I remember picking up the spewn out gum out of the gutter. A rich man’s castoff after the flavor was all gone. No matter to me, it still had substance. I needed something with volume in my mouth and my stomach. The little blob of chewiness was a dusty grey. It was no wonder with the sidewalk caked with crumbled stone and layers of soot. I popped it in my mouth after trying to scrape off as much debris as possible. Even with little chips of god-knows-what in it, that was my reward that day! The growling in my stomach kept at bay a bit longer. At least I hoped it would. I leaned up against the side of the building, chewing to my heart’s content, waiting for my mother to call me back in for lunch.
Being somewhat of a handful in my youth, getting sent outside was a common thing for me. It didn’t matter that the war was going on. Somehow, my mother thought the crisis in our city was easier to deal with than I was. On this day, my mama sent me out while she prepared our lunch. She yelled at me to stop being underfoot and in her way. Her scowl was feisty this day and her face cracked with lines I hadn’t seen before. I was almost thankful that she told me to get out and stay there until she called for me to come back in.
Lunch was our one filling meal for the day — the other meals, enough to keep us alive. Breakfast was usually schmalz on some bread. The creamy, greasy spread – rendered fat from pork. Looking back now, it resembled lard. If we were lucky, we got griebenschmalz which had cracklings added to it. The spread was chewy plus more filling. We never had to worry about the bread being stale or rotten as it never lasted long. And we had a connection to a local bakery that supplied the soldiers. We were so very fortunate in that respect. I often wondered about others who didn’t have that resource. I thought I was starving all the time, but what about them?
Of course, the soldiers ate well during the war. Because of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) regulation, troops got plenty of food. They had to be fit to carry out their duties. The average German soldier’s diet amounted to roughly 4500 calories a day. They fared much better at that time than the citizens in Berlin, late 1944. We were fortunate. My father had a friend named Dieter, who favored us. He was a soldier. What a blessing, as he shared his rations with us some. Not that it stretched far for a family of six, but it sure was a nice bonus to what we ate regularly. Dad felt lucky to enjoy some of his rationed cigarettes too.
I heard mama’s voice in German as she yelled from the window – “Petra, komm hoch! Das Mittagessen ist fertig!” I was happy she had finally called me; I was so hungry! I walked back to the house with a long stick weaving behind me, etching a wavy pattern in the dirt with my quick stride.
I sat down and inhaled the Eintopf she had prepared. Sweet carrots, celery, potatoes, and big chunks of beef floated in the thick broth. She had seasoned it to perfection. I’ll never forget it.
But it will also go down as the worst meal I’ve ever had. Mama sat down next to me after I finished. To this day, I can see her tear-stained face sitting before me. She reached for me with her shaking hands saying, “Your father is dead, and so is Dieter. As we will be too.”