Donnerstag, 2. September 2010

Old Folks

When my brother first visited Switzerland, my (at the time) boyfriend's grandmother wanted to meet him. "To meet the one of the other twins is fascinating." She said in English. She came to tea and while she was there, someone was pasting loyalty stamps from a store into a booklet. The stamps are to be collected and then turned in for free things. "I hate that. I never do that. It reminds me of the ration stamps." Everyone looked at her askance, knowing full well that her family made it through the war fairly comfortably, but she continued "You all would have gotten loads of dairy products, all these tall men." She came from a family of three girls, and we were meant to infer that they received less dairy products. It was all very interesting to hear a different grandparent from a foreign continent describe the hardships during world war II.
My grandparents are folks who save things and hate waste and we were always told that that was a hold over from the depression. I've also had depression-era cake which, I believe, is made without milk or eggs. Nevertheless I never heard in America, as I hear here, "We wouldn't see an egg for weeks on end." The narrative that I pretty much heard was "we went without, including stockings" and the ingenious tricks that folks thought up to deal with deficits.
The scarcity of eggs is one thing I hear more here, the other is bananas, which seems a strange thing to me. For some reason, hearing people from Eastern Germany talking about seeing their first lime or kiwi or coca cola in the 80s strikes a cord within me. I think perhaps that the banana scarcity seems especially strange to me because I don't care for bananas and can easily imagine a banana-less happy life. As someone who tries to buy local produce, bananas are off the shopping list all together.
This summer when I went on vacation with my in-laws, we stayed at a hotel in Süd Tirol, where my mother in law had summered in her childhood. When we arrived, the family who owned the hotel still remembered her almost immediately. The young daughter, who is 9 years my mother-in-law's junior, now runs the hotel and reminisced about bananas. Apparently, they'd had no bananas in the 50s while Süd Tirol was being handed back and forth between Italy and Austria. When my mother-in-law's parents booked their room from Zürich, the swiss hotel owner begged them to bring bananas. They smuggled in a crate of them and were searched at the border but somehow managed to sneak them in. This story touched me very deeply when I heard it, despite my dislike of the fruit.
This Sunday, while sitting in the sun and knitting, I was approached by an old woman who lives just down the street. She was intrigued by my "italian knitting style" (go figure). We sat and chatted and she managed to tell me incredible snippets about her life. Growing up poor in Appenzell, being in a yoddeling club and needing to knit the whole way there and back , in order to finish products to sell, her husband on the border in the war, her 5 sons and 1 daughter - "You must've gotten loads of dairy products", I interjected. "Indeed! We bartered with the neighbors and made out quite well." For some reason I was so pleased to be able to pull out this knowledge and insert it in our conversation. We carried on for about an hour just sitting and chatting on the bench, until she needed to head of to drop something at her garden. I remained on the bench and knitted, shaking my head in wonder at the different elderly folk in different countries and the wealth of information they have.
A quarter of an hour I rose from the bench and prepared myself for a little stroll in the cemetery before heading home. While still on the path that divides the school yard from the cemetery wall, the elderly woman returned, on her way home as well.
"Just see this path here used to be part of the cemetery as well" she blurted out.
"Did it?" I asked
"Yes, but streams of water used to come down here from the big hill over there and would wash the earth away from the bones, which displeased the teachers and children, so they pushed the barrier back there. Well, have a nice day."
What couldn't I learn from that woman?

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