I haven't posted for a while so this nostalgic piece is very topical. The piece is about an cherished object and my ancestors. This past month month was full of "something's". I could never get to the computer to write. I actually wrote this piece for Grit magazine and then I got to thinking. It really fits what's going on in my life more than I realized. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s lovely how the most utilitarian objects can take us by the heart. They assume significance much greater than their originally intended use. A humble kraut cutter is such an object for me and my family. When my step-mother passed away it became imperative that we find it amongst all the clutter she left in her house and when we did find it that was a day of joy and celebration. Isn’t that curious? That kraut cutter isn’t just a kraut cutter. It is a symbol of the past, of the joys and love we experienced. It was like we had found a long lost member of the family. It was like we had found our great great grandfather, the original owner of the kraut cutter.
I come from a long line of German farmers. They were good at what they did. They were prosperous and talented and I wish I could go back in time and meet every single one. They could make anything, grow anything and fix anything. They were a hands-on bunch. They had to be. For the most part they didn’t have “labor-saving” mechanized devices. They certainly didn’t have every connected to a gasoline engine. What they had was their skill, care and devotion to doing a job right. The kraut cutter was a device but it was run by hand power not gasoline or electricity. You needed to have a special touch to make the shreds of cabbage come out just right.
My grandmother was particularly adept at this as well as making any food you could think of. For example, she was so good at making angel food cake from scratch that she had a little side business making and selling them from her kitchen to all the residents from far and wide. She could make grape juice and can all sorts of meats and vegetables. Her larder was always packed. My dad would drive straight through the night for an early morning ham sandwich from a ham she had cured. But everyone’s favorite was her corn relish and sauerkraut. In her day kraut was a tonic and a source of vitamin C. In the winter the family would have spoonfuls of the home made kraut to ward off the cold or flu. Eating so much fermented cabbage this way earned Germans the nickname “Kraut”.
Along with the kraut cutter came a family saying “Immer etwas”. We all said it. We said it whenever life presented us with something unforeseen. I guess it was a way of reminding us that we must expect that we were not going to be let off the hook by life and that to be prepared was the best way of dealing with whatever came up. It was German for “Always something.”
Now that the kraut cutter is back in the fold we feel that even though it is still quite functional we feel that it shouldn’t be used. It’s been in the family for so long. Every time I see it or lay my hand on it and feel the smooth texture from the many years of service it gave I’m linked to all those wonderful people in that long line of German farmers. It’s a tangible link to the past and the link is so strong that I can hear my grandmother sigh “Immer etwas!” and see her shred the cabbage. It’s a good feeling.