Part 12: A New Chapter In Life

Long before the big move, a new phase of my life had also begun. I started school. In my school bag was a slate board, an arithmetic book, and a reading primer. A damp sponge and a cloth to dry the board dangled from two strings in the satchel.

My first teacher was Ms. Aschenbach. Even after seventy years I remember her fondly and have not forgotten her name. Every day she came into the classroom wearing black loafers, black knitted stockings, a three-quarter length skirt, and a dark blue blouse with a snow-white lad collar. She was an educator from the root of her hair to the tip of her toes. Never loud, always friendly and of infinite goodness.

In the first grade, we learned the somewhat stiff Prussian script. The letters on the battered slate did not want to succeed, because the writing pen constantly got lost in the grooves that generations before me had already scratched into the slate with clumsy hands. Then Ms. Aschenbach helped and guided the child’s hand with infinite patience until the letters looked as if they had been printed.

From the second school year on, the Latin script was taught, which could be written faster and more fluently. The slate boards were abolished, we now wrote with pen and ink. After all, our school had four classrooms, two grades were taught in one room each. Although I was a boisterous boy accustomed to freedom, in class I behaved in a disciplined manner and enjoyed learning and worked hard.

During the vacations I visited my other grandmother as often as I could. She lived in a neighboring village in a miners’ settlement. The settlement consisted of several long, very ugly, gray blocks. The houses had flat roofs. As ugly as the settlement looked, there was one decisive advantage for its residents, because each dwelling also had a modest stable building and a tiny garden. This made it possible for the miners to feed a pig and keep a dairy goat or a few rabbits. The fodder for the animals and the winter potatoes were earned by the families with all their children by harvesting grain and potatoes from the farmers in the surrounding area. The work was paid in kind. My grandmother Berta also lived in this milieu.

She was a strong woman, severely tested by fate. She spoke several languages with the typical rolling R of Eastern Europeans. For years she followed my grandfather, who was a carpenter, with the whole family through half of Europe from one large construction site to the next. Her five children all had different birthplaces. My father, for example, was born in New-Heune in Poland. This gypsy life ended abruptly when grandfather had a fatal accident at work.

How was life to go on now, with five children and no bread-earner? As chance would have it, a father with six children had his wife die during the birth of the seventh child. The widower urgently needed a mother for his children, especially for the newborn. Bitter necessity forced the two to marry. There was no question of love and affection. From the first day of their marriage, husband and wife slept apart. There was no cooking for twelve children; jacket potatoes were dumped on the long table, and the older ones had to help peel the potatoes for the younger ones.

They were served with sausage or cottage cheese, mashed potatoes with buttermilk, and sometimes a bacon sauce. Everyone sat on benches to the right and left of the table, only the parents had chairs at the ends of the table. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

💡 Do you have a Linkedin account? Then you can subscribe to my newsletter „The Bright Side of the Doom“ ✔︎