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Continued from A World in Chaos   (and dedicated to Yry’s birthday)

Through a Swedish business contact, Yry’s father arranged to have care packages smuggled into Berlin from Sweden. Each week, he gave Yry $200 for supplies. She’d trudge to the store, often pushing Joan’s pram and loading it with non-perishable foods, warm clothes, and blankets. Back at the flat, she boxed everything up to ship overseas, some to England and some to Germany. Then off to the Post Office she went—all without the use of a car. Sometimes she used a two-wheeled shopping cart, which worked well while the weather was good. But jerking or pushing that load through snowy, icy streets was a challenge.

Years later, mother told stories about those grueling shopping trips. She would gaze at her hands and remember her fingers—cracked and split from wrangling cardboard boxes, folding and cutting paper, and wrapping string around each box. The packages she couldn’t fit into the shopping cart, dangled from sore fingers.

 In my youthful arrogance I’d dismissed much of what she said, judging her descriptions of bloody fingers as hyperbole. Having seen her fly off the handle in histrionic fits of rage, I mistrusted her penchant for drama. By the time I realized how important, how real her stories were, it was too late. Between my inattention and the holes in my memory large enough to devour planet, I’ve spent the much of my adult life grieving the loss of details I once had such easy access to.

Fortunately, she was a hoarder and a compulsive list keeper. Scattered through her things after she died, were lists she’d scribbled in the margins of junk mail, the backs of envelopes and bank statements. She had lists of lists; and they hid from her inside shoe boxes, folders, books, bags, and purses. During that period of post-war mailings, my mom kept fastidious records of what she purchased for the relatives. Partly she was accounting to her father how she’d spent his money. But she also listed the contents of each box to compare with what actually arrived. She followed each mailing with a letter listing all the items she’d sent. At both ends of the transaction, the family marveled at what survived layers of hunger, temptation, and sheer larceny along the journey. Often two thirds of what left New York City, disappeared before reaching its destination.

This passage from a letter dated, 24 June 1947 is a typical accounting of goods gratefully received.

Received the wonderful gift parcel that was mailed 13 May from New York. It arrived on 20 June. Inside: 1 pound rice, 1 pound bacon, 5.5 ounces Pate e Foie, egg powder, coffee, chicken spread, 1 pound honey, Mazola oil, Spam, Cocoa mix, black tea, Kraft American cheese, Boneless chicken, and nuts. Many thanks for sending it. It is nearly impossible to get anything eatable or otherwise from the shops here these days.

Continued