Thursday, June 23, 2011

Climbing the Stairs of the Farmhouse

Stairway to the upper floor 

Remember Onkel Willem and his simple barnhouse?  We explored the ground floor of his dwelling in my last post.  You probably guessed that there was more to come because his house had two stories.  So it is time to climb the stairs to see what is in the rooms situated above the Stube and the tiny dark kitchen.

Bedroom in one of the houses at the Roscheider Hof Open-Air Museum
The second floor of Onkel Willem's house had more space because it covered not only the two ground-floor rooms but also extended above the stable.  The animals below, snug in their stalls, provided heat to the upper floor during the winter.  This is where the sleeping rooms were situated.  Another room, called the little meat house, was the place where the smoked meat (that had originally been cured in the fireplace downstairs) was now strung on a pole.

Meeting the family's need to save whatever might have future value -and to visiting children's delight - there was a little, almost invisible door in a dark corner of the upper floor which led to a kind of low-ceilinged space filled with a mixture of objects.  They were seldom if ever used, but they might be needed at some yet unknown time in the future.  We would call it a junk room perhaps; the German language calls it Gerümpel, one of those great nouns that sounds like what it is.  It was also a place where young imaginations could run wild.  Two or three children could pretend that one was the jailer and the others the prisoners.  The prisoners had to pay to get a bread crust and some water and were confined until the master jailer (Kerkermeister) opened the door.  Or they could imagine that the attic was the place where a fugitive, during some long ago war, had hidden a treasure - a basket with Zwetschen brandy, a nice fat ham, and perhaps even a pig bladder full of hard tallow (an air-tight container that could be used as a ball in a variety of games).

Next, up a flight of very narrow stairs, came the third floor "real" attic where the corn, wheat and oats were stored.  There were small white ovals here and there amid the hills of golden colored grains.  Those were the eggs that Onkel Willem's wife, Mimi Sus, had stored there to preserve them for the winter months.  (Winter was the time the hens lacked food and stopped producing eggs).  Sacks with dried peas, linseed and clover seed for planting in the spring stood nearby.  There was a ceiling beam in the upper attic where the women hung small bags with garden seeds.

An even longer beam was hung with work shirts, bed linen, dish and hand towels that were washed each week but which were not needed before the next "big wash" in either spring or fall.  During the big wash, these pieces, along with other anything else that was dirty, were soaked in lye made from ashes - then bleached white in the sun and given a fresh, pleasant-smelling scent before they were stored in cabinets and on shelves for future use.

Now we have a word picture of the house of Onkel Willem, one which bears a strong resemblance to many of the houses of his neighbors - and to the Irsch house of my great-great grandparents.

Source:  Croon, Maria.  Die Dorfstrasse, Eine Bunte Heimatchronik

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