16 October 2008

My Dad

A lot of Kay's friends are turning 18 at the moment and she has been busy several evenings this week making birthday cakes to take into school for them the next day. She has decorated them herself too and made a wonderful job of customising each one for their recipient. Her classmates have been very impressed and have commented how good she is. Which is all rather appropriate because we reckon her grandfather (my father) must have been watching over her and guiding her.

My dear old Dad would have been 85 today, if leukaemia had not struck him down suddenly nearly eight years ago. He had a reasonable innings, I suppose, and considerably more than he would have had, if the nasty Mr Hitler had had his way. My Dad was born in Berlin on 16 October 1923. Because of the post 1914-18 Depression in Germany, my pregnant grandmother had been unable to maintain a nutritious diet. So my father was born with rickets and could not walk until he was six years old. My grandfather came from good old Prussian stock and was a Lutheran, a protestant faith into which my father and his older (by three years) brother were christened and confirmed. But my grandmother came from Jewish parents, who did not want to force Judaism on their children, so much so that my grandmother never even set foot in a synagogue. Maybe my great-grandparents saw which way the wind was blowing. Who knows? But sadly, when it came to Mr Hitler's cleansing programme, any hint of Judaism in the family going back, I believe, six generations meant you were branded a Jew, whether you practised it or not. For my father and his older brother, despite being christened and confirmed, it meant not being able to join the Hitler Youth. Not that they wanted to, mind you, but not to join made you stand out, because everyone was rushing like lemmings to be a part of it. My father was singled out at school when he did not wear the Hitler Youth uniform on special celebration days. It did not however exclude him from being made to write euphoric school essays about Hitler on the Fuehrer's birthday or when he made his big speeches at Nuremberg.

One day in 1938, my father, aged 14, was away visiting one of his aunts, when the SS officers came to take him away. As he was not at home, they took my (then) 17-year-old uncle instead to a nearby concentration camp where he spent 3 months, was tattooed and watched all kinds of atrocities. My grandparents (for some reason the Gestapo did not take them as well) had the foresight to sell off all their possessions to free him again, as it was possible before WW2 to buy your freedom if you could prove that you had a definite passage out of Germany. The family managed to escape to Britain with the help of English Quakers, first the children with the Kindertransport in March and a few months later, my grandparents. Many of the aunts, uncles and cousins were less fortunate and shortly thereafter were taken to concentration camps, where no more was heard of them.

My father, now in England, was placed in digs on a farm (still at the tender age of 14 without his parents or brother anywhere close by) to help out with all manner of work, earning a few pence at the weekend by scrubbing out the stables or the farmhouse, so that he could afford to buy personal things like shaving cream or toothpaste. He could only speak a few words of English which didn't even amount to a sentence. Slowly he built up his vocabulary, after befriending a young man in the village who spoke a little German. After war with Germany broke out in 1939, he was then interned on the Isle of Man for six months while the British government went into his paperwork to check he was not a German spy. When he was given the all-clear, he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture clearing the land to feed the nation. That is how he met my mum, a Land Army girl, about three years later in 1942. My post on 26 July tells how he was pulling out trees with a chain and a tractor and she stumbled over the chain. He helped her up and they started dating. He loved opera and introduced my mother to a different opera showing in London each week with his hard-earned money. They were married in 1947. Times were hard and they had to live apart for the first three years, as they were unable to get even a room together, let alone a flat or house in post-war bombed-out London. Their work dictated that she live with her parents in South London during the week, while he lived with his parents (having meanwhile met up with them again) in North London. They got together at weekends, when they could. There were no such things as social benefits or hand-outs, particularly so, because he was an immigrant... .nowadays it is quite the reverse. So he worked hard for his living and managed to get on the housing ladder and save for a mortgage. He was naturalised as a British citizen and was always proud to be British. He wanted to do his best to settle down here and give thanks to Britain for saving his life.

A few years after the war, Dad took a course in food science and baking and ended up being a chef patissier or pastry chef. Looking at the prima donna celebrity chefs these days, I reckon he would have deserved to be up there with them (by that I do not mean he was a prima donna, but was the best at his job), but in his day, chefs were poorly paid and worked long hours and did not get the celebrity status they do now. He worked for some pretty big London hotels and finally ended up being the patisserie manager of a very high-class grocery establishment in London well-known all over the world as THE Grocer to the Royal Household. In 1960, he made one of the many wedding cakes for the marriage of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. He was often asked to send out pastries to the Queen Mother. He later went on to make the desserts for all kinds of high government functions, including those where the Queen and other Heads of State were present. He even once had to go to 10 Downing Street and go through that famous door to make desserts for a function there and regularly worked in the kitchens at Hampton Court, where Prime Minister Harold Wilson insisted on holding his state functions. When he took early retirement aged 62 because of a heart condition, he was still in great demand and would still often do the odd bit of work for friends and family, such as making wedding or birthday cakes.

At one point in his life he had also taught cake-making and decorating at evening school and had many appreciative students - mainly women. They adored him, though he never strayed away from home and always stayed faithful to my mum, and to this day we still receive fan mail from these women at Christmas. Because of his continental upbringing, he would always wear a jacket, collar and tie, even when the temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and over. He was a sort of Captain von Trappe figure - always very reserved, courteous, well-turned out and charming. I never saw him drunk. He might have had the occasional Guinness at Christmas, but even that was a rare sight. He was the sort of guy who had many friends, but yearned for a quiet life at home. The Nazi era had affected him badly. He was not keen to give details of his past to anyone and he refused to take any compensation from the German government for what they had done to him and his family, when he later had the opportunity to claim it. He saw it as blood money. He was terrified of fire, because he had grown up seeing books and synagogues burned, and always made a point of unplugging any electrical appliances before he went to bed. He was happy so long as he was safe in his home, with his wife and child, and much later he was happy to spend time with his one and only grandchild, whom he spoiled rotten. He excelled at (and won prizes for) everything he turned his hands to - be it ploughing or bread-making. An Austrian princess who visited that famous grocery store once told him his Viennese Sachertorte was better than the ones she could buy in Vienna. In latter years, as a hobby, he made the most beautiful, intricate dolls-house furniture for Kay . .. tiny inlaid marquetry tables or cabinets with drawers and glass-doors or even a miniscule television with knobs and dials.

Sadly in 1997 he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukaemia (CLL), but it was a type that was relatively kind and would not snuff him out. He bore the regular blood transfusions and bone marrow tests with fortitude and I never heard him complain. Then at Christmas 2000 he suddenly started to feel very ill indeed and could not even manage to eat the festive meal without feeling sick. He struggled on for a few weeks until mid-January when he was due to see his consultant haematologist. Further tests were done and it was found that he had developed the more aggressive form - acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) - in addition to the CLL . We were told it was so rare to have two different forms of leukaemia at the same time. He was told he was too ill for chemotherapy and had a matter of weeks or months to live. In fact he died a mere ten days later on 1 February 2001. We were devastated.

My mother has still not got over it after nearly eight years. She misses him dreadfully and still cries for him. They were so in love and were two perfect halves of a whole. As an only child, I adored him and put him on a pedestal. He was loving and loveable. I miss him dreadfully. Today he would have been 85 years old. So when I saw Kay this week icing those beautiful birthday cakes so perfectly for her friends, I believe he must have been watching over her and guiding her hand. Maybe he was sitting on a cloud hoping there was a cake for him today. I would give anything for him to be here to eat it.

Happy Birthday Dad.

24 comments:

Stinking Billy said...

Rosiero, beautifully done, baby. It's always interesting to read old stories about deserving people. x

Millennium Housewife said...

What a man Rosiero, and what a past, a fitting tribute I think, well done MH x

Elaine said...

That was so beautifully and perfectly written. I agree....what a man!

Kit Courteney said...

Beautifully written.

As said above, this post is a wonderful tribute to a clearly wonderful man.

I think your daughter is destined for great things in the future!

Akelamalu said...

It was so interesting to read your father's story. I am so sorry he is no longer with you. My father will be 84 in November and I am thankful for every day we still have him.

I am going to Poland on the 28th October and intend to visit Auschwitz & Birkenau to pay my respects to the people who lost their lives there. I will say a prayer for any relatives you lost there and also for you father. x

Cee said...

What a fab post ... but what a sad juxtaposition, your dad with Kay's dad.
x

aims said...

Another post from you that has me sitting here with my mouth hanging open.

What an incredible life your father had. No wonder you have him on a pedestal!

I understand completely the missing every single day and how it never goes away.

I wish you peace today as you remember your father and miss him.

You've made me wish I had known him.

blogthatmama said...

Lovely post Rosiero and a great tribute. Good to see his skills have been passed on. Blogthatmamax

Anne said...

That post got to me. My Dad died in 1993 of acute myeloid leukaemia. He also couldn't have chemo. Mum just 4 years later of bowel cancer. Both immigrants but from Scotland to N.Z.

What a beautiful, special tribute to your dad!

P.S. not sure how I stumbled on your blog, but I've tagged it and will back to read some more and older entries.

april said...

So that is why you speak/write German so well. (I haven't read all of the article, I will continue this afternoon ... have to help my old mother)

cologneblog said...

A great story, what a life! I already see you writing a book. You write very well; it was interesting from the first to the last letter. It's a bit sad to miss someone so intensely, but on the other hand nobody wants to be forgotten and I think your dad deserved that you will nevr forget him and keep memory.

(Pity, that I can't comment easily here; I have to get into my wordpress account before)

Robert said...

I was also blessed with an exceptional man as my father. Sadly he died a few years ago - I could really do with him now...

It's often said that a problem shared is a problem halved. I had no-one to whom I could bare my soul in its entirity, and that's why I began blogging. And it has been very therapeutic for me :) It would seem that you came to blogging for similar reasons.

i have just brought myself up-to-date with your blog. I love reading your well-crafted posts, and I'm always hoping that things will improve for you.

Best wishes.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

That was a truly excellent blog. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning about your father, a wonderful man very deserving of the long life he enjoyed.

Your father will without doubt have been watching Kay make those cakes. It will have been through his influence how she came to make them in the beginning.

Blow him a kiss. And feel a breeze by your side as he returns your love.

CJ xx

Ellen said...

Rosie, That was a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father. Happy Birthday to him in that great Patisserie in the sky. I am sure you are right and this talent is one of his many gifts to his grandaughter and that he is watching over you, Kay and your mother. God Bless.

Nota Bene said...

Wow...absolutely rivetting...how brilliant to know so much about your father's life. I shall have a drink to celebrate his birthday!

the mother of this lot said...

I can't remember how I got here, but I was glad to read that wonderful story.

Working mum said...

What an amazing and inspiring story. And seeing his spirit carrying on in your daughter - how wonderful.

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

how lovely, how beautifully written, what a story. what an adventure he had! and what memories he left with you. Absolutely, those we love and lose are sitting at our shoulders and guiding with the tiniest nudges x

Flowerpot said...

what a lovely man. You must hold onto those precious memories.

Expat mum said...

Wow - what a story, and how lucky that you had such a great dad. You're right - he had a good innings, although he'd been through more than most. Definitly sitting up there keeping an eye on you all now.

DulwichDivorcee said...

Oh Rosiero, what a beautiful tribute to your father. I'm sure his love is what has helped you to carry on in such difficult circumstances. I admire your strength, as always xx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

A lovely story Rosiero...you do your father such justice. He reminds me of my grandfather who is still alive at 92. Lovely people are always missed especially by those who love them most.

Before reading this I also read about Thomas Keneally who literally stumbled on the Schlinder's list story. I find it fascinating to hear more about what happened in Germany. It cannot have been so black and white as our films tend to depict it.

Going to the Dogs said...

You really made him come alive for your followers. As long as he lives in your memory, he lives. I am also an only child, and so was my mother. It is so sad when there is no-one left alive to remember someone you loved, or the special date that was their birthday..Thank you for sharing this wonderful man with us all.

K Ville said...

what an amazing life. Quite incredible.