Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sack Time

In Germany we eagerly awaited the Christ Child on the eve of the 24th of December. Not only did the Christ Child come on the 24th, but that was also the night we first got to see the decorated Christmas tree.

Sack time at our house has become a standard Christmas Eve tradition. Ever since the grandkids were small they had their own Christmas Sack. The sack, a simple pillowcase, acts as a small replica of Santa's sack.
Carol and I printed the grandkid's name, and year issued, on the sack with a big permanent marker.

As Christmas approaches we start to gather small items and begin to fill each sack. Dark chocolate for the girls, beef jerky for the boys, are just a few things to start with.
For that special kid it might be sweet and sour pickles, or Maraschino Cherries for another.

When the children were really little, cloth pins, rubber bands, or a ball of yarn were great gifts for them. As the kids got older, we, the grandparents, could no longer anticipate their wishes. So we started the Elf Letters.

The Elves, better known as Sugarplum and Cringle (Carol and Franz), send out a letter to request the child's wish for his or her sack. The letter contains a form to fill out for the child's request. They then place the request in the self-addressed stamped envelope, to return to the Elves.

Sugarplum (Carol) has as much fun as the children when she receives the returned letters. With joy Sugarplum uses all her internet wizardry and shopping prowess to fill the requests. The sacks continue to get plumper. We do have a spending limit.

Sack time finally comes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Going To Bed Was Not Punishment

This is one of more than a hundred stories now published and on Kindle at Amazon.
The book captures my early life until I was seventeen years old.


My mother, a firm believer in much fresh air even in the coldest of weather, often bundled me up and sent me out to play. My mother’s knitting turned me into a wool-wrapped mummy. With a couple of wool sweaters, a cap, mittens, scarf, knitted underwear, and socks, I played until my feet got cold. My feet got cold when the socks got wet. The socks got wet because my britches were too short and snow crawled down into my shoes.  –I had no boots.

Likewise, my sister, never too young for fresh air, was wrapped and tucked in woolens, placed in the carriage, and set out to enjoy the day. I was told not to wander off too far, and to keep an eye on Sis.

During cold weather it seemed like it snowed all the time. One day, while I was supposed to be keeping an eye on Sis, I was having the best time and was not paying much attention to the thick squalls of snow coming down. I totally forgot about little sister, as did Mom. When I finally checked on her, the carriage had filled with snow, except around Dagmar’s little head where her face lay peacefully napping.

No one heard of babysitters back then. The oldest sibling was in charge. He or she knew the routine, the rules of the family, and decisions were backed by the parents. The same was true at our house.

In the evenings when my sister and I were left alone at home, beginning when I was barely five years old, we had to fend for ourselves. Dagmar, three years younger, went to bed around dusk. I usually returned to the kitchen table, the center of all activities.
Again, I’d like to mention the extreme quietness of life in those times. The dome shaped kitchen clock supplied a constant ticking that soothed and somewhat mesmerized. A little crackling in the stove made the evening complete. When all the fire died, I also went to bed.

Bed was a heavenly place, a refuge from the cold. On very cold nights, when Mom was home, we preheated the foot area of the bed with a warm water bottle, which was a solid brass, oval container, highly polished, and a little bigger than a three-pound loaf of bread. It sported a screw-on cap on top. A little chain soldered to the bottle and cap kept them from being separated. The warm water bottle easily slid under and around the featherbed to desired spots; the hot water inside doing its magic. A wonderful addition to life indeed.
We used other tricks to warm the bed. Several hot clothes irons, wrapped in towels, as well as a hot cobble stone, heated in the oven, made wonderful bed warmers. I remember sneaking up to the bed, reaching in, arms stretched out, and moving the warming objects around under the feather covers until heaven was ready.

When we jumped into bed in the winter time, we lay between a feather tick under us, and a feather bed as thick as a fat man’s belly on top of us. The pillow, also stuffed with feathers, was as wide as the bed. When my head hit it, it collapsed around my ears.
In the dead of winter when the stone walls of the building absorbed the outside cold, I’d pull my knitted hat down over my face with nothing but my nose sticking out of the bed. On occasion the horses below kicked their stalls, in a way signaling that we were all together in this challenge.

Mostly, the nights were deathly silent. Nevertheless, I cannot deny to overreacting to any creaking, cracking, and fluttering noises. When I couldn’t interpret the source, I simply crawled deeper into bed.

Many times, I remember waking up in the morning after the breath of the night’s sleep had formed a frozen circle of hard crust on the featherbed around my face. One could knock on the frost and it would sound like knocking on a door.

The bedroom’s single pane window stayed open in the summer. Being high above the dark backyard, we didn’t worry about mosquitoes. However, everything else was free to enter the room. Moths didn't try, we had no lights. Bats tried it at times, but there was nothing for them to feed on.

The neighboring cemetery had in its midst a funeral chapel. The short, squatty bell tower of that chapel was home to several large hoot owls. The owls frequently sounded off in the night and made two little kids wide-eyed and well behaved.
More than once during a season, one of the owls fluttered up to our window to have a look around. To us, the owl was so big that it had to duck to look into the room. When it decided to sit a while on our lone windowsill of the bedroom, we hunkered down. Often, it did not only look in at us, but loudly hooted; all the while bobbing its head from left to right... We prayed a lot. 

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