The Great Depression
> Kezia Ruth Dubios
> Fort Street Reunion
14 August 1953
> Bushwalking memories
An Experienced Driver
Homemaker and Mother
Wandering the Wide World Over
Frustrations & Despondence
Our Own Place
Our Big Trip
We Move into the House
Bill Goes to New Guinea
Leaving New Guinea
A New Direction
* * *
Dorothy's teaching career
These pages were written by Dorothy Bremner for her
children and grandchildren.
Chapter 27 FRUSTRATIONS and DESPONDENCE
For the next six months until the following spring Bill did not work. He had to go to the doctor who recommended swimming in a thermal pool near Basel. Vati was very cool to us. To everyone else Bill was always entertaining, helpful and agreeable.My schoolgirl German was quite inadequate to communicate but it was obvious that the missing £100 for the car was a thorn in his side. Also he may have suspected that Bill was malingering. With us living in his small flat and paying only nominal board from the Social Services Bill collected, the relationship cooled to freezing point. Mutti said the car would be signed in our name as soon as we left their flat.
Mutti was so distressed and remonstrated with all concerned. She was caught in an unenviable situation. Bill (Wolfgang or Wolfle to them) was not Vati's son. No matter how much he cared for his wife, his consideration did not extend to her thirty-year-old son arriving with a wife and child, to share a flat too small for themselves, sitting around idle all day while everyone else worked. The reunion quickly became a threat to the domestic tranquility.
At times I felt dislocated, near to despair, sitting day after day in our room, making clothes for Peter, such as overshirts to keep his jumpers clean, but without enough money to buy an English book or magazine to read. I also did some sewing for Frank's mother, Frau Hammer. Even though the two families had been friendly neighbours for many years, since they had moved into the apartments, they always addressed each other formally. I never learnt her Christian name.
I wrote home to a girlfriend and asked her to send me my maternity clothes and Peter's baby clothes. Getting up to face another day had begun to be something to be postponed as long as Peter was quiet in the morning. Mutti tried to persuade me to go for walks, but without sufficient warm clothes and suitable shoes, and no enticing destination, any going out was confined to necessary shopping and visits to the doctor. My daily life was quite tedious and I felt great disappointment in the big adventure. I wished I could get a job. If only we could settle the debt and save enough to rent a flat of our own.
Mutti often sent Bill down three flights of stairs to the basement or up to the attic to collect or return something and he began to realise it was a pain. Would it influence him to alter our house plan?
On 6th December Helmut was dressed up in a St Nicholas costume and called at our door and our neighbours' to ask if there were any children living in the apartment and if they had been good or naughty. Both boys had been good and were each given a sweet.
Christmas was a bright spot. Vati decorated the tree in the living room and lit the dozens of red candles which shone on the red balls and silver laminate icicles. The electric light was out when we were allowed to see it on Christmas Eve, Peter cried out in delight, I felt excited for him. We stood in the darkened room gazing at the glistening red and silver. Friends and relatives in Australia had Christmas trees, but I had never seen one as beautiful as this.
When the lights were switched on, we could see a nativity scene at the base of the tree and groups of gifts on various tables and in corners. Peter ran straight to a heap of toys and surveyed the dog on wheels, the plastic train and red car and other things from Bill's family and the potty with a duck beak instead of a handle which I had bought to encourage him with toilet-training.
"Look at Peter," said Mutti. "He has all these toys and he's running around with a pot!"
"I think he's confused. He's never had so many toys. He isn't sure they are really his."
Most of the toys given to Peter did not stimulate or invite much creative play. He needed a sandpit.
One of my gifts was a diary so that I would not need to get another note book in which to record events and Peter's developmental landmarks.
The next day Mutti made an elaborate dish for dinner based on ox tongue with embellishments. It was delicious.
There was cordiality for the first time since we had clashed about the car. The next day the coolness returned. On Boxing Day we were invited to visit Tante Gret and she had cooked the same dish, which was a tradition in their family. It was still delicious.
I spent my time sewing on Mutti's rather old machine, pyjamas for Peter, smocks for me and night-dresses for the new baby from the new material I had been given for Christmas. Apart from that and attending to Peter who was good at entertaining himself, I had little to do.
Bill and I saw New Year in playing cards. At midnight bells rang and there were fireworks from balconies. Mutti had to work until 3 am, Vati was at Onkel Georg's until just after we went to bed at 2am, Helmut was out, Uschi went to a ski-hut party dressed in a hired glamorous outfit of a body stocking in the form of a green and gold snake. Uschi came home 11am next morning.
Mutti and Vati went to Bonndorf to celebrate with Onkel Willi and Tante Gret their combined wedding anniversaries. When they came home they said that someone in Bonndorf would give Bill a job and help us find a flat. A little flat upstairs next door to Tante Gret would be available in a day or two as the lady was going to hospital. We set out to look at it. It took us three hours to get there because of heavy snow. Gravel was being put on the roads. I saw some tiny frozen waterfalls on the way. Peter went to sleep standing up in the back seat just before we arrived and I nursed him for the last few miles but he woke on arrival. After dinner with Tante Gret and Onkel Willi, Bill went to see about the flat and the job but nothing eventuated. We left early because of the snow but Bill called on friends for a couple of hours, we struck a bad storm and got home late. It did not please Vati that we came in so late.
While I was occupied attending to Peter and sewing and knitting, Bill would not look at his lessons. If I did not detect an error before an assignment was sent away, he got angry at not getting a good mark and complained that I spent too much time on other things and neglected him. It was obvious that he had not previously done the mathematics in his course. I could not spend as much time helping him as he thought I should. He said it was boring.
"Maybe it will be more interesting when it gets on to structures and design."
He was not convinced but suggested that I had a problem wanting him to be an engineer.
"But you told me you were an engineer, and it would be no problem for you to qualify to be accepted in Australia. I thought you wanted to."
"Things are so unsettled I can't put my mind to it properly. I can't shake it out of my hand."
I let the matter drop. It seemed I had wasted my money.
One day I had been doing some sewing for Frau Hammer, the neighbour and was late going back to get Peter's tea. He was tired and hungry and being difficult. Mutti said I slammed the door which upset me even more. I just wanted to get away from there. Anything of our own! During the next day Bill went to the agents again, but too late in the day to get anything.
A little later Mutti said to Bill "Why don't you take Dorothy to the Fasching Ball in Bonndorf? Everyone wears nightdresses, so nobody would notice that Dorothy is pregnant. Gret has a beautiful old-fashioned nightdress which she would lend you and I think you could stay there for the night."
We went to ask. Tante Gret and Onkel Willi agreed.
This event was part of the Carnival season in February.
As a prelude to the main event, a small procession came down from the railway, led by the band wearing blue overshirts with a "plum swallower" stencil on the back, red knotted scarfs and black caps. Then came a group of "Hanselle" each wearing a brown suit with pictures painted on it, bells on straps across the body, a mask of a man with a huge plum in his mouth, a blue cap and a large blue umbrella which he waved up and down. Then came eleven men sitting on a log pulled by horses. They all stopped and after a couple of speeches, proceeded to the Town Hall. On the opposite balcony a dummy "Hanselle" was placed on a railing to be burnt later.
On the day of the ball it was snowing lightly as we left for Bonndorf where we found quite a bit of snow on the road and in Tante Gret's yard. Bill and I borrowed night-gowns for the evening, Peter slept with Tante Gret, while we went to the ball at the Schwarzwald Hotel. The more energetic walked to the ball in a procession carrying paper lanterns containing candles, through the snow-covered streets. I baulked at that. At the hotel we sat with a group of Bill's friends. Dancing is one of my great pleasures, but not when I am seven months pregnant. After a few dances I was getting tired and baby was getting restless. By midnight I was more than ready for bed.
Everyone had a jolly time, plenty of German beer and hilarity and lively dancing. Another three hours I watched with growing fatigue and discomfort from my aching back, before Bill could be persuaded to take me back to bed. He intended going back to the ball, but having negotiated the icy streets to drive me to the house, he began to wilt himself, so decided to call it a night. We crept to the bedroom and I found that the bed (Horst's as he was away at school) which Bill had accepted was two feet six wide, small for one person, let alone two and a half of us. I wished he had gone back to the ball.
The following week we went back to Bonndorf to be quite satisfied there were no flats and on the way got a shattered windscreen, then drove slowly to Neustadt where we waited two hours for one to be fitted (£8). Horst minded Peter and we went to a show in front of the Town Hall which I could not see, then waited for the procession, led again by the band and "Hanselle" followed by six trucks with people from the show, "doctors" with huge needles, witches, cows and clowns. As a finale the dummy "Hanselle" was burnt.
In Freiburg Bill stayed in bed late, bought magazines and books, mostly detective stories and went out in the evenings. Spasmodically he did some study until he got past the elementary arithmetic, when he gave it away. His mother nagged him.
"You aren't going out again and leaving Dorothy? Well don't go without shaving and cleaning your shoes. You're just as bad as when you were a boy. You had to be reminded of everything."
I began to think she had been doing his thinking for him all his life and not taught him to take responsibility for his actions. In her effort to protect him from the problems of growing up without a father she and the grandparents had not allowed him to learn by making mistakes. They had probably resorted to bribery. When his mother married, his stepfather was fastidious and unsympathetic. In time his half sister and brother arrived and I could see the rebellious youth was unable to fit in with the formal atmosphere, but also unable to cope with independence. In his early 20s he had left for Australia on an impulse. I had been allowed to learn as young as possible how to take responsibility, and wanted Peter to be the same.
When I had first met Bill he had assured me he had only been drifting aimlessly while waiting to meet someone who could at last make him settle down. At first it seemed he had settled and at that time I could persuade him to see my point of view about things I considered important enough to make an issue of. My influence faded very quickly after marriage.
As a young mother I had thought my task was to keep my children safe, clean and healthy and prevent them from being "naughty". I now knew the delight of watching the daily discoveries Peter made of his world and that "good and obedient" children were often inhibited. It would be better to help them work things out for themselves and learn how to make good choices. I had believed in punishment for misdeeds so that the child would learn not to do it again, they shouldn't be allowed to "get away with it", but had come to see that severe or humiliating or prolonged punishment was counterproductive. More was achieved by positive encouragement. I tried to explain this to Bill but had no success. When Peter was slow to settle to sleep, Bill shouted and showed his displeasure. Peter who was very sensitive got upset. I tried to soothe him before the neighbours also got upset.
When Peter did something annoying or dangerous I tried first to distract him then if I had to reprimand him, to show him that he was not rejected, that he was immediately back in favour as soon as he stopped. "Peter's a good boy now."
Bill said I was taking Peter's part against him.
"A baby needs love, not only smacks," Mutti told Bill.
I thought of my previous relationships including, my former fiancé, now in Canada, married and with a small son. He had been pleased no matter what I did or what I wore. I wanted a man who was sensitive, had his own views, but one who could be open to see my point of view too and had some regard for my needs. How could I get Bill to understand this? No chance.
Peter was my only joy a lot of the time. I did matter to him. I was completely involved in each tiny advance in his development. He stood at the window and looked for "car car" or "wow wow". The tram was also "car". Peter was not content to stand in the stroller, on the chair or cupboard to see cars but climbed on the window ledge. This was not allowed. He said "mack" when I said "Mummy smack", but came down without a fuss.
He was much adored by everyone. His language skills were advanced for his age. One day he crawled under the table and took Mutti's shoe off, tickled her foot and said "Tick-a-tick." By now his vocabulary included shoe, sock, night-night, tick-tock, heiss, da (German), ta, butter, bath, cake, chu-chu, car, soap, gone, P'tar (Peter), buckuck (bucket), Ouschis (Uschi), bus, truck, mess, appleah (apple), bickick (biscuit), p'ease, suguck (sugar) all gone, sit down.
One day we called on Tante Bertl and I helped her daughter with cutting out a dress. They gave Peter a face washer and soap folded in the shape of a rabbit. When I washed him with it he said "rabbup gomm" (rabbit gone).
Peter could say almost anything after us. "Off we go, good boy, daddy coming, good morning." A letter came from Auntie Dorrie with a rag book for Peter, and a parcel with a Teddy Bear. Peter made "I ya Teddy" (a big hug) until bedtime, cuddling the lovely soft bear. He could feed himself without undue mess and manipulate his toys and other objects he played with.
I was glad that I had kept a diary and recorded his growing communication skills.
Mutti hated to see me at home so much and told Bill he was neglecting me. She insisted "You should take Dorothy to see a film in Freiburg. I've heard it's very good. She has hardly been out of the door in months except to visit your relatives."
It probably would have been interesting if I had been able to understand it and had been able to sit still. The expected baby was not very considerate of my comfort and did not care for long periods of inactivity. At inconvenient moments it began to jump up and down on my bladder. My back ached continually.
At least during this pregnancy I had so far avoided the morning sickness I'd had with Peter. Because of the change in my diet I suffered continual indigestion and constipation instead. This would be easier when the baby came, but other problems of living with in-laws would be increased. Bill gave me no sympathy if I felt ill so I mostly put on a brave front. I was not brought up to look for sympathy in any case.
In spite of a few bad days with wetting his pants, especially when playing next door, Peter was really very easy to get on with and went to sleep now without a bottle. He was full of curiosity and could open doors! One day Peter walked with us all the way to the office of the firm where Bill had worked to collect £18 Christmas Social Security, owed to his mother for the past three weeks board.
When the new baby came Peter would be twenty-one months. I thought it was an advantage to have two children close together in age. My girlfriend Cecily, whose daughter, born in New Zealand, was the same age as Peter, was also expecting another baby. They were now back in Australia, John teaching in Canberra. John's sister Peggy with whom I had previously planned to come to Europe had come alone and after travelling freely for a while, got a job in Tromso library (within the Arctic Circle, Norway) and was collecting information for a book, "When Jays Fly to Barbmo", which would later win her a "Children's Book of the Year" prize.
The bills began to arrive from Australia saying rates and other payments were overdue. A letter from the Estate Agent said that the tenants had not stayed so virtually no rent had been paid and he could find no-one else interested. Instalments were due on the other block of land and we were overdrawn at the bank. We were seeing practically nothing beyond the view of another block of apartments from the window and it was difficult to be philosophical about all the money spent and the dreams crumbling about our ears. Bill's disappointment must have been greater than mine because his dreams were more unrealistic. He had seen himself as being able to demonstrate to his relations that he had made good. Instead of impressing as visitors from abroad, I felt we were poor relations to whom everyone gave unwanted warm clothing (which I appreciated). We very much wanted to get a flat of our own but it was impossible without "key money". We answered ads in the paper only to find that the place had been already let, was not yet finished, was quite unsuitable, was not affordable or they only wanted permanent tenants.
After taking out our board, we had a little put aside so in March I made a German-type salad with sliced sausage, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and potato salad and borrowed a thermos flask and we had a trip to Switzerland, down the Autobahn to the thermal baths where Bill got the entry ticket to prove he had been, had a quick swim, then through Basel to Lausanne on Lake Geneva, a very hilly town, seven storey buildings in the valley below the bridge. It was always assumed that Bill drove and that I kept Peter occupied, played games, pointed out things of interest.
Next morning, after staying at the cheapest hotel we could find, we drove along the lake to Geneva where we looked over the UNO building and could faintly see hills across the lake, but the Alps would have been visible on a clear day. Then we headed east for the night. Bill had hoped to go via Chamonix to see Mont Blanc. Next morning we drove up the mountain as far as possible. It was a wonderful road up a very steep mountain, with vines on the lower slopes and snow as we got higher to where the road was still closed and the weather overcast. Then back down and along a flat valley to Visp where we turned off towards Zermatt. Here the road, in bad repair after winter, was narrow in a narrow valley with bridges, viaducts and falling stones. At St Niklaus we turned back and headed for Grimsel or Furka Pass but both were still closed so it was back to Lake Geneva and Chateau de Chillon. Then east to Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen in fog and Grindelwald in a snowstorm. It was tantalising to be so close to such scenery and not be able to see it nor even travel over most of the roads. We were obviously in the wrong place at that time of the year and had spent all our money. These were the mountains I had understood from Bill to be his home. I now knew he had been born in Germany "within sight of the Alps", but I had never seen them from Bonndorf.
On the way home Bill went again to the baths and then to visit a friend Ernst who said we could live in the "cellar" of his new building if we wished. Gas and water would be available. So far there were no floor, doors or windows, I would have to go next door for washing and the toilet, but Peter would have room to run and we would be separate. This also fell through as the builder said the toilet would not be available.
When I went to the clinic for my check up, the paths had been partly cleared of snow, but were still very slippery and it was hard to push the pram. I slipped on the ice as we came round the corner and hoped that I had not hurt my unborn baby. I also went to a doctor for treatment for my back. He examined me, took my blood pressure, asked me many questions and gave me treatment with rubber suction caps on each side of my spine which helped marginally.
I altered a brown winter dress for Mutti, and Frau Hammer came in several times for me to help her with altering a suit and making a dress from a coat. She brought in some clothes for Peter and left Frank with Mutti for a while. Peter and Frank chased each other around. Peter got his fingers jammed in the door and also fell off a chair.
Bill went to the agent again about flats but was too late. We were getting pretty desperate. Tante Gret said we HAD to leave Peter with them when the baby came and she would lend us mattresses and blankets if we could get a flat. A flat advertised in the paper had already gone. Bill washed the car at Onkel Georg's business and Tante Bertl said she heard of a flat and he went to look but it would not be available for four or five weeks at least. He went once to look for a flat in Basel, stayed overnight with Ernst but the only one available so far was too dear.
We had been promised a room next door to Tante Gret since New Year. Three elderly ladies had lived there, one had finally gone to hospital, leaving a vacant flat which would be cleaned in preparation for us. JOY.
It was a tiny attic in the house adjoining Tante Gret and the mirror-reverse of it. The ceiling space of the house had been lined and decorated with an extraordinary stencilled decoration on all the walls and ceiling which did not match where the sloping ceiling met the vertical walls at window height. There was no proper sink and all waste water had to be carried down two flights of stairs. The only toilet was near the front door, there was no bathroom in the house, we would have to go next door or to Tante Marianni's laundry (factory) for a shower. I was overjoyed at the thought of having a place of my own again, no matter how shabby and cramped. DOUBLE JOY.
Soon afterwards we went to Basel Mustermesse, a big fair, and spent three hours looking at exhibits of everything from furniture, materials to machines, then Peter and I returned to the car (Peter for something to eat and a sleep) while Bill stayed on for another couple of hours. "Takeaways" were available here, the first I had seen, a bread roll with no butter only mustard and a sausage. Luckily I had taken suitable food for Peter.
Bill's parents went to see Onkel Georg. We went for a walk up the hill to use up the film taking photos of Peter. I filled Peter's cup with milk but he trotted into the bedroom and presented me with his bottle - much better.