Monday, March 14, 2011
Parquet and Piano
With the huge unemployment in postwar Germany our large house in Hamburg, which had been requisitioned from the family of a German admiral, was well staffed. In the basement was Willi and his family. He was the hausmeister (janitor), as well as the stoker of the boiler, who had been a merchant seaman. Upstairs were a live-in maid and a cleaning lady who came each day, and a nanny for my baby brother. The live-in maid was blond, buxom, Hannelore, a simple country girl from East Prussia, who spoke no English. In contrast, Clara the cleaner was an intense, well-educated woman in her twenties. Amongst her duties was the weekly chore of cleaning the beautiful oak parquet flooring. This entailed slipping an abrasive wire pad beneath one shoe and then slowly working her way to and fro over the intricately patterned wood blocks until all scuff marks were removed.
Half way through her first day Clara threw an almighty tantrum, screaming and cursing and finally burst into tears before she ran off and hid in the toilet. When she finally reappeared she apologized, saying that she was not a cleaner but a concert pianist, but had to do something to help feed the family.
My mother, the headmistress at the International School and experienced in dealing with outbursts in many tongues, quietly led her to the Admiral’s Bechstein grand and suggested she play something. From then on each afternoon, after some token cleaning, the ballroom in the house echoed to Chopin and Liszt.