"LaVaughn Claire Linnens"
by Nichelle Taylor- October 07, 2018
On a beautiful southern Colorado afternoon, the sunlight crept through the creaking, old trees, slowly turning their leaves the soft, gold color of autumn. The weather was warm after several days of cold, dark, and rainy, and it was just the way Grandma would have liked it.
It would be difficult to say goodbye.
My cousins, brother, and I were pallbearers, the white flowers pinned solemnly to our chests. My red scarf felt too tight amid the stress, the black of my outfit absorbing too much heat. It all came clawing at my throat, and as my chest constricted, hearing my heartbeat in my ears, I knew this would be a day unlike any other for me, for all of us.
We stood behind her casket, decorated in bright, beautiful flowers and tributes to her, in the part of the cemetery filled with my ancestors, our family. I clung tightly to Grandma's cross; I could feel the deep, complex impression it left in my palm.
We listened to the eulogy, the simple words describing the life she made and the children she brought into the world filling the air, and like the gust of wind that swept my hair back from my face, it blew me away, my cool exterior escaping with it.
A heaviness crashed over me, and I willed the tears to go away, but they persisted, trickling down my face like the calming river down the road from Grandma’s house, the one I might not visit again for a long time. My makeup began to smear, but I tried not to focus on it too much.
And before I was ready, it was my time to speak.
I stepped forward, hands shaking, voice quavering. Tears continued to stream down my face, and I said to the crowd of friends and family, "I'm Nichelle Taylor; I'm Amy's daughter. I wrote something for my grandma, but please let me compose myself first."
Daring to look at my mom, wishing I could be beside her, holding her hand, the heaviness became an unbearable anchor, holding me down while I fought to breathe beneath waves and tides of utter heartbreak for those who stared right at me. I wanted to tell my mom that I would always be by her side, from now until forever, and I wished I could just make the hurt go away like the clouds dissipating in the distance.
I took in a deep breath, wiped the tears away, and spoke, my voice sharp from holding back the grief, "As a child, my grandma gave me several books to share in her love of reading, but the one that became my favorite was ‘The Secret Garden’. I read this book over and over throughout the years, and it still remains a fond memory when I think of what my grandma provided. Not only that, she gave me her cross that she always took to church. She sent it to me when I needed it most, and even still, I hold it when I need it most, and I think about her.
“We all get a lot from our family. We have similarities, differences, things we inherit. I think we can all agree as children and grandchildren of LaVaughn Linnens that we all inherited strength, kindness, wit, but above all that, I’m extremely grateful to have inherited the gift of writing from my grandma. Grandma was a writer and a reader for most of her life. She wrote a cookbook, published articles in the newspaper, and even wrote a novel, although it hasn’t seen the attention it deserves. I’m anxious to pick it up and truly see how great of a writer she was. There’s a lot to learn from writing, a lot to take away. It has become something that keeps me going day in and day out, and I feel I have my grandma to thank for that. I am grateful to her for the love of reading and writing, for providing me with my wonderful family, with a loving mother.
“Thank you for everything, Grandma. We will love and cherish you forever."
by Nichelle Taylor- July 15, 2018
After several shifts of tiring labor in the sweltering days and an abundance of uncomfortable rests in the shivering nights, I slept quite well on my new bed, one that was just to myself, and it even had actual padding. I clambered out of my bed, relieved to find that no waste had fallen on me from the top bunk of my room because I had no roommates under whom I would have to sleep.
I felt cleaner than I had been at Auschwitz for the past year, so I postponed my shower time to look out the door of my barracks, watching the sun reflect off the barbed wire fence that locked us up tight, like a pig pen. They called us Schweine, so I knew that was their intention. As an older man, I wished to be called a gentleman, but we were stripped of every title including ‘human’.
The crisp air made me gullible; I began to inhale the serenity, letting it plant seeds of hope in my nearly-empty belly, something that did not come often as a Jew in 1940. The camp was a poison that never left our bodies; it consumed our homes, our air, and our own blood. We were not safe anywhere, and it seemed we never would be. In the presence of reality, I chose to diminish the thought of our daily lives and focused on my new home and the light ahead of me, one of more food and plenty of shelter.
As I stood there, a dark, snarling shadow came into my view, and when I looked up to see what it was, I realized it was Frau Schneider. She was a wicked, old woman, and her crinkled face held a sour expression as if something foul had crept into her mouth. Her eyes were deep, black holes, and if one dared to look too long into them, that person would be swallowed whole into a world of inescapable darkness and doom.
She glared at me, her hollow eyes following my every move. I gulped. She watched me stand at the door, judging me, and I recalled why I had the new home, unexpected cleanliness, no roommates, and less misery.
It was my promise. I was recruited by the guard outside my old barracks, assured that I would receive a much better treatment if I would just keep a watchful eye on my people, report any who disobey the guard, and sign off on a list of names.
It was a list of fifty to be exact, and I chose them all. I knew what the list meant because everybody did. I knew that if I signed this paper of fifty names, they would die, and I would be responsible. Only, what did I have to lose? I was already on my march towards death, and I figured dying comfortably was my best bet.
Honor never crossed my mind until Frau Schneider showed up, staring at me as if I were Adolf Hitler himself, but I knew she was wrong. I was a Jew like her, and we had gone through the same ordeals such as losing our children and then our spouses, and finally being left with nothing but the skin on our bones, and even that is threatened to be taken away.
We understood the nature of survival, but it seemed to me like Frau Schneider was the one misinterpreting it. After all, I protected myself, and I did not see what the problem was.
She scowled and stood there for a long time. The intimidation broke my heart, and I immediately rushed to the pen and paper that sat beside my bed. It was blank, but soon it would be a list of teardrops and scars, people lost and forgotten. I do not know what possessed me to write it, but the first name appeared on my list. It was Frau Schneider.
I convinced myself that at her age, she was better off, and she would see her family once more. She was a cruel woman after all, and I hated her very much. Many people did, but hardly any would admit it. She deserved it. Ironically, that’s what the Nazis said about us.
After I had written her name and signed off the other forty-nine people, I went back to look out the door, but Frau Schneider was not there. I gazed out into the setting again and wondered why my gut twisted in nausea.
The next and last time I saw Frau Schneider, she was in a creaking, unbalanced wheelbarrow with the other victims I had assigned, her dark eyes still glaring at me, but this time, they were cold and dead, much like my soul.
I was a Kapo, a traitor to my people, and my actions could not be changed. I felt it in my gut again, and I have felt it every day since.