Troublesome Use of Language and My First Job
“Home is the nicest word there is.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
In 1950 an elderly local couple by the name of Ös retired from their small farm. Having no one in the family to take over, they decided to lease it to Father. So in the summer of the same year the Klopp family finally moved out of the ‘poorhouse’ into the Ös farmhouse. In terms of mere living space that was quite an improvement and we all enjoyed the spaciousness of our new dwelling place. But the farmland itself was most likely one of the smallest in the entire village and consisted only of 15 acres of arable land. I daresay all the fields combined were not larger than our park-like backyard in Gutfelde.
While Father’s dream was to restart on a very small scale an agricultural venture for which he was qualified, the chances of success were rather slim. To make things worse from a financial point of view, he had to take out a loan and burden himself with a considerable debt load. Father and Mother at least at the beginning were full of optimism, and we children could enjoy a more comfortable life. As for me, being just eight years old, I was totally unaware of my parents’ worries. I happily attended the Rohrdorf Elementary School, spent many hours playing with my best friend Günther L., an orphan living with his grandparents next door in the last house on our hill, and discovered with him that when play begins to negatively impact our fellow human beings, grown-ups call these games pranks, vandalism and irresponsible behavior. I in particular had to learn the hard way that for every inappropriate action there were consequences ranging from mildly unpleasant to extremely painful. A good part of this chapter in my life will deal with a string of episodes – not necessarily in the right chronological order – with such actions of mine and their consequences.
Children have an amazing ability to absorb new thoughts, ideas, concepts and especially words. Even if they do not understand them fully at first, they play with them very much like they would with pebbles on the beach. They arrange and rearrange them to form patterns and designs, which in turn invite to do more explorations lending meaning and sense to the physical and linguistic world the curious children live in. When visiting my friend Günther at his place, I overheard his grandparents complain about some people in the village. Naïve, as a young boy like me could possibly be, I thought that they needed a little bit of encouragement. So I took a deep breath and declared with great conviction without knowing what I was saying, “They all should be castrated!”
The response was quite the opposite of what I had expected. For a moment there was a dreadful moment of silence. Then Grandpa Lehmann exploded into a bitter tirade on the corruption of young children by unconscientious parents having no business being here with their strange customs from the Eastern provinces. My friend and I not knowing why he was so upset stood there totally immobile as if nailed to the wooden floor. Then Grandpa glared at me with his angry eyes and yelled at me, “To hell with you! Out of my house! And don’t you dare ever to come back!”
I felt like a dog that had just been severely beaten and slinked out of the door shaken up and completely puzzled. Fortunately, the forever was only a week. Perhaps Grandma Lehmann put in a good word for me and convinced her husband that I truly did not know what he was saying. This had been a first-class lesson for me: Speak only when you know what you are saying and then only when it is appropriate.
On the left side road from the highway to Castle Wildenstein lived a fairly prosperous dairy farmer, who owned more than 40 cows. Their main job was to provide milk. The farm also boasted the use of the latest milking machines, which was quite rare among the farmers in Rohrdorf in the early 50’s. The farmer needed someone to deliver the fresh milk to the local dairy 2 km away at the far end of the Upper Village. He hired me to push a two-wheeled cart with two 20 liter milk cans to the dairy, have the milk weighed in, processed and return home with an equal amount of skim milk. For this job I received every evening upon the completion of the 4 km run a chunk of home-made bread and a piece of bacon rind and at the end of each month a wage of three marks. This was hard work for me, the full cans were heavy and the hill leading up to the Upper Village was very steep. I could take my time though and make frequent stops, as long as I reached the dairy before closing time.
One evening, I arrived late. The door to the dairy was already looked. The workers were cleaning up inside and were getting ready for the next night. With a little bit of a bad conscience over the neglect of my duty, I brought the milk back to the farm and collected my daily bread and my bacon treat without saying anything to the farmer’s wife. When I showed up the next evening having almost forgotten about the incident the night before, the farmer himself was waiting for me and gave me a thorough dressing down for bringing back the raw milk without reporting my failure to deliver it at the dairy. “The pigs that are being fed with raw milk can get easily sick”, he sternly advised me. “Not to mention the loss for not delivering the milk to the dairy”, he added. I decided that as long as I held this job this would never happen again!
To be continued …