Part 44: A Summer Of Exploration

After the exciting entrance exam, I put on my wooden shoes again the other day and reported back to the cherry orchard. Until school started in the fall, there was a summer’s worth of time to do all the things I felt responsible for since Father was gone.

Above all, enough firewood had to be carted in, for even in summer the hearth fire never went out. My rabbits and the chickens also wanted to eat. Father’s tobacco plants needed care, and the tobacco didn’t make itself either. Mother always had special requests. When she sent me to the baker with the soup pot, I was sure that the expert would ask me to help the journeyman split the wood.

The oven was heated with meter-long logs. Therefore, the tree trunks had to be halved and quartered with axes and wedges, otherwise the wood would not burn. This was a sweaty job that required a lot of strength and skill. After my help, I could take the finished soup pot for supper right away. In the village it was customary to simply put all soup and pan dishes in the bakery. The baker made sure that the food cooked in the residual heat of the oven. When the farmers and day laborers came in the evening from the field, dinner was ready.

In the blueberry season, I would hike into the woods early in the morning with my sister and the neighbor kids with handle pots to pick blueberries. In the late afternoon we returned home with red-blue hands and mouths, lame in the loins and with more or less full pots. Comforting was the thought of yeast dumplings with blueberries – a feast for us children. Still in the evening mother checked us for logs.

During the hours of crawling through the berry bushes, each of us had at least two or three of them, usually sucking their way into our groins. No one knew anything about ticks and possible disease transmission. The critters were removed and done. If there was still time after such days, I would visit the ‘Old Forester’ in the late afternoon. He always had something new to bring back from his daily hikes.

At the end of the day, I met with Hans in our shack. In warm weather we looked for a hidden corner on the village hill and talked about everything that moved us. I often played the harmonica, and Hans accompanied me on his self-made drums. For weeks we tinkered with an instrument that should sound like a saxophone, but it succeeded only moderately. In the village, the desire for pleasure was still unbroken.

On weekends, the innkeepers could not complain about a lack of visitors. The hall was always packed. On the left and in front of the stage, married couples sat at the tables. On the right, on a long two-tiered platform, the single girls were seated in their best dress. Behind them, somewhat elevated, were the mothers. They watched over who danced with whom and how often. But the days when the farmer’s daughter was admonished if she danced too often with a day laborer were over.

Too much had changed in the years after the war. In the arcaded front room, single boys crowded and peered into the revealing necklines of Sophie’s sisters, who poured beer and the adulterated liquor at the long bar. When the music started, the men rushed off to ask the chosen beauty to dance even before their rivals. Hans and I usually sneaked up to the unlit gallery above the auditorium. From up here, one could overlook the stage and the entire hall. We sat down on the floor in the dark and watched the goings-on in the hall undetected through the railing bars. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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