Getting Caught in the Hen House and Schadenfreude at its Best
The new hen house that Father had built brought much joy to Mother. Early in the morning, when the chickens were still sitting on their roost, Mother would enter quietly the chicken coop and perform the finger test to find out, which ones were ready to lay an egg that day. She grabbed one and held it firmly in her left arm while inserting the little finger of her right hand. If the tip her finger pushed against something hard, she knew that an egg was on its way, and the chicken would have to spend the rest of the morning in the wooden cage, until it had done its duty. On the other hand the chicken that had failed Mother’s test would immediately be released into the yard. The eggs that our feathery friends produced for our household were of excellent quality. Today we would claim them to be 100% organic and delivered by free-range chickens.
To acquire money – so I had learned on my daily milk run – involves work. After I received my pay, I would convert it into anything I wanted provided that there was enough of it. However, my parents insisted that I saved most the money I earned. So unfortunately, it turned into a meaningless number in a tiny savings booklet issued by the local credit union.
It did not take me very long to see the connection between a commodity, such as an egg, and its monetary value. What my slowly developing conscience did not recognize right away was that just because something was there within reach of my little hands did not mean that it was mine. So one day while I was exploring the chicken coop, I discovered an egg in the wooden cage under a chicken. I immediately set her free and released her into our yard. I took the egg, which was still warm, into my hands. Seeing this wonderful oval object in front of me was in my mind almost like owning it. So I walked to the nearest grocer in the Upper Village and converted the egg into cash. This was my first sale. Its success goaded me to look for more eggs in the following days and to sell them to the colluding grocer who was not asking me any disquieting questions. This went on for a while, until Mother caught me red-handed in the hen house. Normally she took care of matters of discipline, but this case of mine was severe enough to let Father deal with it. I did not have a good feeling, when he took me to the barn, where he made it absolutely clear with the help of his cane on my bare bottom that taking something that did not belong to me was the same as stealing. This was another major lesson I learned, and there were certainly many more to follow.
Winter was approaching again, but it had lost its harsh bite, since we had moved into the Ös farmhouse. On the contrary, the cold enhanced the feeling of comfort and coziness, especially when the tile stove was radiating its warmth throughout the entire house. Firewood – split and neatly stacked – lay ready in large enough quantities to provide heat during the coming cold months of the year. Adolf, my second oldest brother, had helped in a big way to make sure that we would not run out of fuel for our stoves. In his eagerness to show off the highest and most beautiful stack in the world, he had built it just a trifle too high. The stack was already leaning away from the wall at a precarious angle, when he added one more piece of wood to complete his masterpiece. That extra weight broke the camel’s back, and with thundering might the entire stack came crashing down fortunately leaving Adolf unharmed on the ladder on which he was standing. Now this was embarrassing enough for him, who had just been bragging about his stacking skills. But living in a family, where Schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, was not completely unknown, poor Adolf had to put up with derisive laughter and spontaneous mock poetry coming from our sister Eka (Lavana). She sang,
“Öcher, Öcher, Bum, Bum!
Dem Beuger fiel die Beuge um!“
This would roughly translate into English as,
“Shame on you, shame on you, clumsy packer!
The pretty stack fell down, you lousy stacker!”
Even though Adolf rebuilt the stack with great dexterity to make sure it would not tumble over again, the lines and accompanying melody were very catchy, and soon all his siblings were singing and reciting the jingle. It goes to his credit that he took it in stride and waited good-humoredly for the torture to end.
To be continued …