Thursday, October 22, 2009

Look Homeward, Angel

This is the house I grew up in.
It is one of maybe twenty such wooden, simple houses that were built just after WW II in the forest outside my hometown, for soldiers who entered civil service after the war, and their families. My maternal grandfather was one of them, and so we came to live here.
My father was not with us then, so it was only my Mom, my grandparents and my young uncles in that house.
One of my earliest memories is waking up on an early winter morning, when the grown ups were having breakfast before going off to work, and sitting with them in the warm kitchen, and being fed bites of bread with butter and honey by my grandfather. My Mom, who was working for the Weather Research Institute in Offenbach at that time, was wearing, I recall it clearly, a white blouse and a dark blue, plaited skirt that day. She and my grandfather went off to work and I stayed behind with my grandmother, who looked after the house. A while later, my friends came to pick me up for play. They could not reach the bell knob, so Peter would yell at the top of his lungs, "Frau Refke!!!!" which was my grandparents' family name.
We would romp around outside all day long.
I remember when I got m first set of Lego, and how we marveled that the stones stuck together, and I recall very clearly how I used to stand in front of my grandmother's book cabinet and stare at that one volume with the blue leather cover and vow to myself that I would read it one day, just as soon as I knew how.
It was "Gone With The Wind", and actually the first "real" book I did read, and I still have that same copy here with me.

I had a dog.
He was a big, black and white mongrel named "Tell" who would go with me everywhere, patient and friendly, and sleep under the kitchen bench so I could put my feet on his warm back.
There was no central heating, but wood stoves in every room and a cooking range that needed to be fired, too, and a big hot water boiler. In the basement, there was a huge tub for laundry, which my grandmother stirred with a wooden staff and, yes, boiled it. The laundry, I mean.
My grandfather used to chop the wood for that, and once every year the coal man delivered a mound of coals into the cellar.
I said basement earlier, but it was a cellar, with dirt floor and iron doors.
The garden was full of vegetable and fruit. My grandfather grew potatoes, tomatoes, leek, cabbage, onions, apples, pears, cherries, plums, strawberries and all kinds of other things, which my grandmom would conserve in jars for the winter. There was no freezer, no fridge and no TV.
No car, of course.
My father had decided to emigrate to Brazil and gone ahead to find a job and a home, and for a couple of years, before we joined him in San Paulo, I lived in that blissful childhood dream.

For me, as a kid, everything was easy and simple.
My grandmother cooked hearty, fabulous food, my Mom was pretty and always smelled good, my grandfather was a good singer and took me for long walks and bicycle rides, and somehow the weather was always good: either it was hot and sunny, or it was cold and there was snow.

We went to see that house last Friday when my sister and I went home to visit my parents.
The family moved out of there after we returned from Brazil and into modern apartments, but I love to return there once in a while and reassure myself that in that little nook of Germany, time has practically not moved at all.