Mother’s guiding principle was the proverb: Necessity is the mother of invention. She was very resourceful and creative, when it came to providing a little more variety and nutritional value to our meals. It was in the wonderful month of May, when life began to stir. Among the budding trees the most amazing ones to show off vigor and zest are the conifers. First they display tiny brown buds. Slowly they swell, and then their papery brown covering falls away in wind and rain. Mother still remembered some old time-honored recipes she must have learned at Grandmother’s home in Grünewald. She asked us to get out into the woods and gather these limey-colored buds with their tantalizing scent. I had no idea what Mother would do with them. I had seen stranger things than spruce and fir needles on the dinner table. However her plan was to make a simple syrup that we could put on bread and pancakes. We had lots of fun gathering the needles according Mother’s strict instructions: to harvest only the young and tender tips. Little did I know how Mother would turn the fresh needles into syrup. But I remember the fragrance permeating the entire house, while she made the honey-like syrup in the kitchen. So for the reader interested in trying out the recipe here is what I discovered online:
1 cup of spring fir, hemlock or spruce tips
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar (demerara, turbinado, white sugar)
Place the tree tips in an 8-ounce glass container. Cover with water, close lid and place in a warm place (preferably in the sun). Strain and place the liquid in a small sauce pan. Add sugar, turn on medium heat and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Place in a glass jar and keep refrigerated. This syrup will last several weeks. Demerara is a natural brown sugar and turbinado is raw sugar. These both have a richer and more complex flavor but white sugar will work fine too.
Since there was no Kindergarten in the Rohrdorf Elementary School, my parents sent me to the one set up by the Catholic Church. There I felt very much at home. Friendly nuns would provide a happy mix of schooling and religious instruction. Playing with the local children of my own age, I quickly learned to converse perfectly in the southern dialect and soon became indistinguishable from the other boys and girls. The teachers within the context of play and learning introduced us to the creative world of music, poetry and drama.
I really liked to recite the poems at home with great enthusiasm, which was only dampened by the constant teasing of my older siblings. I remember distinctly a particularly colorful poem that described the reddening of the evening sky and compared it with flickering flames in a fireplace. My brothers delighted in my heart-felt protests, when they deliberately changed the lines of the poem I was reciting.
At Christmas time the Church planned a concert for the community. Of course, a Christmas concert to be complete must include a Nativity play. Having shown quite early an interest and talent in acting, I was very proud that I was selected for the role of Joseph in the Christmas pageant. What I owe the most to my early childhood education, is that under the nurturing direction of the nuns I developed a liking for singing. Music for me became a liberating force for the soul.
One dark and dreary evening I was all by myself. Nobody was at home. In those days there were no laws ensuring that children under the age of ten be attended at all times. The use of babysitters to protect such children from potential harm was virtually unknown. Mother had tucked me in and had said good night. Perhaps she waited a little longer at the door, until she thought that I had fallen asleep. But I hadn’t. When all was dead quiet in the house, the same feeling of abandonment overcame me just like the year before at the railway station. As twilight turned into complete darkness, I could only see what my fear-driven imagination would conjure up in my mind. A monster ready to devour me was lurking behind the closed door and a wolf with bared teeth sat somewhere in the shapeless room preparing to pounce on me at any moment. The fear of the unknown was growing more and more intense. I lay almost paralyzed in my bed hardly able to move. Suddenly a tiny light began to shine within my frightened inner being. It was very weak at first, then fed by happy memories at the Kindergarten class it became much brighter and started to dispel the terror of those awful beasts that my tormented imagination had engendered. Comforting words, lines, verses and finally entire songs emerged from deep inside me. They put my mind gradually at ease. Picking up courage I sat up, opened my mouth and began to sing. I sang all the beautiful songs I had learned during the past couple of months. And the more I sang and the more I raised my voice, I knew that by doing so I chased away those scary creatures of my own making. Most of the songs were hymns steeped in the Roman Catholic faith intended to provide comfort and were composed especially for little children. The melody and the lyrics made me forget my anguish and created so much joy that I kept on singing, until my family returned from whatever social engagement they had attended to. They believed that I was a very happy boy that evening. Only I knew, how mistaken they were. I had fought a big battle that night and won in the end with the spiritual help of the comforting words and songs I had learned at Kindergarten.
To be continued …