Holiday in Bremen
THANKSGIVING away from home and in a strange place can be cheerful and memorable, as in Bremen. Truth is that in my bringing up Thanksgiving never meant a roast turkey. Our barnyard hens were worthy substitutes, so I was college-age before I tasted turkey. The American Dominique, the poultry breed we favored, was just as native as a Pilgrim wild turkey, but ran small so it took a covey of them to do what one Big Tom would do on that holiday. Mother never stinted, and with assorted friends, relatives, neighbors, and countrymen bidden she usually basted six Dominiques in one huge ``bakersheet'' that just fitted into the oven of her Modern Clarion. So as a boy I heard of the Pilgrim turkeys and wondered. Later, when I came to taste a turkey, I was agreeably disappointed and gave thanks for my mother.
It was in 1953 that I had my first Thanksgiving afar. I didn't expect to see turkey in Old Bremen, which was then rebuilding war damage. I was there on what was generously called a ``cultural mission'' for the State Department; those were the days of the ``Occupation.''
Nor did I expect to see chicken as Mother roasted. I had learned that few good German dishes come from an oven. Top-of-the-stove chicken, yes, and perhaps grilled, but not a plump rooster browned and bursting with stuffing.
As Thanksgiving approached, I expected to make a lonely meal at my hotel and tender my holiday gratitudes over something else -- Wurst and Kraut, perhaps, or some Kasseler cutlets -- and undoubtedly an echter deutscher Kartoffelsalat. All such things are finest kind, but not for Thanksgiving. I would, for certain telephone home to Maine, but the time difference somewhat defeated the sentiment. Thinking of pumpkin pies and bag pudding and the immeasurable Gem"utlichkeit of a down-east farm kitchen on Thanksgiving, I got connected just as the family was getting out of bed. Besides, the German telephone operator tarnished my enthusiasm by warning me such a call would be very expensive.
But the day was saved. Mauri Lee, an officer at our consulate in Bremen, got in touch with several of us who were bereft in Bremen, and we assembled at his home for the holiday meal. I had no privileges at the PX, but Mauri did, and he laid in great bounty of everything, all American goods and cheaper than at home. The only non-American item was the German housekeeper, who prepared and served the meal but needed superintending from Mrs. Lee when it came to the turkey. The turkey was almost the siz e of a piano, and it was the first Truthahn the housekeeper had seen. He was a whopper, a real sockdolager, and among other things we gave thanks that day for the United States taxpayers whose unstinting generosity provided at such small cost such delights for all us unfortunate expatriates.
It was but a moment of association, and off we went our several ways. I have had no word from the Lees since, although I heard he was moved to Yokohama in time for that Christmas. Two of that Thanksgiving company were young ladies apprenticed (if that is the word) to the Metropolitan Opera Company who were on loan to the Bremer Civic Opera to gain stage experience. One of them was singing the lead in ``La Traviata'' and I went to hear her, along with the Lees. I was amused to hear an Italian opera
rendered in German. I've heard nothing about the two singers since.
It was late in the afternoon of an ordinary German Thursday when I bade thanks to the Lees, farewell to the company, and found a streetcar to return me to the Hotel Bremer Hospiz, where I had the choice Room No. 1 and a view up the street toward the Bahnhof.
Replete, even surfeited, I sat until bedtime, looking out. I recalled how pleased the German housekeeper had been when we complimented her on making a real Thanksgiving dinner. And how her smile suggested disbelief that die verr"uckten Amerikaner would eat anything like that when they might have Schinken.
Bremen is so very far away.