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Rule #7…

As previously mentioned, this Family Rule is called Everything German is Better. German, I say.

When my mother remarried after my father’s death, she mutinied abruptly and shamelessly. And she has never looked back.

Mom married a third-generation Irish-American and became an overnight evangelist for all things Irish. She eats soda bread. She reads Maeve Binchy and Frank McCourt. Mom reads up on Irish folklore and history. She named her puppy Finn McCool, for the love of God. My Mom started buying shamrocks and Beleek china and became more Irish than my stepfather’s entire family combined. Before the marriage, while drunk on romance, she visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. She came home bearing gifts to soften us up: wool sweaters for us and kilts for the children. Mom tried hard to convert us but we weren’t buying. Nope.

There are many fine things about Ireland but that is not the point! The family rule is GERMAN is better, Mom, GERMAN.  Get with the program. Ach du liebes Bißchen! So eine Scheiße! I don’t really need to translate that, do I?

So on that happy note, I offer you the last in a series of four pieces on what exactly IS better. Or at least what we enjoyed when we lived in 1970s Germany. We hated to return home to such a young and uncouth country, and we lamented it in a stage whisper every chance we got. This way we got a lot of attention, which was, of course, the point. Right? Yes–we were just that cool. By the way, don’t trip over my Dachshund and my authentic German Birkenstocks in your rush to escape….

Image courtesy of Hebi65

Image courtesy of Hebi65

36. Scrubbing your front steps: pastime of German grannies everywhere. If I can stereotype for a moment: Germans can be super clean and orderly. It was common in my childhood to see old women scrubbing down the front steps of their houses as part of their morning chores.

Imago courtesy of JaBB

Imago courtesy of JaBB

37. Spätzele. Small, lumpy egg noodles. You can buy them ready to cook but my friend Margarete makes them by dropping a blob of the thick batter on a small board and using a knife or wooden blade to scrape it off into boiling water one tiny bit at a time. She is a real pro and moves like lightning!

Image courtesy of Gerbil

Image courtesy of Gerbil

38. Lighted candles on the Christmas tree. Yes, I suspect some are still doing it. Beautiful. Magical. And probably the stuff of VFD nightmares.

Image courtesy of traude

Image courtesy of traude

39. Logic. As a whole, the Volk is not warm and fuzzy. But it works for them.

Image courtesy of OpenClips

Image courtesy of OpenClips

40. Punctuality. No ifs, no ands–or you got your butt handed to you.

Image courtesy of geralt

Image courtesy of geralt

41. Order (Ordnung!) This, logic, and punctuality fit in well with my Dad’s worldview. The word trinity comes to mind. But this emphasis didn’t always sit so well with the rest of us. See a pattern here? If not, please see this Family Rule and then treat yourself to a good stiff drink on me. I don’t think I have ever known my father so happy or our family life so calm and orderly as when we lived in Deutschland!

Apfelwein_Geripptes_Bembel copy Eva K.

Image courtesy of Eva K.

42. Apple wine. Pucker up! You might have to be a Frankfurter to appreciate it fully. Drink it ice cold or your brain will implode. Great with Schnitzel. Shown above in the mandatory Bembel (pitcher).

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

43. Shower gel. We were using it in Germany waaaay before the U.S. even thought of it.

Image courtesy of Kuchen

Image courtesy of Kuchen

44. Clogs. So what if they were not strictly German? We adored them and how we click-clacked around town. I proudly wore my white Swedish clogs my entire 9th grade year after returning to the US. People gave up heckling me because I wore them with such confidence (read: oblivion to fashion). Ha, ha! Clogs became popular in the U.S. when I was in about 11th grade but mine were better. Nanny, nanny, boo boo.

Image courtesy of sechtem

Image courtesy of sechtem

45. Daily shopping. No need to clutter up the kitchen with a month’s worth of hermetically sealed foods. If you shop each day for fresh food, you only need a dorm-sized box. Also cool–many small, family-run stores. This is changing but back then there were many, many of these shops, each of which handled only a small niche: baker, butcher, coffee shop, etc.

Image courtesy of lheofacker

Image courtesy of lheofacker

46. Mittagspause (afternoon rest). This is probably changing too but most people, including those working in little family-run shops, dropped everything each afternoon from 1-3 for a hot meal and a break. Makes sense since the midday meal is the big meal of the day. Dinner is the time for light fare.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

47. Plums. Italian plums were the only plums I knew there. So mouth-wateringly scrumptious.

Image courtesy of Томасина

Image courtesy of Томасина

48. Dogs. Germans love their dogs, and the stereotype of the Dachshund is accurate. You can probably still see the little hounds sitting under restaurant tables where they wait obediently for their masters to finish a leisurely meal. Restaurant meals could last a long time. Once you sat down at table, it was yours until you choose to leave–even if you closed the place out. Restaurants weren’t just a place to fill your belly. They became your living room. I don’t know if it is still the same way now. Anybody?

I think that is more than enough data from my informal study of German, well, supercalifragilisticexpialadocious…ness? Thanks for hanging in there with me. I may devote a future post to the stuff which was not so savory.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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Rule # 11: Logic Rules (unless we are talking about me)

“Trollveggen 2002 June” by Ximonic

As an engineer, Dad was governed by logic. Feelings were annoying gnats which had to be tolerated if one was not able to swat them away. Best to ignore them altogether. If you treated them as real, these sirens could get you into real trouble. Dad didn’t say this outright, but we knew. The so-called “human element” was just a cop out for weak people who couldn’t get from Point A to Point B—literally and metaphorically—in the most efficient manner.

When he planned vacations, Dad calculated ahead of time how far we’d drive each day and mapped out the exact route and stopping points. He generally booked our lodging in advance, so he was reluctant to deviate from the plan due to silly inconveniences such as traffic backups, hunger, or wanting to stretch. And God forbid you should have to pee before the designated pull-over time. More than once, my brother was offered a coke-can urinal. I have a memory of standing up in the back seat, holding the seat back in front of me, so I could dry my soaked shorts in the wind rushing through the open windows. Worst was the time I was required to relieve myself (number two) hurriedly on the pavement in a truck rest area–beside the open car door and in full view of my family and passing highway traffic. I learned in my professional training that most children have few memories before the age of five. I guess I remember this so clearly because I was at least six and a half.

We traveled everywhere in our gargantuan Ford station wagon. Back in 1970’s Germany, this Straβenkreuzer (roughly translated “one helluva big-ass set of wheels) named Betsy caused the natives’ eyes to bug as we narrowly escaped becoming irretrievably wedged between the houses lining the Rhine Valley’s ancient cobblestone streets. I swear, I could have reached through the open window and snatched a Brőtchen from the breakfast table of one gaping Frau. We were so close I could see the hairs of her mustache.

While touring Scandinavia, Dad quickly discovered that his calculations would not hold up on the mountain roads of Norway. But it was ok. We could make it to our hotels. And really, what choice did we have considering there were few places to stay, and it was high season? We just had to drive up to 16 hours a day. Let me mention again how generous my father was. He had invited our three remaining grandparents to accompany us on this adventure. One grandmother was a chain smoker who couldn’t tolerate open windows. But more importantly: You do the math. There were 6 seats, 8 people, and no luggage carrier for a two-week trip. Two of us had to ride with the luggage in a space the size of a postage stamp.…My sister Gwen and I “volunteered.” We pinched and slapped each other to pass the time. Or we stuffed oranges up our shirts and waved suggestively to passing motorists.

ANYway…we found ourselves daily cheating death as we crawled along narrow switchbacks with intimate and utterly unprotected views of the fate which awaited us should Betsy’s wheels stray an inch in the wrong direction. We prayed to God we would not to encounter a tour bus. We prayed even harder each time we did. We tested the limits of our deodorant as we we waited to see which vehicle would win at the game of Chicken. We gave heartfelt thanks when we had to back up less than a quarter of a mile to a pull-off so a bus could pass. I would probably show promise at deep sea diving based on the fact that I was too nervous to breathe more than 8 times a day.

On a side note, there were fun aspects of the trip. We saw beautiful sights. We also had the adventure of overnighting on a ferry during a fjord crossing during rough weather. I recall my excitement as the rows of glasses lined up in the bar slid across the shelves and over their barriers, crashing to the floor in style. I snickered as the pretentious man in the white linen suit, the one who had been flirting with my Mom, spilled Coke down his front. I had lox for the first time and have loved it ever since. One of the strangest moments, however, came when my ladylike and somewhat prim maternal grandmother discovered an empty whiskey bottle under her mattress and a brimming chamber pot under her bed. This provided some levity. Or maybe it was an outlet for the building hysteria. But she laughed as hard as the rest of us.

Oh, I am so easily distracted! Back to the feelings part.

Here are a few very secret secrets: My Dad cried during every Hallmark commercial. Every single schmaltzy one. He never admitted it, even when we caught him. My Dad was deeply moved by music. I have two musician daughters and often wonder if part of their joy came down through him. He adored and became week-kneed and pliant in the presence of bossy old ladies. My Dad preached against non-essential spending but he had a lot of cool cameras and a super duper hi-fi set. Just sayin’.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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