Tag Archives: German

“My Grandmother and Myself”…A Short Story From WWI.

Two years ago, our son was booked to go on a European history tour with his school, which included visiting the battlefields of WWI, and spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneaux. Wanting him to know what our family members had gone through, I started researching my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealey, and my husband’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was Killed in Action at the Battle of Mont St Quentin.

It was all supposed to be fairly quick, and nothing more than an overview. However, it was me doing the research, and after covid hit and his trip was cancelled, unravelling and understanding their WWI experiences dramatically expanded to become “My Covid Project”, especially as lockdowns and self-isolation continue. Once again, my passionate curiosity had led me astray.

As it turned out, there were some interesting twists to their stories. Uncle Jack’s parents were Irish, and the “Bill” Uncle Ralph mentioned in his diary might’ve been born in Tasmania, but his parents and siblings were German-born. While the Irish initially supported the Empire and got behind the war effort, the 1916 Uprising and the brutal English response, reignited longstanding animosity and called for independence. I’m Australian and we weren’t taught any Irish history at school or university and I just grew up with some scant reference to the potato famine. I had no idea parts of the family had come out more recently, and what had gone on. Ireland was simply the land of green grass and Guinness. Clearly, I’ve been on a steep upward curve trying to make sense of it all, and it’s no wonder I’ve ended up in an Irish mist so much of the time.

Anyway, this brings me to this short story I wanted to share with you. Of course, it will mean a lot more to people with Irish heritage, but I really enjoyed it as a story and was also intrigued by the grandmother who can’t see, but has incredible vision- very much like a close friend of mine.

My Grandmother And Myself 

By Mary Synon 

ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOARDMAN ROBINSON 

My grandmother was at the basement window, peering into the street as if she were watching for someone, when I came home from school. “Is that you, John?” she asked me as I stood in the hall stamping the snow from my boots. “Sure,” I called to her. “Who’d you think I was? A spirit?” 

She laughed a little as I went into the room and flung down my books. My grandmother hasn’t seen any one in ten years, though she sits day after day looking out on the street as if a parade were passing; but she knows the thump of my books on the table as well as she knows the turning of my father’s key in the lock of the door. “‘Tis a lively spirit you’d make, Shauneen,” she said with that chuckle she saves for me. “No, ’twas your father I thought was coming.” 

“What’d he be doing home at this time?”

“These are queer days,” she said, “and there are queer doings in them.”

“There’s nothing queer that I can see,” I told her. 

“I’m an old, blind woman,” she said, “but sometimes I see more than do they who have the sight of their two eyes.” 

She said it so solemnly, folding her hands one over the other as she drew herself up in her chair, that I felt a little thrill creeping up my spine. ”What do you mean?” I asked her.

“Time’ll tell you,” she said. 

My mother came in from the kitchen then. “Norah forgot to order bacon for the morning,” she said. “Will you go to the market, John, before you do anything else?” 

“Oh, I’m going skating,” I protested. 

“It won’t take you five minutes,” said my mother. She seemed tired and worried. The look in her eyes made me feel that there was trouble hanging over the house. My mother isn’t like my grandmother. When things go wrong, my grandmother stands up straight, and throws back her shoulders, and fronts ahead as if she were a general giving orders for attack; but my mother wilts like a hurt flower. She was drooping then while she stood in the room, so I said: “All right, I’ll go,” though I’d promised the fellows to come to the park before four o’clock. 

“And look in at the shop as you go by,” my grandmother said, “and see if your father’s there now.” 

“Why shouldn’t he be?” my mother asked. 

There was a queer sound in her voice that urged me around past my father’s shop. My father was there in the little office, going over blue-prints with Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and a big man I’d never seen before. I told my grandmother when I went home. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. And I dreamed last night of my cousin Michael who died trying to escape from Van Diemen’s Land.” 

“You knew what?” I asked her, for again that strange way of hers sent shivery cold over me. 

“Go to your skating,” she bade me. 

There wasn’t much skating at Tompkins Square, though, when I found the crowd. The sun had come out strong in the afternoon and the ice was melting. “Ground-hog must have seen his shadow last week,” Bennie Curtis said. All the fellows—Joe Carey and Jim Dean and Frank Belden and Joe Krebs and Mattie Kleiner and Fred Wendell and the rest of them—had taken off their skates and were starting a tug of war in the slush. Mattie Kleiner was the captain on one side and Frank Belden the captain on the other. Mattie had chosen Joe Krebs and Jim Dean and Joe Carey on his side. Just as I came along he shouted that he chose me. Frank Belden yelled that it was his choice and that he’d take me.

“He don’t want to be on your side!” Mattie cried. “He’s with the Germans!” 

“Well, I guess not,” I said, “any more than I’m with the English. I’m an American.” 

“You can’t be just an American in this battle,” Frank Belden said. 

“Then I’ll stay out of it,” I told him. 

They all started to yell ” Neutral!” and “‘Fraid cat!” and “Oh, you dove of peace!” at me. I got tired of it after a while, and I went after Mattie hard. When I’d finished with him he bawled at me: “Wait till your father knows, he’ll fix you!” 

“What for?” I jeered.

“For going against his principles, that’s what,” Mattie Kleiner roared. 

“I’d like to know what you know about my father’s principles,” I laughed at him. 

“Well, I ought to know,” he cried. “I heard him take the oath.” 

“What oath?” we all demanded, but Mattie went off in surly silence. Joe Krebs and Joe Carey trailed after him. I stayed with the other fellows until it was dark. Then I started for home. 

Joe Carey was waiting for me at the corner. “Do you believe him, John?” he asked me. “Do you believe Mattie about the oath?” 

“How’s that?” I parried. I seemed to remember having heard a man who’d been at the house a fortnight before whispering something about an oath, and I knew that I’d heard my mother say to my grandmother: “I pray to God he’ll get in no trouble with any oaths or promises.” I kept wondering if Mattie Kleiner’s father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and the big man with the blue-prints who’d been in my father’s shop had anything to do with it.

“Oh, Mattie’s talking in his sleep,” I said. 

“Well, maybe,” said Joe Carey; “but he wasn’t sleeping the night they had the meeting in his house. He was on the stairs going up to the top floor, and he kept the door open a little way and he heard everything they said, and nobody at all knew he was there.” 

Joe Carey’s eyes were almost popping out of his head, and so I knew that Mattie had been telling him a long story.

“I guess he didn’t hear very much,” I said. 

“You bet he did,” Joe declared. “He heard them reading the letters telling people not to go on the ships because they were going to be sunk, and he heard them talking about bombs and munition factories. He says that he heard your father say that he’d gladly lay down his life for the sake of Ireland.” 

“But Ireland’s not in this war!” 

“Sure it is! Mattie says the Germans are going to free Ireland if they beat England. That’s why the Irish ought to be with the Germans. Mattie says your father’ll be awful ashamed that you wouldn’t go on his side. Mattie says your father…” 

“I don’t give a whoop what Mattie says about my father,” I told him. “I guess I can take my own part.” 

“I guess you’ll have to,” said Joe. 

As I went up the street toward our house I had that queer feeling that comes sometimes after I’ve been away for a while, a fear that something terrible has happened while I’ve been gone and that I’ll be blamed for it. It was dark on the street, for people hadn’t lighted the lamps in the basement dining-rooms, and I was hurrying along when suddenly a man’s voice came over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard his step behind me at all, and I jumped when he spoke.

“Where does Mr. John Sutton live?” he asked me. 

“Right there.” I pointed to our house. 

“Do you know him?” he asked. Through the dark I could see that he was a tall man with sharp eyes. I knew that I had never seen him before, and that he didn’t look like any of the men who came to my father’s machine-shop. “Don’t you know Mr. Sutton?” he repeated. 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Know him well, sonny?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“How well?” 

“He’s my father.” 

He whistled softly, then laughed, turned on his heel, and strode down the street. I watched him to see if he’d take the turn toward the shop, but he turned the other way at the corner. I thought that I’d tell my grandmother about him, but my mother was with her in the dark when I went in. They were talking very low, as if someone were dead in the house, but I heard my mother say, “If I only knew how far he’s gone in this!” and my grandmother mutter: “Sure, the farther he goes in, the farther back he’ll have to come.” I stumbled over a chair as I went into the room with them, and they both stopped talking. 

I could hear the little hissing whisper my grandmother always makes while she says the rosary, but I could hear no sound from my mother at all until she rose with a sigh and lighted the gas-lamp. She looked at me as if she hadn’t known I’d been there. “Have you any homework to do to-night, John?” she asked me. 

“No, ma’am,” I said. “It’s Friday.”

“Then I want you to come to church with me after your dinner,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t want to go to church,” I’d said before my grandmother spoke. 

“‘Twill be a queer thing to me as long as I live,” she said, “that those who have don’t want what they have and that those who haven’t keep wanting.” 

The telephone bell rang just then up in the room that my father uses for an office, and I raced up to answer it. A man’s voice, younger than that of the man who’d spoken to me, came over the wire. “Say, is this John Sutton’s residence?” it asked. “And is he home? And, if he isn’t, who are you?” 

“What do you want?” I called. 

“Information. This is The World. We hear that there’s to be a meeting of the clans to-night, and we want to know where it’s to be held.” 

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“Can you find out?” 

“No,” I lied. “There’s nobody home.” 

“Won’t your father be home for dinner?” 

Even then I could hear his key turning in the lock, could hear him passing on his way up to his bedroom, but a queer kind of caution was being born in me. “No, sir,” I said. (pg227)

“Who was that?” my grandmother asked me when I went down. 

I told her of the call, told her, too, of the man who had stopped me on the street. Her rosary slipped through her fingers. “I feared it,” she said. Then the whisper of her praying began again. 

At dinner my father was strangely silent. Usually he talks a great deal, all about politics, and the newspapers, and the trouble with the schools, and woman-suffrage, and war. But he said nothing at all except to ask me if the skating were good. My mother was just as quiet as he, and I would have been afraid to open my mouth if my grandmother hadn’t started in to tell about New York in the days she’d come here, more than sixty-five years ago. She talked and talked about how different everything had been then, with no tall buildings and no big bridges and no subways and no elevateds. “Faith, you can be proud of your native town, John,” she said to my father. 

“I wish I’d been born in Ireland,” he said. 

She laughed. “And if I’d stayed in Ireland, I’d have starved,” she said, “and little chance you’d have had of being born anywhere.” 

“It might have been just as well,” he said bitterly.

“Oh, no,” she said; “there’s Shauneen.” 

He rose from the table, flinging down his napkin. “I won’t be home till very late,” he said to my mother. 

She stood up beside him. “Do you have to go, John?” she asked him. 

“Yes,” he said. 

“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m afraid.” 

“Of what?” 

“Of what may happen you.” 

“Nothing’ll happen me,” he said. 

I wanted to tell him of the strange man who had halted me on the street, and of the telephone call, but my father’s anger was rising and I feared to fan it to flame. My grandmother said nothing until after my father had gone. Then she spoke to my mother. 

“Don’t you know better,” she asked her, “and you eighteen years married to him, than to ask John not to do something you don’t want him to do?” 

My mother began to cry as we heard the banging of the outer door after my father. “Well, if you can do nothing else,” my grandmother said, “you’d better be off to church. Keep your eyes open, Shauneen,” she warned me, while my mother was getting her hat and coat. 

It was a grand night, with the evening star low in the sky, like a lamp, and the big yellow moon just rising in the east. The wind blew sharp and salt off the water, but there was a promise of spring in the air, saying that it must be almost baseball time. We went over to the Jesuit church, walking slowly all the way. There we knelt in the dark until I was stiff. As we came out my mother stopped at the holy-water font. “John,” she said, “will you promise me that if you ever marry you’ll never set any cause but God’s above your wife?” 

“No, ma’am, I won’t,” I said, vaguely understanding that my father had hurt my mother by his refusal to stay at home, and wondering what cause he had set above her. As we walked toward the car line I remembered what Joe Carey had told me of Mattie Kleiner’s speech about my father. “Do you have to go to Ireland to die for Ireland?” I asked her. She clutched my hand. “My grandfather died for Ireland,” she said, “and he wasn’t the first of his line to die for her. But I pray God that he may have been the last.” She said no more till we came into our own house. 

My grandmother was still at the window of the dining-room. There was no light, and my mother did not make one. “There was another telephone call,” my grandmother said. “Norah answered it. ‘Twas the newspaper calling again for John to ask about the meeting. She said she knew nothing about it and that no one was here to answer.” 

“Do you suppose,” I said, “it was detectives?” 

They said nothing, and I could feel a big lump coming up my throat. I thought they might not have heard me until my grandmother said: “Do you know, Kate, where the meeting is?” 

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” my mother cried. She turned to me sharply. “Go to bed, John,” she said. 

“I know where the meetings are,” (pg 228) I blurted out, eager enough for any excuse to put off the hateful order. “They’re at Mattie Kleiner’s house, because he hides on the stairs when they come, and he heard them take the oath.” 

“Is that Matthew Kleiner’s boy?” my grandmother asked, so quietly that I thought she had not realized the importance of my news. 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“Go to bed, Shauneen.” She repeated my mother’s order. 

I went up-stairs, leaving the two of them silent in the dark. I whistled while I undressed, but I shivered after I had turned out the light and jumped between the sheets. I was going to lie awake waiting for my father’s return, but I must have dozed, for I thought that it was in the middle of the night that something woke me. I knew, as soon as I woke, that someone was in my room. I could feel him groping. I tried to speak, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then I heard a faint whisper. “Shauneen,” it said. 

So far away it seemed that I thought it might be a ghost until my grandmother spoke again. “Your mother’s in bed now,” she said. “Put on your clothes as quick as you can.” 

“What is it?” I whispered. 

“We’re going to Matthew Kleiner’s, you and I,” she said. “I’d go alone if I could see.” 

“What time is it?” 

“Between ten and eleven.” 

I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could. Then stealthily as thieves we crept out from my room and down the stairs. I held my grandmother’s hand and wondered at its steadiness. When we had come outside the basement-door she halted me. “Look down the street for the tall man,” she bade me. There was no one in sight, however, and we walked along sturdily, turning corners until we came to Kleiner’s. 

It was a red-brick house in a row, not a basement house like ours, but with a cellar below and an attic above its two main floors. There was no light on the first floor, but I thought that I saw a stream behind the drawn curtains upstairs. I found the bell and pushed on it hard. No one came for a long time. I rang again. I could see shadows back of the shades before Mattie Kleiner’s mother came.

“What is it?” she demanded before she opened the door. 

“Tell her that your mother’s sick, and that you’ve come for your father,” my grandmother ordered me.

I repeated what she’d said.

Mrs. Kleiner opened the door. “Oh,” she cried, “it is Mrs. Sutton and little John. Oh, you did frighten me. Is the mother very sick? I shall call the father.” 

“Let me go to him,” my grandmother said. We were inside the hall then, and I put her hand on the railing of the stairway. She had started up before Mrs. Kleiner tried to stop her. “I’ve a message for him,” said my grandmother. Mrs. Kleiner and I followed her. At the top of the stairs I turned her toward the front room, for I could hear the murmur of voices. I passed a door and wondered if Mattie Kleiner were hiding behind it. “Oh, we must not go in,” Mrs. Kleiner pleaded. “The men will not want us to go in.” She tried to stop us, but my grandmother turned, looking at her as if she could see her. “I’ve always followed my own conscience, ma’am,” she said, “not my husband’s, nor my son’s, nor any other man’s.” 

From within the front room came the sound of the voices, growing louder and louder as we stood there, my grandmother alert, Mrs. Kleiner appalled, I myself a thrill. I could hear my father’s voice, short, sharp. “It’s our great opportunity,” he was saying. “We have only to strike the blow at England’s empire, and the empire itself will arise to aid us. Twenty thousand men flung into Canada will turn the trick. French Quebec is disaffected. What if soldiers are there? We can fight them! We may die, but what if we do? We will have started the avalanche that will destroy Carthage!” 

There were cries of “Right!” to him. Then a man began to talk in German. His voice rang out harshly. From the murmurs that came out to us we knew that the men were applauding his words, but we had no idea of what the words were. Mrs. Kleiner stood wringing her hands. “Who’s in there?” my grandmother asked her. 

“I do not know,” she insisted. 

Pg 229

“Joe Krebs’s uncle is there,” I said. “I know his cough. And Mr. Winngart who keeps the delicatessen shop. And Frank Benner’s father; and that’s Mr. Carey’s voice.” 

“They just meet for fun,” groaned Mrs. Kleiner. 

“Sure, I saw that kind of fun before,” said my grandmother, “when the Fenians went after the Queen’s Own.” 

My father’s voice rose again. “We are ready to fire the torch? We are ready to send out the word tonight for the mobilization of our sympathizers? We are ready to stand together to the bitter end?” 

“We are ready!” came the shout. Then my grandmother opened the door. 

Through the haze of their tobacco smoke they looked up, the dozen men crowded into the Kleiners’ front bedroom, to see my grandmother standing before them, a bent old woman in her black dress and shawl, her little jet bonnet nodding valiantly from its perch on her thin white hair. She looked around as if she could see every one of them. My father had sprung forward at her coming, and, as if to hold him off, she put up one hand. 

“Is it yourself, John Sutton, who’s talking here of plots, and plans, and war?” she said. Her voice went up to a sharp edge. She flung back her head as if she defied them to answer her. All of them, my father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and Mr. Carey and Mr. Winngart and the big man who’d had the blue-prints in the shop, and the others, stared at her as if she were a ghost. No one of them moved as she spoke.

“‘Tis a fine lot you are to be sitting here thinking ways to bring trouble on yourselves, and your wives, and your children, and your country. Who are there here of you? Is it yourself, Benedict Krebs, who’s going out to fight for Germany when your own father came to this very street to get away from Prussia? Is it you, Matthew Kleiner, who gives roof to them who plot against America, you, who came here to earn a living that you couldn’t earn at home? Is it you, Michael Carey, who’s helping them hurt the land that’s making you a rich man? Shame on you; shame on you all!” 

“Why shouldn’t we fight England?” Joe Carey’s father said with a growl. “You’d be the last one, Mrs. Sutton, that I’d think’d set yourself against that.” 

“‘Tis not England,” said my grandmother, “that you fight with your plots. ‘Tis America you strike when you strike here. And, as long as you stay here, be Americans and not traitors!” 

They began to murmur at that, and my father said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother. You’d better take John home. This is no place for either of you.” 

“No more than it’s a place for you,” she said. “Will you be coming home with me now?” 

“I will not,” my father said. 

“Faith, and you’ll all be wishing you had,” she told them, “when the jails’ll be holding you in the morning.” 

“The jails!” The big man who had held the blue-prints came closer to us. “What is it you say of jails? You have told the police, then?” 

“I didn’t need to,” my grandmother said. “The government men have been watching this long time. ‘Twill be at midnight that they’ll come here. But ’tis not myself they’ll be finding.”

I saw the men’s glances flash around the room through the smoky haze before she called: “Come, Shauneen.”

I took her hand again and led her out of the room. Just before the door closed after us I saw that my father’s face had grown very white and that Mattie Kleiner’s father had dropped his pipe on the floor. 

Outside the house I spoke to my grandmother tremblingly. “Do the police really know?” I asked her.

She gave her dry little chuckle. “If they don’t, they should,” she answered; “but I was born an O’Brien, and I’ve never known one of them yet that ever told the police anything. No, Shauneen,” she laughed, “’twas the high hill I shot at, but I’m thinking that the shot struck. We’ll watch.” 

We crossed the street and waited in the shadow of the house at the corner. For a little while all was quiet at Kleiner’s. Then I saw the tall man come out with Joe Krebs’s uncle. After a time my father came out with Mr. Winngart and Mr. Carey. They walked to the other (Pg 230) corner and stood there a moment before they separated.

“Shall we go home now?” I asked my grandmother after I had told her what I had seen. 

“Not yet,” she said. “I’ve one more errand to do this night.”

I thought it might have something to do with the tall man who’d spoken to me or with the telephone call, and I wondered when she sighed. “I’m a very old woman,” she seemed to be saying to herself. “I’ll be ninety-one years come Michaelmas Day. Some of the world I’ve seen, and much of life. Out of it all I’ve brought but a few things. I’d thought to give these to my son. But—” She paused. “How old are you, Shauneen?” she asked me. 

“Fourteen,” I said. 

“Old enough,” she nodded. She turned her head as if she were looking for something or someone. Then: “Do you know your way to the Battery?” she asked me. 

“Sure,” I told her. “Are you going there?” 

“We are.” 

It had been quiet enough in our part of town. It was quieter yet when we came to Bowling Green and walked across to the Battery. Down there, past the high buildings and the warehouses, we seemed to have come into the heart of a hush. To the north of us the sky was afire with the golden glow from the uptown lights. In front of us ran the East River and the North River. Out on Bedloe’s Island I could see the shining of the Goddess of Liberty’s torch. Every little while a ferry-boat, all yellow with lights, would shoot out on the water. A sailing-vessel moved slowly after its puffing tug. The little oyster-boats were coming in from the bay. A steamer glided along past it as I walked with my grandmother out toward the old Castle Garden. 

On the Saturday before Joe Carey and I had come down to the piers, prowling all afternoon on the docks, watching the men bringing in the queer crates and boxes and bags while we told each other of the places from where the fruits and spices and coffee and wines had come. There were thousands and thousands of ships out there in the dark, I knew, and I began to tell my grandmother what some of the sailors had told us of how the trade of the world was crowding into New York, with the ships all pressing the docks for room.

“If you could only see it!” I said to her.

“I can see more than that,” she said. Then: “Take me to the edge of the waters,” she bade me. 

Wondering and a little frightened, obeyed her, trying to solve the while the mystery of her whim to bring me to the deserted park in the middle of the night.

“Is Castle Garden over there?” she pointed. “Then, I’ve my bearings now.” 

She stood alone, a little way off from me, staring seaward as if she counted the shadowy ships. The wind blew her thin white hair from under her bonnet and raised the folds of her shawl. There in the lateness of the night, alone at the edge of the Battery, she didn’t seem to be my grandmother at all, but some stranger. I remembered the story I’d read somewhere of an old woman who’d brought a pile of books to a King of Rome, books that she threw away, one by one, as he refused them, until there was but one book left. When he’d bought that one from her he’d found that it was the book of the future of the empire and that he’d lost all the rest through his folly. As I looked at my grandmother I thought she must be like the old woman of the story. Even her voice sounded strange and deep when she turned to me. 

“It was sixty-five years ago the seventh of November that I first stood on this soil,” she said. “‘Tis a long lifetime, and, thank God, a useful one I’ve had. Burdens I’ve had, but never did I lack the strength to bear them. Looking back, I’m sorry for many a word and many a deed, but I’ve never sorrowed that I came here.” 

I would have thought that she had forgotten me if she hadn’t touched my arm. “You’ve heard tell of the famine, Shauneen,” she went on, “the great famine that fell on Ireland, blighting even the potatoes in the ground? We’d a little place in Connaught then, a bit of land my father was tilling. We hadn’t much, even for the place, but we were happy enough, God knows, with our singing and dancing and the fairs and the patterns. Then, little by little, we grew poorer and poorer. I was the oldest of the seven of us. My (pg 231) Mother and myself’d be planning and scraping to find food for the rest of them. Everyday we’d see them growing thinner and thinner. Oh, mavrone, the pity of it! And they looking at us betimes as if we were cheating them of their bit of a sup! Sometimes now in the dark I see them come to my bed, with their soft eyes begging for bread, and we having naught to give them. Brigid—she was the youngest of them all—died. Then my father went. 

“I used to go down to the sea and hunt the wrack for bits of food. There by the shore I would look over here to America and pray, day after day, that the Lord would send to us some help before my mother should go. You don’t know what it is to pray, Shauneen. Your father cannot teach you and your mother hopes you’ll never learn. For prayer is born in agony, avick (my son), and grief and loss and sorrow. But because you are the son of my soul I pray for you that life may teach you prayer. For when you come to the end of the road, Shauneen, you’ll know that ’tis not the smoothness of the way, but the height of it and the depth of it, that measures your travelling. Far, far down in the depths I went when I prayed over there on the bleak coast of Connaught. 

“God answered my prayer. There came from America food to us. There came, too, the chance for me to come here with the promise of work to do. ‘Twas a drear day when I left home. How I cursed England as I looked back on the hills of Cork harbor, all green and smiling as if never a blight had cast its shadow behind them! 

“‘Twas a long, dreary sailing. Nine weeks we were in the crossing. A lifetime I thought it was between the day I looked on the western sea from the Connaught mountains and the day when I stood here looking back toward home. Sure life is full of lifetimes like those.” 

She paused a moment, but I felt as if I were under a spell that I must not break by word of mine. A cloud came over the moon and all around us grew shadowy. The big throb that the city always beats at night kept sounding like the thrumming of an orchestra waiting for the violin solo to start. 

“I’d plenty of them before many years.” My grandmother’s voice came like the sound for which the thrumming had waited. “Did you ever think what it means to the poor souls who come here alone for their living? When you’ve a house of your own, Shauneen, with men servants and maid servants, don’t forget that your father’s mother worked out for someone. They were kind people, too, who took me to their homes. Don’t forget that either. For ’tis my first memory of America. Kind they were, and just. They helped me save what I earned and they showed me ways of helping my folks at home. I’d brought out Danny and James and Ellen and Mary before the war. I met each one of them right here at Castle Garden. That’s why I always think of this place as the gateway through which the Irish have come to America. Sure Ellis Island’s been for the Italians and the Jews and the Greeks. We didn’t wait outside the door. We came straight in,” she chuckled. 

“My mother wouldn’t come from the old place. Long I grieved over her there in the little house where my father and Brigid had died, but after a while I knew she was happier so. Sometimes, Shauneen, I think of Ireland as an old woman, like my mother, sitting home alone in the old places, grieving, mourning, with her children out over the world, living the dreams of her nights by the fire. ‘Twas here we found the freedom the Irish had been fighting for. ‘Twas here, away from landlords and landholding, away from famine and persecution, that we found that life need not be a thing of sorrow. ‘Twas here I met your grandfather. 

“I’d nothing of my own, and your grandfather had but a trifle more when we married. I suppose ’tis brave that people would call us now. We didn’t think that we were. We were young and strong and we loved each other. And we were getting along fairly well—we’d started the payments on a bit of a house of our own after your father was born— when the war came down on us. 

“Your grandfather went with the brigade. Not twice did we think whether or not he should go. We knew that he owed his first duty to the country that (pg 232)had called him, and sheltered him, and given him work and hope and freedom. For he was a boy from home as I was a girl from home. I stood on the curbstone the day he marched by, with your father in my arms, and I cheered for the flag. ‘Sure he’ll be walking to meet you when you come back!’ I called, lifting up the child. Your grandfather never came back. He fell at Marye’s Heights.” 

When she spoke again her voice had changed more to her every-day tone. “Well, I raised your father,” she said, “and I thought I was raising him well. My arms were strong. I worked at the wash-tub morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t long till I had a laundry of my own. I thought to give my son all that I’d ever wanted for myself. Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I thought too much of the things that money can buy in those years when money was so hard to earn. Perhaps ’twas myself and no other who taught your father the cold, hard things of life, though, God knows, I’d no thought to do it. He’s a good man in many ways, but he’s not the man I want you to be. He’s a good hater but he’s not a good lover. And, faith, what’s there in life but love?” 

I moved a little then, and my grandmother swung me around, with her two hands on my shoulders, and, blind as she is, stared at me as if she were looking right down into my heart. “Shauneen,” she said, “I have prayed, day and night, that your father might be to America the good citizen his father was. I have prayed that if America should ever need him he would stand ready for her call. I have prayed that he’d love America as I have loved America. I love Ireland, mavrone. Always in my heart do I see her hills as they looked on the morning I looked back on them from the sea. But I love America, too, and I wanted my son to love her even more than I do. I’ve wanted him to love this land as my fathers and their fathers loved Ireland. ‘Twas not that I wanted him to forget my land; when he was a lad like you, I’d tell him tales of Ireland’s glory and of Ireland’s woe. How was I to know that all it would do for him was to rouse the black hate for England? I taught him love for Ireland, but never did I teach him to set my land above his own. 

“For ’twas America gave us our chance, Shauneen, when we’d no other place on earth to seek. Hard days we’ve known here, too, days when even the children jeered at us, but we’ve never felt the hand of the oppressor upon us since we touched our feet on these shores. We’ve been free and we’ve prospered. Fine houses we have and fine clothes; and ’tis a long day since I knew the pinch of hunger. This is our debt. Tell me again, Shauneen, what you see out there?” 

I told her of the shining lights, of the funnels of the steamers, of the piled piers, of the little oyster-boats, of the great liners waiting the word for their sailing. 

“‘Twould be a fine sight,” she sighed. “Do you think me a madwoman to bring you here?” she went on, as if she had read my thought. “Perhaps I am that. Perhaps I’m not. For you’ll remember this night when you’ve forgotten many another time, just as I remember the day when my mother took me to the shrine at Knock. For this is the shrine of your country, Shauneen, this old Castle Garden, where your people set foot in the land that’s given them liberty. Here it was that I told my brothers and my sisters of the future before them. Here it is that I’m telling you that your country will be the greatest nation of all the world if only you lads stay true to her. That’s why I’ve brought you here to-night, Shauneen. I’m an old, old woman. I’ve not long for this earth. But I’ve this message for you; it’s yours; this duty that your father shirks when he plots with black traitors who’d drag us into wars that are not of our choosing. Raise your hand, Shauneen. Say after me: ‘As long as I live, God helping me, I shall keep my country first in my heart and, after God, first in my soul!” 

Through the misty moonlight there came to me the memory of my mother’s plea at the door of the church, my mother’s cry: “Promise me that you’ll set no cause but God’s before your wife!” Some battle of spirit struggled within me. For an instant I was silent. Then, suddenly, as if the moon had ridden above the cloud, I saw the right. “Since all (pg 233) true causes come from God, it is right to set my own country above anything else that may ever come. I said the words after my grandmother. She took my face between her hands and kissed me. “God keep you, Shauneen, for the woman who’ll love you, and the children you’ll teach, come.” Then through a sleeping city my grandmother and I went home. 

……

There’s a lot to absorb and process in this story, but I wanted to share it with you first.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you and get a bit of discussion going.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Blitzing the Great Honey Biscuit Baking Challenge.

Avoidance should be one of the seven deadly sins, and I’m sure many of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. Instead, for whatever reason, we believe the task is beyond our capabilities often without even having a go.

I realized earlier this year that there were so many things I’d wanted to bake, but I didn’t think I could do it. However, after seeing this same perfectionist fear of failure avoidance in my own children, I started to recognise it more in myself. So, as we started coming out of covid lockdown, I started making fancy cakes and desserts for our weekly Church life group where there were enough people to consume most of what I’d made, but leaving a bit left to bring home for the kids. This way, I could make something big and extravagant without us eating it for the next week.

However, while I’ve made plenty of pavlovas, Key Lime Pie, Banoffee Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, I still haven’t attempted tiramisu (even though the ingredients are in the fridge and the mascarpone’s about to go off) or Pecan Pie. However, with Christmas rapidly approaching and after finding my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit Recipe and getting some advice from fellow German-Australian descendants, I decided to test it out tonight with a half batch to see how it goes.

It’s a balancing act getting the quantity of flour right. Clearly, more needed to be added at this point. These hands reminds me of the Abominable Dough Monster when I made pizza dough with the kids.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, scrap that. I was doing the happy dance before the biscuits even came out of the oven. I knew that smell. It was like something primal from my childhood. Part of my DNA. We were family, in a strange sort of way. The smell must’ve been rather alluring because our 16 year old son suddenly appeared in the kitchen. “What are you baking?” He definitely had that look in his eyes. He ate one and left with three or four which rapidly vapourized. Forget the Masterchef judges. There’s nobody more critical of food than my kids. So my son’s seal of approval, was a very good endorsement.

These ones were made without the honey glaze. It does seem to add a bit of shine.

After making the Honey Biscuits, I can now speak more authoritatively about what they actually are. Indeed, they’re heading towards being more of a cake than a biscuit and are soft, light and airy. I followed my grandmother’s example of separating the eggs and beating up the egg whites and then adding the sugar. I used Capilano Honey which has a middle of the road honey flavour. My grandmother’s recipe didn’t mention adding a honey glaze. However, when I took the first batch out of the oven, they looked like something was missing. So, I mixed about a tablespoon of honey with a dash of boiling water and brushed it over the biscuits before they went in the oven. A good, generous splash of the honey glaze reproduced the honey biscuits just as my grandmother had made them…golden clouds of honey with an almost magical roast almond in the centre.

So, this is how the recipe turned out…

Honey BiscuitsRuth Haebich.

115g honey

225g sugar

2 eggs, separated

Squeeze lemon juice

2 teas bicarb soda

Plain Flour

1/2 teas ground cloves

1/2 teas ground cinnamon

Honey Glaze

Roughly 1 tablespoon of honey and a splash of boiling water.

Directions

  1. Beat egg whites using mix master until stiff.
  2. Gradually add sugar and beat well.
  3. Add honey. Mix well.
  4. Add egg yolks.
  5. Sift in about a cup of Plain flour with ground cloves, bicarb soda and cinnamon. Keep adding flour until it forms a dough and loses its stick. The dough is pale in colour.
  6. I rested it in the fridge for half an hour, although I’ve also heard others leave it overnight.
  7. Using a teaspoon, take heaped spoonfuls of mix and roll into a ball and place on a greased tray. Push half a blanched almond into the centre.
  8. Generously brush biscuits with honey glaze using a pastry brush.
  9. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for about 10-15 minutes. Remove when golden brown.

Guten Appetit!

By the way, I wanted to share one last tip I picked up from the German-Australian community page, and that was to put a slice of bread in the biscuit tin to stop them from going hard. I don’t know if that works. Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see what they’re like in the morning, but they were absolutely incredible straight out of the oven!

Please let me know if you have a go with these, and how you went.

Best wishes,

Rowena

I tried to find a photo of my grandmother and I and had no luck. Well, at least looking through what’s been scanned onto my hard drive. Thought I’d share this photo, which reminds me of big family gatherings, even though it was taken long before my time. My grandmother is at the centre with my mother in front. Adults standing left to right: Pauline Gordon, Ottalie Gordon (Bruhn), Pastor Bert Haebich, Ruth Haebich (Gordon), Norman Gordon and Ed Haebich.

H- Heidelberg…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 8 of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re flying from Geraldton in Western Australia, back across to Europe and touching down in Heidelberg, Germany where I live for around 6 months back in 1992 while backpacking through Europe.

Heidelberg Castle Door

Knocking on the door of Heidelberg Castle. 

I first arrived in Heidelberg about a week after I arrived in Europe. There was a rail and garbage strike in Germany at the time, and it was difficult to get around. So, when it came to leaving Cologne, my friend decided to head to Budapest while I came to Heidelberg.

At this point, I was incredibly homesick and I remember locking my backpack in the lockers at Heidelberg Railway Station and bursting into tears. I wanted to go home. As you may recall, I’d had my wallet stolen in Amsterdam at the Orange festival and I’d lost my passport in Cologne.  I was missing a very close friend back in Sydney, who was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. It was one of those friendships which hovered along the very brink between friendship and romance with a bubbling intensity all of its own. Being on a pretty tight budget, I was trying not to call him, but oh me of little self-control buckled when I spotted a phone booth outside the station. Standing there with a handful of German Marks, I poured the coins through the slot and those few precious minutes  were gone in a flash and my emotions were churning around like a washing machine. I wanted to go home, but I’d had a big farewell party before I left, and wasn’t due back for a year. So, I had to tough it out, or I’d have major egg on face.

 

DSC_9106

It was at this point that I came across a group of Christians doing street mission work near the train station. They didn’t know me from a bar of soap. However, when they heard that I’d lost my passport and was feeling lost, they invited me to stay for a few days initially until I could get to the Australian Embassy in Frankfurt for a replacement. I ended up staying with them for about a month then, attending their German Church while also going to an American Baptist Church. This is just what I needed and it suited me better to have more of a lived-in experience than to be moving around like a rolling stone for 6-12 months without any roots in the ground.

DSC_9103

y initial room in the attic where I slept in the blue sleeping bag alongside a young woman from Rottweil who spoke a German dialect and no English. Talk about jumping in the deep end, but so worthwhile and incredibly special. 

 

 

Of course, it would’ve been great to have seen more and especially travelled to places like Rome, Greece, Scotland and Ireland, which I’m still hanging out to see. However, it’s much harder to camp out on someone’s floor when you’re older and now I’m married with family commitments. So, it isn’t an experience I could have later in life. Moreover, I’m exceptionally grateful for the love and hospitality I was shown, and the love we continue to share. It was the experience of a lifetime and probably more in tune with being an exchange student than a backpacker.

DSC_9108

In the Altstadt.

Ultimately, I ended up living in Heidelberg for something like 5-6 months all up. While I was there, I took the family’s daughter to school in Kahlsruhe and while she was in school, I worked in a plant nursery or Gartnerei just helping out. My boss asked me once what I wanted to do when I got back to Australia. I mentioned journalism. Well, she didn’t think I was cut out for this more practical work. She said she’d found it much much easier to communicate with the Polish workers across a language barrier than with me. I’d had no experience of outdoor work like this, and these days I’m renowned for my brown fingers. Yes, I’m a plant killer.

DSC_9100

My desk later on down in the cellar. You will notice there are two clocks on the desks with different times. I was so incredibly homesick that I stuck an Australian $5.00 note to the wall and an American friend gave me the photo of the Sydney Opera House which takes such a prominent position on the wall. There’s also my diary with my poetry and reflections of seeing the Mona Lisa on top of my Bible. Such a time capsule. So precious. 

So, as you can see, my experience of Heidelberg was more of a lived experience, living in between the German locals and American Army families there. I used to go to aerobics at the US Military base down the road where they incorporated square dancing, and in true military style called out “Move it! Move it! Move it!” The US Military had shipped America to Heidelberg and some of the troops had their “Yank tanks” shipped out, which dwarfed the local German cars. There was even a Burger King on base. I was trying to improve on my German, but it was quite struggle living in another country and not knowing the language well. I was seriously regretting mucking around during my German lessons at school and not paying more attention. Yet, at the same time, I found a real sense of community and belonging there, which has touched me for life. After all, people matter. I have no doubt that God was holding me in the palm of his hand throughout these travels and keeping me safe, sometimes in spite of myself and I am very grateful that so many people  heard his voice and took such special care of me.

Heidelberg castle by night

Heidelberg Castle By Night. 

Architecturally speaking, Heidelberg is a beautiful city, even by European standards and is best known for it’s castle, the Philosopher’s Walk and Baroque Altstadt. I also had an experience of a different kind in Heidelberg. That was driving along the Autobarn at 240 kph in my friend’s BMW. That was ever so much faster than my bicycle. There are no photos of that experience, but there was a deal of heartbreak down the track, which leads me into German musical classic: I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg.

It was very hard returning to Australia after living in Heidelberg. I came home to Sydney for Christmas and was undecided about heading back. Indeed, I had no idea how it would pan out when I flew out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and touched down in Sydney. After being the only Australian in my communities in Heidelberg, I returned to Sydney feeling culturally dislocated and very torn. However, as I started reconnecting with people back home, the penny dropped. I was Australian and I belonged here. Besides, on top of that, the economic realities of life also hit me smack on the face. While it was okay to scoot off to Europe for a year, my father reminded me of the need to make a living, while pointing out the difficulties of meeting someone overseas and how that would work out. Ouch! It was time for me to get a proper job, and when I had all my family here, I didn’t need to recreate that on the other side of the world.

It’s taken me almost 30 years to write that. Leaving Heidelberg and my friends behind was like ripping velcro apart. However, there are times where that fork in the road isn’t an easy choice and either road is going to involve some pain. It is during these times, that we just have to keep putting one foot after the other and keep walking. Of course, it can be hard to see what God is doing during these times. However, that’s what I love about the  Footprints Poem. That when we feel like we’re alone and can only see one set of footprints, that’s when Jesus is carrying us and sharing our burdens.

Returning every day to all these places I’ve been during the A-Z Challenge, has actually been a lot more emotionally confronting than I’d expected. I’ve never been good with goodbyes, and that’s what travel is….constantly leaving people, places, memories and even parts of yourself behind, and then moving onto the next place like turning the page of a book and letting go of every page that’s gone before. I can’t do it, which is probably why I’ve been living in the same house now for almost 20 years. That, along with my acute health conditions, which hasn’t stopped me from being a traveller, but have certainly redefined the perimeters of travel.

I probably should’ve expected this. However, my inspiration behind this series was very different. I wanted to post a series of inspirational travel photos to lift our spirits at this unprecedented time where travel of any sort beyond work is not only banned, but most of the planes are also strangely grounded. Moreover, even if we could magically transport overseas across the globe, nowhere would take us in. Well, at least, not without throwing us into deepest darkest quarantine for 14 days. After all, travellers have become the unwitting conduits of this modern plague. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ultimately lose our love of travel or our insatiable zest to explore new places, their people and cultures. No one knows what the world is going to look like when we get to the other side of this pandemic, but the cogs will continue moving forward going somewhere and hopefully we’ll till be going along for the ride.

Have you ever been to Heidelberg? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS- Perhaps, you’d like to read a flash fiction piece I wrote about that phone call to my friend in Australia: Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle – Friday Fictioneers

 

Mum’s Watching Peppa Pig…!!!

Today, I was caught in the act.  Lost in my own little world watching Peppa Pig, I’d forgotten that my husband was working from home and my son was home sick and they might find this a little strange.  That while I am renowned for being a little quirky both on and off the world wide web, watching Peppa Pig was setting new bounds of personal madness even for me. After all, I’m in my 40s and there weren’t any kids around. Surely, I coudl find something more intellectually stimulating, humorous or at the very least grown up to watch? What was wrong with me? Had my brain blown a fuse…or even worse?

However, as Geoff moved closer, that triumphant look of smug ridicule disappeared once he realized that Peppa Pig was making no sense. Indeed, Peppa Pig and friends were speaking German.

Peppa-Pig-Wutz_4-Germany-German-Deutschland

Peppa Pig in German

This is the first time I’ve watched Peppa Pig in German. You see, my blogging friend, Solveig Werner is teaching German and she recommended it in her Links for German Students. I’d never thought of brushing up my languages using you tube before. Obviously, you tube didn’t exist when I was at school and we were dependent on the very out-of-date German videos. On exceptionally rare occasions, I might run into a German tourist and might be able to have a go. Fortunately, my grandfather was fluent and had even taught German and took great pleasure writing to me in German. He was such a lovely man.

Well, you could ask me why I’m brushing up on  my German now. It’s not like I’m about to head over, and there are very few opportunities to speak German here. Well, let’s just say I was curious and wondering how much of it I could understand.

Rowena Backpacking

 

You see, after leaving university, I was backpacking through Europe for almost a year and much of that time, I was in Germany. Indeed, I lived in Heidelberg for around six months with a German family. So, my comprehension of German isn’t too bad, especially when we’re talking about “Bahnhof Deutsch” (Railway Station or tourist German) or cartoon German.

Anyway, returning to the home front. Having given my husband a bit of entertainment, he let our son in on the action and you could just imagine how he reacted when he found out his own mother was watching Peppa Pig!!!!  There are embarrassing mums, but this was right off the Richter Scale.

Geoff returned and goads him on: “You have to get her outside for a walk before she goes completely insane.”

At this point, a discussion also started up about how they were going to lure me out of the house. I’m not sure whether it was my husband or son who first came up with the idea. However, our son threatened to remove the kettle to get some movement. Funny that. I wouldn’t have thought I was that dependent, until I saw the huge mountain of used tea bags ready to head out to the worm farm.

To be honest, they probably have a point. It’s actually 2.30pm and I’m still in my PJs on a school day. While even the most devoted fashionista would agree that everyone needs a pyjama day now and then, it could well be the case that my PJ days are flowing together and are amounting to a reality break.

I’m not sure. While today, I’m definitely guilty as charged, I was out and about yesterday and I’ve since got dressed and taken all three dogs for a very energetic run along the beach. I managed to clock up 1.5km. So,I haven’t been bone idle. I’ve also been researching conscription and the Vietnam War. Surely, kilometres of thought must count for something to somebody out there? If so, could you please leave your details in the comments. You’ll be my new best friend.

Meanwhile, Peppa Pig is calling…

xx Ro

 

 

 

R-Rilke Replies: Letters To A Young Poet #atozchallenge.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your stimulating letter and for seeking my advice. As I understand you’ve been quite particular with your selection, I am honoured to be chosen and delighted that my words have moved and inspired you. Of course, when you die, you quite expect that one day you’ll be forgot. So, indeed, I am chuffed!

Of course, being underground, I miss nature’s beauty, especially that burst of vibrant colour each Spring. How I loved reading Mogens by Jens Peter Jacobsen and his rich descriptions of the trees, their leaves and all their infinitesimal detail. Alas, now I must rely on memory and pictures painted in my head.

I am not lonely here. The worms bring me leaves and their stories and dead poets know how to talk what with Dorothy Parker and her friends at the Algonquin Round Table  and Keats and his Royal Society of Dead Poets. So, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”.

Yet, your letter brought much joy and I thank you for your great and welcome trust.

As far as to whether my advice to young poets is still useful, I’ll leave that up to you. It’s been some time since I’ve stuck my head above ground. However, despite the grave perils of becoming a poet, I’ll reiterate my advice to young Kappus:

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…[1]

Violin & concert violinist music

By the way, as a violinist, I knew you would appreciate this poem:

At The Brink Of Night

My room and this distance,
awake upon the darkening land,
are one. I am a string
stretched across deep
surging resonance.

Things are violin bodies
full of murmuring darkness,
where women’s weeping dreams,
where the rancor of whole generations
stirs in its sleep . . .
I should release
my silver vibrations: then
everything below me will live,
and whatever strays into things
will seek the light
that falls without end from my dancing tone
into the old abysses
around which heaven swells
through narrow
imploring
rifts.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Lastly, I encourage you to keep asking questions:

“Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Anyway, you must leave. Your train is now due to depart.

Yours,

Rainer Maria Rainer.

 

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters To A Young Poet, Dover Publication, 2002 p. 12.

Hahndorf, South Australia: the Blacksmith and the Artists.

Welcome to Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills.  As you prepare for landing, could you please switch you clocks back well into last century to an era where there were few, if any, cars and the horse and cart were still being serviced at HA Haebich’s Smithy on Main Road, Hahndorf. That was before WWI when Hahndorf’s name was changed to Ambleside, as a reflection of fierce anti-German sentiment and changed back again in 1935.

Map showing the location of Hahndorf.

I send my apologies in advance as this is only going to be a rudimentary tour. This will only be a fleeting day trip for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I promise I’ll pop back later for a more in depth visit.

My much loved Grandfather, Bert Haebich, was not only born in Hahndorf but was also descended from the Hartmann and Paech families, who were among the very first German settlers to arrive in Australia back in 1838. These Lutherans were escaping persecution in Prussia and came to South Australia in search of religious freedom. They were an extremely stoic and hardworking community who used to walk their produce into Adelaide on foot and certainly weren’t afraid of backbreaking hard work!!

Hahndorf is a thriving tourist attraction these days and something of a living museum. In so many ways, it looks like a chunk of 19th century Germany, which was dug up and transplanted to the South Australia. Many of the original houses have been retained and restored including Haebich’s Cottage, the family’s home on Main Street, which was built in the late 1850’s by J.Georg. Haebich. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) German cottage and is absolutely gorgeous.

As this is just a fleeting tour, I’m going to cut to the chase and introduce you to the Blacksmith and the artists.

Heinrich August Haebich, my Great Great Grandfather had a Smithy on Main Street, Hahndorf and lived in Haebich’s Cottage next door. August was was born in Hahndorf on the 17th March, 1851 to Johann George HAEBICH (1813-1872) and Christiane SCHILLER (-1857). August married Maria Amalie Thiele in 1874 but she died less than a year later and on 12th April, 1877, he married Caroline Maria Paech. They had 9 children and I think all four boys worked in the Smithy at some time. With the advent of the car, the business slowly wound down and my Great Grandfather Ed left to work as an engineer with the railways and later as a market gardener. His brother Bill was the last Haebich blacksmith…the end of the line.

My grandfather loved telling me stories of growing up in Hahndorf and I was enchanted. There was an incredible cast of characters and antics like tying a goat to the Church bells so they rang every time to goat reached out to eat more grass. There was also an explosion of some sort during WWII, which sparked fears of a Japanese invasion but was yet another prank. There was a cockatoo which allegedly used to walk across the road leaning to one side with its wing bent staggering along saying: “Drunk again! Drunk again!” Hahndorf is a short distance from the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most famous wine-growing regions and there is even a Lutheran Church planted, or should I surrounded by vineyards. I think that should put you in the picture!

While most of the characters in my grandfather’s stories remained anonymous, one name certainly stood out. That was the world-renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen, who lived in Hahndorf with his wife Sallie and family in a spectacular home called: “The Cedars”.

Hans Heysen, "White Gums".

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”

SIR HANS HEYSEN

 

Heysen had what you could describe as a spiritual relationship with the Australian Gum Tree and he was also captivated by light and trying to capture and infuse light onto the canvas. Understandably, Heysen was quite the conservationist, particularly where saving these glorious gum trees, which were threatened by the installation of electric wires but also by development. He deeply lamented each tree which was lost. Indeed, it was his through his protection of the local gum trees that Hans Heysen entered my Grandfather’s stories. It was known that if anybody wanted to chop down one of these trees, they would have to speak to Hans Heysen first and he was a formidable force. I also found out that my grandfather’s sister, Ivy, worked as a housekeeper for the Heysen’s. That still intrigues me and unfortunately I need had the chance to discuss this with her.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

Here is a link to some of Hans Heysen’s works: http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home/Learning/docs/Online_Resources/Heysen_Trail.pdf

With his love and reverence for the Australian Gum Tree, I guess it is fair to say that Heysen’s outlook fitted in better with the more pastoral and bush portrayal of Australia and Heysen certainly despised Modernism and all its trappings. This was reflected in paintings such as The Toilers (1920) where Hans Heysen painted a local farmer “Old Kramm” and his horses.

Perhaps, it was Heysen’s love for this passing pre-mechanised world,which inspired Hans Heysen to undertake an etching of Haebich’s Smithy in 1912. My grandfather had a print of this painting and it was something we knew about and I guess were proud of without knowing any background to it at all.

Hans Heysen, "The Old Blacksmith's Shop, Hahndorf." (1912)

Hans Heysen, “The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Hahndorf.” (1912)

It was only last year, that I really questioned Heysen’s perspective of the Blacksmith’s shop and how his still life contrasted to my grandfather’s animated stories of a busy, flourishing workshop. I remember how my grandfather;s face would light up, even as an old man, talking about how the water would whoosh up when the red hot steel rim for the wheel would be dunked in water producing an incredible gush of steam. He was a small boy once again mesmerised by the whole experience and and there was such theatre.

In addition to questioning Heysen’s still life of a place which was anything but still, I also realised that Heysen’s work portrayed the more traditional tools of blacksmithing at a time when the Smithy was already being mechanised. August Haebich and his eldest son Otto, were innovative engineers who invented the Wattle Stripper and engines. They were hardly relics from the past or living and breathing museum pieces.

So, there was a bit of food for thought, which I’ll need to investigate further.

In the meantime, while  doing yet another Google search and romping through the online newspapers at Trove, I made quite a discovery. It might not warrant global acclaim but it felt like I’d found a gold nugget in my own backyard. Believe me!  I was shouting “Eureka”from the rafters even though no one else was listening!

It turned out that Hans Heysen wasn’t the only famous artist who had depicted the Haebich Smithy. Hans and Sallie Heysen entertained numerous artists and performers at The Cedars. Indeed, famous singer Dame Nellie Melba was a regular visitor and naturally fellow artists also came to stay. Naturally, they roamed around Hahndorf and did what artists do…sketch. After all, the very quaint German buildings are what we would now call very “photogenic”.

Lionel Lindsay: "The Smithy Window, Ambleside" (1924).

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

So, consequently, I have unearthed other sketches of the Haebich Smithy. There was one by Sir Lionel Lindsay, brother of artist and author Norman Lindsay of Magic Pudding fame as well as artist and art publisher Sydney Ure Smith. Sydney Ure Smith was so smitten with Hahndorf, that he included scenes in his book: Old Colonial By-Ways (1928)…alongside much more recognised Sydney landmarks such as the buildings in Macquarie Street and Elizabeth Farm House in Parramatta, which is the oldest house in Australasia. Elizabeth Farm House was built In 1793 Sir John MacArthur and was where he con ducted his experiments with merino sheep, giving birth to the Australian wool industry.

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith's Shop, Ambleside (1925).

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside (1925).

So, immortalised alongside, Elizabeth Farm House, is Haebich’s Smithy.

When you look at it like that, it really does seem rather incredible and amazing and yes, I’m impressed, proud and so many superlatives that I couldn’t possibly get them all down without sounding like a thesaurus!

xx Rowena

Cooked with Love

Last Saturday night, we were going to have a German Food Night to celebrate what would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday. However, true to form, we wandered off course and ultimately ended up where we were meant to be. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

You might recall that we had Irish Night a few months ago to commemorate when one of my Irish ancestors arrived in Sydney 160 years ago https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/. Well, we were going to use my grandfather’s birthday as a catalyst for sharing my German heritage with the kids. My mother’s family has German ancestry and in 1992 after I finished university, I actually lived in Heidelberg, Germany for about 8 months with a German family.

Moreover, in addition to wanting to share my cultural heritage with the kids, these cooking projects are also part of my ongoing efforts to teach the kids how to cook. This process has taken quite a holistic approach as we’ve moved beyond simply trying to replicate a meal or bake cakes and biscuits, to learning more about the ingredients themselves, nutrition, caring for the environment and also the meal’s cultural heritage. It’s amazing just how much both you and your kids can learn simply by cooking a basic meal.

Of course, any kind of cooking and eating, involves bonding and that never goes astray especially in our frenetic modern world. In too many households, the family meal is on the endangered species list.

Just to explain our German heritage.

My grandparents in the 1940s

My grandparents in the 1940s

My grandfather was a Haebich born in the German-Australian town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. While his Paech and Hartmann ancestors had arrived onboard the first ships of German immigrants back in 1838, Johann George Haebich and family had arrived a little later in 1846 onboard The Patel. George Haebich set up his blacksmithing business in Hahndorf’s main street and in the late 1850’s and built the family home which is known as “Haebich’s Cottage”. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) cottage. This was where my great grandfather was born and it provided quite a family hub, along with the blacksmith shop next door. We are very proud to be able to point to Haebich’s Cottage and say that’s where we’re from…or, at least, that’s where a part of us came from. The house is no longer in the family.

The Kids and I outside Haebich's Cottage 2013

The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage 2013

Up until World War I, the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa regions had pretty much been a German enclave within Australia and a mixture of German and English were spoken. Anti-German sentiment during and post WWI, suppressed much of this German heritage and Hahndorf had its name anglicised to Ambleside and it was only changed back around 1938 to honour the centenary of German settlement in South Australia.  We believe that my grandfather’s parents spoke German at home when he was quite small but as WWI progressed, they started speaking English instead. This became apparent as Papa aged and sunk deeper and deeper into the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease and he spoke more and more German before talking less and sleeping more.

Getting back to our celebratory dinner…

As much as I love German food and we had liverwurst on rolls for lunch and made Honey Biscuits, as the day drew closer, I realised that these German main courses didn’t resonate with me and were quite foreign. They weren’t what my grandfather ate. His favourite meal was undoubtedly Honey Prawns from the local Chinese takeaway. They appealed to both his love of seafood and his incredible sweet tooth. While it would have been easy just to order takeaway, that defeated what I was trying to achieve, share, convey.  No! We had to have something home cooked.

After all, isn’t there something magical even mystical about home cooking? As any home cook will agree, it has to do with that special, magic ingredient… love. Love pours straight from our hearts and into the saucepan, mixing bowl or the old battered roasting dish, binding family together with glue. That is, unless you want to be purely scientific and say it has something to do with our genes.

There is also something extra special about celebrating those precious, special occasions in your own home where the photos almost talk to you through the glass and their aged frames and several lifetimes of tea cups, table cloths, precious read and re-read books all morph together into some kind of memory soup. Memory soup is a regular on our menu both because I have always loved those extra-special, old family stories and have wanted to share them with our kids. I have also wanted our children to know where they come from…the much bigger picture. Our family tree is a huge, sprawling giant with massive branches spreading from Sydney to Perth, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and back to Ireland, Germany, Scotland, England, Poland and maybe even a touch of France. Surely a tree this big, must have enormous roots which tunnel so deep into the earth that it could never fall down. It is anchored deep into bedrock, giving our family such stability…at least in theory!

When you are making memory soup, the dish itself also has to have meaning…deep and personal meaning. Of course, I’m not talking about the roasting dish here but the food…the recipe… itself.

This was where I was having trouble. I was struggling to remember what my grandparents ate. Then all of a sudden, like being hit by an ancient Greek thunderbolt or the proverbial flying brick, inspiration struck my otherwise dim and empty head. We had to have Roast Duck. We could only have Roast Duck for Papa’s dinner. While living in Marburg in rural Queensland, my grandfather used to raise and sell ducks to supplement their income and in later life, a beautiful farming family used to drop a duck off for my grandparents each Christmas.

Duck it was.

However, that’s when things began to get complicated. Of course, this thunderbolt hit less than 24 hours before the big event and although I’ve never cooked duck before, I had a hunch that duck wasn’t easy to find. First thing in the morning (which for us is something like 10.00am) Geoff received his instructions. He had to ring every single butcher in town and beyond until he’d found that elusive duck. Of course, this is the modern, urban equivalent of being “Man the hunter”. That is when the woman sends the bloke off “hunting” for weird or hard to obtain ingredients at the very last minute and, of course, he is expected to prove his manhood by coming up with the goods even if he has to drive inter-state and across the desert and back to succeed.

Alas for Geoff’s manhood, things weren’t looking good. Although there are families of ducks inhabiting practically every street corner and puddle where we live, “eating ducks” are actually rather scarce and considered a luxury. Apparently, you not only have to order them in, you also have to give a week’s notice. No such thing as an instant duck…or so I thought!

However, Geoff persevered. He found a butcher with frozen duck breasts and some sort of mysterious cooked duck. I didn’t quite know what a butcher was doing with cooked duck but duck was duck. We were on our way…Quack! Quack!

Cheat's Duck

Cheat’s Duck

Well, this so-called cooked duck was interesting stuff. The duck came in a plastic packet and you just emptied the contents into a roasting dish and cooked it for 15 minutes and then finished it off with 8 minutes under the griller to crisp the skin. It was too easy especially for your truly who has never roasted a duck before. I felt a bit guilty cheating like this and wondered whether I was being a little wicked. I mean it was my grandfather’s 100th birthday party an event you associate with traditionand going to great effort, not whizzing up some new fangled instant roast which comes in a plastic packet.  It seemed to be the roast you have when you don’t have a roast. Or was it?

Our roast duck served with the types of vegetables Papa used to grow in his garden.

Our roast duck served with the types of vegetables Papa used to grow in his garden.

Actually, our funny fangled duck actually appeared almost perfectly traditional. All the same, you’ll have to agree it was smarter than your average duck.

Stay tuned for more about our birthday celebrations and last year’s trip to Hahndorf retracing Papa Bert’s footsteps.

xx Rowena