Opa's Ways Can Still Work

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For the most part people can solve their problems on their own without having to get authorities involved. At least in smaller communities it seems to be that way. If parents can reprimand their children by teaching them what is right and wrong, it is only common sense that adults should be able to settle their matters in their small communities on their own. Today’s small communities only need Opas again, the elders, to oversee the process, because they used to carry the most respect when it came to the facts of life; they have lived it the longest.

My paternal grandfather was such a man. A former railroad supervisor during WWII, he ended up in Dunkirk, France, when the Allies attacked, and I remember him telling us stories of how he made it back home that I can vividly remember now. He was orphaned when he was still a baby and was raised by his older sister. He never knew a real mother and father, but yet managed to make the best out of his life from what he knew. He married my grandmother and worked hard to make a living. Not perfect by any means, he was a man who was very proud of his two sons and his grandchildren.

He and Oma moved in with my family when we moved into our new house in 1970. The village was similar to any other small-town Bavarian village, which made it easier for me moving away from my other grandparents’ village. It had a mayor, a volunteer fire department, a village counsel, a church counsel, a private soccer club and a band club. The private clubs hosted endless fests during the spring and summer months to support their activities. It even had two taverns known as Gasthaus in German, but in the Franconian dialect we called it "Wirtschaft" (which in English also translates to economics) or "Wirtshaus" (house of the host).

A Wirthschaft is the place where the young men met the old men of the village to drink their beer and listened to the old men’s stories of the past. The minimum drinking age is 16, and the boys spent time with their elders when they drank. Women hardly attended these establishments, at least not during the week.

It was strictly a male environment where my Opa gathered with the men of the town after church on Sundays or he met his retired railroad buddies on Wednesday afternoon for a game of cards. Sometimes I stopped in to say hello to my grandfather and he gave me my Sunday allowance of 1 Mark which I would spend on some ice cream and candy.

It was my grandfather who encouraged my brother and me to join the music club, and even paid for our instruments. Wednesday nights was our band practice which we held at in the upstairs dance hall of the tavern. During break I came downstairs for a game of Kicker or to buy me some candy.

The tavern had an old wooden floor with several tables, benches and chairs. There was no TV, only a jukebox which the kids used for playing their music. It seemed like a clashing of worlds at times, especially when Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" came off the jukebox while the old farmers sat there with their beer steins in a smoke-filled room talking in their local dialect.

One day one of the older boys got on this kick to tease me. What he liked teasing me about was — well, my not so developed girlyness. I was tall and skinny unlike some of the other girls my age. He had been doing this for quite some time now to the point where other boys started in on his teasing. I had to listen to it every day on the school bus, during recess, and every time I ran into his big mouth. It came to a point where I didn’t even want to go to school any more. I came home and just bawled in my room. I told my mother about the boy who continually harassed me for something I had no control over.

Apparently, my mother must have shared this information with my grandfather, since my father worked out of town all week. Opa knew everyone in the village. And, Opa was very much a supporter of his grandchildren. We were his pride and joy. Opa also had a very loud voice, probably because the noisy work at the railroad. I guess he decided to take matters into his own hands one day.

One night during music practice, the "mean" boy showed up again doing what he has done so well for a while. My brother tried to take up for me, but the boy was much bigger and older. What Mr. "Hotshot" didn’t expect was that my grandfather was in the tavern that night. Opa was waiting for just the right moment to catch him doing his dirty deed. My grandfather got up from his chair and with a loud voice approached the bully to stop talking to me that way.

He grabbed him by the ear and pulled him out back to the outhouses. There he received an intense lecture from my grandfather with all the do’s and don’ts on how to treat a girl. I think he pretty much told him to keep his insults to himself and if he ever heard anymore on the subject, he would repeat this conversation.

That was the end of my suffering; well, suffering from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl. Opa handled the matter in the male world, while my mother, who also thought the situation had gotten out of hand, went to talk to the boy’s mother. The problem was resolved, because my guess is he also received a stern lecture from his parents. I am sure my grandfather talked to his father, who also visited the tavern.

Honor has been restored. A bully stopped acting like one, because the elders intervened and did not tolerate his behavior. There was no need to pass a law nor was there a need to call the police. People in communities can resolve their problems if elders respond to behavior that is destructive and indecent. It may require twisting the ear of a bully occasionally. My previous offender is now happily married with two daughters of his own. My Opa’s lecture would definitely surface in his mind should anyone try to behave that way toward his daughters.

Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.

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