Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Red Cabbage Story

Here’s a story that’s just for you, about my great-grandparents Albert and Wilhelmina Thomas. They were my Grandma Schroeder’s mom and dad; they were married in 1885 and came over from Germany not long after that. I told you a little about them before.

I’m telling you this story tonight, because we just looked outside and noticed that snow is accumulating on the road. This is our first snow of the winter! And it’s miserably cold out there, with wind gusts up to 45 mph. I’m glad to be inside tonight. This is the perfect time to share this story with you.

This story must be from the 1930s or early 1940s, because Dad and Uncle Richard remember it, and Albert and Wilhelmina died, respectively, in 1942 and 1943.

Sometimes, though, when a story gets told and retold, you have to wonder how much of the story is a clear, direct memory, and how much has become “lore.” I’m not naming names, but some of us Schroeders are particularly marvelous storytellers, and sometimes you tend to add extra details to make a story more, um, colorful. . . . And what could be more colorful than the red cabbage story?

Let me refresh your memory on the setup. The Thomas/Schroeder family lived on the second and third floors of the house. The first floor was rented out to another family. When my dad and uncle Richard were boys, they and my grandparents slept in bedrooms on the third floor. My great-grandparents slept in the front bedroom on the second floor, and the bedroom across the hall from them was rented to a lady who worked for state government.

Anyway, apparently one night there was an argument. No one remembers what it was about, or who started it. But apparently it was between Albert and Wilhelmina. Deeply upset, Wilhelmina stomped off into their bedroom and locked the door behind her. She absolutely refused to come out. She was incredibly angry. Nothing anyone said could soften her up. She was resolute. The door stayed locked.

Oh my. What to do.

This was in the dead of winter, but Albert put on his coat and boots and tromped away into the snowy night. It was late. To this day, no one knows where he went. The family was wondering if they had to start being worried about him, now, too.

But he finally returned, stomping snow off his boots, swinging open the big wooden front door, ruddy from the cold, and with frost on his mustache. And he had with him a big, beautiful head of red cabbage. No one knew where he got it on such a cold, snowy night.

He knocked on the door of their bedroom and spoke quietly to Wilhelmina, and in a moment she opened the door a little bit. He showed her the red cabbage—and her anger immediately dissolved. Or, as the story is often worded in the retelling, she “forgot her anger.”

You know what it was. It was the pure joy of a perfect, beautiful vegetable. I totally understand, because there have been times I’ve almost wept with joy in a lovely, well-stocked produce section or farm market.

And also: it was Albert’s sweetness—that he was willing to go out in the bitter cold and somehow obtain that big, perfect head of cabbage for her.

And it was the comfort that he knew her so well that he could be confident this gift would turn her frown upside down. That’s love, you know.

Yeah, we’ve had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all that, but as for me, I’m going to keep the Red Cabbage story in mind when I think of gifts this year.

And each time I make our annual holiday sauerbraten dinner and present the big dish of cooked red cabbage, I remember the wintry gift that melted the anger of Grandma Thomas.


Susan said...

Yum! Buttery red cabbage with plump, juicy white raisins! Delicious.

Osage Bluff Quilter said...

That story reflects much more warmth then black friday, or the day after christmas with all the sales and madness.
Aldi's did have German red cabbage in a jar, it was cooked with apples. Not bad for canned food.
Happy Holidays!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Yeah, Sue, those raisins added a certain, uh, How would the Germans say "je ne sais quoi"?

And Patti: You don't need to buy red cabbage at the store anymore: I just posted my recipe for cooked red cabbage today (12/13/10). It's ridiculously easy to make! I encourage you to try it!

And a Merry Christmas to you, too!