Respect your elders

Now that I'm on the slide to my golden years I've been thinking about mortality. 

I belong to a German-focused, social recreation club founded by husband's grandparents back in the 30s. The club puts on a picnic, open to the public, once a month in June, July and August. Members range from womb to 90 year olds.

I just spent days getting ready and putting on the picnic and had ample opportunity to hang out with that variety of ages. The week leading up to the Saturday picnic is incredibly full. The club is going through a transitional time as the old guard is slowly diminishing in vim and vigor so my husband and I volunteered (heck, we're all volunteers) to help make the sauerkraut and start the potatoes.

For the sauerkraut it meant waking up at 4 a.m. to leave by 5 a.m. (cats, shower, coffee) to be at the park by 5:30 a.m. Rinsing gallons and gallons of sauerkraut for the cauldrons, cooking gallons of broth and then jumping in to other kitchen tasks. Finally draining the sauerkraut and putting it into pans with broth.

For the potatoes it meant waking at 3 a.m. to leave by 4 a.m. Fork testing each cauldron and when al dente...INDIVIDUALLY pulling 800 pounds of potatoes into pans for the ladies (and kids and men) to peel. Which were then sliced and made into potato salad. And then on to other kitchen tasks: separating links of sausages, individually packaging strudel, cookies and brownies, washing pans and pots and more pans and pots.

All through these days many different people, whose one link is some kind of German interest, worked side by side. Germans are notorious for "this is the way we've always done it". The tricky part is finding out what that way is. Many jobs are done by someone who has been doing it for decades. It's second nature to them. So my sister in law and I are working on getting that information down in print before that knowledge is lost. Who likes to reinvent the wheel?

One elderly gentleman guided us through the potato process. We actually volunteered to do this job because the man who had been running the early morning operation quit in a fit of rage over someone ELSE sorting the potatoes and putting them in the cauldron incorrectly. There's a lot more to the story but it did boil down (pun intended) to renouncing a major part of his life over potatoes.

As we watched water boil and wait for pounds of potatoes to get to the right stage for fork testing, we talked. Actually, he talked and I listened. He told me his whole German Park history and it was amazing. But towards the end he confessed to feeling worthless because he couldn't do what he used to do. He'd fallen and broken his back. Lifting 5 pound drained potato water buckets and carrying heavy pans of cooked potatoes to the table were now beyond him. We had arrived at 4:30 a.m. and he walked in at 5. He might not have been the brawn but he was the brains. So I tried to tell him how valuable that was. So many little tips and tricks garnered over 50 years !!! of cooking potatoes. I don't know how he's going to feel next summer when he isn't there at 4:30 a.m. He says after 50 years he's done but I worry and might have to call him a couple times for his input.

We had the same thing with our sauerkraut crew. The lead man had 35 years getting up at 4:30 a.m. (we decided 5:30 a.m. would work) to rinse sauerkraut and get it into the cauldrons to cook for 5 hours. He spent this summer quietly showing us what he did. We made some changes and I'd look to see how he was taking it and got the quiet nod of approval. His wife is wheelchair bound, the woman who used to get up with him is now at home and he's her primary caregiver. He says after 35 years, he's done.

I watched an elderly woman who's role was to get lunch ready for the workers. Actually, she commandeered the kitchen crew from a chair after she slowly walked in the door using a cane. A bit forgetful and usually asked three or four times if the ketchup was brought in but her spot was earned. She'd been a bit of a grumpy old lady but I've noticed her smiling and joking a bit more lately. Then I learned that a member family with a newborn and two year old and 4 year old had moved in next to her. She was now Grandma Alice to a new family and the little girl adored her.

I'm meandering to my point...

I'm working on renovating an old quilt with many seams coming apart. It's well-loved and the owner wants to keep using it "Fix it, I don't care how." It's flying geese triangles hand sewn with an overhand stitch. There's no sandwich, each triangle is a sandwich. At first I thought, boy, this must have been done by someone who didn't know what they were doing. But the longer I've been working on it I've been thinking there's always more to the story. The fabric isn't 70s new, probably 50s era. The sewer probably didn't have a sewing machine and probably didn't have anyone to show her how to make a quilt. It was probably meant for utilitarian purposes and not decoration or hobby. But I appreciated its beauty for a history of what it had seen. And I think there's a quilt I'll be making with its pattern in mind.

Listen to those who have come before you. Life is so short and to enjoy it more, stumble less when there is someone who can show you the way.

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