Home News Local News Learning to embrace the Scrooge in one’s family

Learning to embrace the Scrooge in one’s family

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This picture shows German soldiers on the Eastern front in February 1945. This group of soldiers are equipped with Panzerfäusten (tank fists, the simple anti-tank grenade launchers German soldiers used in World War II), similar to the one that grandfather Manfred was supposed to use before he was wounded by shrapnel. (Photo courtesy of the National German Archives)

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What is it about the holidays that brings out the best and sometimes the worst in families? The more years one has on Earth, the more memories get fuzzy and Christmas past seems to be always better than the one you enjoy today.

I still remember celebrating Christmas in Germany with my small family. Looking back, it seemed as if Christmas was always white and we were always happy being together.

However, I know my memories are false. More often than not, we had a green Christmas, or rather gray and rainy. Snow often arrived in our valley somewhere between January and April.

Also, many Christmases were spent without my favorite aunt, who was an airline stewardess, or worse, when she was on standby and had to be ready to fly anywhere and be at the airport within an hour. Every time the phone rang, we all would flinch and hope it was somebody wishing Merry Christmas instead of the airline.

Then, there was my grandfather or Opa, as Germans call their grandfathers. He had been sent to the Russian front to die in 1944, when he and his colleagues were found out that they bribed the SS commander of their district in to letting them continue producing furniture in their company instead of working on Hitler’s war-machinery. He got hit in the head by shrapnel the first time he was supposed to fire a Panzerfaust (tank fist, a simple anti-tank grenade launcher). He was one of 15 men sent and the only survivor. After recovering from the wound, he became the clerk for the doctor of the mobile medical field hospital he had been sent to.

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When the Russian army advanced on their location, his doctor saved his life by putting him on the last train out of Russia. Through hardship and freezing temperatures, fire storms and temptation to just give up and commit suicide, my grandfather walked through Poland into Germany. He had told me, that he had thrown his Luger pistol into a creek, so he would not be tempted to shoot himself. He saw many corpses of other fleeing German soldiers who had done just that along the road he was on. It was a miracle that he was united with his remaining family. Before my grandfather was sent to the Russian front, the family had agreed that any survivors were to meet in a small village called Meiningen in the state of Thuringia. They found refuge with a friend before moving to twhe capital of Hess, Wiesbaden, where grandfather became employed in the German National State Archives.

I knew about his ordeals and that of my grandmother, but as a child, you are impervious to the surreal hardships of those who came before you. I was the second generation after World War II, I had studied the horror of concentration camps and the war in school many times, but it is different to read about war, compared to the reality of your own family’s history. I knew that I had lost six great-uncles, cousins and my great-grandmother during the war, but as I never met them, I didn’t miss them.

Looking back, I can see the post-traumatic stress disorder my grandparents suffered. How they didn’t break down every Christmas missing their parents, their brothers and cousins, I don’t know.

While my grandmother made sure that we all had good food on Christmas, every year we had the same disaster of my grandfather storming out of the room — after dinner of course — he wouldn’t miss our traditional Holy Evening dinner. Germans celebrate on the eve of Dec. 24. The evening’s drama would always begin the same way: After Opa inhaled the food, he would say, “Wasn’t the dinner much better last year?” We knew what would happen and the countdown would start. With whom would he pick a fight this year? Every year he took turns in choosing one of us, who would trigger his anger and make him storm off.

This became such a habit that soon, we were all looking forward to getting it over with, until one Christmas. I don’t remember which year it was exactly, but I was a teenager, so probably 1983 or ‘84.

We had the tradition on New Year to play roulette and a completely made-up kind of poker until the church bells would ring in the New Year at midnight. My grandfather adored it and was always happy, trying to beat us and winning all our pennies.

This Christmas, my aunt suggested us playing games, as well. It was the first Christmas my grandfather stayed with us. We would talk and laugh until deep into the night.

Opa knew, of course, what we did. Every following Christmas, he’d continued to say, “Didn’t last year’s Christmas dinner taste better?” That was our cue to go get the games.

I only wished we could have found the not-so-secret anti-Scrooge method earlier.

If you have a Scrooge in your family, how about finding your secret method to bring everybody together these holidays?

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.