Call me Löffel.
I may look like a basic dinner spoon but there is more here than meets the eye.
In the kitchen drawer where I live, I have a constant struggle. The other dinner spoons don’t seem to like me. They say I’m “different.” It’s true, I don’t match the others in pattern nor am I quite the same size. I am not as shiny-brilliant as the others yet I know I have a valid place here.
The soup spoons want to get rid of me. “Toss him out! Mangle him in the disposal!” shout the salad forks. They cruelly joke at their midnight meetings.
The knives and forks are split. Some want to accept me and celebrate the history I bring to the table while others think my presence is the start on the slippery slope of random, patternless, downgrading from the so-called 18-10 pure stock they boast about.
They all came from a local store, all shiny and bright! They think they are so special! Well, let me tell you, there is nothing really special about all that. I arrived here via a different route. Let me tell you about it. It is no wonder my finish is a little dull.
Like those upstarts, we had a common beginning. We were each stamped out of a sheet of stainless steel – borne of common stock. But here is where the story diverges. I was made in Germany probably during that awful war. My relatives were sent away to where, I don’t really know. I ended up in a little corner of Bavaria, Lautrach – to be more precise. I was in a small collection of kitchen implements that served the Radke family as they struggled to survive in a displaced persons camp housed in a former convent. They had come there under the spray of gunfire from the Ukraine.
I was only there for a short while – one January day, when Allied bombers strafed the area on a run to destroy factories in Memmingen, a premature baby was born as the expectant mother had run into a shelter from the terribly loud engines of the formation and threat of menacing attack. This baby added one more person to the already crowded, and growing, camp.
So the family gathered me and a few of my ilk– a knife and fork, a few dishes together into their cloth sacks and they were sent to southern Austria – Klagenfurt. In hastily constructed wooden barracks built in a field behind the school, I took up my new residence. It was quieter there, a bit safer and it seemed the war was nearing its end. There wasn’t much for me to do but help move the soup and cornmeal mush from bowl to mouth, bowl to mouth, back and forth. Those mouths of mother Elfrieda, father Arnold and the two children, Reinhold and Elsa, were always open and ready for food that was barely enough for them. The war was about over – in fact Field Marshall Montgomery’s office was just around the corner from where this family stayed. I never got to meet his tableware but I heard through the grapevine it was high class – most likely they would have shunned me for my plainness and the lack of a hallmarked pedigree.
Just like in the other places, this camp also filled up with more people who had been driven from their homes in northern Italy, the Slavic countries and Poland so we were moved once more to Maria Saal, about twelve kilometers away. There, I lived in a big, three-story L-shaped building that was run by nuns and overseen by Russian, then British troops. The flags overhead kept changing but the conditions remained pretty much the same.
How did I stay with this family? I have no idea – times were so unsettled and places were so temporary. Orders would come and almost overnight, people had to move on.
We were moved again, this time into the Austrian state of Stiermark and the river town of Kapfenberg along the Mur River. This town had perhaps a dozen or so camps or Lagers scattered around and I held out hope to become reunited in some dishpan with some of my distant relatives but, alas, that never came to be.
I remained with this same family which now grew by two more babies, first, Bernie and then Lydia. More mouths to feed and not much more food to do it with. I was terribly busy.
We moved from one barrack to another as the family tried to improve their surroundings until one grim day, when Arnold had been off to work. He worked in a factory somewhere across town and had supplemented his meager income making and repairing shoes on the side. The camp director and a local policeman came and knocked at our door. Many in the camp had seen them approaching and knew something was up and it was likely not good. The camp director was usually the bearer of bad news.
“Knock- knock!” Insistent and demanding. They gathered around, craned their necks and tried to listen-in. Elfrieda answered the door and the man held up a hat and a briefcase. “Do you recognize these items?” he asked. She nodded. They belonged to her husband, Arnold. “Come with us,” they told her and off she went.
The men took her to a morgue where she identified her husband’s body. “We found him hanging in the woods, shot in the head,” they told her. I was still and ignored for a day or so – splayed on the table covered with dried drips of coffee. People brought in food, or had the family over for a meal and I sat cold and lonely on the table in their dim room.
Not long afterward, Elfrieda and her four children were transferred to a camp for widows and the elderly. It was in the center of Stiermark; the iron mining town of Eisenerz. Iron mine? Was I getting closer to my roots? Iron becomes steel, steel is refined into stainless steel. You get the picture…
I felt strangely at home there in the midst of the year-round snowcapped mountains. Things got rather routine and quiet there. The two older children were in school every day and the little ones were home.
The conditions in our little barrack room were very basic – two beds, a wood stove, a table a few chairs and a few shelves. The room was lit by a single lightbulb suspended from the ceiling. Water was carried in from the outside pump, heated on the wood stove for my daily washing or the Saturday night baths of the children. The latrine was a community affair a few doors away – downwind, thank goodness!
I was always busy, what with my feeding chores that consisted mostly of polenta and soup. Lots of soup. But I was also used for other things, like to pry open a can of government-issue food, lard, canned meat, canned powdered milk, etc. The kids used me to squish roaches and bedbugs against the walls of their room. I did NOT like that job. The children delighted in this game but I hated the feel and sound of the crunch.
When the Brits left, the Americans moved in and the family was treated the best when compared to all the other places we’d been. Some missionaries gave them treats and had the children over for dinners and parties once in a while. They’d come home to the barrack, Elfrieda would be stirring her tea with me and they’d tell her of the wonderful time they had.
There was a lot of talk in the camp and most wanted to leave. One way out was to immigrate elsewhere. The Missionaries helped the family apply for immigration to the U.S.
On a January day in 1955, a message was delivered, “Be in Munich via Saltzburg in five days for your flight to the U.S.” There was little time to organize and give farewells to friends. They gathered me and a few of my buddies up in their few suitcases and off we went to Munich – by bus, and then by train. But hold your horses because here it gets really interesting!
They were to board a plane in Munich but baby Lydia got sick and was running a fever. “She cannot get on that plane!” they were told. (I could hear it all through the thin-walled suitcase Reinhold carried.) “You have to wait a few days for her to get better.” That was a big break because that very same plane on the flight they were to board, crashed on takeoff and all were killed. I would have ended up melted or swept off to a landfill somewhere!
But we did finally get to the next plane, and after a noisy 23-hour flight in this WWII vintage airplane, we landed in New York, were picked up by our sponsors and taken to our new home.
I stayed with this same family and when the oldest girl, Elsa, went off to college, I went with her. I got mixed up with a few strays in the dining hall but that’s another story. Then she met some guy, they got married and I’ve remained with them, in their homes in New Jersey, in Illinois and now in Michigan; still spooning up the soup and stirring cream into coffee – a little bit at a time.
So, there you have it. No, I am not as shiny and glamorous as my drawer-mates. I am a little worse for the wear, but I could teach them all a thing or two about the world out there.