Michelle Fincke reminisces on a not so lovely dinner


I was making terrible medical history. Tears cascaded, followed by snot. Snot and trotters.


By Michelle Fincke

My German grandmother Lissi loved me, which is why she pinched my cheeks, called me liebchen, regarded me fondly with moist eyes and plonked a pile of food, as high, impenetrable and dangerous as the Berlin Wall, right in front of me.

I was eight and sitting low at the table, my nose inches from the most appalling meal I’d seen in my short life. Dinners in the meat-and-three-veg years were rarely pretty – and my mum was no Margaret Fulton – but there had been nothing like this: a hungry adult’s portion of pig’s trotters and two hand-grenade-sized potato dumplings cowering under a thick, pale blanket of sauerkraut.

“Eat”, commanded Oma. She and my father then fell upon their plates, chattering in German while forking the grey, gloopy material in as if it was … well, delicious.

I was clad in my brand-new maroon winter coat, had stashed my baby doll in its toy bassinette under my seat and now the only thing standing between me and a longed-for cuddle with my mum and tiny new brother in the hospital was the atrocity on the plate. The trotters looked so stark, so terribly frank, as though the poor creature they’d belonged to might just pop its head around the door and ask for them back.

Even now, at the furthest stretch of my memory, I knew I was a goner. My dad, like most dads of his generation, knew the only way to feed children when their mother was absent was to find the nearest other mother. So I was here – Berlin-in-Altona complete with polkas on the stereo – and I knew that to leave the table with food uneaten was verboten.

Somehow, I got the gelatinous goop into my mouth but then things stalled. Despite the very same strategy landing me in the naughty corner many times before, I packed out my right cheek, then my left and finally the bit in between. The plate was emptier, but I looked like a chipmunk in autumn.

Misery descended. There was still a mountain of trotter left. What if I wasn’t allowed to see my mum and new baby? Tears trickled down my face and the pressure built. I was going to explode. Panicky little fingers probed and, sure enough, damp pork-and-potato was actually coming out my ears. I was making terrible medical history. Tears cascaded, followed by snot. Snot and trotters.

Eventually, the adults looked down and the horror of what they saw halted conversation. Oma’s eyes narrowed; her plump, rather severe face became harder still. I was swept up in a firm flurry, cheeks miraculously emptied (bliss!), face vigourously scrubbed with a scratchy flannel, hair re-brushed and, with baby-in-basket hastily snatched up, we were heading for the door.

My unknowable Oma kissed my now clean cheek, but her angry disappointment left a mark like a lipstick stain, her murmured liebchen decidedly colder. I felt her love diminished, but at least I’d avoided death by dumpling.

Thank you Michelle!

Michelle is a freelance journalist, magazine editor and non-fiction teacher at Victoria Polytechnic. Find out more about Michelle Fincke here.

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