- Family and Parenting
Naughty Grandmothers-The Real Angels
Dreams, Unconditional Love, and Eating Cat
I am thinking about a very recent dream I had that brings tears to my eyes. Life is not always so easy in our overrated modern times, and occasionally I think about my loving, easygoing grandmother who lived in Germany. She passed away in 1989, but I still hear her voice in my mind and feel her spirit all around me. I know she's never really far away.
In this most recent dream, during a time when I felt that everyone in my life was giving me pep talks or telling what to do and making me feel insecure, my long deceased grandmother appeared in my dream. It was so realistic. She came and opened her arms to me and enveloped me as tightly as she could, and I hugged her as hard as I could, my arms not completely fitting around her generous girth. We hugged for what seemed an eternity, until I awoke in tears. And although I am not a particularly spiritual person, it seemed clear enough that she had come to me in my time of need to give me the kind of love that only she could give.
This grandmother was the glue that kept the German side of my family together. When she died, all family allegiances drifted apart. My grandfather unravelled. One cousin began asking about his inheritance. My mother and her sister acted like strangers when they saw each other on the street.
But the one thing that unites us on the rare occasions that we do get together are the memories we have of her. The first thing someone will mention is the kitchen. It was on the dirty side. Any germ-phobe might have objected to the state of it. But due her magical abilities, she dished up the most exquisite and homey German meals of Kassler with potatoes and sauerkraut; Sauerbraten with potato dumplings, gravy and red cabbage; and the dozens of wursts and bratens and spaetzle, and hand-raised doves and rabbits for Hasenpfeffer.
'Oma' which I will now call her, was a seamstress who had skillfully survived the horrors of World War II alone with three children below the age of six, and was a much sought-after woman in the community. She sat at her sewing machine until the day she died. She was a seamstress who could make anything look flattering on anyone. This was especially good for me, because I suffered an unusually cruel and long pubescent period. She was sympathetic to my becoming plight, while others gave me a hard time about it.
Oma had an irreverent and somewhat guttural sense of humor. She was not a fancy, refined dame, but it was fine with me, though my mother often wish that her mother cared more for appearances. That is a quality I seem to have inherited. I don't run around in designer clothes and am not really impressed by outward shows of wealth. I may have offended one or two friends or relatives with that whole, "You can't take it with you when you're dead," line.
Oma was also a prankster didn't mind teasing her grandchildren Her favorite prank was the 'Pferdekuss', translated as 'Horse Kiss'. The horse kiss could happen anytime you sat down next to her, but not every time. This way you would not be anticipating it. It was pretty simple-you sat down next to her; then she would put her hand under your butt, grab as much as she could and pinch.....hard! And it hurt! And since I work with horses, I would have to say that it's a pretty accurate name for what it is.
My grandmother often flouted my mother's instructions. This was especially easy, because my mother would send my sister and me to Germany for the whole summer so that she could run her upholstery business without having to worry about taking care of bored kids in the summer. Mom said, "Not too much chocolate and not too much ice cream." Wash and brush their hair too.
Oma had an enormous jar next to her sewing machine filled with German coins. In those days they were called Deutsche Marks. Several times a day she would give us a few marks so that we could go to the soccer stadium, or 'Sportplatz' and get as much ice cream as we wanted.If we were bored, she would make us climb the precarious ladder on the cherry tree to pick cherries, mop the hallway, or let us simply run wild.
She did not brush my sister's waist-length hair as instructed and that turned out to be a hair fiasco. The long hair was so knotted that my little sister would scream in pain. Finally my Oma came up with the idea to try and soothe out the knots with olive oil, to little success. She finally called our mother back in the States and told her that the child was getting a haircut and that was that. So she braided my sister's hair, chopped it off at what she considered a manageable length, and had a neighbor cut it off straight across. The loss of the beautiful hair was sad, but it was nice not to hear the screaming.
One day she misplaced her dentures. She walked around the house all day long asking us if we had seen them. We laughed at her even though it was mean, but she didn't take herself too seriously and had a good laugh with us. A day later, she located them in her apron pocket.
Sometime in the seventies she had breast cancer and had one of her breasts removed. She recovered and had a fake breast made of some watery substance that she could stick inside her bra when company came over. When there was no company, my sister and I had fun sticking it into our own shirts. She did not mind, until she needed to wear it herself.
She was a good storyteller too. She told us stories about the war, and what it was like to travel through East Germany. She used to tell us that if we cherries and drank water at the same time it was poisonous and we could die. We didn't. One day she told us a story about my grandfather's mother (our "Uhroma" or great grandma) back in the old country, before they had to flee the Russians. This is in a part of Germany that was ceded to Poland after WWII.
One day the family was having Hasenpfeffer. This is a rabbit dish served with red cabbage, potato dumplings or spaetzele noodles, and plenty of gravy. It was also a day when my great-grandmother was nursing a very large grudge against her husband and other 'macho' males in the family who had gone a-hunting when they should have been a-harvesting, and dumped their gear and game for others to clean up, so they could start a-drinking. On the 'Day of the Cat', as we now call it, my great-grandmother took great satisfaction in watching her family eat this satisfying meal that she had prepared with such care. She waited until they had finished their preserved-cherry compote dessert before making her special announcement.
When she had everyone's attention, she gleefully announced that one of the rabbits she had cooked was actually a cat she had found injured and dying in the garden. She figured, that since she was cooking rabbits anyway, what harm would come from the addition of a poor cat that had shaken off its mortal coil in her tidy vegetable garden?
This was revenge, though in this case served up warm, Silesian-style. The event was met by anger from the family, but as far as I know, the whole lot of macho men were more considerate after that. It is an occasion in which I wish time travel were possible. Today everyone in the family tells the story with pride and admiration for such a naughty grandmother. The story is a priceless heirloom that will be passed down through the generations if I have anything to do with it.
I am sure there are other stories I will be telling about my family, but this short essay is simply to promote the irreverent grandmother, the person who gets the wild card and can do what they want. I am sure that cooking and serving cat to family members would be totally unacceptable in today's fastidious germ phobic American culture, but I would give anything to be around any of my naughty grandmothers today.