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144 33 The first straw from a newly cleared, cultivated field is as fine as grass. Threshed with the flail and tied into small bundles, it is used to thatch many of the roofs in Freilingen. Straw is scarce in the high Eifel.The fields are meager and stony. Spring comes late and winter early.The stalks of the sparse grain do not grow very tall. The farmers need straw in winter to mix with the cattle fodder. For the stables, they use gorse and heather. To thatch the roofs, they buy long rye straw from the fertile Jülich region—“the lowlands,” as the people of Freilingen say—and transport it back to the village on cow-drawn carts. With the straw come the rats, which nest in the thatch and create leaks. They also get at the food stored in the cellars and attics. Maria is afraid of rats and loathes them. Father has several cats, two of which hunt rats. Mice are mostly found at harvest time, when Father mows the grain with the scythe. Then, stirred up, they scurry through the fresh stubble.­ Hundreds of mouse holes become visible. To get rid of the rats and mice, Aunt ­ Barbara has set up some traps at home, and she also sells them to the neighbors. Maria has been cleaning her aunt’s shop every Saturday for years. In exchange for the cleaning, Aunt Barbara gives her a length of dress material . Maria is happy about it. Since she left Aachen she has had nothing new to wear. She has grown out of all the clothes she had, although she has altered and patched them again and again. She takes the material to Mrs. Appels, a seamstress in Lommersdorf. She asks her to cut out the material for a dress. Maria does not dare cut the new material herself, but she will sew the dress herself. At last she has something nice to wear again for Sundays. In her new dress she takes a walk to see her Uncle Luppertz. He is a brother of Elisabeth, her dead mother. For a number of years he has run an inn in the lower village. First, Maria sees the manure heap in Stories Main Pgs 1-258.indd 144 4/26/2017 12:17:40 PM The Stories They Told Me 145 the yard, and behind it the small stone house with the inn.A hall has been added to it, but dances are not held there anymore. German soldiers sit in front of the hall with their guns. They are guarding Russian prisoners. Maria has had to get used to the sight of the prisoners with their padded jackets and overalls. The prisoners can move about quite freely in the­ village. They are friendly and good-natured. Whenever help is needed on the farms, because the men are at war or have fallen, the Russians readily lend a hand in the fields and in the stables. Maria is very surprised to see that everyone uses gestures to communicate with the prisoners. She can understand everything they mean. When she asks, Grandmother says,“The prisoners have a different language.”The Russian prisoners of war and the beggars from other towns have changed life in the village. On Sunday mornings, Father drills the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old village youths in the meadows behind the Reech.They use a wooden stick in place of a rifle to practice “Shoulder arms!” They have to crawl on the ground and learn to shoot using a real rifle. Father sets up a large target. Once, Maria watched from a distance and saw the flash from the muzzle, followed by a puff of smoke. Father is very proud of the fact that he is giving the boys preliminary military training.“I am an old soldier,” he tells Maria. Has he already been to war? she wonders. Aunt Barbara tries to give her an answer and writes on a piece of ­ paper: Regiment Horn in Trier. Father was there, before he went to America. Maria does not know what to make of Regiment Horn. But, she does not want to bother anyone with further questions. The people of Freilingen go to work, looking more and more downhearted. Sixteen husbands and sons from the village have already been killed. The hunger increases. The throng of beggars and barterers seems endless. At midday, they now often eat turnips, which used to be cattle food. In late autumn, the...


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MARC Record
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