Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Of Bookburnings and other mishaps

I said yesterday that living with my Aunt Emma was a story in itself. So here is one story worthy of her memory. It must have been just before the war ended, and it was obvious to everyone except "the Fuehrer" that the war was lost. Somehow Tante Emma got it into her head that she had to destroy all the books she had gotten during the Nazi regime because they all had the Swastika stamped on the inside cover. I don't know what she thought would happen if the allies came through our little Spa village, but I can assure you this symbol was not placed in the books by my aunt or her husband. There was a quiet resistance to the Nazis in our family which was never spoken about. But you knew instinctively that "Sieg Heil" was not welcome.

Now, both on my father's and my mother's side were voracious readers. Emma loved reading romance novels and collected new stacks of them after the war. On my father's side the reading was more learned and high brow which was wonderful for me; I got to read a wide spectrum of literature which was alright with me.

Anyways getting back to the books which my aunt decided to burn. I can still see the picture: My aunt and my mother standing by the coal burning kitchen stove, bickering over the strength of the fire my aunt managed to build up. The oldest telling the youngest she didn't know what she was talking about and the youngest (my mother) telling the oldest there was going to be an imminent catastrophe of an unknown nature.

And then the door bell rang:

The door was opened to welcome the visitor, and there stood the woman from the upstairs apartment, covered with soot. There had indeed been a catastrophe; my aunt had created such a fire that the kitchen stove pipe in the upstairs apartment blew out and covered the dear lady and her kitchen with soot. I think I heard later on that my aunt and mother went upstairs and helped the dear lady with the clean up.

An example of an old coal burning kitchen stove. See those round rings and the steel plate on top of it? That was split in half.

Eventually peace came and my mother and I moved back to where she and my Dad had lived before the war started. And that leads me to the second story of mishaps with coal burning kitchen stoves.
I must have been seven years old by then. I came home from school one afternoon and found my mother sitting outside the old farm house we lived in with three other families, declaring we were not going into the room which was big enough to hold the kitchen, living room and bedroom furniture since an explosion had occurred, and she was waiting for the neighbor's husband to come home from work.

Mother had picked up small wood shavings, etc. which were laying around the chopping block in the yard and started a fire to cook dinner. She was so proud of herself that she was able to scrounge up some potatoes, a little ring bologna and an egg and had made a dish called "farmer's breakfast."

But alas, after she had put the frying pan on the stove, there was a small explosion inside the stove. She apparently went towards the stove to see what was going on when a bigger explosion occurred and the frying pan landed on the ceiling and the stove top split in half. This caused her to head for the exit and then the third explosion occurred. No sirree, she was not going to go inside our living quarters even though nothing had happened in over an hour and the fire was out by then.

Well, my pal's, Seppl, dad came home and cleaned out the stove. Along with the wood scraps my mother had also picked up three empty shell casings which apparently had enough gun powder residue on them to cause the explosions. We lived with the grease ring on the ceiling and the split stove top till she finally decided that the place was not fit for a mother and her child to live in and finagled a real apartment in the city out of the city bureaucracy.

Ah childhood's adventures.

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