My Not-So-Daily Diary

December '03

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Monday, December 1, 2003

     Thanksgiving turned out just fine.

     We had one minor turkey emergency. One of our turkeys didn't fair too well in the freezer and smelled a little funky. We realized this at 1:15 in the afternoon as we prepared to stuff it - minutes before it needed to go in the oven to be ready for our guests who would be arriving at 6:00. Herbert suggested that we try to thaw one of the hams we have in our freezer. I reminded him that it was a ‘turkey day’ not a ‘ham day’. He immediately took off for the only grocery store we knew that had turkeys. We babied the new turkey and massaged it with lukewarm water until it had thawed enough to be stuffed. Luckily, the largest turkeys in Switzerland are around nine pounds, meaning they don't take as long to cook as the American-sized versions. The turkey was done at exactly 6:00.

     Many of the people were eating turkey for the first time in their life. Judging by the fact that they all went to the 'buffet' two times, I think they liked it. Okay, they also told us that they liked it, but actions are always a better indicator.

     I was a little stressed and busy getting the food out to the buffet and didn’t have time to take photos. Laurence helped out, not only with the food, but with recording the evening in pictures. As soon as I get the files from her, I’ll post a photo page.

     Friday evening, I helped Mädi out at her bar and restaurant, the Sternen. Every year in November and December, she serves fondue and raclette on Friday evenings. She didn’t have anyone to work this Friday and I agreed to help her out. It was packed. The first hour or so, my face was red hot from the fear of waiting tables for the first time in over twenty years and more specifically, from waiting on tables in a language I don’t know very well. My hands shook so much that I could hardly pour wine into the glasses. But as time went on, I found that people were very tolerant and very patient. And Mädi was always right behind me to help when I really panicked.

     Around 8:00, Herbert came in and sat at the Stammtisch. He seemed a little distracted, but ordered a portion of raclette. When I got a moment, I sat next to him and asked him if Fredu (who was sitting across from us) had asked him about the next afternoon. Fredu needed some help moving a thousand jugs from the ground level of the storage shelter he uses for the distillery to the loft above it. Herbert stated, very simply, that we couldn’t. I pushed him to give me a reason and he quietly told me that his mother was sick. His father had called that evening after I had left and told Herbert that Frieda had suffered a stroke that day and was in the hospital. It seemed as if she would be okay, but we wouldn’t know more until we could go to visit her the next day. I touched his arm, looked away and asked him not to tell me any more. Luckily, the stammtisch is next to the door to the kitchen and I escaped quickly before the whole room could see me cry. Mädi’s daughter Tina was at the stove, making fondue. I assumed she thought I was crying because I couldn’t handle the stress from waiting tables. I tried to tell her why, but I had a hard time choking out the explanation. Later, after I had gone back to serving, Tina came out and reminded me that it was a good thing we were so busy. She told me that I wouldn’t have time to think about things and let my mind get carried away with thinking the worst. She was right.

     Until we arrived at the hospital the next afternoon, I did my best to try to draw from Herbert’s strength. I kept my tears just behind the surface and tried to act normal. When we walked into the room, there were four beds with female patients. Three of the women had visitors and Herbert went straight for the bed where a small woman was sleeping. It took me a minute to realize that this was Frieda. I am 43 years old and yet, I have never visited a sick person in the hospital. I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid anything that would be uncomfortable, especially if it would be uncomfortable emotionally. I knew I couldn’t do that any more. I forced a smile and went over to hug her. I wasn’t able to hold my tears back any more.

     Although Frieda turned 82 last Wednesday and has had her share of pain from arthritis and a bad back, she works harder and has more energy than anyone I know. (She and Herbert’s dad Hans.) She is the strength for many of us and is always free in sharing her time, knowledge, wisdom, stories of her life and her emotions. To see her weak and quiet was something I had never seen before. I wondered how I would feel if I was laying in a bed and someone who had come to see me kept going to the window to cry. I stopped.

     The rest of the day remained a sad day, but I watched Herbert and tried to learn how to accept life and what comes with it, pain and all. With each day that has gone by, she is constantly in my thoughts.

     As of today, Frieda is doing a bit better and should be able to go home this Wednesday. If you’re reading this and you believe in prayer, please say one for her, one for her Hans and one for a very quick recovery.



Monday, December 8, 2003


     It's been one week since the last entry. Frieda has been in the hospital the whole time, but each day, she's gotten better and today she should be going home. We visited her again this past Wednesday and although she was tired and had lost weight, she was much better than when we had seen her the previous Saturday. I'm anxious for her to recover completely and look forward to spending my Wednesdays with her again.

     Yesterday we had our white elephant Christmas party at the Sternen. When I was living in Minneapolis, my friend Sherry and I had this kind of party every year. Just before the tenth anniversary party, I moved to Switzerland and have missed it every Christmas since. One evening when I was sitting at the stammtisch at the Sternen with Mädi and René, I told them about the white elephant game. They thought it sounded like fun and we decided to have one this year. I knew that this kind of 'American' party would be very different for everyone, so I wrote out the instructions on how to play the game and Herbert translated them for everyone. If you're not familiar with the game, you can find our rules here. And if you'd like to see them in German, then go here.

     Twenty-four people game with their gifts and snack food and we had a great time playing the game. It was so nice to have this Christmas tradition back in my life. The only difference I noticed between playing the game here and back in the U.S. was that the gifts were very, very nice. In Minneapolis, there were always some very hilarious, but very crappy gifts. Some years, there was such a great fear about opening a gift that most people preferred to steal something they might not need than to take a chance on the unknown. For those of you who have never played, let me just say that when you open a gift and find that it's a painting of Elvis, possibly hand-painted my someone's five-year-old, you can consider yourself out of the game for the rest of the evening.

     The other difference was that it took a while for people to catch on to the concept of stealing. And when they did, they apologized to the person they were stealing from. As one person explained to me last night, the Swiss are too polite. However, with a little coaching from Herbert, everyone caught on and by the last round, everyone was stealing from everyone. I only hope that no one thinks that all Americans do is steal from each other.

     At the end of the game, Herbert asked for everyone to raise their hand if they wanted to have the party again next year. Everyone enthusiastically raised their hand. And now I am grateful. Not only did everyone have fun, but this will now be part of Christmas in Oberwil.

     I'll post photos of the party when I have more time.




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