Chapter 28 OUR OWN PLACE
Just before we moved to Bonndorf we had a quick trip to Munich in overcast weather, Bill hoping to go via Innsbruck and Salzburg. Snow was forecast but we still set out. By the time we reached the Arlberg it was snowing and cars were banked up because a truck had slipped on the ice ahead and blocked the road. After three attempts to get up the mountain Bill had to concede defeat. It was still too early in the season! Taking a "short cut" along a scenic road which was under repair we struck more snow. I noticed poles with branches depicting the industries. I learnt they were May Day trees, pine trees with painted metal figures representing the crafts of the villagers, erected each May with great ceremony.
In Munich we found Onkel Max and Tante Berta (Vati's sister) where we were to stay. Next morning we went to town by tram and at 11am heard bells at the Town Hall and saw mechanical figures parade around the tower, had dinner at the famous Hofbrauhaus of trout, the speciality of the house but made a mess of its skeleton as I was completely unfamiliar with it.We spent hours in a museum looking at old Bavarian furniture, armour, clocks, scenes from the nativity. Peter had no sleep all day but went to bed early.
Onkel Max knew to check first the forecasts and whether the roads were open. After an early midday dinner, we all left in our car for Garmish for wonderful views of the Alps, to see the Zugspitz, the highest mountain in Germany, Linderhof Schloss, where Tante Berta and Onkel Max drank coffee and minded Peter, while we had a tour, Obergammergau and back to Munich. A really enjoyable storybook day.
On our return trip we detoured along the Alpine Hochstrasse to Konigssee for a launch trip to St Bartholomew and heard a trumpet player get echoes from the cliffs. Then to Obersalzburg to visit Hitler's bunker at Berchtesgaden and the site of his house, the ruins of SS barracks and on the hill in the distance his teahouse. Wonderful mountains! Next morning it was snowing again so we gave up the idea of going to Innsbruck but looked at Dachau prison, where Vati had been a guard during the war, then drove on to Ulm to the highest church spire in the world. We arrived at Bonndorf at 9.30pm and stayed with Tante Gret in Horst's narrow bed. Peter slept with them and was surprised in the morning to see Onkel Willi. Bill went to the cuckoo clock factory and arranged to start work after Easter.
In April at last, helped by a truck from Onkel Georg's business we moved into the attic flat with a borrowed bed, bedding, cot and a single electric hot plate. My cooking would be very restricted! I put Peter to bed then we both went across the road to Tante Anni's for a baby's bassinet which had belonged to her daughter Barbara. When we came in, Peter was sitting at the door near the heater and had been sick. I should not have been persuaded to leave him, even briefly. Not a good start!
The three-quarter bed, a cot and bassinet just fitted into the bedroom, a table and three chairs, Mutti's sewing machine and a cupboard in the other room which had the only window. But still it felt marvellous to have a domain of my own, to have meals to prepare and chores to occupy my time. Daily existence became meaningful once again. The village, set high in the Black Forest was attractive, the weather got warmer and there seemed some point in going outdoors, so that after months of inactivity there was suddenly so much to do.
There was a tap but no proper sink so I had to empty our water from washing up into a bucket and carry it down two flights of stairs, also Peter's potty. I completely gave up drinking tea and turned to instant coffee to save emptying a teapot (pre tea bag days). I would have to boil nappies for the baby in a large saucepan on the hot plate.
Bill started work at the cuckoo clock factory, usually taking the car. On pay day he sometimes did some shopping on the way home. Or I went shopping the next day taking Peter with me. We lived from one pay day to the next. Once Bill went shopping after work and I waited expectantly to see what he had as there was practically nothing in the house to give Peter except tinned pineapple, not even milk. Without a fridge, nothing could be kept for long. Bill drove a friend home and the car broke down so he stayed for a meal and got home late. I had not eaten and I wondered what had happened.
Word soon spread, helped by Tante Gret, that I could sew and knit and I soon had customers (just in case I was not busy enough).
There was a dairy at the end of our street where we could get fresh milk. In the summer some of the cows went out to the pastures, but mostly they were indoors permanently on the ground floor of a large house. This was also where they were milked. People took their containers, the milkers stopped to serve the customers, then went back to milking. I thought it was a long time since such relaxed ways were allowed in Australia, but in this climate there would be less danger of spreading disease. From time to time the manure was raked out to a nearby pile or "midden" and was not wasted.
Peter and I rapidly advanced in our German. Tante Gret spoke clearly, slowly and deliberately. She told me that during the war when Horst was a growing boy, needing clothes which she could not buy, she had made him outfits from the flag, then lived in fear, for this was strictly forbidden.
Onkel Willi took a lot of pleasure in Peter, showing him things and teaching him German words and expressions. They always explained things to make sure I knew what was going on. They became very dear to me.
When Tante Gret wanted to talk to us she could climb to their attic and knock on the wall. We would put our heads out of our respective windows. There was often an invitation to come down for a special treat, proper coffee freshly ground by hand in a mill and strawberry cake, the fruit coming from her garden. Peter had developed a real taste for strawberries, which Tante Gret called "Brombeere" or "Beerle" and he called "Bubbyleer". One day when he was next door, he tested some green ones, but threw them away as rejects.
In the next couple of weeks Bill went to a "meeting" in the hotel helping to arrange a party for someone from the village who was getting married. Before Bill came home at 2am, I began to feel the baby was coming about 9pm and didn't know what to do with Peter. It was a false alarm but I had a very bad evening. Next evening Bill had an early dinner then went out to collect branches for garlands for the wedding, then to a party and came home at 5am. I did not sleep a wink wondering where he was. He slept half of the morning, was again sleeping when a friend called to "take him up the street for half an hour". They came back hours later. On Monday evening Bill went to hang the garlands around the doors of the bridal houses, promising to come home by 10 at the latest. Well...11.45. He was enjoying a social life. By comparison I was a recluse, preoccupied with work. On those occasions when I did go with him, most of the conversation was over my head, in a dialect I could not understand. Only Tante Gret and Onkel Willi were very considerate and insisted I had to be included, and avoided dialect.
In the afternoon we drove down to the Swiss border for cigarettes. Peter said hopefully "chocock" (chocolate) but Daddy bought only "coffee for Oma". Coffee, cigarettes, chocolate and petrol were cheaper in Switzerland which was only a few kilometres from Bonndorf. A little further was the mighty Rhine falls, with an enormous amount of water flowing with a tremendous noise. My first sight of the famous river.
Another time I spent an extremely restless night as I was quite convinced the baby was coming. I got up and collected my toothbrush and clothes for me and the new baby.
At 7.30pm in mid May, David Paul, 8.5 lbs, arrived, delivered by the midwife, with no anaesthetic but eight stitches from the doctor. We had not agreed on any names for our baby should it be a girl, but both liked David Paul for a boy. Paul was a friend of Bill's I had met and liked in Australia who had come home to Switzerland and had been killed in a car accident. I was really relieved when told by the midwife that I had another son. I was glad not to have a daughter saddled with a name I did not like, so was not unduly worried when told that our baby had a large birthmark on his leg and a "stork bite" (pressure marks) on his forehead and the back of his neck, which I was assured would fade.
I had no trouble with feeding the baby, in fact as with Peter I had too much milk. The midwife got me glass containers to wear on my breasts to collect the excess milk which I then tipped out.
The next morning early, the doctor on his hospital visits said "You must get up."
"Yes," I agreed. "I will get up soon."
"No, now," he insisted. "Get up please. Sorry I have not much English. Get up please."
Reluctantly I eased myself to the floor and he helped me to the window. The snow-capped Alpine peaks around the famous Jungfrau were suddenly visible, as if painted overnight, starkly clear against a bright sky. They looked so big and close. On fine days they were there about 40 kilometres away if you knew exactly where to look and could distinguish them from the cloud which always surrounded them. In winter they were completely lost in the horizon mists. Once or twice a year they materialised in full splendour as on this day. The Alps (The Bernese Oberland) which I had believed to be Bill's birthplace, really were visible from here.
The Swiss Alps visible from Bonndorf - occasionally
While in hospital I busied myself knitting a bonnet and jacket for Onkel Willi's godson. I also worked on handmade buttonholes on a pair of trousers for Peter. My knitting and sewing were much admired. Most people I met did not sew or knit.
Although there was a doctor in daily attendance at the hospital, I received literally no medical treatment during my stay. Being essentially in good health I was expected to go to the toilet and wash myself without help. Meals were of the "strawberries and cream" variety, but after a week of not enough company, I was anxious to get back to my tiny flat and my family. Tante Gret had been looking after Peter and she brought him to the hospital. She told me she had Peter in the foyer so I ran out. He was sitting quietly on Barbara's knee and was not expecting to see me. I had missed him so much - my adoring and adorable toddler. For a minute he just looked, then showed me "choo choo" and "Barbara" and began to chatter to me in his best English, although he had been speaking German for a week. The midwife came out and said they must go or the sister would be angry. Peter began to cry. I became upset. I went into the toilet and cried and was told I could go home next day.
I came home, first to Tante Gret's to collect Peter. She wanted to keep him for a while but he cried so much she had to bring him over. David was not due for his feed but was disturbed coming home and did not settle until I fed him again, then woke four hourly and went straight back to sleep after a feed. Bill was in a muddle when I came home. I was struggling with too much milk, pains in my stomach, bad piles, sore stitches, swollen breasts and back ache. Once home, my oversupply of milk caused mastitis. As the doctor had said when Peter was born, I could have started a milk-bar. We were invited to Tante Gret's for dinner and she helped me clean up. She was still using vegetables from last summer, the carrots very pale and limp, the potatoes soft lumps. There would be nothing fresh until the new things she had planted had grown, but she already had fresh lettuce. On Saturday Bill did most of the work, even washed the floors under Tante Gret's direction.
Tante Gret's prediction about the newcomer was "Lovely baby. He will grow up to be even better-looking and taller than Peter." I doubted if that was possible, but loved having two boys.
I felt exhausted just bathing and feeding the baby, dressing and feeding Peter. Peter bumped me as I was sitting on the bed and pressed the glass containers into my breasts which were like fully blown balloons, still engorged with far too much milk.
When Bill came home from work he drove us all to Switzerland for cheaper petrol. Tante Gret working in her garden sat down with astonishment when she saw me pass. When we came home I had a sore spot and mark from the glass, also felt hot and tired. I took out the glasses as they were pressing on me and most uncomfortable and wore a napkin instead. In the night I felt quite ill and had a high temperature. In the morning Peter was quite good and I went back to bed after he had breakfast and the baby was fed. But I needed to see the doctor who gave me cream for my breasts and injections to help reduce the quantity of milk.
Bill took a bucket of nappies to Tante Gret to boil in her fuel copper in the basement. She said she would call for me to do my washing when she had finished. When Bill came home for dinner he said I could do my washing in the afternoon but by the time I was finished a thunderstorm was starting so I did not get my things dry.
Bill went to table tennis and I finished two dresses for the lady in the grocery shop. Tante Gret took them to the shop and collected 40DM for me. On Saturday Bill left at 7am to drive a friend to visit his daughter. It was unusual for someone in the village to own a car and Bill enjoyed being noticed for his generosity as a chauffeur.
Peter aged twenty-one months was delighted with the new baby. He collected some of his toys and threw them into the bassinet and wondered why David did not seem to appreciate his generosity. He then tried to look in and ended up on the floor with baby and basket on top of him. I rushed in and extricated the bodies and tried to soothe them both at the same time. Living in a flat, in a house with elderly ladies, I could not have screaming children.
Peter was curious to see me change the baby's nappy. As soon as I had his nappy off, David decided to wet and Peter cried in disgust "Wet the panties the baby did he?" He had learnt to use a potty regularly. When he achieved what he set out to do he would say proudly "Good boy!" When he came with me downstairs, when I needed to go to the toilet, I was also "Good boy!" He would sit Bear or "Wow Wow" on the potty and tell him "Grosse Lulu machen." (Do a big job) as taught by Tante Gret. Peter learnt very quickly in either language. He wanted to help bring up the baby's "bones" and even tried patting Bear's back.
Everybody found Peter responsive and I had plenty of relief from the full responsibility. When Horst was home for the holidays, he would take him for a walk to get the milk and Peter was always happy to go.
Meanwhile David's birthmark had developed a pimple-like sore, for which the midwife gave me a herb mixture. After several days without satisfactory results, we decided to take him to a doctor in Freiburg while visiting Vati and Mutti. A course of radiation treatment on the tiny leg improved the birthmark. The "stork bite" was also fading.
In June Tante Gret offered to mind Peter for the long weekend and Bill and I with David drove down to Switzerland. So many flowers on the trees and in the fields!
We went to Winterthur, Switzerland to visit Paul's mother. Bill went in first and told her we were bringing our baby (David) Paul to show her. When I came in she had tears in her eyes. She told us details of Paul's accident in his car with a train at a level crossing. His girlfriend was also killed. A terrible waste! Then we continued to William Tell country, up to Andermatt, then off the main road to Furka Pass. The snow plough arrived at the top just as we did, we were the second car through. The glacier was very close to the road.
We drove east to St Niklaus to park the car. I fed David in the parking lot and we caught the train to Zermatt, a car-free village. Sleighs could be hired as the only form of transport. Just as we arrived we had a glimpse of the Matterhorn and walked through the village for better views. During the Ice Age all this countryside had been under the ice sheet with only the peak of the Matterhorn itself rising above. I sat on a hill to feed the baby, then we caught the train back to St Niklaus and drove via Furka, down St Gotthard to Airola. I counted twenty-four hairpin bends in about two miles, as well as curves. Amazing engineering! This was midsummer and the twilight was wonderful!
In Bonndorf I took David to the monthly "Mutterberatung" (advice to mothers) and found myself in a crowded room. When my turn came I had nothing specific to ask about. I had believed my baby would be weighed and examined. They were a bit surprised as to why I was there. What was wrong? He seemed quite well. What was I expecting?
One day in the woods collecting pine cones for the heater, Peter fell on his nose, also got his trousers muddy. On the way home we saw Tante Marianni with Jugend all clean and tidy!! He was a little older and had BEAUTIFUL clothes and was not allowed to get dirty. Tante Marianni had given me some outfits he had outgrown and which I kept for best.
In Bonndorf and with Tante Gret's encouragement, I gained confidence in speaking German. Peter could say anything now, as taught by Onkel Willi, who was a tease, even "knopfloch" (buttonhole), and "Segelflieger von Rieselfinger" (gliders from Rieselfinger) both difficult for German-born children and which he didn't understand at all but which he obligingly repeated upon request. Also some rather doubtful phrases.
Onkel Willi sometimes played his violin for us. It was lovely to sit in their tiny back yard, with Peter running around happily and listen to the merry music. Tante Gret, an excellent German Hausfrau, taught me how to produce edible dishes from cheap meats. They were kind, cheerful, unpretentious country folk and I had grown very fond of them. I talked a little of my problems. I showed them the correspondence course I had bought. Onkel Willi told me that Bill had been very spoiled as a child. His mother had even put the toothpaste on his brush for him when he was older. The arrival of a half-brother and sister had caused problems. He had never been an engineer or anything similar, had left Germany on a sudden impulse. Tante Gret's reaction to the engineer story was an expressive "Wah!!" Bill's stories were more than an exaggeration of truth, but an elaborate system of self-deception. Apparently he could for some reason not accept himself as a German bricklayer and his fantasies became a reality to him. A lot of people, his casual friends, found him entertaining.
Tante Gret and Onkel Willi chided Bill for his treatment of me, said he was lazy and untidy and was not a good father. He frequently stayed out visiting or playing table tennis and socialising until all hours of the night without letting me know.
Our marriage did not improve. One baby I could manage to fit in largely with what Bill wanted to do, but with two it became impossible. One or other needed attention which Bill resented. When I suggested he do some study he accused me "Push, push push." It was never mentioned again.
I had had to swallow the fact that Bill had NEVER been an engineer, he had NEVER been in the Himalayas or Japan. In spite of my limited German I now recognised the anecdotes he had told me about building contracts in Switzerland and The Middle East, being retold, with only the details and the settings changed and the language in which they were told. This was hard to accept. How could I trust anything he said?
We found that Bill had not been working long enough for the health fund to cover the cost of the midwife and had to borrow 60 DM to pay the bill. He was forced to face this debt. Sometimes Bill went to Weil, near Basel to help a friend with building to earn extra money, I did a lot of sewing for people, Frau Hammer in Freiburg, Tante Gret and others in Bonndorf, as well as clothes for the boys. Later I knitted Onkel Willi a gift of a cap to keep his balding head warm. He jokingly said he would be buried in it. [This did happen many years later.]
One day I was looking out of the attic window, when a car stopped in the street below and the familiar figures of Auntie Dorrie and Uncle Perce stepped out! They had sold their home at Artarmon, invested most of the money and were spending a year in England, at present touring the continent. Suddenly the beating of my heart became a turmoil. MY folk! I was overwhelmed to see them and rushed downstairs to bring them up. They proposed coming back after dinner but I didn't want to let them out of my sight. I had no meat but made a dinner of what there was.
"How are you? How is the baby? How's Peter?" The questions and answers came thick and fast. I had to cram everything I wanted to say into one short evening.
"I hope you are looking after yourself, not doing too much. You should try to have a rest every afternoon."
"That's a bit difficult. They usually don't go to sleep at the same time. And if they do I've usually got so much work."
"Would you like to come and spend a weekend with us in Switzerland? If you can cope with the travelling, you could at least have a break from cooking and cleaning."
"That sounds really lovely. We've hardly seen anything yet, even though Switzerland is so close. It doesn't look as if we can see much now, we can hardly save anything out of Bill's pay from the factory. I do knitting and sewing for people to pay the hospital bill and get some extras like petrol."
"The season here is very short. Bill should have known that. You would be much better to go home, where you can earn a good wage and live in more comfort, and come back when the children are older."
They made me admit to myself what was obvious, that we were not going to get anywhere living as we were. Debts had mounted at home, our garage-home was a liability in its unfinished state, we owed the bank £300 plus interest. We had begun to pay off another block of land as Bill had an idea of building a second house later to rent, and the instalments were mounting and the vendors were threatening us with repossession.
"If you go back to Australia and sort out your debts, I will lend you the money to bring the instalments up-to-date. You probably should sell that block immediately," said Uncle Perce.
"Thanks very much," I said, knowing he was right. "I expect it is best. It's just that we sacrificed so much to come and it's such a waste if we go back without seeing anything. At least our return passages are paid for."
"You have met your in-laws and they have seen you and your boys. See what you can before the weather gets cold again. How about spending a week with us in Devon on your way home?"
It was somewhat surprising that when Bill came home and I told him, he agreed. We told the family we would be leaving before winter started.
Tante Gret came to say I should go with her immediately to the grocery shop to measure two women for dresses. Quickly I dressed Peter, got changed and rushed up the street, David began to get hungry, everything including Peter's bath was late. I was most annoyed but needed the money. Bill was out celebrating with a friend who had won 20 DM on football championships.
I had to do the ironing and packing ready for going to Freiburg to the doctor on Friday and Lauterbrunnen the next day. Bill was at work, Peter stayed with Tante Gret on Friday so I only had David to manage. The doctor wanted a skin specialist to look at David's sore. It was nothing serious but I should return in two weeks.
On Saturday before we left for Lauterbrunnen Bill went in to collect Peter. Bill had to drive Tante Gret to the cemetery and ran out of petrol. We intended to leave 6am and I was up and dressed and fed the baby. Finally we left at 8am and reached Lauterbrunnen by midday. It is in the very heart of Switzerland, in a most attractive, distinctively-shaped glacial valley with Staubback Falls 980 feet (highest in Switzerland), not a great volume of water but coming straight down from a tremendous height from the cliff near Murren. The idea of glacial valleys had intrigued me for years and this was a perfect example. A wonderful village, a wonderful hotel, a wonderful meal, a wonderful bath but best of all MY family.
During the afternoon we set out to see Trummelbach Falls. Auntie Dorrie minded the children while Uncle Perce went with us. We went up in a tunnel-lift to save much of the climbing. The source of the river beginning in the snows of Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau, penetrating deeper and deeper in the mountain where the enormous rush of water had cut a passage right inside, having found faults and cracks, tumbling here into a small cave, disappearing again in another chasm. Lighted paths and viewing platforms had been built as close as possible to give all the best views with safety fences in between. The noise was terrific where the path ran close to the waterfall, at other places it was almost quiet as the path had to take a more circuitous route to descend to the next level. Mostly the river curved and twisted, the only constant direction being down, sometimes with a great rush, sometimes more steadily, always powerfully. In the valley the water rushed out at the bottom of a deep crevice which it has cut. Undoubtedly this is the most unusual falls I have seen, with ten accessible glacier-waterfalls.
When we came out again we found that Auntie Dorrie had accidentally locked the baby in the car, he was screaming and she didn't know how to open our car. Some German lads had come to her assistance.
We had a beautiful dinner, after putting the boys to sleep. Sitting on the veranda in the long twilight, with the outlines of Silberhorn and Jungfrau visible above the nearer mountains, we watched the full moon rise behind snow-capped peaks, while darkness was falling on nearer cliffs. And we TALKED! It gave me a feeling of tranquility and well-being I thought I had lost. It had been worth coming to Europe just for this.
In the morning we all drove to Grindelwald, passing close by remarkable folded geological formations on the way and had morning tea within sight of the Eiger and Jungfrau. Some of the rock formations I had learnt about such as folding were plain to see. My basic knowledge of geology helped with my understanding. My comprehension of what was around me was rapidly expanding in depth and appreciation and my uncle also had an interest. Then we went to Lake Thun on a very hot day with many people swimming. Just sublime!
After lunch we all went up to Murrren for one of the most outstanding experiences of the whole trip. First up in a cable car to a "station", then changed to a smaller car and up and up with changing views of the valley, each one more expansive. Standing high on one mountain, in the little ski resort which seems to perch on the cliff edge, gave a much greater awareness of the enormity of the mountains across the valley because of the breathtaking distance down to the valley in between, with tiny houses and cars, so dwarfed by the surroundings. I was beginning to make sense of what I knew of geology and the laws of nature visibly at work.
The weekend was marvellous. It was my aunt and uncle's favourite place and quickly became mine too. They paid our expenses at the same hotel as them and I relaxed and talked and was spellbound by the Alpine scenery. And I had another lovely bath before the evening meal. These were the peaks I had seen in the distance the morning after David was born. The weekend became for me a symbol of all that is wonderful in life.