While-ago Freunden

'Twas said that no mill in the world wove finer woolen cloth than the old Worumbo at Lisbon Falls, here in Maine. One reason was the craftsmanship of German weavers brought on by the mill's agent, one Mr. Gutmann. And long before President Wilson was to make the world safe for democracy, Lisbon Falls had a considerable community of transplanted Germans. This included one Friedrich Heisterman from Essen, in the Ruhrgebiet, who did not work in the mill - he had come to open a meat market (mit Feinkost) and cater to the custom of his countrymen. He offered the usual forty different kinds of wurst, smoked chops, kraut, and a delicatessen counter with an Echtedeutschekartoffelsalat, even, and all in an amiable manner. His English never really hatched, but his wares and his friendliness prevailed, and the other ethnics in town, even down to the Yankees, traded with him until he had the principal market on the main street. Mostly, he was called Fred, but now and then got a Fritz.

And it came to pass that Fred took unto himself a wife, in preparation for which he sent back to Germany and asked his younger brother, Karl, to come to Amerika and stand up with him as best man. Karl came, but in the years since Fred had left Essen, there had been some changes. Karl had no yearning for a new horizon, and expected to inherit the family inn at Essen. Kaiser Wilhelm had his Bismarck, German antipathy toward the United States was incubating, and Sarajevo was coming up. Karl arrived and the wedding was magnificent, with a real German oom-pah band prominent at the reception at the German Hall on Goddard Street.

Such was the calendar that as Fred and his bride sallied on their honeymoon the war came and Karl couldn't return to his beloved Rheinland. He lived the rest of his life in Lisbon Falls and was never wholly happy about it. He soon married Annie, a Bavarian, and stayed as Fred's partner in the store -- he handled the grocery department while Fred conducted the excercises in the meat room out back. There was, for the war years, some taunting of the Germans, but this passed, and afterward Fred and Karl had only friends. Until the folly of chain stores forced the Heisterman market off the street, the boys were fixtures in town. As the German community assimilated, the need for special foods declined until the numerous sausages came down to franks and wieners, and Fred was said one day to realize that he was at last serving German customers who didn't know one from the other.

When I married and brought my bride to town, I took her from store to store to introduce her. Karl saw us coming in and boomed, ''Goot Morgen! Here it giffs our lucky day! Velcome, Velcome!'' This brought Fred from his rear room, wiping his hands on his apron, and he was effusive and pleased. ''Kom, Kom!'' he said, ''I show you how to keep a hungry husband happy!'' I visited with Karl and his customers out front and my bride disappeared into the cooler with Fred. He explained cuts of meat to her, showed her which was best for what, and instructed her in the secrets of his favorite - ''beef for stifle.'' That was strictly Heisterman, and she still makes a stifle now and then but today has to explain to a counterman what a stifle is, anyway.

In 1953 I got a journalistic assignment in Germany, and I appealed to Karl to brush me up on my college German. Fred was no longer with us. Karl was retired, and he was glad to spend four afternoons with me. He pointed at everything in sight, made me repeat the words, and fitted them into sentences. His eyes misted - he was remembering the Germany of his boyhood and wondered as he tutored me if the things he saw in mind's eye would be there for me to see. Instead of arriving in Germany with classic foolishment like ''Why don't you apply to the old farmer, Otto?'' and ''Fire, fire - the whole house is ablaze!'' and ''How sweetly the birds sang in the garden yesterday evening, Anna,'' I came well ready to ask for fried potatoes with my Kotelett, to get an egg with my breakfast, to insist on a receipt on the Strassenbahn, and to inquire when the next express train leaves for Hamburg. I blessed Karl many times and came home bearing gifts to thank him. Annie opened the door. Once again, Karl had gone to join Fred.

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