When I was a little girl we had a nanny named Charlotte. Charlotte was from Germany, and had a deep accent. She was very religious and would teach me German prayers at night. My Jewish mother was somewhat surprised to find me praying next to my bed one night chanting to Jesus in perfect German.
We loved Charlotte, all of us. She was with me from the time I was born, and it was to her room that I ran at night if I had a bad dream. She was always there to comfort me. We thought she would be with us forever.
One day (when I was four years old and my little brother had just been born) my father answers the doorbell and a very handsome man is standing at the door, beautifully dressed. My father notices his car, a Rolls Royce. parked behind his own Lincoln.
“I would like to ask your permission to marry Charlotte,” he said.
My parents were devastated! Where would they ever find another Charlotte? In her forties and never married, they had figured she would never marry and live with us forever. No such luck. All kidding aside though, they were thrilled for Charlotte (and we never did find another nanny quite like her).
For years, the phone would ring on my birthday and Charlotte would be on the other end, wishing me joy. She called me “Layne”, my given name, and I would proudly tell her that I had changed my name to “Mallory”. She would laugh and say that old habits were hard to forget.
I think the last time I heard from Charlotte I was about seven years old.
Until this week that is…
Believe it or not, Charlotte has been looking for us for years and years and years. Once we left the home that she lived in with us, she didn’t really know how to find us, though apparently she tried to several times over the years. Just recently, a woman named Susan came to the retirement home where Charlotte now lives in North Carolina. Charlotte asked her to search for us, and she found my older brother in L.A. They had a nice long chat the other night and my brother forwarded Charlotte’s information on to me and my father.
Charlotte and I have spoken on the phone a few times this week. Her accent is still as deep as I remembered. She is ninety years old (turning ninety one in August) and she still drives a car and sounds almost as feisty as she did in her early forties.
“I used to sing to you in German,” she told me with a laugh yesterday.
“I remember,” I told her. Unfortunately she left or I could be completely bi-lingual now, though I don’t know how much use I would have with German prayers. “And you used to comfort me when I had nightmares.”
“I don’t remember that,” she admitted. “Your parents were very strict,” she said. “When you were a bad little girl they would put you in your room and close the door.” After the door was shut, they would turn to Charlotte and tell her that she could not go in to comfort me, knowing that she would want to the second they walked down the hallway.
“I love you Charlotte,” I told her the other night. “I never forgot you.”
“I love you too,” she told me.
I wish she lived closer. I want to see her. She is all alone now. Her husband died almost ten years ago.
“We had thirty-nine beautiful years together,” she told me.
She is having trouble breathing, she admitted yesterday, and last year she had two stints put into her heart (“The first time I was ever in the hospital,” she told me).
“Go to the doctor, Charlotte,” I told her. “Promise me that.”
“I don’t like doctors,” she told me. “But I will.”
I am praying for Charlotte. Not in German, but nonetheless. Life is so filled with joyful surprises, like the return of the nanny that we never forgot.
I love you Charlotte.