A WINK FOR THE BUTCHER
An excerpt from "A Wartime Christmas"
Maria & Andrew Hubert
Published by Sutton Publishing 1995
The following extract from; "Memories of Christmas Passed and Past" brings home clearly how the sense of continuity on two fronts, was spoilt by the effects of the war The background to the story begins before the First World War, but we pick it up In the 1920s, continuing through the Second World War to include the story of the infamous liquid paraffin sponge cake - a `regular' favourite !
or us the highlight of the waiting time for Christmas was the parcel from Duesseldorf, which my father's godmother and her spinster sisters had been filling over the months for her beloved godson. and his family.
My English grandmother had gone to a German finishing school in North Germany ln the 1860's, to study the violin, and had made a lifelong friendship with the three Otterbein sisters Maria, Gertrude and Gustel.
Despite the tragedy of the First World War, the bond had not been severed, and these three devoted women had continued to write to my grandmother and my father.
Every September, a letter would arrive from Tante Maria, asking for a list of things that we three little girls would most like for Christmas. I remember one year receiving a beautiful ring with an aquamarine in it.
Besides these individual gifts, there were always gorgeous marzipan fruits, gingerbread `Hansel and Gretel houses, and a large salami sausage for my father. Tante Gertrude bless her, always knitted warm, woolly knickers for us, which had to be worn with cotton linings, otherwise we would have scratched ourselves to death!
In 1933 my two sisters and I came down to Christmas morning breakfast wearing beautiful hand-knitted Bavarian jackets in black, red and green wool, with a row of little silver buttons down the front.
Alas, the bitterness of another war between us and Germany finally killed this generous and beautiful friendship, and the correspondence between my mother and those three good old sisters withered and died. Another casualty of war.
Even the hardships of food rationing during and after the conflict never prevented our family from celebrating Christ's birthday. Our Christmas pudding and mince pies were made with great solemnity and pleasure from dried fruit which had been obtained from carefully-saved ration book `points' and a predominance of carrots, breadcrumbs and apples. My mother always told me, the eldest, to go and flash my eyes at the local butcher for a piece of precious beef suet which was grated into the Christmas pudding mixture! It's strange how these memories come back after all these years.
One of the horrors of war was dried egg! I remember as a bride sitting with my husband in the back row of a cinema in Ipswich, eating chocolate together with those Horlicks tablets which were issued to aircrew - sheer bliss One of those Ministry of Food short films came on with `Mrs Wartime Housewife' describing how to make an omelette from dried egg. ~ When she came to the part where she described how tasty and nourishing it was, an American airman, smoking a cigar with his feet on the back of the seat in front, took out his cigar and shouted : `It 's a lie! '
So that we shouldn't suffer the indignities of dried egg, my mother kept chickens. We had a surfeit of eggs, but a shortage of everything else. We used to have an open house for young servicemen. After a while, our home was nicknamed `The Patcham YMCA'. My mother used to garner various odds and ends, together with `liberated' contributions from our various visitors; she used to employ these eggs in a variety of ways.
One festive addition was a Victoria sponge cake, made up with all those eggs, but deficient in either butter or margarine. My mother substituted liquid paraffin! It worked very well, but we noticed that one of our regular Canadian visitors became very `regular' indeed. He seemed to spend a great deal of time in our lavatory. When my mother mentioned it to our local pharmacist, all manner of dire warnings were issued about leaching minerals from our systems; so no more sponges!
When I married my Polish airman in 1944 I became aware that from mid-November, if he had obtained leave, he became almost entirely engulfed in a thick fog of Slavonic gloom. After many loving and bewildered questions, which were met with, 'you wouldn't understand, Aniuska,' I found out that he, poor lad, was remembering with pained nostalgia, the Christmases he had enjoyed with his family in south-east Poland before he had been transported to a Siberian labour camp.
Gradually we evolved our own Christmas Eve celebrations, a mixture of Polish tradition and family ritual which survives to this very day. Hay spread under the white tablecloth to commemorate the Christ-child's lowly crib, and the Christmas wafer broken among us - a portion offered to everyone present, and saved for those loved ones not able to be together with the family. A loving personal wish and a kiss; hurts are healed, resentments, if any, melt away and the loving bonds are renewed through this lovely old Polish custom.
Would that wars could melt away so easily!
Copyright Angela Hubert 1975
Copyright Maria & Andrew Hubert von Staufer March 1995