Friday, 15 October 2010


The seven of them all lived in a small town in the South of England; they met, at irregular intervals, in each other’s homes; they served home baked cakes and brewed large pots of coffee, which they took while sitting around the dining table. They competed with each other to lay the prettiest, daintiest table, using lacy cloths and napkins and their best, matching china. Each one followed the rules, as their mothers had before them, and their grandmothers before them.

They didn’t all come from the same country, home had been Austria and Germany, Hungary and what was once Czechoslovakia.

Winter and summer, spring and autumn, they met. Before and after the coffee table ritual they sat, talked, listened to music which had long been forgotten by everybody else even in their home countries; they sat in deep chairs by the fire on cold afternoons, by wide-open windows on hot days, in kitchens and sitting rooms, garden rooms and sometimes, not often, they strayed out of doors, into the shade of the very ordinary English trees they had planted in their gardens.

All of them had found a new home in England, several had found English husbands and raised English children; had you asked them, they would all have sad they were happy and contented with their lives.

The seven had very little in common, three were educated professionals, three were housewives, one was a widow and long retired. They spoke English with each other, more or less fluently, with the harsh guttural sounds and rolling RR’s of Central European languages always present. Although five of them had enough German to communicate easily, shyly genteel Edith, who came from Budapest, spoke little English and no German. Agnes, also from Budapest, her exact opposite, loud and buxom, spoke both languages fluently but badly, and helped out when necessary. But it wasn’t often necessary, because the ladies appeared to communicate on a mysterious level, where each could use a mix of several languages and still be fully understood. Esther from Prague was by far the eldest; she preferred to speak nothing but English, She felt safer that way. She always wore long sleeves that covered her wrists and the number tattooed on one of them.

When they met, they found common ground from deep within them, the folk memory of what life had been like long before they became adults, before they were children even, from a time before they were born. Fate had destined them to be eternal wanderers, always searching, always carrying their lives’ stories with them. In spite of their settled domesticity their roots stretched far into the distance and the past.

Lucy, once a statuesque Viennese beauty, was the one who insisted on music, although it always made her cry. In the old way, the ladies took a drink after coffee, a brandy, a liqueur, a glass of wine; that, together with endless talk about the old days, the ‘people back home’, the sadness of lost youth, lost family, the yearning for ‘the way things used to be’ provoked a little tear on many occasions.
Christine, also from Austria, from mountain stock, unsentimental and as beautiful, yet harsh, as the landscape that bred her, found her compatriot overly sentimental; her flame-red hair bespoke her fiery temper and her quick tongue whipped across the tears.

The two Germans held back their tears for private moments. Both North European in outlook and nature, and therefore a little repressed, they were rarely loud, usually calm, and invariably amused when the Austro-Hungarian temperament enlivened the afternoon. Hedwig, a very elegant lady, who never left home without a hat, smiled graciously and blamed the drink when the noise levels rose.

By late afternoon cheeks had reddened and faces grew flushed; coffee, open fruit tarts, friendship, baked cheese cakes and creamy confections, followed by a convivial, lady-like sip of the cup that cheers yet only slightly inebriates, had had a benevolent effect on the company. The meetings were a means to unburden themselves of slights or put-downs they felt they had received at the hands of the host country, as well as finding the freedom to regret the host country’s indisputably alien way of life.

The ladies had all had to leave their homelands for one reason or another and these meetings were the only way they had to keep the past alive and real.

For one bitter-sweet afternoon they forgot they had been uprooted.

As these things go, the ladies were not connected by close friendship, but they certainly understood each other. Their bond was deeper than the bond of friendship.


  1. How I miss these moments when even time did slow down, obtaining a different pace, much in tune with harmony and life being light.

    May time and life continue to treat them kind. Please have a wonderful weekend as well.

  2. Dearest Friko, your story is so profound and so true, I am sure. There is no way a person such as myself can even imagine the lives of women like that. I have read and seen many movies about such women and children and my heart is with them all. Some aspects of a woman's story is the same all over but the expulsion from one's homeland has got to be one of the hardest things to ever have to endure. Great magpie too.

  3. nice something deeper than friendship...circumstances can do that...bring together those that otherwise may never connect...sounds lovely actually...

  4. A lovely, touching post. It reminds me, though the experiences are quite different, really, of a post my writing colleague Wide Open Spaces wrote, "Chance Encounters":

  5. Yes it is a little like this when my Irish group get together in tribal comfort and memory and ponder on the history and the pain of our land.
    Thank you Friko.

  6. You've described a ritual that was played out over and over again in my childhood, when nearly everyone had a mother or father from the old country. To some extent, it is still played out in the country of refugees, ex-patriots and those with long memories.
    As a military wife, following my husband to foreign countries, the coffee morning or afternoon tea was important as an opportunity to speak English with other women or to celebrate the little things that meant home - the early Thanksgiving, the Canada Day.
    Women will always find a way to connect, and it will often cross nationality and language - and we will always find one another.

  7. Profound and moving...but that's Friko!

    Warm Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral


  8. I like it that they have each other; others that may not have known their past but understand each others experiences.

  9. My Great Aunt Teresa fled here from Hungary, before marrying my Grandmother's twin brother. Oh, how she would have appreciated an opportunity to meet with other women, as in your beautifully crafted account.

  10. This story touched me because I have led such a nomadic life - my greatest ties being with other nomadic old colonials....and we too meet together and enjoy each others company in exactly the way you describe, although its curry and gin that keep us going!

  11. I guess that today we have lots of little groups of folk who need to come together in the same way. So many people come here for a multitude of reasons and decide to stay. How lovely that all these uprooted ladies have found happiness and security here and wonderful that they were able to share their thoughts freely.

  12. I appreciate the depth of this (and skillful beauty of your writing), which shows that friendship and love wear many faces. Finding the ways they connected, and not worrying about the rest, is something that comes from years and experience, I think.

  13. A touching story, beautifully and skilfully told, Friko.

  14. A rich post. I am sure this is a common story around the world although more poignant after the world wars or large migrations of refugees. I kind of wish I had had that sad challenge in my life because these women have something so precious.

  15. Just a beautifully told story.
    I remember a street we lived on in my youth that housed a large group of first generation immigrants and war refugees. How interestingly the multicultural people found the common bond--being in a country not their own.

  16. Friko,
    You may present ths as fiction but you've got to be able to dig deep within yourself to even imagine such feelings.It may be an unconscious "digging" but you do it so naturally and beautifully and it strikes a chord with so many people. You are truly gifted. I am in awe.

  17. Such a touching story. And so true that there are some bonds that go deeper than friendship. They're lifelines.

  18. So good writing..tell me are you a writer?

    Iam so glad to be here.May you have a blessed weekend)

  19. This is an exquisite miniature - you have drawn these characters wonderfully well. I saw 'drawn' when really I mean' described' as obviously this was your own group.
    There's much to be said for being the quiet one who sits back and observes. You do it well, Friko.

    And how kind that Edith was included, despite her language difficulties.

  20. I agree with Manzanita, that
    you are doing what all good
    writers do, writing from the
    heart and from personal
    experience; your own transportation
    from Germany to England, and
    for all we know kaffeeklatches
    you have set up or sat in.
    Another sterling effort from
    you, kudos and congrats.
    Most of us wax poetic about our
    various pasts, hoping to find some
    wisdom in the wistfulness, but
    you hit the mark nearly every
    time you let loose an arrow,
    and we all love the flight of'
    that literary shaft, and over our
    own heart for a target.

  21. God, these old fingers do not ever
    keep up with my youthful zeal.
    That would be,"and offer our
    own heart for a target."
    And we do, dear Friko, every
    time we take a stroll or spend
    a morning or afternoon with you
    on your forays into village, woods,
    garden, or past. Thanks.

  22. Friko - that was such a moving piece of writing. I felt as if I was somewhere in the background of those meetings. I loved the bit where you wrote something like -'the bond of understanding goes deeper than the bond of friendship' That is so true and real friendship is carried high by the bond of understanding.

  23. Yes all the best writing comes from the heart.

  24. For some reason I get the feeling that their bond, through something deeper than friendship, will continue to drive a much deeper story.

    Love to read your posts.

  25. This story is beautifully evocative of the afternoons I often spent with my English-speaking friends in a foreign country. A tie to the past often brings strength for the future.

    Just lovely, Friko.

  26. Touching story of true bonds, 'deeper than the bond of friendship'... These bonds sometimes carry us through the toughest and the happiest of times. Something to hold on to, something to look forward to.

    Very nice tribute.

  27. Very nicely done. Can I have them all round to tea?

  28. I've come to your post recommended by Ruth who has left me your link on my post, a book review of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. You have written here, not a piece of fiction but a real life, personal account of a circle of beautiful human relations. What a wonderful rendering, thank you!

  29. That was a great post Friko and in answer to one of your commenters, yes, you are a writer.

  30. Yes , every uprooted one of us finds something here .

  31. Your story touched me Friko. How lovely for these women to have each other. Last week while walking in New York City, we were behind a young French mother pushing a baby in a stroller in a hurry. Her little boy was walking a few steps behind her slowly and she would keep calling him …in French. This was the first time I had heard someone speaking French in a long time. I wished to speak to her but did not know what to say, so we kept walking. Finally the little boy stood still and I almost stumbled on him so in French I said “watch out I am going to fall on top of you” and the young mother stopped and turned as she heard me and she gave me a big smile. It made my day.

  32. You handle the English language with more grace than a great many of the native speakers I come into contact with. I really like this post. Since I follow you and some of the writers I cherish most were exiles (Beckett went to France, Gombrowicz went to Argentina, Reich came to America), I often think about what it must be like to go and live in another land, especially when it involves learning another language. But it's very difficult to imagine and I suspect only those who have done can know what it's like. Thank you much for sharing this.

  33. survivors all, a strong and trusting bond, like returned soldiers, insightfully rendered!

  34. What a wonderful story....written so elegantly! Thank you and congrats on your POTW award!

  35. My mother transplanted herself from England to the USA 65 years ago.......this made me think of what it was like for her.
    Nice post.

  36. this brought my grandmother and her "ladies" right back to me
    so beautifully written

    congrats on POTW

  37. I was already captivated by your story of friendship, and then I read this arresting sentence: "She always wore long sleeves that covered her wrists and the number tattooed on one of them." Truly a poignant moment for the reader!

    Sent here by Hilary and your well-deserved POTW

  38. Can't let this one going into cyberspace, Friko. I adore how you described it and being also an uprooted, I love the way your words draw this picture. When I was a teenager, we had friends, ladies in their Sixtieth then, one from Prague, one from Budapest and one from Vienna. The Hungarian still showed her former elegant beauty and said, she had still one picture somebody painted of her when she was 17. She said: "früher war ich bildschön, heute ist nur noch das Bild schön". I never forgot that moment, those three ladies, all beauties with so much character, absorbed by talking about the past - and find now those ladies in your Kaffeeklatsch blog. Marvellous!

  39. This was a very peaceful, soothing read which is a little ironic given the subject matter. Reading it was very reminiscent of the peace of home :-)

    Very well done, and thank you for sharing it.


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