At ten years old, Grandma (Liz Burg) was back living in Heidelberg with her mother, Anna, and her step-father. (You can read about how she got to this point, here.) Grandma is silent about most of what took place for about 3 years in there. But, from the pain on her face, we know that it was a time she doesn’t like speaking about. She did tell us of an incident in which her step-father picked her up, held her out a 3-story window by the neck and threatened to drop her because she was caught bringing coals to their neighbor. She says it scared her “half to death” and she rarely disobeyed again.
Grandma would get excited when she talked about the sports that she participated in around that age. It seems that sports were an escape for her and a chance for her to hone her strength and endurance (which she would need). She said she was an excellent swimmer and enjoyed swimming competitively from about 10-15 years old. She mentioned that sports were a major part of her life and that the discipline required to compete shaped her future.
Around 13 years old, Grandma graduated from elementary school. Her step-father immediately found her a job as a babysitter/housecleaner. She would make about $8.00 a month. And every month on payday, like clockwork, her step-father would stand at the door and collect Grandma’s hard-earned money.
At some point (the time-line is fuzzy), Grandma decided she had had enough once again, and she contacted DCSF (Child Protection service in Germany). DCSF sent her to a Catholic boys/girls home where she spent a year taking a Home-Ec course. When speaking of this class in her interview, Grandma exclaimed, “I think this is why I am such a good home-maker even today!” And she is right. I have never been to Grandma’s house and not seen it look practically perfect in every way. Anyway, I digress.
After the year of Home-Ec, Grandma was trying to find a good fit for her life. She had just an elementary education, but crazy motivation and intense desire for something more. She decided to go to Hotel Management School, but quickly decided it was not a good match. The reason? She had to take a cooking class, and she did NOT enjoy cooking. She says in her German accent, “That really turned me off.” (See, I think we are kindred spirits. . . Cooking really turns me off too, Grandma!) I digress again.
Around the age of 17, Grandma received a phone call from her mother saying that her step-father had died. Grandma then needed to drop out of school so that she could get a job and support her sickly mother.
She took a job at a local dry cleaners to support herself and her mother. Once again, every month she was forced to turn over her money in order to provide for someone else.
“I simply hated work and my life. I did not want to live like that. I wanted to leave to start a new life – far away. America! But how?” (Excerpt from my Grandma’s writings)
One of the things that I fiercely admired about Liz Burg was her drive and her zero tolerance for living half-heartedly. As a teenager, her soul burned with passion for more. Getting to America was her goal, and despite the countless words of discouragement from everyone around her, she never took no as an answer. She especially wanted young women to know that they never had to simply accept being treated poorly or settling for second best. She spent much of her life clawing her way to better circumstances, and you will see how that turns out for her. . .
“I want more for my life.”
Those were her words. It was her driving motivation. It was her heart’s passion. Being a woman in Germany at that time meant little hope for much of a future. Little hope for the potential and LIFE inside my Grandma. And little hope to get out of Germany. So she said, “How do I get to America?” And she started the quest.
To start, she decided that she would get a job working for the Americans in Germany. As a child, she was always struck by the generosity of the American soldiers who occupied Germany during WWII. They were so kind to her, and always offered her candy when she passed by them. It made such a lasting imprint on her.
To get a job in Germany for the U.S. Army, you had to pass a typing test. The typing test was in English and Grandma only knew how to speak and read in German. But, let’s be honest, that was NOT going to stop her. Nothing ever did.
So, she took the test. And failed.
And she took the test again. And failed again.
She took the test 7 times. And after the 7th time. . . she passed. She had a job for the Americans. She started filing and ended up as a bookkeeper. Her perseverance had paid off. But, this was just step one for her. I promise you, this woman never gave up.
She still needed to get to America, so what was her ticket out? To find a soldier who was going to America and marry him.
One Saturday evening, at 19 years old, Grandma went to a restaurant where many soldiers went to eat and dance with German girls. Her friend introduced her to a man whose girlfriend had stood him up that evening. Grandma danced, ate, and laughed with this man all evening. He was an Ecuadorian who had immigrated to the U.S. and then decided to join the U.S. Army.
His name? Cesar Hervas.
My grandfather and my grandmother began dating. Grandma writes, “Cesar was handsome, very charming, and I was in love.”
Soon after they began dating, Grandma found herself 19 years old and pregnant. Cesar did not want to get married, and many people were trying to convince Grandma to have an abortion. She did not want to have a baby out of wedlock and says she was so miserable, she even considered suicide, but according to the Catholic religion, suicide was a mortal sin. Someone then offered her a back-alley abortion.
If she had even considered that option, I would not be sitting here typing this story out for you all. I have tears in my eyes as I write that.
It’s fascinating for me to look back on my heritage and see God’s hand in my Grandma’s life. He so carefully guided her and protected her. She had not, at that time, put her faith and trust in Christ’s death and resurrection, and looking back at her life, she recognized that she was living a life without God as her Helper. She says,
“Sin and its consequences took its toll. BUT GOD DID NOT FORSAKE ME!”
About 3 months into her pregnancy, Cesar asked Grandma to marry him, and so they did on April 1st, 1958.
Cesar went back to America, and Grandma was left in Germany to have her first baby on her own. Having given birth to 2 children myself, Grandma’s birth story absolutely amazes me.
At 19, Grandma didn’t know a thing about childbirth. So while out for a swim one day, she started feeling contractions and hopped on a bus and headed to the hospital. Half way there she had to get off (I have no idea why), so she walked the rest of the way to the hospital while having contractions.
When she got there, they put her in a room by herself, gave her a cowbell, and said “Ring this when the baby is coming.” So she labored in a room all alone next to a cowbell. When she realized what she was feeling was the baby coming, she rang the bell and a handful of nuns barely delivered her son in time.
As she held this new life, she envisioned a world in which her first son was born into royalty, with a king and queen as his parents, and so she named him, Charles Edgar Hervas, born in Germany on August 27th, 1958.
I can’t express my feelings. What a story. To know how God shapsshape up one’s life, it is amazing. Bless her and bless you for sharing this beautiful story.
Great story, Becca. God is good….all the time!!
You have such a gift of expression and a way of telling her story. I love how our Heavenly Father is guiding just like the people we read about in the Bible. We forget how He does the calling and through choices and life events he leads us to where our journey leads us to Him. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you; that is very kind of you!