down in the living room, as my little friend and I watched cartoons in my parents’ bedroom. In the middle of this an uncle or a cousin was sure to stop by unannounced at some point to drop off or pick up something. And on the afternoons when all of this was happening at once and the windows were open, the phone would often ring. Then my mother would appear and begin closing windows When asked why the answer was always “Joanne is nervous. Let’s keep it down”.

I was pretty young and finally got a little fed up that this Joanne person had enough power in our house to require me to miss The Flintsones. So I finally let my mother know I wasn’t too happy about this, and who cared what Joanne wanted anyway? “Joanne was in a concentration camp during the war. It’s the least we can do.” was the answer. I didn’t know what that really meant, but my mother said it in such a way that I knew Joanne won, The Flintstones lost.

One day my father came home tickled giggly that he had found a second hand Mercedes at a really good price and just spontaneously bought it. He kept staring at it and being an engineer kept talking about the fine engineering that went into a car like that. He adored that car. I barely remember what it looked like. About two weeks into us owning it I vaguely remember my mother telling my dad to pick up the phone. Joanne was asking to speak to him. It wasn’t usually good news when Joanne called, so I remember us kind of standing around. When my dad hung up he said, “Well, I never thought of that. Joanne asked me to park the car further up the driveway so she didn’t have to see the emblem.” My sister asked what that had to do with anything, and my dad said, “It reminds her of the Germans. To her it’s a sign of fear..” And I remember the next day the car was gone. When I asked him why he said he didn’t serve in that war to come home and terrorize his neighbor. It was just a car. And I remember him pretty happy to get rid of it. He said he didn’t want it anymore.

The last memory I have of Joanne was one night I was told to be a good girl, the neighbors were coming over. I remember thinking this is good. Nobody is going to be forcing the tangles out of my hair tonight. I wasn’t shoved upstairs, though. In my house all the drama always seemed to happen right out in the open. It turns out the Joanne House was in a complete hysteria and called my parents for help. All hell broke lose when their son had found a wonderful girl to marry. And he had brought her home. What he didn’t tell anyone until that night was that she was the German teacher at the local high school, and she was hired due to her native accent. I don’t remember the conversation. I just remember alot of crying and yelling going on between the parents and the young couple with my parents running interference. And then I remember Joanne screaming “NO NO NO!” And then my dad said, “No, Joanne. They are going to build a NEW world. The kids are going to build a NEW world!”. I remember that like it was yesterday even though I hadn’t thought of it in years. The movie made me remember.

So I’ve just watched Anne Frank and all that she left undone. . And I ask myself are we building a new world? And then I wonder if we are even as good a neighbor to each other as they were back then? And I’m grateful for the memory which makes me want to do better.

c.2010, Lisa Wiffledust

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Comment by Dorraine Darden on April 12, 2010 at 9:32am
I loved reading this. Your house sounded much like mine growing up; windows flung open, lots of racket, all crazy good stuff.

The neighbor thing: no, I don't think we've managed to surpass our elders with kindness. At least not in my neighborhood. Everybody does their own thing and honestly, and this is so sad to me, when we had hurricane Ike, it was the first time I'd seen the neighbors across the street in a long time and actually spoke with them. We all helped each other out. Now the neighbors beside me are friends, but I don't think we reach farther out like we used to. And I have tried. Many people here live away from relatives and I think that basic connection has been lost.

I've read The Diary of Anne Frank, and it was so touching and sad. I was teary-eyed for days after. What a spunky soul she was. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa!
Comment by wiffledust on April 12, 2010 at 1:02am
thanks so much, you guys. my dad was pretty great. although he didn't think of himself that way. he honestly didn't think it was such a great sacrifice to sell the car. he seemed to think it was fun while it lasted, but causing joanne pain was certainly not fun for him. you're right, steve. i've witnessed great acts of neighborly kindness in recent years and seen some dreadful things as well. i love you too, susie dust!!! one story at a time, one life at a time...i love this.
Comment by stephen dijoseph on April 12, 2010 at 12:54am
i think neighborliness does existed in some place and not in others, as in the past...i think it
depends where you are and the people around you...and maybe how we reach out to them too...this was a great act of sensitivity on your papa's part fer sure!
Comment by Steen Krause on April 12, 2010 at 12:35am
Wow. Powerful stuff. Your dad seems great.

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