Monday, August 6, 2012

Memoirs from my Interesting Childhood.

I am still asking questions, as I believe that is the way you learn new things. And, I’m still saying; if I haven’t learnt something new today I wasted a day. However, my propensity to take things apart has gone. So, read on about some of my “exploits” as a youngster. And as Bernard Baruch said: Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.
If you have an interesting story to tell about your life experience. I would be pleased to hear from you.  Post  your e-mail address through “comments”  at the end of the article and I’ll go in contact with you - Werner

My Inquisitive Trait.

I have to admit I was a very inquisitive kid.   Some of this curiosity fell on the learning side and some on the “stickybeak” side of human nature.  This inquisitive trait has stayed with me throughout my life; always eager to learn, to find out why and how.  Needless to say, his characteristic brought me trouble as a child, precisely because I was so determined about finding out why and how things worked. I was already wise enough to know how to avoid a negative answer: I just went ahead and did things without first asking whether I could – simple!
In 1938 the army came to our village for a four weeks’ stint of manoeuvres and we had two soldiers billeted with us.  One day when my parents were working in the vineyards and the soldiers were out in the forests and fields playing war games, I felt it was a good time to have a closer look at the camera belonging to one of the soldiers. Just looking at the outside didn’t tell me much so, with the help of a screwdriver, I soon obtained an ‘inside view’ of this fascinating piece of apparatus.  I had the time of my life and was in a world of my own, amazed to discover that there were so many parts in a camera.

The roll with a kind of plastic on it, I learned later, was the film.  What were once the internal parts of the camera were now lying in a heap on the kitchen table.  With the exploration finished and my curiosity satisfied, the time had come to put the thing back together again before everybody came home.  It took only a short time for me to realize that the task was impossible to carry out.
My thoughts started to focus on the consequences that would follow my short career as a camera demolisher.  I took the ‘heap’ of camera parts and put it in the same spot where I had found the camera.  In those days kids had not yet learned the advantage of running away from home; otherwise I would have taken the opportunity to disappear.  The only option left open to me was to go to bed, feign sickness - my reasoning being that sick children would not get a hiding - to await all hell breaking loose when the heap of parts from the camera was found.
I did not have to feign sickness for long. It became reality and I was “sick” all over, especially the rear component of my body inflicted by the hand of my father.   In retrospect, regarding the punishment meted out to me, today’s kids, by contrast, could take their parents to court for assault and battery.   The severe corporal punishment did not cure my inquisitive nature, but it did curb the urge to take things apart - for a while – until I found my mothers watch.
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Some time had passed since the dismembered camera episode, when an irresistible urge told me to have a closer look at my mother’s prized possession, a wristwatch, to find out what made it tick.  She wore this watch only on special occasions; otherwise it was kept in a ‘safe’ place in a cabinet.  As usual I waited until my parents departed for the fields or vineyards, and then proceeded to take the watch apart.  After I found out what made the watch tick, I was faced with the same predicament as with the camera: I was unable to put it together and make it tick again.

Remembering only too well the consequences of my camera misadventure, I decided to bury the loose remains of what was once a beautiful wristwatch, in a remote spot in our vegetable garden.  After a few months, when my mother wanted to wear the watch for a special occasion and could not find it anywhere, she thought it had been stolen by one of the housemaids we used to employ every summer.  When I returned to Germany in 1976 after an absence of twenty- two years, a lot of reminiscing took place and the subject of the missing wristwatch, the one allegedly stolen by the housemaid arose.  This time, not fearing corporal punishment, I owned up to my mother, and exonerated the housemaid, and told her what really happened to her wristwatch, and where I had buried it.
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My parents and Grandparents would have started each day with some trepidation, pondering what sort of trouble I would cause for me or them.
One day I brought my grandfather in conflict with the law and a government department regarding our distilling facility on the farm. The Department of Customs strictly controlled the distilling of alcohol. Notice had to be given when distilling was commencing and when it finished, and the quantity of material that was to be distilled had to be declared and was inspected by customs officers constantly. Distilling was carried out a couple of times a year and lasted about 10 to 15 days. We made Schnapps from cherries and plums, pressed our grapes and fruit.

When not in use, the cylinder of the distillery was attached by a special string to a wooden beam in the attic and the two ends of the string were bonded together with a lead seal. The seal of the cylinder was broken by a customs officer just prior to commencement of distilling and put back into the attic and sealed again as soon as the task was finished. The reason was clear for this, to prevent farmers “moonshining”.

When rummaging in the attic one day, the red and white seal string around the cylinder caught my eye, and I decided to cut it off with my pocket-knife as I had an excellent use for such a piece of string. When, after a few months, grandfather wanted to distil again, the customs’ officer came back to break the seal, but there was nothing to break because the seal and string had completely disappeared.

Grandfather was summoned into the attic to explain the missing seal, to which he had, of course, no explanation. Breaking a seal warranted not only a heavy fine but also a jail term. All hell broke loose as grandfather did some quick thinking. Suddenly it occurred to him that there was only one little person who could have broken that seal and taken the string. I was quickly found and summarily put before the intimidating looking customs’ officer. When the seriousness of the situation was made clear to me, I confessed to my act, thus letting the grandfather off the hook
If you want to read more about my childhood and where I grew up click here, to read: “Growing up in Bischoffingen” – which is a condensed version of my memoirs, Spanning from my youth, and through the Second World War. For more anecdotes from my life click here.

My thought for today.Werner
Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much. - Francis Bacon
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