Steve and I sneaked in a few minutes late to the annual celebration of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The accordion player was already in full form. We tiptoed to our saved seats of honor, only to be warned away by a woman with permanently surprised eyebrows drawn on. “That place is for Mrs. Litfin!!” she hissed. We assured her Mrs. Litfin had directed us to these seats and sat down to enjoy the quasi- Polka music. The accordion player punctuated his songs with accordion jokes, a whole genre I was unaware of. The jokes mostly had to do with how much people hate accordion music, but the crowd was very amused.
I can’t remember ever listening to much accordion music; I thought it was quite cheerful.
I looked at the rapt faces of the mostly over 70 crowd and they were charmed. I thought of each life, each history, and all the memories that were being enjoyed. What to me was a rather humorous afternoon, was for them the highlight of their month. For a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, they were home again. Their favorite foods, music, even a blessing over the food in German, all these were taking them back to what always seems like a simpler time, our past. For many of these people, their past had included fleeing from Russia as the Nazis withdrew, escaping from refugee camps, harsh winters on Dakota farms, and numerous other hardships with harrowing stories. But today, they were content and comfortable, nostalgic and understood among their own.
The food was plentiful, if not varied. Schmeckfest means taste feast! Most dishes contained sauerkraut in some form, along with bratwurst and potatoes. It was hearty, to say the least. No wonder the Germans, even those from Russia, tend to be sturdy folk. I tried most everything and got a detailed explanation on how to make German potato salad from Mrs. Litfin, whom we had made room for next to us.
Another man at our table had a face that rivaled corrugated cardboard. I saw many stories there. He had a full plate of food and was having the time of his life.
We often don’t have to go far for a cross-cultural experience, we just need to pay attention. The richness of shared humanity is all around us. I got mine today with sauerkraut on the side.