By Christina Holder Oker
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
"Hey, want to play with us?" The wind came sliding down over the ice, carrying the high-spirited sounds of the players' anticipation. Each time the puck neared the opposing goal, the cheers and jeers grew louder. I stood at the edge of our town pond and watched the neighborhood kids' hockey game. I wished I could play too, but I didn't have skates.
"No, maybe later...." I said, trying to discipline my voice to show indifference. We were poor, but we were also proud. World War II had just ended, and we were refugees in the small town of Osterode, Germany. Barely enough to eat, and as if poverty was a disgrace, we veiled the truth. Instead of pride, disappointment and loneliness walked with me on the way home.
With my head low and drooping shoulders, I entered through the kitchen door. The aroma of simmering potato soup greeted me. Miss Gertrude, our landlord's maid, sat at the table opposite my mom, in front of her some bread and jam. She often brought us food. Knowing my mother would not accept stolen goods she always insisted, "Don't worry... it's from my ration," or "Don't worry... it was a gift."
"What's wrong?" my mother asked seeing my brooding posture.
"I wish I had skates," I blurted out, falling into the chair between them. "So I could play in the hockey game."
"But, you know my child..." my mother was stopped by Miss Gertrude.
"Guess what?" Jumping from her chair with an unexpected vivacity for someone so plump, the maid repeated, "Guess what? Just today I had to clean out the landlord's attic and among the many things he no longer needs was a pair of hockey skates." She headed for the door shouting over her shoulder, "I will go and get them right now."
My mother bit her lips and started to put the bread and jam away. "She is too good," she mumbled, walking to the stove to stir the soup. "I don't know how we will ever repay her.
Ten minutes later, Miss Gertrude returned with a pair of skates under her apron. "Hurry," she said. A smile played around her lips as she handed the skates to me. "Hurry, hurry, go and play."
My mother drew her eyebrows together but before she could question her, Miss Gertrude assured her, "Yes, yes, it is all right. They were headed for the garbage pile."
I marveled at my new possession, the adjustable screw to the shoe skates with its glistening sharp edges. No longer able to contain my delight, I gave my mom and Miss Gertrude each a quick hug. Grabbing my coat, gloves, and skates, I ran for the door.
A light snow began to fall, turning the town into a winter wonderland. When I arrived at the pond, the hockey game was still on.
"Hey, you can be on my team," one of the kids yelled, his cheeks red from the wintry air. I hastened to fasten the skates to my shoes. Somewhat out of breath, I joined the game. And while the snowflakes danced all around us, we played until darkness came and lights glimmered in windows of nearby houses.
The exhilaration of that first hockey game, almost a lifetime ago, and the joy of the many games that followed, will always stay with me. And so will the lingering question of whether that kind, generous maid, Miss Gertrude, was a hockey skate thief.