Sun Magazine, Sunday, September 2012
©2012 Valerie Kreutzer
I love naps. My mother taught me how to take them. We took them on Sunday; after she had made sure that my dad wore a clean shirt standing in the pulpit, and her four daughters looked respectable enough sitting in the pew; after she had played the organ, conducted the choir, and presided over Sunday school; after she had talked to every parishioner in that dwindling congregation, decimated by war and Nazi propaganda; after she had cooked the best meal of the week, ending with a creamy dessert--after all that she felt entitled to a Schläfchen, her little nap.
And as she retreated into the sanctuary of her bedroom, she grabbed me, her youngest, and we soon disappeared under her huge feather comforter, leaving my older sisters to a mountain of dirty dishes and general warfare in the kitchen.
She slept on her right side with knees at an angle, making room for me to settle on her lap. I fit perfectly into the contours of her body, my curly blond head tucked under her chin.
“Whoever falls asleep first says kikeriki,” she suggested. (Kikeriki is the German word for cock-a-doodle-doo.)
I liked the idea of a competition. And so we dozed toward the nirvana of sleep.
“Kikeriki,” I ventured after a while.
“You’re not asleep yet,” she whispered.
True enough. I tried harder.
“Did I say kikeriki?” I asked when we awoke.
“No, you forgot,” she said, shaking her head with feigned regret.
It seems that this game went on for years, until it finally dawned on me that she had tricked me.
“You can’t sleep and say kikeriki at the same time,” I said, confronting her.
“You’re right,” she acknowledged with a smile.
That’s when I was finished with naps and joined my sister’s kitchen squabbles over who would scrub and wash and dry the Sunday dishes.
When in her old age my mother entered the confusion of Alzheimer’s, hiding her money where she could not find it, getting lost on her way home from church, and forgetting the words to carry on a conversation, we often sat quietly, sometimes sharing an apple.
Once, feeling playful, I tapped her belly, asking, “Are you sure you once had me in there?”
Ja, she nodded seriously. It was one of the last things she seemed to know for sure.
Sometimes drifting off to sleep, I remember how I once fit perfectly into the contours of my mother’s lap.