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Be careful what you have praise for

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In Germany, during the 1980s and ’90s, there were very many new settlers, recently arrived (or escaped) from oppression in Slavic countries. They were industrious, and consumed and built with great vigor, a direct result of having been deprived for so many years.

We were travelling with a singing group, actually an established male octet, who often brought their own family members with them. The tours were often two to three weeks in length. It was good to have some variety in the singing, with the whole higher voices (ladies’) spectrum of vocal arrangements, beyond the three octaves, or a bit more, that male singing produced.

Through successive tours, we noticed changes — changes in population, changes in their ability to forge ahead. These Unmsiedler (resettlers) just had a lot of native "spunk" or  "get-up-and-go."

The native, or original German people, were perhaps a bit envious of these families that stuck together. Sometime there were three generations,  living together and building three-storey homes, where they all resided in comfort. The big thing was that their homes were paid for in one or two years. Of course, they had plenty of assistance coming from governments, which made it much easier in the beginning.

But what really stood out, at least for me, was their generosity. I soon learned not to praise any thing too highly, or I would be gifted with that particular item. I still have a beautiful apron from them, with bright Russian-red colors. These items were well-made and quite durable. One of our speakers was "gifted" with an eagle crafted out of wood. This bird had quite a wing-span, and it took up a great deal of cargo-space on the flight home over the Atlantic Ocean

But I really goofed up with a compliment to an office-manager who had a recliner-chair in his office. That is where I directed my praise to. He thought I was enamoured with a really tall, yellow straw doll standing in the background. "I’ll give it to you!" he said.

The doll was well-crafted, made entirely of bright yellow straw and standing about three feet high. It had its own plastic case which he also gave to me.

What could I do but sputter my thanks, as it was not good etiquette to refuse gifts.

But the driver of our van was not quite so enthusiastic about this doll. It was his job, every morning to collect all the singers from their billeting homes, for his van. We travelled in three vans and he needed to arrange all the luggage so there was room to sit. Every morning after that, he would put this straw doll, in her plastic suit, up on top of all the luggage. Where else?

She would disintegrate under the weight of suitcases above her, should he forget to lay her carefully on top. He was normally quite friendly to me, but I could sense a wee bit of a chill in his attitude to me because of the doll. And well he might!

The doll, and our whole group, did eventually arrive safely back home in Canada. The doll, which I discovered had a Russian story written up in a roll of paper tucked away in her voluminous skirt, proudly stood on top of one our filing cabinets for years. You can see her yet, though only her photos, for we eventually were able to bring her to a thrift store. But I will not divulge which thrift store was the lucky recipient.

Bertha Klassen is a community correspondent for North Kildonan.

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