Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memories of Sartoriusstrasse

In Friday’s post I talked a little about our family’s sojourn on Sartoriusstrasse in Wiesbaden, Germany. Today I’m going to tell some more of what I remember; hoping that perhaps, through the magic of Google, someone else with memories of those days will be in touch.

We arrived, as I mentioned before, in late October or early November of 1955. The American, British and French occupation of West Germany had officially ended only in May of that year, and Germany was still rebuilding from the war. Probably because we had a large family of five children, we were assigned quarters in a requisitioned town house in the center of Wiesbaden, on Sartoriusstrasse. I did not realize until I looked at this map that we were only a few blocks from the main train station in Wiesbaden! In my researches, I’ve been hampered by not knowing the exact address where we lived; of course all our mail came to the APO address and was picked up by my father at work. A nearby hospital has been enlarged since we lived there, so it’s possible the building has been torn down; but I did find this photo of 29 Sartoriusstrasse, which looks very similar to what I remember. Our quarters, as best I recall, was the middle house of five. My parents later reminded me that the basement was common to all five houses, so that all the children could play there on rainy or cold days. The back yards had, I think, stone fences separating them, but that did not stop us either.

For the six months preceding our trip to Germany, my mother and we children had been living in our little house in Maine – four rooms and an attic, with an outdoor privy. I know that at one of the times we lived there,  we also got water from the neighbor’s well, but possibly we had some kind of running water, at least from a pump, by this time. In any case, living in this rather fancy house in Wiesbaden was a big difference. There were three floors, with a bathroom on each. At first, I had my own room on the third floor, but at 7 I was a little too young to appreciate that so I soon moved in with my 3-year-old sister on the second floor. In addition to a living room and dining room, we had a playroom, I think on the first floor, which must have saved my mother a few steps when we needed supervision.  The house came furnished with heavy, dark furniture and even china – Brother #1, I believe, has the slightly chipped gravy boat that we had to buy from the Army when we moved because we had chipped it. It’s white with a dark red stripe like some church dinnerware, but more delicate. My sister has a souvenir of the furniture – a tiny scar on her forehead where she slid under my parents’ bed during a chase.

Our previous homes had certainly had no more than three bedrooms or two stories, and there were still many Germans looking for work. So, for the first and only time in her life, my mother had household help. Our first maid was Magda, who was younger (well, under 40 anyway) and skinny. We children thought she was mean, too. I’m not sure if she quit or was fired, but then we got Hilda, who was stout and jolly. She taught my mother to make some German dishes, and was happy to help me with my school German although her dialect was not the Hochdeutsch we were being taught.

My father, who was a Master Sergeant at the time, was First Sergeant of A Battery, 63rd AAA Missile/Gun Battalion. (I’m not sure exactly when it changed from Gun to Missile.)  As a First Sergeant, he had some responsibilities for the men in his battery, beyond simply their work performance. I benefited from this responsibility when one of his men came to him for help – he had signed up to buy the Book of Knowledge for his infant child and couldn’t really afford the payments. My father bought this great children’s encyclopedia from him and I (and quite a few other family members) got years of enjoyment and education from it.  I remember too that we did a lot more entertaining of people from work than at any other time in my memory – extra people at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, for example. 

In the house two doors to the right of us lived the Larsens. Larsen Sr. was some kind of Naval officer (I don’t remember his rank but probably a Lt. Commander), who was most likely attached to the Rhine River Patrol. My memory is that he was actually from Norway, but I wasn’t then as knowledgeable about Scandinavian-Americans as I am now. His wife, however, was Swiss and was my Brownie leader. Their two elder daughters, Karen and Esther, were in the troop as well. There was one son, Larry (Lars or Lawrence?) and two smaller girls –- I think one was named Astrid.

Right next door to us were the Mellingers, an Air Force family. They had a lot of children – maybe as many as eight? More than five, anyway. The eldest, Yvonne, was about 14 and I think Butch, the oldest boy, was a couple of years older than I, but still young enough to join our play.

For some reason I can’t recall the name of the family who lived on the other side of us or really anything about them. Perhaps one of my siblings will remember. The last house was inhabited by the Toms family, and I think Mr. Toms was a civilian employee of one of the services. There were two older boys and a girl, Rae Liz, who was my age. She had a fantastic dollhouse. The other thing that I think I recall from the Toms household was that they put angel hair on their Christmas tree. Angel hair was, I think, made from fiberglass (ouch!) – it looked really pretty, though. (I’ve linked to a site where you can actually still buy it, which claims that the angel hair it sells is not like the rough, scratchy kind I remember. I still wouldn’t use it around pets or small children, though.)

For some reason we don’t seem to have any photographs of those years in Germany.  This seems odd to me, as we have photos and even slides from the years immediately preceding them. My hope is that photos were taken and sent home to Maine, and that perhaps there are some in an album or shoebox at the home of one of my relatives. Later this week, after a visit from SonShineIn’s inlaws, I’ll write a bit more about our time in Wiesbaden.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can’t Resist a List Updates

While I’m working on a further post about memories of Sartoriusstrasse, I thought I’d post a little update on my progress with some reading projects. I need to get busy (or find some short books!) because, to meet my goal of reading 40 books from the Guardian 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read by the end of the year, I have 18 books to go. Since I last updated in mid-June, I’ve only managed 6 of the books on the list, though one was quite long. Well, maybe 5 – more about that in a moment. The books (reviewed on Goodreads for anyone who’s interested) are:

July’s People, Nadine Gordimer

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

Regeneration, Pat Barker

The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler

The Eye in the Door, Pat Barker

High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

I mentioned before that the Guardian critics were annoyingly inconsistent about trilogies and long book series, bringing the total of books to more like 1070. The fifth book listed, The Eye in the Door, is the second in Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy which began with Regeneration. Before long I’ll be reading the last of the three, The Ghost Road. Set largely in England, the trilogy deals among other things with the treatment of what was then known as shell-shock. After reading All Quiet on the Western Front, I thought it might be good to concentrate on books that had something (in this case World War I) in common, but I got distracted by The Way of All Flesh and High Fidelity – which also have something in common in a way. In any case, there is no lack of interesting novels on World War I on this list. Among those I’ve acquired at various used book sales are Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s trilogy A Scots Quair; Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End (another trilogy!), and Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong (which I think is also part of some sort of series, but one has to stop somewhere.) When I tire of WWI I can go to books set during World War II, or Victorian novels, or perhaps dip into the French of Balzac or the India of Vikram Seth.

Besides this huge project, I continue reading the Edgar Award Winners for Best Novel. I started this last year, after realizing that I often was unfamiliar with the winning books although I read a great many mystery stories. I began with the first winner (1954) and am now up to the 1995 winner, Dick Francis’s Come to Grief. It looks as though with any luck I’ll be able to catch up to the awards by the time the next one is given out in May 2010.

To introduce myself to some new writers (new to me at least) I’m also reading a book set in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. I’ve made it as far as Maryland, for which I’m in the middle of Identity Crisis, which the author, Debbi Mack, kindly sent to me upon hearing of my project on the DorothyL list. It’s a nice way of armchair travelling, and when I finish this I may very well embark on a worldwide “mystery tour.” Of course, while reading these books I’ve also discovered quite a few writers whose work I want to read more of. So many books, so little time!

I do read some non-fiction as well, although perhaps not as much as I should. We went to a book sale at the Topsham Public Library last weekend, and besides several books from the Guardian 1000 and a couple of mysteries, I picked up A.J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically, which I’ve been wanting to read for  a while.  I’m finding it interesting so far. Meanwhile, I need to get started on Charles Todd’s A Matter of Justice, which is due back at the library soon. I really enjoy this series set in the aftermath of World War I; I’m also eagerly awaiting a chance to read the latest of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. And then there’s my Netflix queue, which is again approaching the dreaded 500 mark.

It’s no wonder I seldom watch television as such, although I’m making an exception for the Ken Burns series on the National Parks which started last night. I was somewhat distracted by trying to identify the hymn tunes which seemed to prevail in the soundtrack – definitely heard “This Is My Father’s World” and the Southern Harmony tune Land of Rest – which I know best as “In Solitude,” many people know as Brian Wren’s “I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord,” and, if you’re kicking it old school, you may remember it as one of the tunes for “Jerusalem, My Happy Home.” It’s a beautiful tune, which I heard in a fresh way in the soundtrack’s swingy, uptempo version.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Five: The Procession of the Equinoxes

Pond reflection in Bowdoinham Singing Owl at RevGalBlog Pals gives us a Bible verse and some thoughts about fall. She posted a fall photograph, but I'm posting one of ours -- a photo Onkel Hankie Pants took of a pond in Bowdoinham, Maine.

Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest. Jeremiah 5:23b
The Autumnal Equinox has just come 'round again. I took a look back at our Friday Fives and noted that it always seems to make the Rev Gals and their Pals think of changes.

There is something so nostalgic about this time of year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The nights grow cooler, crops are harvested, for some of us the leaves are beginning to change colors. The scent of smoke is in the air, pumpkins are in the stores (or on wagons, or in roadside stands for those of us in the country). I'm thinking of putting away my summer clothes and pulling out the sweaters. And I have a tub of Fall-themed items that my husband just lugged up from the basement. I'm looking for my scarecrow.

For this week, let's share some memories along with some hopes and expectations.

1. Share a Fall memory.

Each year around this time I remember the fall of 1955. Our second-grade teacher came up with an art project that involved autumn leaves, construction paper, an old toothbrush, and either white paint or white glue. When we were done we had paper covered with white spots except for the outlines of autumn leaves. Back then our local fair, the Topsham Fair, was held in October -- the last fair in Maine. My aunt Frances and my mother took me and Brother #1 to the fair (the others were too small). #1 was having a great time on the Ferris wheel, but I thought he was screaming to get down and I jumped up and down yelling "Let my little brother go! Get him down from there!" I've never been much on carnival rides. Soon after that, we (my mother and five children 7 and under) flew to Germany to join my father in Wiesbaden. Here's our passport picture.

1955 Anne, Nikki, Stephen, Mark, Peter, Pamela Petroff, passport photo
When we arrived, we went to a little spa town not far from Wiesbaden called Bad Schwalbach for a few days of R&R before moving into our new home. I don’t remember a lot about it, but here’s a picture of a place in Bad Schwalbach that’s not too different from where we were:

Bad Schwalbach

When we arrived at our new home on Sartoriusstrasse in Wiesbaden (a three-story town house which had been requisitioned by the Army), it was time for a birthday celebration, although at this point I’m not sure whether it was for the twins or for my mother, as their birthdays were only 9 days apart in October and November. We didn’t have our household goods yet so we ordered a cake from a local bakery. I was quite impressed with the frosted grape decoration, but the cake in this picture probably tastes better; I also recall that the “buttercream” frosting was made with either lard or shortening and had a funny taste.

Cake with frosted grapes

2. Your favorite Fall clothes--(past or present)?

For many years, throughout my childhood and on into college, my mother made most of my new school clothes. One of the favorite memories I have is of a grey wool suit she made for me before my senior year in college. It had a coachman-style jacket with a red damask lining, and an A-line skirt. I felt quite grown-up in that suit.

3. Share a campfire story, song, experience...etc.

I’m not sure if this happened in fall, but it could have. When SonShineIn was about two, we were camping at Sakatah Lake State Park sitting around our campfire at night. Watching the sparks fly upward, SonShineIn exclaimed, “Look! Firecrumbs!” Well, we thought that was pretty clever.

4. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?

The weather – brisk mornings, cooler noontides, evenings drawing in a little earlier. And, the sense of new beginnings and heightened energy in myself and others.

5. What changes are you anticipating in your life, your church, family...whatever...as the season changes and winter approaches?

We’ve just (at the very end of summer) installed our new senior pastor at church, who was our associate before. I’m anticipating some very positive innovations from her. As for my family – life is change, it never stops.

Bonus: What food says "AUTUMN" at your house? Recipes always appreciated.

Anything with pumpkin or apples; it’s also the time of year when things like beef stew, pot roast and roast pork start to sound good again. Here’s how to make aeblekage, a very simple Danish apple dessert:

AEBLEKAGE (EH-bl-kaaah)

Peel, core and slice a couple of pounds of apples; stew them with 1/2 cup water over low heat until they are soft. Depending on the variety you may want to add a little sugar and some cinnamon.

Now you need the crumbs. The best, if you live in the Upper Midwest, are made from Jacobsen’s or Log House Toasts – plain or cinnamon. Since we can’t get those in Maine, we’ve experimented and had decent luck with zweiback (in the baby department), unseasoned Melba toast, fine dry breadcrumbs and even graham cracker crumbs. (Personally I’d mix the last with something like plain breadcrumbs, or it gets too sweet.) If it’s not already in a crumb state, you can make it so in a blender, food processor or with a rolling pin on waxed paper. Melt a stick of butter in a large skillet and dump in the crumbs (equal to one package of zweiback; you may need to experiment a little), stirring till all the butter is absorbed and the crumbs are a nice golden color. If your crumbs are not flavored with cinnamon already, add cinnamon to taste. Now get out a pretty glass bowl. Layer the crumbs alternately with the applesauce, finishing with crumbs. Last but certainly not least, whip a half-pint of cream and spread over the top, reserving any extra for when the top layer is gone. It’s traditional to decorate the top with blobs of currant jelly. Here’s a picture from the blog of someone else who made it:22-AeblekageHVIDE

(They omitted the currant jelly and so may you.)

Well, this was a series of very long answers, but I’ve been quite remiss in my blogging this summer and now fall has come and it’s time to get going again!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Five: PJs

Sophia at RevGalBlogPals posted a cute video and suggested:
"Without going to TMI land, share with us your sleepwear memories and preferences...." Well, I wanted to post a cute video too, but the song that came to mind was Anne Hills' One Thousand Pairs of Pajamas, from the wonderful Priscilla Herdman album Moondreamer. You can acquire it here, or if you just want to hear the song, you can go here, scroll down to Friday, November 19, 2004, and either listen to a lot of other good stuff or skip ahead to about 7:40. So, without further ado and whilst listening to Garrison Keillor (get well soon Gar!) talking about the Gettysburg Address (Nov. 19, 1863), here are my answers on the topic of nightwear:

1. What was your favorite sleeping attire as a child? And did you call them pjs, pajamas (to rhyme with llamas), pajamas (to sort of rhyme with bananas), jammies, or ???
I think I have one or two pictures of myself in pajamas as a small child, but my memory is that by the time I went to school I normally wore a nightgown. I don't recall calling it a nightie either. I think maybe my brothers had pajamas, to rhyme with llamas.

2. Favorite sleepwear put on your own little ones, or perhaps those you babysat? (Bonus points if you made it).
Well, I certainly don't get any bonus points here. My mother made a lot of our clothes, but I actually can't recall whether she made nightwear. I'd say my favorites for my kids were the feety pajamas (we did live in Minnesota after all) -- for some years at Christmas they got matching or coordinating ones. The last time for that was when SonShineIn was about 11 and the girls were 5 and 10 years younger -- he got a "manly" dark brown like a teddy bear and the girls' pajamas were pink.

3. How about today-do you prefer nightgown, pajamas, undies, or au naturel?
Still nightgown, although I do have a few pairs of pajamas.

4. Silky smooth or flannel-y cozy?
In winter, flannel or that brushed stuff that's a little lighter than flannel is my favorite. In summer, my preference is for light, smooth cotton, but that's not always easy to find so lightweight jersey has to be part of the mix.

5. Socks or bare feet?
After nearly 60 years of sleeping in bare feet, I've occasionally worn socks in winter, since the dog ate my slippers. It still feels wrong, though.
And, since this is the song that comes to mind whenever I hear "Pajamas," here's a short clip from someone's high school production of The Pajama Game, with the opening song: