Apart from the daily spoonful of cod-liver oil, the main reason of having pulled through this far has been my keen relationship with buttermilk. During the war, we had none of those luxuries and were grateful for potato peelings and scraps of cabbages boiled up in huge steaming troughs, ladled out to the hollow-cheeked hungry from grimy white tiled soup kitchens. War ravaged we were.
An incident I have spoken of before, I’ll retell now again, even if just to sooth a recurring need to ponder over what has passed over a life lived so far. It would have been towards the end of that war when hunger was keenest, especially in Rotterdam which was bombed right at the beginning of 1940, the year I was born. I went with my mother to the soup kitchen. She carried a green enamelled bucket that held a porcelain grip around the steel handle. Those kind of buckets are lost but used to be well regarded and held (in good times) the creamy milk delivered and scooped in by the milkman on horse and cart. Now buckets are plastic and crack and are seen neglected in car parks and half submerged on creek beds or on neglected grassy nature strips.
After mother and I arrived at the soup kitchen we waited for our turn. I was holding a hand. After a while when I looked up I realised it wasn’t my mother’s hand anymore but that of a stranger. I have never lost that feeling of utter fright and abandonment, even though at my first cry my mum regained possession of my hand. It is strange how that feeling still remains so vivid.
That enamelled bucket lasted for many years. Finally it developed a hole which was fixed by a man who specialised in doing the rounds fixing metal buckets and sauce pans. A round metal patch would be fastened over the hole and hammered in a way that would patch the hole tightly, leak proof again for years. That’s how we had an era of no waste and people had jobs. We also had a man sharpening scissors and knives.
After our arrival in Australia we got enveloped with plastic, including the cheese, also of plastic.
The era of ‘Tupperware’ had arrived.
PS I don’t hold it against anyone not keen on drinking buttermilk, but…have you tried it? Don’t give up. In pancakes it is what couscous is to Rhubarb crumble. Ask the grandkids.