31 May 2016

Sometimes my father took me along when he went on his field trips on a Saturday. He did not invite me as such and I don't think I ever volunteered. Mainly because I always got so car sick. It was probably more a matter of getting me out of the way at home. Anything from infectious siblings to my mother refusing to get dressed.

A typical field trip involved endless driving along country roads with my father pointing out the various field crops and their state of maturity. He would nod his approval of properly harvested and stacked bales of hay or shout out his dismay over some obvious neglect. He especially disliked "those young lads" who ran the risk of bad weather damage for one more week of growth.
When we finally stopped he pulled out his small pocket diary to write down his cryptic notes and figures. The diary was a give-away from the local pharmacy, the type with a fake leather cover and a pocket to hold a small ballpoint pen. At the end of the week-to-a-page section, there were lists of the different German car registration plates and their corresponding cities and districts and postal codes, a world map with time zones and international holidays, annual school holiday dates, and one of those tables of distances between large European cities. At the very end were a couple of blank pages which my father used to draw maps and directions to remote villages or motorway intersections beyond his range. These maps were really just a set of lines, crossing or parallel, unlabelled except for initials but always with a small arrow indicating north at the bottom. On one of these trips, he explained to me - briefly and unsuccessfully, I was barely five years old - how to determine the position of the sun and all that.

Usually, he then would be off into a field or a barn or a farm house, while I was left with strict instructions to not leave the car and I spent what seemed small eternities looking at these lists and imagining wondrous scenarios from his lines and notes.

I don't think he had the slightest idea what to do with me and I tried to be good and quiet but I have memories of sobbing my heart out in that lonely car.  Sometimes, the farmers whom my father was meeting in some field or farmyard or barn, discovered me and called a wife or a daughter who would try (and fail) to get me to talk or even just smile with the help of kittens or piglets or other small animals. Eventually, I would end up sitting in a farmhouse kitchen watching the women cooking and talking.

Many many years later when I was an angry student in Heidelberg, my linguistics professor was lecturing on connotations and language learning and he explained how sometimes, not always, specific words will bring back a short memory or physical reaction (smell, taste, fear, hunger etc.) from the time when we first discovered that word. Immediately, I was back in one of these kitchens where the women were baking Kerwa K├╝chle (Franconian deep fried pastries traditionally baked only for church fairs and deeply disliked by my mother for being too common and unhealthy), dipping the dough into hissing fat, whispering that "she was trying to hide a pregnancy".

Later in the car, with one of these flat bread baskets on my lap, filled with pastries wrapped in a striped dish towel, I asked my father what a pregnancy was but I don't remember his reply.


  1. Wow. What an amazing visual image. YOUR words painted an entire segment of life.
    You are such a beautiful writer.

  2. Such beautiful story-telling, Sabine. So evocative and touching.

  3. A beautifully written account, Sabine. I've discovered your blog through my friend Robert's blog, "The Solitary Walker," and I look forward to reading more of your postings.

  4. I thought I had posted a reply, but it looks like I didn't hit the right button (again). Sheesh. Anyway, how kind of those women to try and entertain you. The pastries are intriguing. They remind me a bit of homemade donuts. My father used to make them for us kids in a deep fryer, they were always the best donuts and one of the few things he cooked.

  5. What a great story -- you really convey the loneliness and mystery of being a child in that circumstance.


  6. What wonderful pictures you paint with your words!

  7. memories seared in by confusion and sweet smelling fats. I love this recollection.