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Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple I: Beginnings

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I was born in the dead of winter, ten days after Christmas when people are worn out from parties and ready to start a diet or go lift some weights.  

My mother would often say: “The day you were born was the best day of my life.” I was born into love, into the suffocating paternalistic air of socialism and into a secret, ongoing, mutually-agreed-upon open marriage between two couples.

Years prior both couples met, hit it off, became close friends. They partied, traveled and shared everyday life together before yielding to an unexpected attraction to the opposite spouse. An ongoing open affair, a love quadrangle of sorts, appeared to be a more agreeable option than divorce.

Open marriages were not common in East Germany but my parents never held much affection for a common life. Common meant boring and Communism with its mind numbing propaganda was boring enough. Perhaps a bit of boredom increased their willingness to redefine traditional marriage boundaries. For a time it felt fun to keep secret, to gently rebel.

My mother, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, held mixed feelings towards the affair. Would her situation be considered adultery since everyone was in agreement? Once a pastor she sought for advice soothed her conscience: “It’s fine. You are honest, consenting adults in agreement with one another. You are not hurting anyone.”

“That was the dumbest piece of advice I ever got,” mom told me not too long ago, “Of course we were hurting someone…at least one person: You.” She meant not telling me the truth about my real identity. Her husband was not my father, they all knew it and committed to silence. Silence felt more honorable than facing impending conflict associated with telling the truth. The truth would disappoint, perhaps even shock family or friends, fuel gossip and attract unsolicited opinions. Things would have to change and nobody felt ready for that.

East German paper was flimsy so the heavy cardstock for my birth announcement must have come from the West. We had connections to a printing press. Nothing got done in the East without connections. (The GDR was simply the “The East” to us) The card turned out lovely despite listing the wrong father. My birth hadn’t changed anything. We looked like the perfect little family from the outside.

I don’t remember much of how the early rhythms of how life worked in the mixed up marriage. Apparently I was an easy baby, a pretty compliant toddler, an obedient, flexible and pleasant preschooler. The people I remember most in early childhood were my grandparents. I was their first and only grandchild and they were crazy about me. Too crazy, my mom thought, over the top, obsessively spinning around me like I was the center of the world. Label it what you want, their unbridled affection felt like love to me and I drank it up.

I couldn’t wait until they’d come again to pick me up in their little Trabant, the infamous East German cardboard car (nearly everyone had one in similar colors=special adventure to find yours in a larger parking lot). We’d rattle along over cobblestone roads to their apartment, the most fun place in the world to me. I had my own room there, complete with toys from the west and a wooden swing in the doorway. There was sand hauled from the baltic sea on the little balcony, even a special roll of toilet paper in the bathroom just for me. It was the non-scratchy kind, from the West. Best of all, I had their full attention.

Grandpa and I spent hours building elaborate cities out of blocks, playing family in the dollhouse or pretending to travel the world. Grandma would run back and forth to the kitchen, grab more juice, another donut, some Eastern version of Coke.

My grandparents delighted in me, accepted me unconditionally, made me feel irreplaceably wonderful. I could do no wrong at Grandma’s house. It felt like heaven and I wanted our love to last forever and ever.

All this occurred before the truth disrupted our relationship. Mothers in-laws had safely assumed I was their grandchild. Eventually truth would come out and when it came, everything changed. Truth cut through my world like a sword.

“Behind the Wall & under the steeple- Part II” will continue next week. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox. As always I welcome your comments and questions. This story would not be told without your support!

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Story shared on CoffeeForYourHeart LinkUp and LiveFreeThursday

35 Replies

  1. Tara

    This is beyond fascinating and only gonna get better. I love seeing the photos at the end too. Waiting for the next installment. 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes-you’ll be the first to see it. So grateful for your fabulous freelance editing! ❤️

  2. Jen

    Wow, just wow! So very fascinating. I’m glad you’re telling your story and I’m sure there will be many who will want to hear it. Can’t wait for the next one!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks Jen! I guess you rarely think of your own story as fascinating but it certainly can be to others…

  3. Jennifer Bouz

    Can’t wait for more….I have always enjoyed your writing….you have true talent.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. It’s never too late to invest in your talents, right?

  4. Barbara Dillard

    I am standing on tiptoe for the next portion of your story! You have me hooked! Are you sure you don’t want to write that book?! 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      I probably will some day, thought I would test out some of story here first…. Thanks!

  5. I see what you’re doing here, and I like it. I’m so proud of you!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks friend!

  6. Laura Whidden

    So. Beautifully. Told. I believe in your calling and your gifts 100%.

    1. Astrid Melton

      I know you do. You are a kick butt encourager and I dedicate this series to you. ❤️

  7. Janel

    Still listening! Glad for your courage and for sharing your gift and the joy of writing!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, Janel!

  8. Franziska

    Oh my, translating into German was so hard…so many emotions. So painful, bittersweet thoughts and memories. It was really touching and taught me new “stories” of my in-law-family. Thanks for sharing in that intensity and for trusting me with the translation. I am really looking forward to meeting you next year fearing at the same time that this future weekend won’t be enough to ask all the questions I have…Stay blessed, brave and inspired for the coming parts of your story.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks for translating. I almost feel hesitant to share at this level with a german audience because I think there is a little less appreciation culturally for vulnerability/ transparency- most of us enjoy keeping our business behind closed doors…. Me… Not so much, obviously.

      1. Franziska

        You’re welcome. I know what you mean. So I suggest, you can give me a sign if you want me to stop translating.

  9. Astrid, every time I hear a bit of your story I want to learn more. Thank you for your willingness to be candid and share this. You are a beautiful writer, friend. Even without knowing the rest of the story, I sense hope because it is yours.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks friend! Your last sentence means a lot to me right now.

  10. I’m visiting from Holly’s blog. Quite the story! I’ve signed up to read more. Great writing! Diane

    1. Astrid Melton

      Welcome, Diane!

  11. I’m hooked! What a fascinating story, Astrid.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, Suzie. I am testing out a book idea here- it’s helpful to know when readers are still w/ you

  12. Visiting from Suzie Eller’s blog today and I absolutely love this. I can’t wait to read how God has put together the puzzle pieces of your life. What an incredible story you have.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. It’s taken me about 20 years to get excited about sharing it and even now I sense a bit of resistance as I write.

  13. I can’t wait to read more! Bookmarking your site:)

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks- I am working on part II…

  14. PS Beautiful photos! And you and your little one also look so adorable. May joy and peace always be abundant in your family. What a blessing to have “bumped” into you today. See you soon!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. Most of my childhood photos are in black and white

  15. Ingo

    Meine Mutter kommt aus Leipzig, und ich bin jetzt als alter Stuttgarter Prediger u. Theologie-Professor in Texas (STA). Werde mir Deine Gedanken zu Gemüte führen.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Nett das Du Dich vorstellst. Danke!

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