It’s hard to believe it’s time for kids to go back to school. It seems to happen more quickly then when I was hitting the books. From what I understand this is due to more in-session time off due to teacher conferences and the like. As much as I looked forward to summer vacation as a kid, I believe my parents anticipated the resumption of school with equal enthusiasm.
There was a news item yesterday about a young boy, seven I believe, whose parents allow him to stay home by himself for short periods time as a form of exercising his independence. Seven seems young to a lot of people, certainly it would have to my parents. Being a latchkey kid, both my parents worked outside of the home. Up until sixth grade this required hiring somebody during the summer months to keep me from giving in to my own inner demons and getting in a pile of kid-type trouble. The summer between fourth and fifth grade we resided in Southern California. After interviewing several applicants, Hilde, a German immigrant, was engaged for the position. Hilde’s personality would have served her well on a chain gain. She encouraged no insubordination, and when confronted with bad behavior didn’t hesitate to get the wooden spoon out of the drawer and threaten to use it. Never during that three months we shared together did she actually use the spoon, but I wasn’t fully convinced she wouldn’t, which made it equally as effective.
Food usually being my main concern, that summer it became more so. Hilde leaned towards her German ancestry when it came to food. Many of the foods appearing on my lunch menu I’d never seen before. Growing up in Nova Scotia there wasn’t a lot of knackwurst included in my diet. Perhaps I couldn’t pronounce what I was eating, but I learned to love the flavors and tastes she added to my relatively limited palette at that time in my life. Knodel, or German dumplings, ranked among my favorites. Bratkartoffeln, fried potatoes and onion with side meat was wonderful as well, although occasionally it was served atop a large piece of fried liver which sent me screaming from the room.
Hilde loved American television. Once I had been fed, she would sit before the television and watch All My Children while eating her lunch. A woman equally as tall as she was wide, she enjoyed her food and didn’t subscribe to thin American women, who she viewed with open suspicion. Lunch for Hilde consisted of huge slabs of bread filled with liverwurst or a bratwurst slathered with hot mustard. German potato salad or a side of sauerkraut usually accompanied the meal washed down with a large glass of German beer. Several times she tried to insinuate liverwurst into my diet, but I remained then and now immune to the siren song of the organ meat.
Each day after lunch Hilde tied on her hat and we went for a brisk walk. We probably logged in a mile or two out and back on these expeditions keeping me from packing on the poundage with all the delicious streudels and the like paraded past my overzealous eyes while she was keeping an eye on me.
In the evenings when my parents arrived, Hilde straddled her bicycle and pedaled the five miles in between our house and hers. She had never owned a car she told me. Didn’t want one. In her small village, the name of which left me years ago, cars were a luxury few but the rich could afford. Coming from a farming family, she was not a fancy human being. Clothing was chosen for functionality rather than fashion, and her thick shoes sensible if definitely not eye catching. Never married, at least up until that time, and with all her “people” in the old country, I felt she might have been glad for my company that summer.
My mother, a slave to fashion, felt Hilde needed some sprucing up to catch a man. Mother felt every woman should have one, Hilde being no exception. Asking her to stay on one evening beyond her usual quitting time, Mother did Hilde’s hair. Having nothing in her own closet close to the appropriate size she suggested a shopping spree one weekend to help Hilde select some more up-to-date styles for her closet. The tight buns and coiled braids I’d come to identify with Hilde were soon replaced with a softer look and before long she began to hum when making lunch in the kitchen.
I saw Hilde on many occasions after school reconvened that year, the most memorable being her wedding. Ours being the only “family” she had in the States we were there for moral support, or so my mother told my step-father. The groom, a man also as wide as he was tall, was also of German descent and called me “Leibling” at the reception. I wanted to tell him my name was Susie, but my mother pinched me and nodded her head so I kept my mouth shut.
Hilde comes to mind as school reconvenes every year. She gave me an introduction to delicious German cuisine I wouldn’t otherwise have had and a look into a culture that is also included in my family tree.
This chilled soup is quick to assemble and oh so refreshingly good.
Avocado and Cucumber Soup
1 large avocado, seeded and peeled
1 English cucumber
1/2 cup sour cream
1/16 tsp. onion powder
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
Cut avocado in quarters and place in bottom of food processor. Peel cucumber and cut in half lengthwise. Use spoon to scoop out seeds. Cut each half in half again and place in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
Serve cod topped with chopped chives.