From time to time, during my stay in “Friedland“, we children were given jobs to do. Be reminded that I was eight when I arrived there. I don’t mean to complain about the work performed. I was used to helping my mother or my greataunt when I was still at home. Here in the boy’s home, we all thought it alright that we were asked to perform some tasks. We accepted, that adults could boss us children about and give us chores to do. This was the order of things.
During school holidays the staff must have thought we are getting bored. One day a week was cleaning day anyway. All the windows were opened and the fresh air was let in. In winter, the air was not only fresh but freezing cold and I hated it when I did not get warm. Then, some of us were given a bucket of soapy water, a hard brush to scrub the floor with and a floor rag to soak up the excess water. The floor was made from white (!) timber and it had to be scrubbed white.
It was hard work. My little hands could hardly hold the brush as I tried to scrub the grime off the floorboards. The knees hurt. We soaked up the water with a cloth (Ger. Scheuerlappen – floor cloth) and wrung it into the bucket.
Another job I had to do was shovelling rotten beets. After the harvest, they were stored in a warehouse up to about 50cm high. But in winter they froze and after thawing they were giving off a horrifying smell akin to faeces or rotten corpses. That was not nice work at all. I have no idea why they got us, the children, to do the job. I suppose, there was a shortage of labour due to the war.
But this was not the worst job I had to perform. Every few months we had to empty the sewer pit. We only had the use of one outdoor toilet. One for about thirty boys. Right in the beginning, I was warned by the other boys not to sit for too long on the toilet as there were water rats that liked to nibble the little boys’ genitals. That really put the fear into me.
When the day came to empty the pit we each got a bucket. One of the bigger boys had a scoop on a long handle and scooped the effluent up and poured it into a 10 ltr bucket. The buckets were heavy to carry. The content spilt all over our legs as we walked across the road and up a slight hill to the veggie garden where it was poured onto the garden beds as fertiliser.
But there was a rather pleasant job too. Every Thursday evening we all walked to the local bakery to collect our weekly supply of bread for the home. Each one of us had to carry a large, round loaf of bread, about 2 kilos heavy, back to the home. Usually, it was already dark and under the cover of darkness, I dug a hole in the side of the bread. First I broke off a piece of the yummy crust and then with the finger I was able to extricate some of the still warm dough. I have no idea whether any other of the boys did this. It was not talked about.
We had to do our own beds too and once in a while we had to change the sheets and the covers too. It is rather difficult for an eight-year-old to manage to get a huge, heavy feather quilt into the cover. But we learnt to do it. It set me up for life and I’m still doing it nowadays.
Today’s children don’t seem to do chores. They are sitting forever on their backsides and are staring at their phones or tablets. It is said they are smarter nowadays. Smarter in what, I wonder?
Even from an early age on I always had to help out at home. Running errands for my Mum was done without any questioning. I, for my part, was proud helping my mother and I wanted to please her.
In the home each boy got a little veggie patch to look after. There was no compulsion and I can’t remember that I was very diligent looking after it. Except for a few carrots, I did not harvest anything else.
There was a report the other day which stated that children who are encouraged to do chores are later, as adults, more successful. But how do you define “successful”? It is said they are able to cooperate with others. Perhaps this is what I have learnt. I’m certainly not angry that I was asked to do some work. I never had a choice. but did not resent it either.
Perhaps I am successful in the sense that I’m not complaining about my lot. I take life as it comes and I go on with it.