In July, WestBow Press published my first book. Many people, including the publisher, likened this event to a birth. At first, I thought this comparison far too epic, but as each step in the process came to fruition, I embraced this metaphor. I fretted over every sentence, worried about mistakes and typos (and there are still many of them in the book). Growing Room survived the first publisher’s edit mostly intact. Honestly, I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t quite focus. My disconnected thoughts bordered on elation and panic. This book I wrote might well be a failure—but WestBow published Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places.Since Growing Room went live in July 2015, there’s been a video release, Facebook contests, text messages, and newspaper articles. I’ve heard from readers through Facebook messages, phone calls, and face to face conversations. My Church Body prayed over the book and me, and in September I experienced my first book signing. My own.
But God’s orchestration and plans are far above and beyond ours. In Growing Room, in the opening chapter I declare that God is ahead of us always. He. Is. Always. Ahead. Even now this unfolding causes me to catch my breath.In early August The Winchester Sun, our newspaper, ran a local interest article about Growing Room and me. The story made the front page and had the hometown-girl-makes-big feeling. I read it and tucked it away, not because it wasn’t important, but because I didn’t want it to be. Growing Room is not a best seller or great American classic writing, but all the words and the lessons recorded in it have shaped me. Through the experiences written in it God revealed to me his sweet, beautiful, and powerful grace. Quite often I stand in the throne room, with a little moxie and chutzpah, praying for this book to bear fruit that will last for his glory.
And when you ask the Father for bread on your plate he doesn’t give you stones.
One day after the newspaper article printed I was at work. It was a Thursday night, rainy and storming. I heard a patron ask my daughter an odd question: Did we have any resources available to help her convert her manuscript to a typed document? My daughter referred her to our reference department. A few minutes later one of our reference librarians came and asked me if I could come and talk to the patron at her desk. Jennifer explained that this patron would like to meet me because she read the newspaper article. Jennifer introduced me to Ms. Inga LaBella. And my life hasn’t been the same since.
Ms. Inga started at the beginning. A friend of Inga’s called and asked her if she had seen the newspaper from a few days ago.“No, Will, I haven’t,” said Ms. Inga.
“Well, Inga, you need to find you one right now. Monday’s paper,” he encouraged.
Ms. Inga went to a neighbor’s house and found the Monday edition of the paper. Three days later she and I sat at the reference desk sharing stories. Mostly I listened to her, enthralled. She has a story to tell, many stories. When she read of my journey to share mine, she embraced the courage to find a means to tell hers.Ms. Inga needs to write a book, and we are working to make that happen, but in the meantime I invited her to share some of her story here on The Chambered Nautilus as a guest blogger.
Ms. Inga’s stories are memories from Germany during WWII. In the early 1940’s Inga was a little girl with red curls and dark brown eyes and a strong will.
|Ms. Inga today.|
|Ms. Inga in 1941-42|
She lived in a small German village and remembers events and people that most of us only read about in books. Inga watched American soldiers drive tanks down streets far too small—the sidewalks widening the road. Inga watched her father nail a picture of Hitler on the wall of their small home. She witnessed the SS (Schutzstaffel) when they pushed through front doors and into their home, waiting for the Hoffmann family to salute the Fuhrer’s image. Inga heard the staccato barks of the soldiers commanding her mother to salute. The stern soldiers shouted, and their dogs intimidated Inga too, but her little four-year-old-self refused. The SS left her home, the German shepherd trailing slightly behind, licking Ms. Inga’s hand as it passed through the front door.These stories drew me. Ms. Inga, her accent, and her still red hair delighted me. I thanked God for her and this incredible opportunity. I meet with Ms. Inga almost every week now. On Thursdays, I drive to her house and sit at her kitchen table or on her deck and listen as she recounts experiences and people and events. Sometimes I take notes, abbreviated words and scrawled writing, so I don’t miss or leave out a detail. I laugh because Ms. Inga has a snap-sharp wit, impeccable timing, and the punch and point of her story come naturally. I look forward to Thursdays. I think you would too.
Ms. Inga has written her stories down in a cloth bound journal, printed in clear, distinct, and purposed handwriting. She gave me permission to post them here. This connection with Ms. Inga is fruit, the very fruit of my prayers. I praise and thank the Good Father; there are no stones on my plate.
|Ms. Inga's handwritten journal.|
This is Ms. Inga's story of Helga.
My Best and First Friend
By Ingeborg LaBella
We both were the same age, born in the same month (July). We always pretended we were sisters. She had blonde hair and the bluest eyes—the color of the flower (forget-me-not). They grew wild in the fields, and as we got older, we picked them for our mothers.We would sit on my swing for hours, made up stories and even a few songs, and then we would dance like butterflies. On rainy days we played—one day in my house, one day in her house—usually we played school. We took turns on who was the Teacher. We knew the alphabet real well, and we could count to one hundred. Our ragdolls and one Teddy Bear were our students, bur after a while we got tired. We looked outside my window and tried to count the raindrops, after a while we laid on my bed and took a long-long nap. For Sundays, we picked daisies and made a wreath to put on our heads.
We were not allowed to talk in church. I was fascinated by the Virgin Mary, and so was Helga. At the end of church when the minister and all the people left the church we hurried to the Virgin Mary and laid our wreaths at her feet. One Sunday the minister said, “Mary said, ‘thank you’ to the two little girls who put the wreaths by her feet.Helga whispered maybe we can’t ever go to Church again, but he smiled at us and said, “The angels are smiling at the two of you.” We both hugged, and I told Helga that we will be sisters forever.
The cherries were almost ready to be picked off the trees. Helga and I thought that maybe we can reach one or two if we can pull on the branch. We finally got one. I told Helga this one was hers. Suddenly I heard her scream. I saw some blood run down her chin, and she spit her bottom tooth out. Suddenly she stopped crying and reminded me that I did not eat my cherry yet. I ate it very careful and did not lose a tooth.“That’s not fair,” she said and went home. Every evening I laid on my bed twisting on one of my bottom teeth. It took almost two weeks before the tooth finally fell out.
My mother said, “How come you are so happy because you lost your tooth.” I told her that Helga lost hers, and I felt bad for her, and now she will be happy again.My mother asked, “If she breaks her arm or leg, will you break yours too?”
I said, “Of course not, but I will take care of her until she is better again.” My mother gave me a big hug and said, “You would be a good nurse just like your Aunt Martha.”
I never knew Helga’s last name, and I wonder if she she knew mine. We didn’t care, and we didn’t know our last names meant life or death for all of us. One day a young boy carried a black bucket and broom between two German soldiers, and he had to paint a cross on some doors. They painted one on Helga’s door, and we didn’t know why. We thought maybe we could wash it off when they left our street. We tried, but it didn’t work. Helga wondered why they didn’t paint a cross on our door. I decided to ask my mother what the black marks meant, but she didn’t know either. She told us not to worry, but I could tell she was upset. She told me it wasn’t the time to ask her questions (I asked lots of questions). My mother told me I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play for a while, and that I must listen. My feelings were hurt, and I sat on my bed and cried and cried. Finally, my brother Hans came home, and I told him the whole story.He said something bad was going to happen; he didn’t know when, but it would be soon. I wasn’t for sure, but I think he mentioned the Jews. I wished I knew about the Jews; I didn’t know who they were. Were they dangerous?
During our Thursday mornings together Ms. Inga and I talked about Helga. These two girls were inseparable. One morning after the event mentioned above Helga came to Inga’s house early, and they snuck outside to play. Inga and Helga heard that the SS had gathered people in the town square. Sometimes little girls do not do what their mothers tell them, and Helga and Inga slipped away from the yard. Their curiosity drew them to the town square where they saw many of their neighbors and friends lined against the wall of the building, and the SS shouting. The little girls hid lifting their eyes enough to see what was happening. Shots were fired, and the little girls ran back to Inga’s house.The next day Helga did not come to play, and Inga’s mother did not allow her to go outside. Helga did not come the next day. Or the next. Or the next. Heartbroken, Inga kept asking why. She never saw her friend again. Later Inga learned Helga’s family was Jewish. Inga could only assume that Helga and her family did not escape the war.
Next post tells the story of Ms. Inga's friend Sarge, a black American soldier who visited her village.