Süßes oder Saures
Chapter 11 Halloween, 1930
Otto and I jumped out of the back of Papa’s Model T truck. He could have afforded a fancier, newer model, but he said it was good enough for farm work and that he didn’t want the trouble and expense of keeping draft horses, although many farms in the area still did. He was frugal and opinionated, my papa, and I miss him still today. I hope I’ll see him soon.
We were dressed in our costumes as I have told you, and Otto did look so much like a young Charles Lindbergh. That’s not surprising because he was ten years old, ha, ha, clad in a little leather flight jacket Mama bought him with her egg money at Petersen’s Department Store, which is still there on Main Street in town. And I, I looked the part of a young German girl. Forgive me for chuckling at myself. I do find it amusing so many years later. I trust you caught my joke.
The kids at school had told us to go trick or treating in the richest part of town, out toward the lake off East Sawyer Street, where the doctors and lawyers and bankers lived. We planned to meet up with Betty Ross, Otto’s little girlfriend, although he threw things at me if I called her that. “I don’t have a girl friend,” he huffed. “Betty is my friend!”
I would smile and say, “Sure she is, Otto,” and wink at him, which made him even madder.
“Be careful, meine Kinder!” Mama called, while Papa looked ahead impatiently. He planned to take Mama over to Main Street, where they would see their neighbors who had also brought their children in for trick or treating. They wouldn’t go to a movie or a restaurant or do frivolous shopping. Mama and Papa were typically German: frugal and serious almost to a fault. They could have fun, Mama more that Papa, but even that usually involved something practical. Mama said she enjoyed snapping beans, but just between us, I didn’t. I forced myself to do so, thinking I would be a good wife for my husband some day and practice all the womanly household arts. Of course, none of us could have foreseen the radical changes that were soon thrust upon us in the next decades. None one did.
We waved and ran off toward the lake. Otto always commented on the electric lights. I had to agree that their golden glow made that area of town look like a magical fairy land. We did not get power at the farm until 1935, although it was available. Papa said oil lanterns and manual tools were good enough for his father, so they were good enough for us. The tribes who lived out by the railroad tracks didn’t get power until after we did. In retrospect, I can see that there was an incredible racial prejudice in place that denied them what we had much earlier. This was accepted in those days, but we learned the error of our ways after harming and even killing so many people with our horrible policies. My, don’t I sound like one of those radicals I see on television? An old lady is entitled to her opinions, I suppose, and I have a lot of them. Thank you for listening to me talk on and on.
We saw Betty coming toward us dressed as a princess in a blue gown with a beautiful translucent cape made from sheer white material. The light from the lamps overhead made her glow, and I heard Otto suck in his breath. “Your girl friend looks so beautiful tonight,” I whispered so she couldn’t hear.
He kicked me. “Don’t say that to her,” he hissed, “or I’ll put spiders in your room.”
I decided to be quiet. I was so afraid of spiders in those days. But Otto was equally terrified of snakes, so I glared back at him. “And I’ll load your room with huge poisonous snakes!”
He sneered. “I’d like to know where you’d get them. We don’t have poisonous snakes around here!”
“I’d get them from the zoo in Minneapolis.”
“How would you do that?”
I sniffed. “I’d take the train.”
“And where would you get the money?”
“I have some Mama she gave me for helping with the chickens.”
“Awwww—I’m going to tell Papa!”
That made me furious. “You do that, Otto Kerchner, and I’ll put a double load of snakes in your room!”
“They won’t let you take them on the train.”
“Shush. Here’s Betty.”
She glided up to us like a real princess. I have told you before that her parents were some of the richest people in town, and it looked to me as if her costume had been hand-sewn by one of their maids. Their help doubled and tripled their jobs–maids not only greeted visitors at the door: they also sewed and mended, served at parties, organized the household, chauffeured, gardened, and all the rest of the things that must be done to keep up a grand house. And their house was grand, as I have told you. Forgive me if I repeat myself. I am doing that more and more of late.
She put out her hand and for a moment I thought Otto was going to kiss it. “Umm, hi, Betty. G-g-g-gosh, you look swell!”
She smiled that perfect smile of hers. I feel dumpy and ordinary in my homemade dress, blouse and jacket, but Mama always told us to be proud of who we were and where we came from, so when she turned to me and smiled, I took her hand. “You do look just like a fairy princess.”
In the light I couldn’t tell if she blushed, but I think she did. “Thank you Mata.” Her voice reminded me of water trickling over rocks in the stream behind the barn back on the farm. “And you look so charming. Is your outfit from Germany?”
It was my turn to blush. “Yes. This was my mother’s when she was my age.”
She smiled again and I thought Otto was going to melt. He pulled off his helmet and fanned himself. I thought his eyes were going to come out on stalks like the cartoon characters we saw when Mama let us go to the movies while she and Papa shopped along with everyone else in town on Saturdays. “And you look just like your hero, Otto.”
Then he blushed. “T-t-t-thank you, Betty. I made this up from pictures in the newspapers.”
“Well, shall we get started?” Betty’s sounded excited and happy.
“Let’s!” I exclaimed. We linked arms and set off.
To be continued in Mata’s Story: 1943, appearing first as a series of stories and then in book form through eLectio Publishing, Midland, Texas (www.electiopublishing.com).