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Elisabeth Flitner, "A Candle was burning on the Lectern Early in the Morning" (Retrospective)

Elisabeth Flitner’s description of her childhood captures the world of a solid, upper middle-class German family at the turn of the century. In addition to underscoring the importance of extended family networks, the account provides a glimpse into the economy of bakers, butchers, and housekeepers that surrounded Flitner's family, as well as the institutions of church, school, and state.

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I spent my childhood and youth as the fifth of eight siblings in my parents' house in Jena. My parents built the house after I was born, because their lease on the apartment where they lived after they got married had been terminated on account of the “unreasonable” number of children.

The house had large, bright rooms, and, in keeping with the most modern technology at the time, central heating, gas for the stove, a hot-water heater and lights, cold running water in the kitchen, bathroom, and hallway, double windows with enchanting frost flowers in the winter, and a manually operated elevator from the kitchen to the bedrooms on the upper floor, which was very useful, especially when someone was sick.

We children did not have rooms of our own, but slept two or three together, the youngest in the large children's room. Painted on the ceiling of the latter was a blue sky, complete with swallows, robins, and wrens, among which each of us had his or her favorite.

I was never alone during my early childhood; there were always lots of people around me, relatives and strangers. On Sundays there were always twelve to fourteen people around the extended dining table. Public and social life took place for us in the kitchen and the workroom.

The milkman came every day with his rattling cans, the baker's apprentice in his white smock with loaves of bread (he had already hung the rolls on the garden gate early in the morning), and the strong butcher's lad with a large wooden trough on his shoulder, from which he handed each household the piece of meat it had ordered. The chicken lady showed up every week; she called us "my little doves," as she probably knew no living things other than fowl. The ironing lady was busy with either a hot iron bolt, which was alternately attached to the handgrip, or a large instrument that was heated with charcoal.

A seamstress came, who mended the clothes and the house laundry, and a dressmaker; all of our dresses and suits were made at home. When the chimney sweep came, he never failed to make our faces black. At our request, "Leitermann," who came from the mountains bringing wooden spoons and stools, carved a whorl from the top of a pine tree.

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