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26 9 Maria no longer knows how much time has passed since she first woke up in Aachen and found that Mother had gone. Suddenly she was so alone! So forsaken! She had cried and cried. But, that was a long time ago. Now it is summer, and every morning is lovely. Mrs. Bunden comes to wake the children. Their laced-up boots have been polished and Mrs. Bunden ties a clean starched pinafore around each child’s dress. Maria calls Mrs. Bunden “Mama.” The other girls call her Mama as well. Maria can tell from their lips. After breakfast, the three girls wait at the front door. Mama dips two fingers in the basin of holy water that sits near the door and makes the sign of the cross on each girl’s forehead. Proudly, Maria carries her linen schoolbag by its wooden handles. It is embroidered with pretty flowers. Two cords hang from it, dangling a sponge and a wiping cloth for her writing slate. Down on the Stromgasse, the children wave at the window once more. They hold hands when they walk up Mühlenberg because the path is uneven and narrow. Each morning, when they reach St. Jakob’s Church, the oldest girl stops and tucks her schoolbag between her knees to free her hands. She points to the four-sided clock tower. The big hand has almost reached the top. The smaller girls look at the older girl’s mouth. “Seven o’clock,” her lips say soundlessly. With that, she holds seven fingers up in the air. Maria does not quite understand the meaning yet, but every morning she tips her head back to look up at the high clock tower. The morning is warm, but they feel the air cool when they enter the church and smell the old wood, the incense, and candle smoke. They go up the Gothic nave to the seats for the deaf children from the Aachen Stories Main Pgs 1-258.indd 26 4/26/2017 12:17:34 PM The Stories They Told Me 27 Institute. Maria’s teacher, Master Wennekamp, and the headmaster who gave her the slate are already there. Every morning Maria sees the priests and the altar boys repeat the same movements. She folds her hands, she kneels, stands up, taps her chest, crosses herself, bows her head—mimicking whatever the teacher and the other pupils do.After Mass, in front of the church portal, the children start chatting with gestures and exaggerated expressions.“Chatting”is what they call their conversation.They prod each other and point their fingers.Their unmodulated, excited voices shriek across the square. People always stop and stare at them with curiosity or pity. On the way to school, Maria sees a horse-drawn cart loaded with milk churns. Women come out of the houses with their jugs and pots. Milk is measured out and poured into the waiting vessels. Maria is reminded of the gloomy stable and the cows back home in Freilingen. She can picture Mother bent over on the milking stool, a pail between her knees, and stroke by stroke a fine jet of milk squirting out of the warm udder into the pail.As she walks through the stable, the hem of her dress sweeps over the wet straw. The fresh milk has to be strained through a boiled linen cloth into a clean churn. Mother must rinse out the churns with hot water every day. Milking, feeding, pasturing, cleaning the stables, making hay to provide food for the beasts in winter . . . what an endless round of work just to get milk! But here, the women get their milk from the milkman’s cart—they hand over some coins for it and take it back with them. How easy that is! Maria sits in her classroom with twelve other children, their desks in a half-circle. Each child can see the face of the others because only in that way can they learn from each other. Some of the deaf children come into school without manners or knowing how to behave. They don’t understand what is going on around them. Their parents feel helpless and at a loss to know what to do with them, so they send them to Aachen. Others are filled with fear and only want to be left alone. And others just sit with listless, dull eyes, staring blankly into the day as if their minds are numb. But there are...

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