Part 10: I Want To Become A Train Driver

Everything that was harvested, grandma had to boil down: Beans, strawberries, salsify, currants, gooseberries, everything. Potatoes, carrots, and cabbage were stored in the cellar.

It’s still a mystery to me today how my grandmother managed to do that in addition to all the other work in her tiny attic kitchen.

The slanted kitchen didn’t even have a real window, just a glass skylight. The drinking water was down a flight of stairs in the hallway. The black, three-tiered, cast-iron stove was in use winter and summer. Grandma always kept a plate of warm vegetable soup or a hot cup of malt coffee with a sip of goat’s milk ready. When I visited her, her first question was, ‘Are you hungry or thirsty?’

The grandparents’ apartment was a disaster. In the bedroom, the marital beds stood one behind the other under the roof slope. The window on the gable end was so small that only the head fit out. Only the living room was a little tidier, a room with straight walls and two large windows. But this very parlor, with its plush green sofa, a two-door chest at the drawer, an oval table, and a few upholstered chairs, remained closed with drawn curtains all year round. Only on holidays was the tiled stove heated, and the whole large family met for coffee from collector’s cups at the grandparents’ house. It was like Sunday things; everything had to and should last a lifetime. The throwaway society developed only a few decades later.

Two or three times a year, my grandmother visited her oldest daughter, my Aunt Else, in the big city. Because I didn’t go to school yet, she always took me with her. We usually walked through several villages at night to the train station in the district town. The path was endlessly long. On moonlit nights, we often shortened the path and walked along trails through pitch-black, centuries-old slate heaps. The silence, the loneliness and the darkness between the house-high slate mountains made the heart beat a little faster.

At the station, all fear was forgotten. In the sparsely lit station atrium, Grandma bought the tickets. She didn’t say to the official at the ticket office, ‘One billet for me please, and one child there and back,’ but it sounded like this: ‘One billet and a half there and back.’ The word ‘ticket’ didn’t exist then. On the track, I marveled at the massive locomotive with its huge red wheels and powerful swinging arms. When the locomotive exhaled white steam hissing and loudly emitted black smoke, it was for me a strong giant animal turned to iron. High above, a man leaned out of the window, obeyed by this huffing, and puffing beast. From then on, I was sure that I wanted to become a man like that. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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