Under and Up Again, page 1
Edith Noordewier Foley
Copyright © 2009 by Edith Noordewier Foley.
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I am grateful to Anne Sirna for showing me how writing should and can be
to Syd Thayer Bortner for making the first adjustments
to Gail Johnston for her encouragement and knowledge
to Virginia Catherwood and Bill Turpin for their gentle criticism and guidance during our weekly writing get-togethers
to Hilde Schulze Arndt and Ingeborg Burgers Teipe who are always close although living far away
to Horst von Bassewitz to relive Kartzow and Ina Sonntag to revive it
to my sister Micaela who suffered more than she knows
The song was jubilant in the quiet of the early morning dawn. The window of the children’s room was open to let in the fresh air, which was gently moving the sheer curtains. The bird sang and sang. I was fascinated by the melody of its song, amazed by the strength of sound produced by such a small creature. I watched and listened, lying in my bed in the stillness of the sleeping household and it made me happy. The bird sat in the same spot every morning on the flat light gray roof of the building facing us across a grass courtyard, part of our Berlin apartment complex that was located on the street that stretched from the heart of town out to the woods and lakes Berlin was so well-known for.
A park visible from our top-floor apartment known as the Lietzensee Park played a large role in my life. My mother insisted that I was taken every day for a walk there for at least one hour. These walks in my early childhood were filled with beauty and joy. We looked at the swans to see whether they had their dark gray cygnets following them, dobbering behind their parents, swimming proudly on the lake. When I got too close to see them better, the parent swans would, as a warning, unfold their wings slightly.
We could rent a rowboat and paddle from the main lake to a connecting lake by passing under a bridge. The grass so well tended with many benches on its borders to rest on, to look at the flowerbeds. Willows on the edge of the lake dipped their hanging branches into the water. A lifelike statue of Venus stood in a small circle formed by a path. The statue looked very elegant and peaceful, holding her hand coyly to her face. The nannies pushing their baby carriages. The playgrounds and the handsome statues of classical maidens. We took bread along to feed the ducks.
Some of the bushes smelled delicious in the spring and produced white round fruits that were fun to crush between my fingers. They popped.
In the winter, one of the grass fields had enough of a slope to sled down, and the lakes froze over, enough to be opened for ice-skating.
Many nights, in the dark, out of the safety of my bed, I could hear lively conversation on the balcony. My parents and maybe four or five of their friends sat there comfortably amongst the oleanders in large pots and the red geraniums cascading along the railings of the banister. A lamp with a parchment shade provided light. Their banter and laughter came often and made me feel happy and secure. This was a happy peaceful time—little did any of us suspect what the future held in store.
Next door across the stairway hall lived the Griebens. Tante Dodo and Tante Käthe Stein provided a lot of fun for their niece and nephew Leonie and Gerd. Leonie was older than I, and Gerd, younger. Gerd had a great sense of humor. The joy was the Kasperle Spiele, which are classical German marionette plays, done by the aunties, to which I was always invited. Kasperle is the main character getting into all sorts of trouble, and we children loved it. When it was over, sending me back home across the hallway, the aunties—always first with clenched teeth—squeezed my cheeks and found me adorable. “Look at her hands, she has dimples on them.” referring to my knuckles. They enjoyed telling a story about me. It turned out that when I had an accident, I would stick my wet panties into their mailbox so that my mother would not find out.
When I returned home, across the hallway, my mother always wanted to know whether the Griebens had asked any questions. I was five years old, an age when it was natural to show off what had been heard: “My mother says . . .” or “My father says . . .” The year is 1935 and we are in Berlin Germany, where Hitler, already in power, is promising prosperity to the German people who are having a hard time after the peace treaty of the First World War. Poverty and hunger was their way of life. His rise to power became dangerous to those who, in any way, doubted him. We never knew who were Nazis who would report us, which was expected, and would bring kudos to those who did the reporting. Times are starting to change. Many of our neighbors and friends are disappearing or suddenly leaving.
I enjoyed the happy Markuses. The father had painted a teakettle into my “Poesie” album with a person in it blowing out steam. It said, “When you are up to your neck in hot water, do as the kettle and sing.” Their move made me sad. They had been so sophisticated in a humorous way.
Our household runs on a schedule with little change. My father, the foreign c
Father writes his article in his workroom. Shelves filled with books line the wall with brown velvet panels sliding over them. On top is a collection of string instruments Father collects—balalaikas and such. Deep leather chairs, a sofa and a low round table stand in the middle of the room and two writing desks. For a while, there is a secretary by the name of Kurt Weill. Kurt Weill was a famous German composer; he was a Jew and therefore in danger at that time in Germany. Hitler starts to eliminate all Jews. I learn later that Father was active in rescuing Jews by smuggling them and their portable possessions out of Germany to Holland with the help of a Dutch friend who traveled back and forth by train between Holland and Germany. This is how Fritz Kreisler’s violin made it out of Germany, and many paintings rolled up and thrown behind the suitcase on the luggage rack above the train seat. Kurt Weill, in his role of Father’s secretary, is seated at another desk on the other side of Father’s study, with the painted portrait of a Noordewier forefather. All of Father’s articles are cut out of the newspaper and neatly glued on to pages in big books.
In 1935 Queen Wilhelmina bestows the order of Ridder of Oranje Nassau on him.
On Vati’s desk are brass replicas of a discus thrower and a hound. I have the hound now here in front of me, a powerful reminder of my childhood with my father. The article he writes during the day has to be dictated by phone to the paper in Rotterdam at 12:30 am every night. Mother waits for him to finish in the living room, with a martini for him and herself. She has been embroidering or knitting to bide the time. This late-night hour makes it necessary for Father to take a nap every afternoon. The entire household shuts down to make that possible. Everybody naps.
I have a photo of my father and me walking in the park, a rare occasion, very much enjoyed by me. Vati is walking with his usual walking stick, which he gaily swings up between each step, and I push a doll carriage with my black—yes, black—baby doll in it. We are making a point here. The doll is definitely not Aryan—Hitler’s ideal of a pure race.
I have little interest in game toys. One game I received as a present, considered to be rather sophisticated for that time, is a board with questions and a choice of metal buttons next to them. When touching the correct answer with a metal wand, a light lights on. Well, I soon figure out that when you slide the wand over all the metal buttons, one is bound to light up. So that is that for an intellectual challenge.
I love to read. Somehow, we have a good selection of fairy tales: Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Hauff, Gottheil, and Selma Lagerlöf, who with her tales of the boy traveling on the backs of wild geese explored all of Sweden. This gives me a sense that animals are living a life of their own. That realization has never left me.
The pictures and drawings in the fairy tale books fascinate me. Some are dark and a bit threatening. I am about eight years old when my father gives me my first novel. It is a teenage-type story where, at the happy ending, the boy said, “Amo, ama, amamat.” I was surprised, enjoyed it and was sure that my dad must have made a mistake; it was so adult. Right after that, I received Schwab’s Die Sagen des Klassischen Altertums, Greek mythology. At a later time in another house, totally by accident and since nobody pays any attention to what I am doing, I find the entire One Thousand and One Nights and read them all. I am eleven at that time. I am not shocked nor surprised, which proves that young children will only absorb what they can handle.
My grandfather was a farmer in Pomerania. He and his wife had seven children. Mother, the youngest, and I went to visit several times. We are picked up from the rail station by horse and buggy by my uncle Herrmann. I was fascinated by the movement of the horses, their broad backs moving in the rhythm of their trotting. Their smell was the first sign of farm life.
Help with chores was always needed, and I learned how tough it is to work on a farm. Cows, horses, pigs and chickens, all in separate stables. The smell is pungent. They all have to be fed. Potatoes are boiled in large pots and then cut up with a handheld masher. That smells delicious, and I love to help feed the pigs. Milking cows fascinates me. It is done by hand by an aunt sitting on a three-legged stool, with her bandannad forehead resting on the flank of the cow. Once in a while, a cow will swish its tail over the head of the milker. The straight stream of the milk noisily hits the bucket in a steady rhythm. This is not just milk. There is cream rising to the surface and sitting on top to be made into butter in a closed wooden bucket with a plunger. When pushed up and down, it eventually produces sweet yellow butter. The residue of this activity is refreshing buttermilk to drink. But wait—from the buttermilk, they make cheese by placing it in a linen piece of cloth to separate the water from the solids, boiling it and then letting it do its thing in the linen cloth hung up in a cool spot to become a strong-tasting cheese.
Hay has to be cut with a long sickle by the men—a regular, broad, swinging motion. The grain, still on its stalks, is then picked up by armfuls and bound together into sheaves, then dried in the field by making them lean against each other.
Riding through the countryside, the standing bunches in regular rows are pretty. When the moment is right, they are brought in by horse-drawn wooden wagons with large wheels. A threshing machine separates the grain. Hay is piled with tongued forks into the barn. My uncle stands on top and disappears from sight as he gets higher and higher; the hay reaches up to the loft.
The straw to keep the animals comfortable and dry derives from the stems of the grain. The grain itself is fodder for the horses, cows and chickens and for making flour for baking bread.
Lupines, bright blue flowers coming up in the spring in the fields, are grown to replace the minerals to the soil as a fertilizer, another pleasant thing to see.
Everybody goes out to harvest sugar beets in the fields in the late fall. They are pulled out of the earth by hand while stooping down. It is cold, and gloves protect against it and the rough surface of the beets. Food and drink in enamel canisters are taken along to be consumed during the one-time rest period everyone takes at the same time. Pulling the beets is a very hard work—they are the size of a small cantaloupe—and also the work that comes afterwards. The beets are cut up then boiled for a very long time and become brown molasses, which is used as a sweetening agent or put on bread. No, not on a slice of bread first covered with butter. That was considered to be a double luxury.
Bread baking is a village affair. The village is built in a circle with a lake in the middle and also a brick oven the size of a small garden shack. Here, the breads are baked, another lengthy procedure. A piece of sourdough is saved at each occasion from bread baking to bread baking. Rye flour, water and the sourdough piece are incorporated by kneading it in a wooden trough about the size of a small bathtub. Much kneading by hand is required to make bread dough ready for baking. Finally, the breads are formed into loaves about fifteen inches long and seven inches wide and five inches high, and taken to the village oven. Their crust becomes dark brown with white flower clinging to it, one has to really chew hard eating it.
Breakfast was important to make energy for the forthcoming work i
Warm meals are prepared in the kitchen—a small room, dark, with no windows, brick flooring and a stove fueled with sticks of wood. Once the fire has really taken hold, a brick of pressed coal is added. Pots are heavy and black with soot on the outside because they sit directly on the fire. The opening for the pots can be made larger or smaller to fit the size of the pot by removing iron rings with a hook. Looking up, there is a hole in the ceiling. Long smoked sausages and hams hang in the attic. Consequently, I think, my grandmother died of lung cancer.
To slaughter a pig is a difficult affair. It is done with a large pointed knife. My uncle has to do that. Mother and I are in the living room the farthest away from the scene. I bury my head in mother’s lap to drown out the screaming of the pig. The knife has to be plunged just right, and I think my uncle has a hard time doing this.
The pig has many parts to it that keep the family nourished throughout time, starting with the blood that is drained from the animal’s body by hanging it up by its feet. I remember that and the making of sausages. The meat mixture is driven into pieces of entrails that first have to be emptied then boiled to sanitize them. The blood is used to make a spicy blood sausage and the liver sausage has whole pieces of liver and fat in it. I help with the stuffing. The meat smells of herbs of oregano and garlic.