The Canadian years,16, the krautcan

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Sunday 23 November 21:45


the krautcan

It  got dark quickly  in our part of the world. The TV unfolded a nonsensical program, which we  watched with half an eye. It was the time of the reruns. Lucille Ball, with:’ I love lucy’ and then the Jackie Gleason show. TV filled the silences and was elevated to something homely and cozy. In the evenings after dinner you had the more interesting programs: Bill Cosby then played a bit part in a series, ‘I spy’ and had every week a few seconds fame, as a stand up comedian before breaking through and acquiring superstar status. Michael Jackson was a little black boy, with funny dance moves  that stole the hearts with his undersized length. But he was head and shoulders above his brothers singing wise, a personality issue I suppose.

My little sisters and I sat on the floor and we played games. I had told them for the umpteenth time the fairy tale of Frau Holle and where I stopped for  a moment, they filled it in with supportive questions. ‘because she was lazy, hey, that Betty, huh boy?’ It was funny, the older of the two little ones always called me boy. ‘That's right, I said, ‘Netty was very diligent and helped everyone’

‘ Like us, right,’ said my younger sister?’ ‘That's right,’ I said. ‘’That's why they called her ‘Netty,’’ I think, of neat ... and Betty, Betty yes .. ha ha just loved lying long hours  in bed, I think that is why they called her Betty like in bed and then when she did something, she did it only  half. ... and Frau Holle .... , It was always fun, they hung from  your lips and I loved it. They always were allowed to choose a fairy tale. How often Puss ‘n Boots have  not passed my lips and each time it was new again for my two little sisters, that I loved so much. I was their big brother, an anchor point in their life, I would never allow anything bad to happen to them. I enjoyed that status. I could not know then that fairy tales  sometimes become  ugly reality and that a nurse, actually it was a Betty, would sneak into our lives, would nestle in our family and would steal my father away, which  perpetuated the breach between my father and me would forever. The fairy tales, however, never bored the little ones.

I lured them out and encouraged them. So in the spirit of ' Netty then walked along the apples hanging from the trees, and they called  out to her eh .. what did they call again? Gosh, they still called that .. well I'm just lost ..’ and so the suspense by my sisters  would build up until they roared : pick us, pick us !! .. Otherwise we will rot.’ ‘Oh yeah,’ I'd say,’ that was probably it,’ and I’d continue the story, while the little ones spluttered about so much stupidity by me,  their older brother, but in their hearts they knew it was a game and I did it to involve them more in the story.

My oldest sister, was standing in the kitchen and stirred in pans, my brother had to come home yet, otherwise he would now have been reading one or another dull cowboy story. There was no denying it anymore, he read lately only heraldic crap stories and I was sorry about that, because it limited my books, I had less to read now. His books choice could not fascinate me. My father was probably on his way home from his first day at the University.

My mother sat in a large easy chair with needlework. While telling the fairy tale I observed her at times, there was something different about her, I could not put my finger on it, but she seemed tired and the skin of her face was different. It was an indefinable feeling. I resolved to keep a better eye on her. ‘Why are you looking at me boy,’ she said, with her sweet voice. ‘Just looking, I said, it's nice here huh? These moments were warm moments that we shared  in the living room, I would love to relive them again, cherish them and freeze time, and in that time frozen forever, as in the secrets of Frau Holle and Nety  and Betty with the little ones, we would be madly happy. I knew the sweet magic would break, the moment when my father came home, to his house  .. and that is what it was, his house. He  would step inside and it all would change.


His personality would preceed him and you had to watch that you do not speak out of turn and always spoke with two words. You closed the doors gently. He ruled his kingdom with an iron fist and gave us many a slapping about. You should not walk in front of his feet, a kick  was quickly given. You knew you had to observe him well and then you had to weigh his words and in short avoid him, otherwise all the negativity of his day was meant for you. It just was not a family man. Engineering and work that was important to him, because he  was a hard worker, a good fellow, a nice neighbor and a respected church member. No one would ever have believed that their friend, neighbor, colleague, at  home would turn like a leaf on a tree.

 My mother loved him unconditionally and saw only the good aspects of him. At home he was a caged lion, a dangerous man who could not love anyone accept my mother. We were patient and it was just that we were the children born to my mother,that we tolerated. He had no empathy. The caning master, Mr. Wall, sir, was a pathetic wimp compared to my father. We felt tolerated but not welcome. He was clinical, analytical and distant and heartless.


The kitchen was steaming now. ‘The table can be set’, my sister called out and the kids and I went to our task. The table was always set perfectly, otherwise hell would break loose. My father was a man of culture and principles. We laid the table out to perfection. There was a whistling noise of an old beetle, the great Pascha was arriving at his property. The door opened and the dog ran away but not quite fast enough and he got a kick, whining he sought protection under the chair of my mother. ‘Keep that dog with you next time’ he snapped at me. Now it was my fault that he had kicked that dog, which had disturbed him. The children did not run out to meet him, not like my own daughters would do later, but went quietly on playing with blocks, in a corner. He walked to the easy chair where my mother was seated who looked up when she saw her great love coming nearer. I saw it on her glowing face, there were only two people in that room, my father and my mother. They were the only ones in the world. He gave her a kiss and turned off the TV and put a lp on,  opera. The arm with the needle found the groove of the first record and Tosca swelled with melancholic bombastic Wagnerian overtures. The grooved civilization of the great Pascha filled every corner of the room. He was milder now, opera did that to him, it was his 'safe house'.

Suddenly he looked at me, ‘where is your brother,’ he asked?’ I do not know, dad,’ I replied. ‘You know nothing,’ he said. I didn’t nod  and I did not answer, I looked somewhat neutral, I imagine. My father had a strong urge to showcase himself through the people around him. I did not want to be the target. ‘Boy, boy,’ my sisters were calling out to me, ‘can you come help us and that is what I did. I loved my sisters, but I now had an excuse to shirk away before something else would have been my fault. My dad went to get something to drink in the kitchen, he lifted the lid of a pan and told my sister, ‘you do not know how to cook rice.’ She stood back and after that inspection of pans, my father walked out of the kitchen muttering that a lousy meal was being prepared.

The atmosphere had changed 300%, we lived in armed peace in an unequal battle. My father sat in his chair and closed his eyes, he let Puccini fill his mind. The door opened and my brother came in. ‘Oh, that smells good,’ he said to my sister. She smiled at him. ‘Go wash your hands quickly’, she said, it's almost time to eat’. My big sister was a linchpin in our family, a strong personality who has always protected us. She was the eldest daughter, the confidant of my mother, in women's issues and my 2nd mother and best friend and luckily stayed so my entire life. We children formed a very strong bond to survive.

The little ones started by telling us about their first day of school. There was obviously a lot of coloring and drawing done and the teachers were veeeeeery sweet. I  still hear those sweet little excited children's voices and just like the innocent sweet voices of  my daughters in my later life, I have locked those in my heart. My father pointed at my sister and asked how it had gone in the nursing home. ‘Well,’ she said,’ everyone is friendly. It's farther than I expected.’ My father pointed at me, ‘how was your day?’ I simply said, ‘the school is strict but I've made some friends’. ‘Friends do not count in your life,’ opinioned my father, I won’t have them here, you go to school to learn. Our house, his kingdom, was indeed closed to others, I never had friends over the floor of my father's house.

‘Father,’ my mother asked,’ how was your day?’ ‘I work with a bunch of idiots who know nothing and the students are not interested,’ my father replied ..’ Oh’, my mother said about the value judgment that was passed on the State University of Calgary.’ I'm going to buy another car’, he continued,’ I heard some students talking about me and my car and they called it a ‘krautcan’. The war against Germany was only about twenty years behind us. A war in which many Canadians had been killed. It was known that the Germans like to eat sauerkraut, sauerkraut and German products were just not boycotted but hated. De car commercials on TV also encouraged 'Buy American', and Japanese and German products were hated in Canada. They were products of what had been the murderous enemy. Volkswagens were 'krautcans' and Japanese cars were scratched and dents were kicked in them. There was still a lot of pain about.


So, the students felt that my father, drove about in a ‘krautcan ', a can of sauerkraut. That must have hurt that his ego, it must have put a big dent in it.’ I will use it until I have another car,’ he continued, and then she can have it and he pointed at my sister. Ah the nursing home was Lutheran and populated by many Germans, I could see the logic. ‘I have no driver's license,’ said my sister. You're going to get it and I'll give you lessons,’ my father said. My poor sister ! ‘You, son number one,’ my father said to my brother, ‘how was your day ?.’  ‘Very well,’ said my brother and he smiled while saying it. ‘Great,’ said my father, ‘for what study have you enrolled today?’ ‘I did not,’ my brother said, ‘I worked in the laundry today.’ There was a dead silence. Why did people in my family have such strong personalities ... pff

San Daniel 2014

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