She just loved it when her grandmother came over. She always felt a special connection to her. Her parents were always calling Frida crazy in hushed tones but Chanel never thought her grandmother was crazy. She thought it was crazy to name your child after someone you supposed think is crazy. Chanel always was called by her middle name but that didn’t negate anything in Chanel’s mind.
She always just thought her grandmother was different, her grandmother wasn't originally from the states. She grew somewhere else with a different kind of experience, she was bound to be peculiar to other people. Her mother was always reluctant to let her grandmother babysit her, Paulina always felt as if it was Chanel that was the babysitter. Friedrich on the other hand didn't really have a problem with it.
He knew that his mother was eccentric… he also knew that she was a gambler and an alcoholic, but she was never violent. She could stay sober long enough to be a good babysitter for his daughter. He also knew that he couldn’t really turn his back on his mother. They were the only family that she had.
With his dad being dead, it only made his mother sadder. He always had a blind spot when he came to her. Her whole life was riddled with sadness and tragedy, even if Paulina voiced her concerns, he was never going to turn his back on his mother. Paulina couldn’t argue that Frida didn’t drink around Chanel, she had some wherewithal to not do that.
It was one of the only reasons that she let her mother-in-law watch their child in the first place. Frida would always say send the nannies away, they didn't need that because grandma was here. But grandma was also highly unreliable, it was the reason that Paulina hired nannies in the first place. She was serious about her career and so was her husband, so they had to have someone watch their child.
As much as Frida loved her granddaughter, she couldn’t stop her vices. She got drunk several times a week and would have to cancel watching Chanel sometimes because she could barely move. She would consume so much alcohol that she would have to crawl to the bathroom in order to use it.
These were the times where Paulina got upset because how can they tell a child that their grandmother is a drunk? It's not something that Chanel would understand. Paulina had to tell her daughter that her grandmother was just so sick and had to reschedule. She could see the disappointment on her daughter’s face every time she did it and it came to a point where Chanel would blame her.
Chanel was perceptive to just about everything. She was a curious child from birth and love to investigate. It didn’t help that Paulina and sometimes even Friedrich calling her grandmother crazy. Sometimes her mother would do it with such distaste that all it did was make Chanel suspicious of her mother.
She never said anything to her mother’s face because she was afraid, even though she loved her grandma she loved her mom too and didn't want to make things more difficult. She didn’t want her grandmother to possibly visit even less if she had made her mother mad.
But her grandma was coming today… Mother had called and asked if she was going to show up, she couldn’t hear what her grandmother said on the other line but when she heard her mother saying mm hmm…it made Chanel happy.
“Please tell me that you can actually watch my daughter.” As much as Paulina wanted to be like her husband when it came to his mother, she knew that she couldn't be as optimistic.
She knew that she had to keep her eyes open and suspicious. It served her well in business, but it wasn’t like she wanted to live like this in her personal life. But she felt as if she didn’t really have a choice because this was her daughter at the end of the day.
“I can watch my granddaughter for an afternoon. I’m well versed with children… I even have one of my own.” Frida’s heavy German accent wafted in the air.
It always baffled Paulina how her mother- in-law could still have such a thick German accent even though she’s been in this country since 1945.
“I see you still have jokes. It makes me a little more confident that you haven’t been hitting the sauce yet. Frida, you know I do appreciate you watching Chanel… but I always have to make sure that you're okay to do that. You are family but I’m always going to need to protect her.” Paulina didn’t like being the bad cop.
It broke her heart that she even had to say it in the first place. She knew how much Frida adored her family especially since she went a long time without having anyone. But it was in that loneliness that started her problems. It hurt to be so cynical about someone who was a genuinely good person. She just had her problems that she could never get over. She had been doing pretty good until Louis had passed. It was hard on everyone.
Freddie had lost his father and Frida had lost her husband. It was a hard loss for everyone, but they were the ones who got hit the hardest. Freddie was even more involved with his work which was something that Paulina wasn’t mad at because so was she. They were simpatico like that.
Her husband found solace in work while her mother-in-law found solace in cards and drinking. At least one of those were productive.
All Frida could do was just nod… She was aware that her alcoholism made her hard to trust. Every time she thought that she would be able to just get through a couple of days without drinking, she would wreck it and go on a binge. She knew that it was destructive, and it was hurting her, but she just couldn't stop. She had tried rehab, but alcohol was just a tool… it couldn’t stop her… not really. She was always going to want to drown herself and want to physically feel how she emotionally felt. She lost Louis… She was tired of losing the people she loved the most in life. It was so unfair and she didn't know how to function.
Louis had found a way for her to smile again and laugh again after the most horrendous events of her life took place. But he was gone and the only time she ever smiled was when she was with Chanel. Her little granddaughter could take her worries away for a little while. It was so pleasing to be around someone she felt understood her. It might have been because she was a child and she wasn’t versed in how the world viewed her yet.
Maybe it was a selfish part of her… but she held on to it. She could clean herself up for a week here and there because she wanted to be completely there when she was with her granddaughter. That was her motivation to stop drinking… it would become really difficult because she would start to shake without the alcohol and always fall back into that familiar step, but she could survive two weeks out of a month without taking a drink if it meant that she got to see Chanel.
“Now Frida if you need to call me these will be all of the numbers. Don't hesitate because I'll be mad if something happens and you don't." Paulina wasn't going to be far... she was only going to Boca for this business trip. She could drive down if need be.
Freddie was out of town… frankly he was out of the whole state because he was doing business in Austin. It was a lot to trust that Frida could handle this, but Freddie had convinced Paulina if anything were to happen that Paulina would be close and could drive down. He also had the confidence that his mother wouldn’t drink because she was watching Chanel and that was the one thing that could always stop his mother.
“If we should have any problems arise… I will call you. But you can go…” Frida was fine and she didn’t need Paulina staying and then accusing her of making her late.
Paulina left and Frida went to Chanel's room. She was wondering what her granddaughter was getting up to.
Frida didn’t find her granddaughter in her bedroom, so she went to the playroom… she had more luck. She saw that Chanel wasn’t really playing, she was doing work. She thought that Chanel was just so smart, she was always getting awards in school. It was one of the reasons she was able to sober up long enough so she could attend those events because she didn’t want to let her granddaughter down.
“Oma!” Chanel was so excited to see her grandmother. She had been waiting all day.
Every time she looked at the clock… it seemed to stay the same time which only made her upset because she felt like she would be waiting forever.
“Hallo Schatz!” Frida was so happy to see her granddaughter.
Frida had been dogged about speaking her granddaughter knowing German. Friedrich spoke the language, but he had the accent of an American but not her granddaughter. If Frida closed her eyes, then she could imagine that they were in Berlin.
Chanel blushed when her grandmother called her darling. They both only spoke German to each other. Paulina felt a little left out because she was the only person in that house who didn’t know how to speak it, but if she was there with them then they would speak to her in English but if it was just them… They would speak in Frida’s native tongue.
“What are you doing?”
“I was bored so I had my mom take me to the library to check out some books. I wanted to learn more about Germany.”
A sense of dread ran through Frida's body. Even though the Germans now are not like the Germans she grew up with... she still had a huge sense of bitterness. These were descendants of Nazis. Not everyone but they were there and you didn't know what they look like. It was frightening for her.
“If you want to know about Germany you can just ask me… you know I was there. There’s lots of things that that book will not show.”
“What was it like growing up there? Is it anything like Miami?” The reason she now wanted to know about Germany was because she wanted to impress her grandmother with her knowledge.
“It was a very different time… You saw all kinds of people in Berlin. It was nice because it was a Metropolitan city. But that changed with the Holocaust… Did your book tell you about the Holocaust?”
“No… I’m still reading about the different areas that would become Germany.” Chanel had only gotten the book today, so she didn’t get to read much yet.
“Well the Holocaust was a period of time where a lot of suffering happened. People had their homes taken away from them… Their parents taken away from them… even their lives.”
“They took away people's mommies and daddies?”
“Yeah, including mine. It was a very scary time to be a child there. It was a lot of uncertainty. I had friends whose parents were hurt intentionally. They do things like make sure they couldn’t have babies so some people couldn’t have their own little Chanel.” Frida realized that it might not have been the best idea to talk about the graphic atrocities that happened during the Holocaust with her granddaughter.
She knew that it was something that eventually her granddaughter was going to have to know. It was a part of their family history. It was the reason that she came to America.
“Well how do they do that?” Chanel only became more curious. She wanted to know more about how Germany was and how it was like for her grandmother to grow up there.
“It's really complicated but we have to keep it a secret. Enough about Germany for right now. I brought you a present…” Frida started to go in her bag to look for the little envelope.
Chanel had done her best to keep her eyes from rolling because these were not the kind of present that she wanted.
Her grandma was always giving her papers and it was so boring. Her grandma was always getting her sheets of paper instead of real toys and presents. When her grandma told her that she got her stocks in a fruit company… Chanel didn’t even know what that meant but she couldn’t play with any of these things that her grandma kept giving her. It drove her nuts, but she still accepted the gifts because it was from her grandmother.
“Don't give me that face. It’s very important for you to be able to have this. I got you some more savings bonds and they will be something that will be great for you in the future.” Frida knew that her granddaughter wanted to have trinkets.
What she was doing was trying to build a foundation for her granddaughter in the future. She was going to do it her way and no one was going to stop her.
Chanel just nodded and then went into her closet. She got the special shoe box that only her and her grandmother knew about. Her grandmother told her that they had to keep it a secret… So that’s what Chanel did.
Frida knew that her son would find a way to get mad at her. She didn't care because in her mind she thought she could do whatever she liked with her money. Even if it was her husband's life insurance money… it was hers to do with as she chose. She thought it was better to spend this money on her granddaughter instead of having more money to spend on booze or gamble away.
Chanel brought back the secret box filled with the same kind of papers her grandmother always brought. The fruit company paper was the only thing that was different, but all of the other ones look like overgrown money. Chanel didn’t even know it was real, but she would always indulge her grandmother.
“Chanel is important that you keep these. When I was a little girl, everything was taken away from us. The government told us that we had no home anymore. All of our bank accounts we’re no longer ours… it belonged to the government. It says your name on all of these because they belong to you. No one can take this away from you like they took away things from my father. You own something in the world. I know you’re still too young to understand but when you get older, you'll start to see just how much this matters.” Frida has to be careful.
As much as she wants to tell her granddaughter about her life story… Most of it is shrouded in pain and tragedy, at least her childhood is. It was hard to explain the racial component of Germany during that time with a girl as young as her granddaughter. It was going to have to be something that her parents agreed to. As much as she wanted to just go ahead and say it… she knows that it could be something that causes a chasm with her and her son.
She wasn’t going to put her trauma on her granddaughter. She was too young and she knew better. She could give her peripheral things about how was growing up in Nazi Germany. But she couldn’t really delve into it the way that she would if it were anyone else. If she were to talk about the forced sterilization or murders or the internment camps… it would be frightening for a child.
It was frightening for her and she was living it as a child when it happened.
“Chanel remembers one thing… What we talk about has to stay a secret… You wouldn’t let Oma down would you?” Frida knew that it was a little manipulative to swear her granddaughter to secrecy.
She had to do it because she was afraid if word got back to her son that she would be banned from seeing Chanel. It had scarred Friedrich to learn about his mother’s history. It filled him with such rage that she could suffer so greatly and be so helpless to it. But it also made him very quiet… he couldn’t really speak about it with his mother.
That’s what it did… it created scars in families that lasts longer than people live. It becomes a defining characteristic of your life as much as you don’t want it to be it just is. The government of Germany ensured that it was.