Saturday, March 1, 2014

the late dinner


This is one of those stories I know from family legend better than as a complete memory from childhood. It happened while we still lived in England during the years after WWII.

Back then I had a German aunt. Aunt Hella and her husband, Uncle Arthur, lived a few doors away from us on Corporation Rd. in Gillingham. Although they weren't family in the traditional sense, children then were taught to call adult friends by the honorifics of aunt and uncle. I don't remember much about Uncle Arthur other than his big moustache and his even bigger grin. Aunt Hella, on the other hand, was entirely memorable. She was a German war bride, the daughter of a very wealthy family in Berlin where Uncle Arthur had been stationed as a mechanical engineer. When his tour of duty ended he returned to England bringing Aunt Hella with him. She hated the place.

She didn't like the food; she didn't like the streets; she didn't like the houses; she didn't like the weather; she didn't like the people - and, much to my mother's embarrassment on shopping trips, made no secret of her low opinions. Hella spoke English very well but didn't enjoy doing so. The only exception was that she liked us - my mother in particular. How they became friends has to be a matter of speculation for me since neither of them are around to ask nowadays. Nevertheless, they found much in common to laugh and talk about. Not only was Aunt Hella the one who taught me what little German I remember, she also told wonderful stories about her life as a child in their Black Forest summer home. Her magical descriptions of Oberammergau fueled my imagination and my child's heart. It was obvious to me then (and more now) that she was homesick.

On this particular evening Aunt Hella had invited us for a proper German dinner. We arrived on time around 6pm to discover dinner was not quite ready. My mother called through the locked kitchen door offering to help Hella but was summarily refused. Instead, we sat with Arthur looking through his photographs and talking about this and that. I have no idea what I was doing in particular. Anyway, hours passed with no sign of dinner while Arthur and my father's stomachs were rumbling in a unified hunger they had to raise their voices to talk above. In those days my bedtime was invariably no later than 8pm. 9pm had come and gone as the clock ticked towards 10pm, at which point my mother had had enough. Goodbyes were called toward the closed kitchen door and we went home.

As my mother prepared something for us to eat, we all heard the sound of crashing from the front hall. We stood amazed as Aunt Hella's special dinner of sauerbraten, spãtzle, marinated herring, spargel, carrots, beans, bread and even the Eierkuchen she'd made for dessert, not forgetting the plates they sat on, came pouring through the letter box.

My parents cleaned up the mess and so far as I know nothing was ever said to Aunt Hella about her extraordinary outburst. It did, however, become a fine teaching story about the folly of indulging in temper tantrums.
♡  
Aunt Hella and Uncle Arthur later spent many years in Africa where he worked on highway developments. Eventually they returned to Berlin. The friendship between them and my parents lasted throughout their lives.
 

16 comments:

Tom said...

What an amazing story!

marja-leena said...

Delightful and funny, and so true! In my youth there were many family friends amongst the Finnish community and I had to call each an aunt this or uncle that. I also identify with the German 'aunt' - brings back memories of my husband's real aunt, though no food coming through the letter box :)

Rob-bear said...

Such an interesting pair, those two. Glad hat our parents were able to stay friends with them. I suspect that you and your aunt had many fine times together.

Blessings and Bear hugs. Best regards to Crow.

Should Fish More said...

I lived in Germany and visited there several times. While most of them were quite likable and interesting in a one-on-one situation, as I group I find them odd. I find most US people odd too.
I'd have to agree with your Aunt regarding the food in England, I much prefer Haxe to something like putting pork'n'beans on toast and calling it breakfast.
Cheers

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Tom.

susan said...

It's funny that up to a certain point in my life I had some difficulty knowing who were the real aunts and uncles. By the time we arrived in Canada I knew none of them were.

I wonder if you husband's aunt was a good cook too :)

susan said...

They were an interesting pair. One time when Aunt Hella visited us she told a story about driving home one dark African night and having to stop to move a log that had fallen across the road. When she got out of the car readying to shift one end the whole thing moved. That was when she understood the log was actually a snake. 'What did you do?', I asked. 'I got back into the car and waited,' she replied.

susan said...

I spent several years in Europe when I was grown but never did get to Germany. I too have found that I tend to like people as individuals while finding whole countries full of strange people with odd habits.

I loved my mother's roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Other than that I can't say I'm a fan of bangers and mash for dinner.

Life As I Know It Now said...

That is a funny story.

My now deceased mother-in-law (second wife of my ex-husband's father) was German and she spoke with a heavy accent. She was always very frank with her opinions, many of them low or negative, and she made no bones about it, she was not subtle in the least. It could be embarrassing at times but after awhile we all learned to ignore that trait in her and to appreciate her for her loyalty and steadfastness.

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Lib, and happy too that it reminded you about a family member who sounds a lot like my Aunt Hela.

Lydia said...

Goosebumps! What an astonishing story! As soon as I saw the glorious drawing I knew I was in for a treat. Your life has been so interesting, Susan, and we are blessed that you paid such close attention to it all. I loved this drawing and story so much.

Sean Jeating said...

Hm, marinated herring being part of such a menue irritates me. Maybe, finally my compatriot Hella came to the same conclusion and therefore decided . . :)
And now – with thanks to the Monty Pythons – for something completely different: Once upon a time whilst watching sauerbraten, spãtzle, marinated herring, spargel, carrots, beans etc. pouring throug the letter-box, little Susan was blond? :)

susan said...

She was a woman who was impossible to forget, Lydia. I'm delighted you enjoyed both the story and the picture.

susan said...

Yes, I agree the marinated herring was a bit over the top, Sean, but I think it was seeing the Meissen porcelain lying broken under the letterbox flap that really got my Mother's goat.

And, yes, little Susan was blond :)

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

A fine memory to recount.

susan said...

Glad you enjoyed it. You have some very interesting ones yourself.