Creative Use of Margarine Cards and Early Insights into Marital Spats
When Mother had a day off, we were able to do things together. What I liked the most was to go with her on hikes through the wooded hill country surrounding the town. At the end of a two- or three-hour leisurely walk along the highways that were not plagued too much by traffic, we always found a cozy roadside inn, where we dropped in for some refreshment and relaxation. Mother would order a cup of coffee for herself and for me a glass of mineral water or some homemade apple juice. On one occasion the innkeeper, who was running a small farm on the side, was too busy to stay with us being the only guests. So Mother and I spent the afternoon alone in the guest room and watched a movie on the small b/w TV screen. This was the very first time that I watched TV. I was thrilled getting acquainted with the new media that was just beginning to conquer the German entertainment market. The film most likely boring by today’s standards caught my immediate interest with its simple but captivating story about an immigrant from Europe who was on death row in an US state prison. He asked for and was granted permission to write letters to his aging mother in the Old Country. Within two weeks he wrote more than a hundred post-dated letters describing his imaginary tale about his proud achievements leading him from rags to riches in the New World. After his execution a prison guard with a heart sent off a letter every few months to his mother. A sad, but compelling story I remember vividly to this day.
On the few rainy days, when we could not go on our beloved hikes, we stayed in Mother’s room and played her particular variation to the German card game ‘Six-and-Sixty’ with a double-deck of cards, which allowed us to unite in ‘marriage’ lots of queens and kings. Each marriage resulted in twenty more points than the marriage before. On these occasions Mother inspired by a glass of local wine or a satisfying victory in the card game would talk about her life in Pomerania, both sad and humorous stories. At times she would back to her childhood years in Grünewald. Proudly she told me that what she enjoyed the most. She liked horsing around and roughhousing with her brothers, which, although not becoming for a girl, was very much respected by her older brothers. Curiously she did not talk much about Father, nor did I ask any questions about him. I lived in the present; the future and the past did not yet have any meaning for me.
Back in Brünen, where the excellent food from the Wefelnberg country kitchen did miracles to the still slightly undernourished pre-teenage body of mine. In no time I gained enough weight so that I suddenly appeared quite chubby, perhaps even a little stout. There are no photos of the time, but I remember distinctly that I easily won wrestling matches with boys of my age by simply pinning them to the ground on account of my sheer weight.
Butter was still expensive in the mid-fifties. Many households therefore were using margarine made of vegetable oil as an alternative to butter. One of the major margarine manufacturers added picture cards in the size of a standard 4 by 6 in. photo to their packaging and encouraged customers through their advertising to collect them and eventually paste them into booklets available from the company for a small fee. These booklets contained text and additional drawings, maps and illustrations for the cards and when completed represented a veritable treasure trove in the geography of Germany and other countries. I eagerly collected these cards. Frau Welfelnberg made sure that I would get them, when she opened another margarine package. Since there were many doubles, I traded them like stamps with many like-minded friends in the neighborhood. Since I had no money to order the corresponding booklets, I sorted them by themes of my own creation and glued them together to make a roll of forty to fifty pictures. Out of a sturdy cardboard box I fashioned a miniature stage. I cut out a rectangle roughly the size of one picture, inserted a round wooden peg on the right side of the box to serve as a pick-up spool for the roll of colorful images that would slip through the rectangular viewing area one picture at a time.
Now it was time to invite all my friends together with their younger brothers and sisters for the show that would take place in the natural theater of the backyard. The children sat on the lawn, while I presented the pictures very close to them on a small table taken out of the house for the performance. I invented the accompanying story and presented it extemporaneously in the form of a travelogue. The slide presentation became an instant success. The spectators not yet spoiled by children’s TV shows wanted to see more episodes. To help me they gathered as many picture cards they could scrounge up at home. What a creative way on the part of the Sanella margarine company to get people to buy their product!
One evening, while I lay on my bed that was wedged between the walls of my tiny bedroom, I overheard a conversation between the young miller and his wife, whose names I have completely forgotten. I witnessed a most peculiar spat between husband and wife behind the wall that separated their bedroom from mine.
Wife: How do like my new dress?
Husband: It looks beautiful on you.
Wife: Don’t you think it is VERY beautiful?
Husband: It is beautiful, indeed.
Wife: Now, now, you must admit that it is VERY beautiful.
Husband: There is nothing to admit here. It is my honest opinion that the dress is beautiful.
Wife: But you must see that my dress, the dress I bought with my own money, is VERY beautiful.
Husband: Whether you or I paid for it has nothing to do with its beauty. That’s illogical, my dear!
Wife: Leave me alone with your logic. Don’t you want me to look VERY beautiful?
Husband: Indeed, indeed! I want to …
Wife: So then, why don’t you say that the dress looks VERY beautiful on me?
Husband: Because there is a difference between beautiful and very beautiful.
Wife: So what you’re saying is that I look less than very beautiful. Why don’t you come right out and say I look VERY ugly in my new dress.
The conversation went on for a long time and became more and more animated and vociferous, but suddenly and rather abruptly ended with the wife sobbing quite miserably and with the husband deciding that it would be wiser to add no more fuel to the heated argument. It was time for the couple to make peace. A few minutes later the not so quiet springs of the marital mattress announced that love had overcome their verbal sparring. I had often pondered about the meaning of this curious episode.