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The Nurses. Chapter 8

Maria attends midnight mass with her parents

Munchen.Pasing. December 24th, 1939

 

 

It had been a long day for Maria. Her shift was about to finish and she was ready for home. She was pleased, though, for tomorrow her shift was to change to the night shift. She had offered to work so that someone who had children could spend Christmas day with them and also, she could attend midnight mass at her local church, as she liked to every year. Christmas Eve and Midnight mass was as important in Bavaria as Christmas day itself so she always tried to do her best to attend and so far, she had been able to do so.

 

This year was her turn to have Christmas Day at home but, in the way she was with all things, she had offered to forego that pleasure and so allow someone else to enjoy it instead. This way she could attend the service and spend most of the day with her parents whilst allowing one of the other nurses to have the whole day with her children.

 

Sadly, the other nurse's husband had been drafted into the army and was in Poland so he would not be home with them.

 

As it had been so hectic, there had been no time to decorate the Christmas tree so Maria handed over to the oncoming staff and commenced to decorate the tree.

 

A voice behind her spoke as she worked:

 

"Haven't you done enough for one day, Sister?"

 

She stopped hanging a little wooden angel and looked up. It was the matron.

 

“I can't leave the tree undecorated on Christmas Eve, Matron. The patients will think that if we don't care about that, then we probably don't care about them either.”

 

The matron smiled.

 

“Do you ever think of yourself first, Maria? I have never before met anyone who cares so much about other people.” She put her hand gently on Maria's shoulder. “Go home, Sister and enjoy Christmas with your family. I know you will be working with me tomorrow night so go and enjoy what little time you have. I will personally finish the tree. I promise.”

 

“All right, Matron,” Maria said as she got to her feet. “Thank you. I will see you tomorrow.”

 

The Matron smiled as Maria turned away toward the exit.

 

“Frohe Weihnachten, Maria.” she said. Maria stopped and looked back.

 

“Happy Christmas, Matron.” she replied with a smile, then walked away and headed for the bus stop.

 

Maria alighted the tram at the end of the line in Pasing. The snow crunched beneath her feet as she walked the last few metres to her home.

 

It was dark already but the white snow made everything bright and the falling flakes glittered and sparkled with every step.

 

Turning her face upwards she stopped for a moment and giggled a little when the flakes tickled her as they landed on her cheeks and eyelids and melted instantly.

 

She loved the snow, it made everything look so clean and deadened the sounds. She felt at peace and calm, somehow and she gave a little hop and skip and kicked a little of the soft white powder then, stretching out her arms, she spun round twice before continuing her last few steps happily up to her front door. Snow was wonderful but at Christmas, even more so.

 

Opening the door, the glow of light as she stepped into the hallway felt so warm and welcoming and as she removed her gloves and cloak her mother appeared from the living room.

 

"Oh, Hello, Sweetheart," she said, "I didn't hear you come in. Come through to the kitchen. I have some coffee on the stove, would you like some? You must be frozen."

 

“I am all right thank you, Mama. I love the snow and my cloak and gloves are very warm.”

 

“Well you go and get changed and freshen up. I have made some potato soup with sausage for dinner, when you are ready and I have made a Stollen.”

 

“Mmm... Mama, that sounds delicious. I will be down in a few minutes.”

 

She stopped.

 

“Oh, where is Papa? Isn't he home yet?”

 

“He said he wouldn't be late tonight so I expect him at any time.” Anna thought for a moment. “You know?” she went on, “I think him fainting was not a bad thing really. He has worked less hours and seems so much happier now.”

 

Maria smiled. That had been the second time she had not told her mother the whole truth but in this case she didn't mind. Now that her father had someone he could tell his thoughts to he had become a new man.

 

She turned and went upstairs to her room to change.

 

Twenty minutes later she returned to the kitchen.

 

"Oh, Hello, Papa!" she exclaimed, "I didn't hear the door."

 

Herman Kaufmann smiled at his daughter and embraced her.

 

"You were upstairs in your room, I expect you were busy."

 

"Mama said you wouldn't be late tonight, did you have a good day?"

 

"Yes, thank you, I did." He knew that now he could tell her everything but today had indeed been a good day. The only services he had dealt with had been scheduled passenger trains and they had been quite full.

 

Maria leaned forward and spoke quietly into his ear, but not so quietly that her mother could not hear.

 

"I think Mama has been busy too, in the kitchen."

 

They both looked at the table and saw plates of Lebkuchen and Stollen.

 

They looked sideways at Anna.

 

Herman, speaking in a loud whisper, said;

 

"I think you are right, Maria. Doesn't it all look delicious!"

 

They laughed as Anna blushed at their compliments.

 

"You keep your fingers away!" she said with a little chuckle, "That is all for tomorrow."

 

She turned back to the pan on the stove.

 

"Time is getting on," she continued, "For tonight we are having potato soup and Nurnburg Sausages. It that all right?"

 

"Mmm... yes please," Maria and her father answered unison.

 

Anna proceeded to move the cakes to the pantry, out of harms way and placed three bowls and three plates on the table. She had already sliced bread and as she ladled the steaming soup into the bowls, Maria and her father looked on hungrily.

 

Finally, she placed six of the thin sausages onto each of the plates and took her place at the table.

 

Herman clasped his hands and Anna and Maria followed.

 

"Before we ask for God's grace," he began, "I want to say that whatever this awful war produces, we will never be separated in our hearts. I ask the Lord that he protects us and guides us and brings us through as a family."

 

Both Anna and Maria, reached out their hand and took one of Herman's each before replying;

 

"Amen"

 

Herman squeezed their hands then clasped his own together before reciting a prayer of thanks for the food they were about to enjoy.

 

As they ate, they chatted about nothing in particular. The weather, Christmas. Herman did not have to work this year and he was happy to be able to stay at home and relax. Maria did not start her shift until six on Christmas evening so they talked about when they would eat and finally decided that around two would be late enough to eat and early enough for it to settle before Maria went to work.

 

Suddenly, Anna sat upright.

 

“Coffee!” she exclaimed, “I forgot it! Would you like some?”

 

“No, thank you, Mama,” Maria laughed, “We have soup. You just sit and relax and enjoy it. You have done enough.”

 

“More than enough,” her father agreed, laughing along with his daughter.

 

They left for church at eleven. Maria, in her uniform, was warm as toast, her heavy wool cloak keeping out the cold night air. There was no wind but it was still snowing heavily and whenever a vehicle passed by, the snow scrunched beneath the pressure of the tires.

 

It was a short walk to the church of Maria Schutz, Maria the Protector, and as the service didn't start until eleven thirty, that gave them time enough to find seats together without disturbing anyone.

 

They were greeted at the entrance by the priest whom Maria had known all her life. She guessed he would be in his late seventies now, his once blond hair as white as the snow that surrounded them.

 

"Merry Christmas, Herr Kaufmann, Frau Kaufmann." He smiled benevolently, "and, Maria... Look at you. Such a fine young woman. It seems just yesterday I baptised you here."

 

Maria blushed and gave a shy smile as he took her proffered hand.

 

"It was a lifetime ago, Father... For me at least."

 

Father Weiss chuckled.

 

"Yes," he replied, "but for me, just under a quarter of a lifetime. I have watched you grow from an awkward child into a beautiful caring young woman. Your parents must be very proud of you."

 

He looked at Herman and Anna as he spoke and gave a little wink.

 

"Yes, Father," it was her mother who replied, "We are indeed."

 

Maria's face was deep crimson now, with embarrassment, so Father Weiss stepped aside and they passed through into the church and took their places about half way down, adjacent to the pulpit which was raised above the congregation on the left hand side of the Nave.

 

The church filled steadily over the next few minutes. Many of those whom attended the service were known to Maria and her parents as they attended regularly, whenever their working patterns allowed, Anna sometimes being alone when Herman and Maria's shifts coincided.

 

“Good Evening, Herr this, or Frau that,” they would greet as they passed, shaking hands and passing general greetings of the season.

 

Maria loved going to church, she enjoyed the camaraderie and friendliness of the congregation and the many friends she had made as she grew up and Christmas itself was even more special to her.

 

She loved the Carols and Hymns, the joy that celebrating the birth of Christ brought to the community.

 

At eleven thirty the organist, in his eyrie, high above the entrance at the rear, began to play the first carol as the priest and his servers walked down the centre aisle to the altar.

 

O Tenenbaum, O Tenenbaum, Wie treu sind deiner Blatter..”

 

She sang heartily, never once looking down at the printed song-sheet she held in front of her in her gloved hand.

 

It was a joyful service, the spirit of Christmas was still alive in Nazi Bavaria and so far, Christian festivals were not disrupted as the heirarchy liked to pretend that God was on their side.

 

After almost an hour of celebration the mass drew to a close with the final hymn.

 

Maria, once again ignoring the song-sheet, sang from her heart until the final words passed her lips;

 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht

 

Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht,

 

Lieb' aus deinem gottlichen Mund,

 

Da uns schlagt die rettende Stund'

 

Christ in deiner Geburt!

 

Christ in deiner Geburt!”

 

As the final notes of the organ reverberated and died to silence Father Weiss turned to face the congregation.

 

"Once more," he began, "this joyous occasion is upon us but there are dark days ahead. Now, it seems, we are at war again and it is impossible to know what the future holds so I will just say, celebrate while you can and enjoy what time you have together for who knows which of us will be here again next year. Let us all pray for God's help to bring peace back to the world. I wish you all a very happy Christmas."

 

He stretched out his arms and paused whilst he waited for everyone to stand for the final blessing before continuing.

 

"May the Lord be with you."

 

"And also with you." came the response from the congregation.

 

"Go in peace with..." he paused, appearing to be in some pain but continued. "with the...” his voice began to falter and his arms sagged. "...Lord's love."

 

Maria pushed past her parents and ran to the alter as Father Weiss clutched his chest and dropped to his knees. The congregation gasped but remained in their pews.

 

As she ran up the few steps he groaned and leaned forward crouching in agony. Falling to her knees beside him she put her arm around him.

 

“What is it, Father?” she asked but suspected he was having a heart attack.

 

The pain was so great that Father Weiss could not answer her but she could see that his breathing was shallow and weak and each breath was an effort causing him to wheeze with each one.

 

She turned to the nearest Altar Boy.

 

“Do you have a telephone here?” He nodded quickly, his face white with fear.

 

"Telephone the hospital, quickly!" she said to him, gently but firmly. “Tell them Sister Maria Kaufman told you to call and that she has a sick patient who needs an ambulance urgently!”

 

Again, the boy nodded and ran quickly to the door at the side of the altar.

 

"Hold on, Father Weiss," she said shaking him a little, "Come on, you can do it," then looked up at the other Altar Boy.

 

“Go to the vestry and bring something to keep him warm.”

 

The boy stood motionless, staring, frightened.

 

“Go on!” she urged him softly, realising how scared the youngster was, “Father Weiss needs to be kept warm.”

 

The boy jumped and immediately ran in the same direction as the other, returning a few moments later with the aged priests cloak and a blanket from one of the pews.

 

Maria knelt behind the ailing man whilst her Father and Mother helped him into a more comfortable position sitting up but leaning against her.

 

It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive and whilst they waited Maria comforted the sick man and made him as comfortable as she could.

 

Suddenly, shouts from the church door indicated that it was here at last.

 

“You will be fine now, Father,” she said gently, “The ambulance is here.”

 

He gripped her arm and tried to speak.

 

“You are a... a good woman, Maria. God bless you,” he whispered slowly and with much difficulty. “Do not fear for me... I am not afraid, The Lord is calling me to his side and it is time for me to go to him.”

 

Father Weiss was breathing a little more easily when they arrived with a stretcher although his skin was very pale and clammy. The medics placed him on the stretcher.

 

The nurse who attended was known to Maria, she often spoke with her when they were on the same shift at the hospital and had become firm friends but as she went to step into the ambulance she stopped her.

 

"Maria! You can't be everywhere at once. I will look after him, don't worry."

 

"Yes, but Romy..." she protested.

 

"But nothing, Maria!" the nurse smiled, "I know you, you never stop. Now leave him to me. I will take good care of him and let you know how he is, I promise."

 

"Oh well, yes, I know you will. All right, Romy, thank you."

 

“Good, now, go home and enjoy what little Christmas you have allowed yourself. Frohe Weihnachten, Maria.”

 

“Happy Christmas, Romy.” she sighed as the other nurse pulled the door closed.

 

The ambulance drove away, bell ringing loudly as Maria stood and watched as it splashed through the snow and disappeared around the corner. She didn't speak.

 

Her father put his arm through hers, bringing her back to reality.

 

"Come on," he said gently. Let's go home."

 

Once they were home, Herman went to the cupboard and took out a bottle of schnapps. None of them drank much but he kept a bottle for 'medicinal purposes'.

 

"Would you like some?" he asked his daughter.

 

"Do you know, Papa, I believe I will! Just a little, though, thank you."

 

Herman clinked the bottle on the glass as he poured a generous measure and handed it over.

 

“That is not a small one, Papa!” she exclaimed with a giggle as she took the glass holding about two centimetres of the clear spirit, and sipped it carefully. She winced and coughed a little as the liquid caught the back of her throat but within seconds she could feel the heat as it radiated inside her and warmed her.

 

"Do you think Father Weiss will be all right, Maria?"

 

"I don't know, Mama." Maria answered her mother's question honestly. "I think he had a pretty bad heart attack and he is old, about eighty perhaps?."

 

They sat for a while, each of them sipping their brandy, deep in thought.

 

After a while, Maria asked: "How long has Father Weiss been at this church? I know he was there when I was born."

 

Herman and Anna looked at each other as if asking but said nothing.

 

"I don't know," her father eventually answered. "He has been here as long as I can remember. I think he may have been here even before your mother and I were born."

 

"I hope he pulls through," Anna ventured. "He is a nice old man."

 

"If Maria had not been there,' her father said, "He wouldn't even have had a slim chance."

 

He winked and smiled at her.

 

"Oh, Papa! I was just at the right place at the right time. Any nurse or doctor would have done the same," and she lowered her head shyly.

 

"But you are not just any nurse or doctor, Maria," her mother continued, "You are our daughter and we are very, very proud of you."

 

Maria smiled, her face reddening and she got up and hugged each of her parents in turn saying 'I love you' as she did.

 

“I don't think you could have done more, Little One,” her father continued. “His life is in God's hands now. If he doesn't pull through then his time has come and no-one can change that.”

 

“You are right, Papa,” she agreed. "I think we should go to bed now. There is a lot to do tomorrow."

 

Maria slept fitfully that night. After a week of working the early day shift, she should have been exhausted, but she was simply not tired and she lay awake thinking of Father Weiss and the things she had to do until, eventually, she drifted off to sleep.

 

She awoke with a start. The room was still dark but she could see a small chink of light through a gap in the shutter. When she looked at the her watch on the table beside her bed she saw it was almost nine o'clock so she threw back the covers, grabbed her robe and slippers, then went to the window and opened the shutter.

 

It had stopped snowing, but the sky was still heavy, indicating more to come.

 

Downstairs she found her mother and father in the kitchen and greeted them with a bright, 'Happy Christmas.'

 

On the table, standing up against a coffee cup she saw an envelope with her name written on the front.

 

“What is this?” she asked, picking it up and looking at it.

 

“It had been pushed under the door,” her mother replied. “I found it this morning.”

 

Maria tore open the flap and took out the sheet of paper.

 

“Oh Mama!” she said, putting, her hand to her mouth, “It is from Romy. Father Weiss passed away in the night. She says they tried everything but couldn't save him.”

 

She stood for a moment just staring at Romy's note. She was used to death, having to deal with it regularly, but this was different. She knew Father Weiss, had known him all her life, no one she knew personally had ever died before and it made her realise just how it felt to lose someone.

 

She took a deep sigh and nodded as her father spoke.

 

“Then it was his time,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “That is the way life is.”

 

“I know,” she replied. “Even so, it is a shame, he was a good man.”

 

Anna took the letter from her daughter and read it through to herself.

 

“Did you read it to the end, Maria?” she asked.

 

“No Mama, Why?”

 

“Because Romy says Father Weiss's last words were to bless you, sweetheart. He told her that he knew you had tried to help and that he wished God's blessings upon you and he would see you again in Heaven.”

 

Once again, Maria's eyes began to moisten and a lump formed in her throat.

 

“He was a good man, Mama.”

 

 

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