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Clutching Life

(by Ursula James)

My mother, my namesake, was born in Berlin in 1920. The family lived very near the Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam, built by the “alta" (old) King Freidrich as his summer palace. There were many court functions on the palace grounds, which were always open to the public. Often, my grandmother pushed my mother in her carriage there for an airing. Grandmother herself had grown up playing in the gardens, and as a teen, she often wished to be like the fine ladies of the court. She attended finishing school, where she learned gourmet cooking, sewing, managing a house, good manners and speech. And she raised her daughter with those standards: My mother’s skirt would be lifted and her underwear checked, for it had to be starched white linen. (Personal note: It must have been difficult to grow up in Grandmother’s house. Feeling for my mom at the moment.)

Grandmother cooked like a chef. Before World War II, she followed the French way, with plenty of cream and butter. Puddings and brûlées were laced with rum or brandy. Delicate pastry was handmade with fine sugar. But the war changed all that. Fresh meat and vegetables were harder and harder to get. Flour, eggs, butter, and cheese were i