I was pretty lucky when I grew up in the 60's in Germany since I had both sets of my grandparents. The ones I lived with for a while had a farm, bakery and vineyard while my other grandparents on my dad's side lived in the city — well, small town would be a better description. But I considered it u2018the city' since it did not resemble my small village.
It was pretty exciting to visit my Oma and Opa on the weekend, because not only did they live close to the small train station, but Opa also had a pretty cool garden nearby that we went to visit a lot during the summer months.
My grandfather worked for the railroad, so he knew a lot about trains and engines, the times the trains arrived and departed and all the other neat stories that only train people know.
My grandparents rented a good size apartment on the outskirts of town in a building that looked like a large villa. The hallways were long and narrow with squeaky floors. It had a peculiar smell of linoleum and bees wax and fresh green beans. There was a patio at the end of the hallway covered in glass with lots of sunshine streaming in throughout the day.
One of the main rooms — as in most German households — was the kitchen. It had its usual wood-burning stove, a big table in the center, a buffet and a sofa so Opa can take his afternoon nap.
There also were some interesting wall plates hanging above the sofa which later became my focal point when I could read. One in particular stuck out because of its interesting saying. It read:
Alle Tage ist kein Sonntag Alle Tage gibt's kein Wein Aber du sollst alle Tage Recht lieb zu mir sein
Its English translation would go somewhat like this: Every day there is no Sunday, every day there is no wine, but every day please be kind to me.
Every time I remember this saying I think back to the days I spent with my grandparents in the u2018city' and enjoying the traditional Sunday preparations.
It was a nice get-a-way to go to town and shop with Oma at the butcher store for fresh meat on Saturdays. My brother and I would always get a piece of sausage for a snack. Then we'd stop at the bakery store to get our usual bread, rolls and pastries for us kids. Sometimes she even took us to a café where she had her coffee and my brother and I had a delicious hot chocolate.
Cafés are really neat and quaint. The hushed atmosphere can be relaxing. People talk and visit but with quiet voices. Coffee is served on a tray with a doily in small coffee cans and cups and saucers. Cute little milk cans and wrapped sugar cubes make the whole presentation seem like a little girl's tea-time set.
If we got lucky and we ended up at grandmas on Friday, we would go to market and see pigs, ducks and chicken being sold right next to a fruit or vegetable stand. It was a colorful and noisy day, and my grandma would run into acquaintances at one point or another during her shopping experience to show off her grandchildren.
Saturday is cake day. I don't think there was a single household in Germany that didn't bake their Sunday cake on Saturday. With eager anticipation my brother and I waited for Oma's signal to let us lick the sweet dough off the wooden spoon with an extra finger dip into the bowl when she wasn't looking.
Part of Sunday preparation was sweeping the streets, mopping the floors, dusting or washing windows, which was all done on a Saturday afternoon. Most shopping for the weekend had to be taken care of on Saturday as well, since stores are closed on Sundays.
When bedtime came around I usually ended up in the middle of my grandparents' bed. Oma always had the same ritual of telling me the fairy tales of "The Wolf and the Seven Goats" followed by "Little Red Riding Hood."
Sometimes my grandfather would put in his own commentary and change up the story a little, which always made us laugh so hard. Later on I realized that even though I enjoyed the stories told to me, it was the voice of my grandmother that sounded so soothing and reassuring to me.
After the stories we had to say our good-night prayers and I had to recall every relative and family member for a special blessings. My grandmother made sure we wouldn't forget this important part of our nighttime ritual.
I liked their bedroom, because the flowery curtains she had on her windows looked like faces to me, and I always tried to find a new face in the patterns. Very entertaining indeed when one lies there waiting to get up for breakfast on Sunday morning.
She also had this beautiful picture on top of her bed that looked like it was from the 40's era with a baby lying on a pillow while the mother lovingly gazes at her curly-haired child. Two small cherubs peeked through the dark silk curtains in the background with smiling faces.
I loved that picture so much. I don't know what happened to it in later years, but the impression this picture had on my young girl's mind lasts to this day. I could only see total adoration and love in the eyes of the mother.
Sundays are special throughout Germany. Most people don't work on Sundays. It starts off quietly, since hardly any cars or trucks are out on the street in the morning. Oma would fix us hot chocolate and serve her regular bundt cake. It was quite a sweet u2018awakening' considering the amount of sugar we got, but it was after all a Sunday, and had to be different than the everyday Monday through Saturday where bread, butter and jam are the norm.
We all dressed in our Sunday clothes. Opa and Oma both would wear hats to church, and I remember that I even had a hat once myself. Sunday mass is different than on regular workdays. There is a festive feeling to it.
It was also nice to visit another church occasionally. The figures and statues on the side alters can take a while to discover all of their fine details. Especially for a kid it was great to look at the paintings, since I had no clue what the priest was preaching on. I used my time by checking out my surroundings and as always used my imagination to picture the life of the saints and Jesus himself; and I was always mesmerized by Mary's beauty and grace.
By the time church was over, we had to rush home so Oma could check on her roast. We usually had roast with potato dumplings and creamed Chinese cabbage or green beans and salad. Opa would turn on the radio to listen to brass band music, while I tried to help my grandmother with her potato dumplings (I still haven't figured out how to do them right).
After dinner we often took a walk through the town or in the park, and if family or friends weren't coming over to visit, she'd still set the coffee table with a tablecloth and her fine china. I loved the smell of coffee brewing. Sitting down for cake and coffee in the afternoon is one of the most relaxing experiences in Europe. I consider it almost an art form and it is similar to the English Tea Time.
People invite each other over for visits on Sundays to catch up with each other while sitting around the living room table (used probably only on Sundays) with fine porcelain cups, saucers and a white tablecloth, candles and sometimes even flowers.
Sundays are certainly a day of rest when I was growing up. I was able to distinguish the difference between work days and rest days. It brought a break into the mundane everyday life. Even the food that was being served that day would be different and special.
I lost this sense of a holiday for a while when I came to live in the US, but have since then regained a fresh understanding of what a holiday represents. Its divine law as outlined in Genesis that man is to rest on the seventh day has found a new meaning in my present day life.
I now consider traditions and rituals as a form of silent communication. Their actions seem to transmit a message to man's spirit that can bring forth a profound depth and understanding to his everyday existence if grounded in the truth of a law that furthers the betterment of his character.
The Sabbath law is wisdom in action.
I have seen in my personal experience that adversity is hard labor. All six workdays are a struggle to extract a living from the soil. Both of my grandparents and parents had their hardship in their lives, but on Sundays they regained a new perspective on their lives and were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Its observance celebrates life and overcomes the daily challenges of the week.
I have finally recognized that a divine law does not restrict but brings forth a growth in man that leads to maturity. Adversity is part of this process. Yet, I seem to notice how many laws in the books are dead and lifeless. They represent no meaning, because their creators want to eradicate adversity and diversity. I see these laws as babysitting the immature. They want Sundays everyday rather than labor for six days and use adversity and differences as a tool to bring out the best within themselves.
I challenge any lawmaker to evaluate their laws to see if they restrict man and snuff out every bit of liberty or if they further growth.
My grandmother's wall plate expresses a true statement in a sense that every day cannot be a Sunday, and every day cannot be wine, but kindness and love should rule the life of men. The labor of every day is needed as much as the day of rest to accomplish this balance.
I appreciate the understanding I've gained through this experience, because daily adversity has brought alive the important meaning of respect and honor for self and others. A good law can create good character in all people. But most of all, it allowed me to value life with its ups and downs.
November 14, 2003