Woodcraft 16: Surprise

19 09 2014

I didn’t explore the neighborhood for very long.  My mother would be returning sooner than later, so I walked around a couple of blocks, took a look at a nearby playground, and then went back to the house.

Mom was just pulling into the driveway as I came along the sidewalk.  Grandmother was at the front door of the house, wanting to know right away how things had gone.  Joanna broke out of the car and bounded over to Grandmother, anxious to give a report.  She commenced immediately in a long description of the park and the boat ride.  Mom got out at her usual speed: casual.  She walked to the front passenger side and stood waiting for Grandfather.  She did nothing to help, but she stood there just in case and so as not to be rude and leave him behind.  Grandfather struggled a bit, but managed to get out and on his crutches.  He closed the car door himself.

As he approached, Grandmother said, “Come on in, everyone.  Kurt and I have a surprise waiting.”  She meant the cupcakes, of course. They would make a nice afternoon snack.

“And I have an additional surprise for you, Grandfather,” I said.

“You do, Konrad?”

“You do?” Grandmother also asked.

“Yes.  I’ll show you after you see what Grandmother has.”

We went into the kitchen and sat at the table.  Grandmother brought the treat.  Joanna beamed with delight.  Grandmother brought milk from the refrigerator and coffee from the pot she always had ready.  She also heated some water for her own use; she liked drinking tea in the afternoon and evening.

“So tell me, Grandfather,” she said.  “What did the people at the hospital have to say?”  She called him August in the presence of peers.  Among her children, she said Father.  With grandchildren at hand, she said Grandfather.  That was family custom.

“You may be at ease, Grandmother.”

“I will be at ease when you give me some facts.”

We could all tell that Grandfather really didn’t want to talk about it.  My mother gave him one of those nudging looks, the kind that says, “Go ahead.  It’s the right thing to do.”  Joanna and I had seen it many times.

Grandfather realized that my mother would speak for him if he didn’t.  He said simply, “I have lost another pound.”  Then he reached for a cupcake.

“August!” Grandmother called, forgetting herself.

Mom shoved the platter out of his reach.

Grandmother handed him a plate with a slice of whole-grain homemade bread on it. 

Grandfather looked at it and shook his head.  “Joanna.  Open the refrigerator and get me some of Grandmother’s strawberry preserves.”  He figured my sister would be only too glad to please after all the fun she had had earlier that afternoon with him.

“August!” Grandmother called again.

“Sit still and eat your cupcake, Joanna,” Mom said.

Grandmother handed Grandfather a little tray containing what looked like butter.

Grandfather shook his head again. Looking at my mother, “Rebecca, you of all people should know that oleo isn’t fit to eat. Tell Halfrida.”  He referred to oleo-margarine, a substance that had little if any milk in it.  Since my mother had been reared on a dairy farm, and since her parents were still in the dairy business, Grandfather figured he could gain her support.  At the time, dairy farmers in Wisconsin opposed the marketing of oleo to the point of hostility.  It was bad for business.

“I know it’s not as good as butter,” Mom said, “but it’s better for you.”

Ach!  I’d rather have old-fashioned lard, then.”  In older times, country people usually collected lard in little crocks every time they cooked pork.  Especially if they were poor, country people used lard as a spread for bread. Even if they could afford to keep a cow, they would usually sell the butter made from milk and cream because they needed the money it could fetch.  Instead, they would eat the fat from the hogs they slaughtered and rendered.  Small farmers found little market for lard, even though my mother and both my grandmothers said it made the best pie crust.  National pork processing companies sold as much lard as the market would bear, which kept shrinking year after year.

“We don’t have any,” said Grandmother.  “I stopped stocking the stuff when we moved from Waupaca.”

“I know.”  Grandfather ate the bread plain. With an empty plate, he looked at me as if to ask me to get him another slice.

“And no, Grandfather, you may not have another,” Grandmother said.  “You have more pounds to lose.”

“More pounds to lose,” he repeated.  “And if I am too weak to move as a result, what then?”

“You won’t be weak,” Mom said.  “You’ll be better, stronger.”

Ja, ja…

My mother said to my grandmother, “The doctor said that August’s legs are better.  Both of them.”

“What both?” Grandfather asked.

“Oh, don’t carry on like that in front of the children,” Grandmother said.

“Your diet is helping,” Mom said.  “Your legs are looking good now.  You can begin walking well now.”

“So they say,” Grandfather said.  He looked at me.  “What is this surprise you have for me, Konrad?”

I beamed.  “Come, Grandfather!  I’ll show you!”

“Come where, Grandson?  Where are we going?”

“Out back!”

“We are going out into the back yard,” Mom corrected.

“Yes,” I said.

Grandfather got up from the table, took up his crutches, and followed me.  The women-folk all followed him.

I held the door open, and he swung out.  He paused, looking at me.  I pointed and said, “Look!”

He did.  He stood still for a moment.  Then he swung himself along the length of the yard straight to the ash tree.  I followed.  Once there, he stopped and stood still.

The purple ash tree, its trunk all but perfect in shape, shone in the sun. The whiteness given it by the light only enhanced my handiwork.

Grandfather for a time stood speechless.  Eventually, however, he asked, “You did this, Konrad?”

“Did what?” Joanna asked.

“Hush, Granddaughter.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Today.”

I nodded.

Grandfather nodded.

“Dad says…  I mean, Father says that a tree must grow straight and be clean and clear if it is to produce the best wood.  I made this one better.  It’ll now produce the best wood for you, Grandfather.”

“But Kurt,” my mother began.

Grandfather glared at her with a potency that demanded, “Silence, woman!”

Mom kept silent.

“You have done quite the job here, Master Konrad,” my grandfather said.  “We shall have to keep a close watch on this tree.  A close watch.  Indeed, I believe I will go back to the patio and sit and watch for a while, even now.”  He turned and moved back toward the house.

I followed.

The women-folk followed me.

We stopped at the patio.  Grandfather took a seat.  He looked at everyone looking at him.  “What is for dinner, Grandmother?” he asked.

“Chicken.”

Grandfather looked at me.  “As you know, dinner is at 6 o’clock.  Take your sister out to the playground nearby and have some fun.”

“Sure.”  I added, “Mother lets us watch cartoons on TV in the late afternoon.  Sometimes.  Would you like to watch some with us?”

“I don’t know that we have the same programs here in Neenah that you have there in Port Edwards,” Grandmother said.  “Our signals come from Green Bay.  Yours come from Madison and Wausau.”

My favorite character was the gray and white rabbit. Joanna’s: the black and white mouse.

 “I like the woodpecker,” said Grandfather.  “If he’s on, let me know.  I could use a few laughs.”

woodcraft 3

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Woodcraft 11: Dinner

22 08 2014

My mother was a good cook, better than her mother and almost as good as her husband’s.  Never vain about her ability or lack thereof, like her husband, she always aspired to be better.  Always willing to learn, my mother persistently attended to Grandmother Halfrida’s culinary practices. 

She didn’t mind being called Grandma, by the way.  In the presence of her husband August, however, it was to be Grandmother.  Grandfather August was a man of honor, meaning he was both capable and reliable.  To be both required discipline.  Possessing all four traits, he commanded respect.  He also demanded respect.  He was, therefore, not shy about disciplining the rest of us in the family whenever he thought it necessary and proper.

Grandmother Halfrida went along with her husband.  As a person of discipline herself, she wasn’t shy about passing that on.  However, while Grandfather August conducted himself like a military officer, she performed like a pastor.  Both of them could exhort and encourage, but August seemed to rely more on the former while Halfrida relied more on the latter.

My father exhorted my mother to learn how to cook some of the dishes he had learned to like growing up.  His parents had been staunch about maintaining authentic ethnic cooking, and Halfrida expressed willingness to share her expertise.

Here are some words to chew on representing what my mother — as alternatives to normal American fare — fed my father, my sister, and me.

Hasenpfeffer.  Marinated, seasoned, and braised rabbit.

Koenigsberger Klopse.  German meat balls made with a combination of beef, veal, and pork.

Gugelhupf.  A cake-like bread made from batter rather than dough.

Lebkuchen.  German honey cakes.

Marzipan.   Almond paste candy.

Muerbeteig.  A rich egg pastry.

Nockerln.  Another version of dumplings.

Pfeffernuessse.  Hard cookies made with pepper.

Schnecken.  Snail-shaped buns.

Springerle.  Cookies flavored with anise.

Jaegertorte.  German hunter’s cake flavored with lots of almond and a little lemon and frosted with chocolate.

My mother prepared cabbage Bavarian style, which meant it was flavored with onions, bacon, and vinegar.  Despite the last ingredient, I could swallow it more easily than German potato salad because it also had brown sugar. 

More easy to swallow was Sauerbraten, a pot roast of beef that has been soaked for days in spiced vinegar, then cooked.  What helped was the gravy made with gingersnaps.

Less easy to swallow was Sauerkraut.  That’s German for fermented cabbage.  And that’s all it is: cabbage allowed to ferment in a salt-water brine. 

Bread of some kind was served with every meal.

We ate a lot of sausage: bratwurst, mettwurst, liverwurst, knockwurst, and others. That included kinds both Polish and American.

Spaetzel was a favorite of my father.  I liked them, too.  The name refers to tiny egg dumplings.  As an alternative, we ate mashed potato dumplings called Kartoffel Kloesse.

I remember an occasion one autumn when Grandmother had encouraged my mother to demonstrate some of her newly acquired culinary skills to the entire family.  Entire meant not only Mother and Father, my sister, and myself, but also Grandfather August and Grandmother Halfrida, Uncle Manfred and his wife Margaret with their three children, and Aunt Karla and her husband Joseph with their three children.  That was quite a group for whom to prepare a schnitzel dinner with all the appetizers, sides, drinks, and dessert. 

It was also quite a group for whom to make table.  My father had anticipated such an event early in his marriage, though.  The rooms of the lower level of the house flowed into one another, so more than one could be used for dining. He also made sure to make a table that could be expanded as the family expanded. 

At that dinner, Uncle Manfred decided to go by what may be termed corporate initials.  He was an executive climbing the corporate ladder at a big paper products company in Green Bay.  With memories of World War 2 still strong when he started working there, he didn’t want his name to cause him or anyone else trouble. So, at first he chose to go by Fred. 

That was fine until he earned a significant promotion.  A situation comedy starring cartoon cave people had just become a hit television program, and Uncle Manfred became uncomfortable with his nickname.  As an executive, he said he could no longer tolerate a name that had become so well associated with a buffoon.  Needing something more respectable, he pondered, “I wonder if I can get away with Manfred.”

Indignant, Grandfather August asked, “And why not?  That is your name, after all.  It is the good name your mother and I gave you.”  Manfred means man of peace; it refers to one who is heroic in being the champion of peace.

Uncle Manfred had no peace with himself, however.  He said, “But what do people think when they hear the name?  Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron, a World War 1 German fighter pilot who shot down eighty Allied flyers.”

“You don’t want to be thought of as an ace in business?” Aunt Margaret asked.

“I don’t want to be thought of as an enemy.”

“I think of Mighty Manfred,” I said.

The other kids at the table started to snicker.

“Who?” Uncle Manfred asked.

“Manfred the Wonder Dog,” I repeated.  He was the sidekick of another cartoon character who appeared on a popular network children’s TV show weekday mornings. The dog caused wonder mainly in his ability to sleep through anything.

“Oh, that helps,” said Uncle Manfred.  “Actually, I was thinking of going by Charles.”  That was his middle name.  “You know.  As in Charles Martel.  Charles Dickens.  Charles Lindbergh.  Charles Goodyear.  Charles Pfizer.”

“Charles Ives,” my aunt Karla added.

My sister Kristel added the star of a popular comic-strip having the same first name as his creator (who happened to be a good Methodist).

The kids at the table laughed again.

Then my father couldn’t resist adding, “Since you’re in charge of obtaining pulpwood for the mill, you can go by Wood Chuck.”

That did it.  Uncle Manfred announced he would go by M.C. thereafter.  And it stuck.

woodcraft 1

 





16: Surprise

12 01 2013

I didn’t explore the neighborhood for very long.  My mother would be returning sooner than later, so I walked around a couple of blocks, took a look at a nearby playground, and then went back to the house.

Mom was just pulling into the driveway as I came along the sidewalk.  Grandmother was at the front door of the house, wanting to know right away how things had gone.  Joanna broke out of the car and bounded over to Grandmother, anxious to give a report.  She commenced immediately in a long description of the park and the boat ride.  Mom got out at her usual speed: casual.  She walked to the front passenger side and stood waiting for Grandfather.  She did nothing to help, but she stood there just in case and so as not to be rude and leave him behind.  Grandfather struggled a bit, but managed to get out and on his crutches.  He closed the car door himself.

As he approached, Grandmother said, “Come on in, everyone.  Kurt and I have a surprise waiting.”  She meant the cupcakes, of course. They would make a nice afternoon snack.

“And I have an additional surprise for you, Grandfather,” I said.

“You do, Konrad?”

“You do?” Grandmother also asked.

“Yes.  I’ll show you after you see what Grandmother has.”

We went into the kitchen and sat at the table.  Grandmother brought the treat.  Joanna beamed with delight.  Grandmother brought milk from the refrigerator and coffee from the pot she always had ready.  She also heated some water for her own use; she liked drinking tea in the afternoon and evening.

“So tell me, Grandfather,” she said.  “What did the people at the hospital have to say?”  She called him August in the presence of peers.  Among her children, she said Father.  With grandchildren at hand, she said Grandfather.  That was family custom.

“You may be at ease, Grandmother.”

“I will be at ease when you give me some facts.”

We could all tell that Grandfather really didn’t want to talk about it.  My mother gave him one of those nudging looks, the kind that says, “Go ahead.  It’s the right thing to do.”  Joanna and I had seen it many times.

Grandfather realized that my mother would speak for him if he didn’t.  He said simply, “I have lost another pound.”  Then he reached for a cupcake.

“August!” Grandmother called, forgetting herself.

Mom shoved the platter out of his reach.

Grandmother handed him a plate with a slice of whole-grain homemade bread on it. 

Grandfather looked at it and shook his head.  “Joanna.  Open the refrigerator and get me some of Grandmother’s strawberry preserves.”  He figured my sister would be only too glad to please after all the fun she had had earlier that afternoon with him.

“August!” Grandmother called again.

“Sit still and eat your cupcake, Joanna,” Mom said.

Grandmother handed Grandfather a little tray containing what looked like butter.

Grandfather shook his head again. Looking at my mother, “Rebecca, you of all people should know that oleo isn’t fit to eat. Tell Halfrida.”  He referred to oleo-margarine, a substance that had little if any milk in it.  Since my mother had been reared on a dairy farm, and since her parents were still in the dairy business, Grandfather figured he could gain her support.  At the time, dairy farmers in Wisconsin opposed the marketing of oleo to the point of hostility.  It was bad for business.

“I know it’s not as good as butter,” Mom said, “but it’s better for you.”

Ach!  I’d rather have old-fashioned lard, then.”  In older times, country people usually collected lard in little crocks every time they cooked pork.  Especially if they were poor, country people used lard as a spread for bread. Even if they could afford to keep a cow, they would usually sell the butter made from milk and cream because they needed the money it could fetch.  Instead, they would eat the fat from the hogs they slaughtered and rendered.  Small farmers found little market for lard, even though my mother and both my grandmothers said it made the best pie crust.  National pork processing companies sold as much lard as the market would bear, which kept shrinking year after year.

“We don’t have any,” said Grandmother.  “I stopped stocking the stuff when we moved from Waupaca.”

“I know.”  Grandfather ate the bread plain. With an empty plate, he looked at me as if to ask me to get him another slice.

“And no, Grandfather, you may not have another,” Grandmother said.  “You have more pounds to lose.”

“More pounds to lose,” he repeated.  “And if I am too weak to move as a result, what then?”

“You won’t be weak,” Mom said.  “You’ll be better, stronger.”

Ja, ja…

My mother said to my grandmother, “The doctor said that August’s legs are better.  Both of them.”

“What both?” Grandfather asked.

“Oh, don’t carry on like that in front of the children,” Grandmother said.

“Your diet is helping,” Mom said.  “Your legs are looking good now.  You can begin walking well now.”

“So they say,” Grandfather said.  He looked at me.  “What is this surprise you have for me, Konrad?”

I beamed.  “Come, Grandfather!  I’ll show you!”

“Come where, Grandson?  Where are we going?”

“Out back!”

“We are going out into the back yard,” Mom corrected.

“Yes,” I said.

Grandfather got up from the table, took up his crutches, and followed me.  The women-folk all followed him.

I held the door open, and he swung out.  He paused, looking at me.  I pointed and said, “Look!”

He did.  He stood still for a moment.  Then he swung himself along the length of the yard straight to the ash tree.  I followed.  Once there, he stopped and stood still.

The purple ash tree, its trunk all but perfect in shape, shone in the sun. The whiteness given it by the light only enhanced my handiwork.

Grandfather for a time stood speechless.  Eventually, however, he asked, “You did this, Konrad?”

“Did what?” Joanna asked.

“Hush, Granddaughter.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Today.”

I nodded.

Grandfather nodded.

“Dad says…  I mean, Father says that a tree must grow straight and be clean and clear if it is to produce the best wood.  I made this one better.  It’ll now produce the best wood for you, Grandfather.”

“But Kurt,” my mother began.

Grandfather glared at her with a potency that demanded, “Silence, woman!”

Mom kept silent.

“You have done quite the job here, Master Konrad,” my grandfather said.  “We shall have to keep a close watch on this tree.  A close watch.  Indeed, I believe I will go back to the patio and sit and watch for a while, even now.”  He turned and moved back toward the house.

I followed.

The women-folk followed me.

We stopped at the patio.  Grandfather took a seat.  He looked at everyone looking at him.  “What is for dinner, Grandmother?” he asked.

“Chicken.”

Grandfather looked at me.  “As you know, dinner is at 6 o’clock.  Take your sister out to the playground nearby and have some fun.”

“Sure.”  I added, “Mother lets us watch cartoons on TV in the late afternoon.  Sometimes.  Would you like to watch some with us?”

“I don’t know that we have the same programs here in Neenah that you have there in Port Edwards,” Grandmother said.  “Our signals come from Green Bay.  Yours come from Madison and Wausau.”

My favorite character was the gray and white rabbit. Joanna’s: the black and white mouse.

 “I like the woodpecker,” said Grandfather.  “If he’s on, let me know.  I could use a few laughs.”

woodcraft 3





11: Dinner

27 12 2012

My mother was a good cook, better than her mother and almost as good as her husband’s.  Never vain about her ability or lack thereof, like her husband, she always aspired to be better.  Always willing to learn, my mother persistently attended to Grandmother Halfrida’s culinary practices. 

She didn’t mind being called Grandma, by the way.  In the presence of her husband August, however, it was to be Grandmother.  Grandfather August was a man of honor, meaning he was both capable and reliable.  To be both required discipline.  Possessing all four traits, he commanded respect.  He also demanded respect.  He was, therefore, not shy about disciplining the rest of us in the family whenever he thought it necessary and proper.

Grandmother Halfrida went along with her husband.  As a person of discipline herself, she wasn’t shy about passing that on.  However, while Grandfather August conducted himself like a military officer, she performed like a pastor.  Both of them could exhort and encourage, but August seemed to rely more on the former while Halfrida relied more on the latter.

My father exhorted my mother to learn how to cook some of the dishes he had learned to like growing up.  His parents had been staunch about maintaining authentic ethnic cooking, and Halfrida expressed willingness to share her expertise.

Here are some words to chew on representing what my mother — as alternatives to normal American fare — fed my father, my sister, and me.

Hasenpfeffer.  Marinated, seasoned, and braised rabbit.

Koenigsberger Klopse.  German meat balls made with a combination of beef, veal, and pork.

Gugelhupf.  A cake-like bread made from batter rather than dough.

Lebkuchen.  German honey cakes.

Marzipan.   Almond paste candy.

Muerbeteig.  A rich egg pastry.

Nockerln.  Another version of dumplings.

Pfeffernuessse.  Hard cookies made with pepper.

Schnecken.  Snail-shaped buns.

Springerle.  Cookies flavored with anise.

Jaegertorte.  German hunter’s cake flavored with lots of almond and a little lemon and frosted with chocolate.

My mother prepared cabbage Bavarian style, which meant it was flavored with onions, bacon, and vinegar.  Despite the last ingredient, I could swallow it more easily than German potato salad because it also had brown sugar. 

More easy to swallow was Sauerbraten, a pot roast of beef that has been soaked for days in spiced vinegar, then cooked.  What helped was the gravy made with gingersnaps.

Less easy to swallow was Sauerkraut.  That’s German for fermented cabbage.  And that’s all it is: cabbage allowed to ferment in a salt-water brine. 

Bread of some kind was served with every meal.

We ate a lot of sausage: bratwurst, mettwurst, liverwurst, knockwurst, and others. That included kinds both Polish and American.

Spaetzel was a favorite of my father.  I liked them, too.  The name refers to tiny egg dumplings.  As an alternative, we ate mashed potato dumplings called Kartoffel Kloesse.

I remember an occasion one autumn when Grandmother had encouraged my mother to demonstrate some of her newly acquired culinary skills to the entire family.  Entire meant not only Mother and Father, my sister, and myself, but also Grandfather August and Grandmother Halfrida, Uncle Manfred and his wife Margaret with their three children, and Aunt Karla and her husband Joseph with their three children.  That was quite a group for whom to prepare a schnitzel dinner with all the appetizers, sides, drinks, and dessert. 

It was also quite a group for whom to make table.  My father had anticipated such an event early in his marriage, though.  The rooms of the lower level of the house flowed into one another, so more than one could be used for dining. He also made sure to make a table that could be expanded as the family expanded. 

At that dinner, Uncle Manfred decided to go by what may be termed corporate initials.  He was an executive climbing the corporate ladder at a big paper products company in Green Bay.  With memories of World War 2 still strong when he started working there, he didn’t want his name to cause him or anyone else trouble. So, at first he chose to go by Fred. 

That was fine until he earned a significant promotion.  A situation comedy starring cartoon cave people had just become a hit television program, and Uncle Manfred became uncomfortable with his nickname.  As an executive, he said he could no longer tolerate a name that had become so well associated with a buffoon.  Needing something more respectable, he pondered, “I wonder if I can get away with Manfred.”

Indignant, Grandfather August asked, “And why not?  That is your name, after all.  It is the good name your mother and I gave you.”  Manfred means man of peace; it refers to one who is heroic in being the champion of peace.

Uncle Manfred had no peace with himself, however.  He said, “But what do people think when they hear the name?  Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron, a World War 1 German fighter pilot who shot down eighty Allied flyers.”

“You don’t want to be thought of as an ace in business?” Aunt Margaret asked.

“I don’t want to be thought of as an enemy.”

“I think of Mighty Manfred,” I said.

The other kids at the table started to snicker.

“Who?” Uncle Manfred asked.

“Manfred the Wonder Dog,” I repeated.  He was the sidekick of another cartoon character who appeared on a popular network children’s TV show weekday mornings. The dog caused wonder mainly in his ability to sleep through anything.

“Oh, that helps,” said Uncle Manfred.  “Actually, I was thinking of going by Charles.”  That was his middle name.  “You know.  As in Charles Martel.  Charles Dickens.  Charles Lindbergh.  Charles Goodyear.  Charles Pfizer.”

“Charles Ives,” my aunt Karla added.

My sister Kristel added the star of a popular comic-strip having the same first name as his creator (who happened to be a good Methodist).

The kids at the table laughed again.

Then my father couldn’t resist adding, “Since you’re in charge of obtaining pulpwood for the mill, you can go by Wood Chuck.”

That did it.  Uncle Manfred announced he would go by M.C. thereafter.  And it stuck.

woodcraft 1