116. Bow legged Pete

By Peter Fraenkel

I spent the first 5 years of my life in a small Upper Silesian town, Kosel, where my father was then acting head of the Income tax department.  To be precise – not five years, but five years and three days. Kaethe was detailed to take me to my grandparents at Glogau while our Kosel apartment was packed up and the family moved to Breslau, the provincial capital.

Poor Kaethe – I got her into trouble immediately. My mother had given her instructions to say I was not yet five because below five children travelled gratis. So, when the ticket inspector came, she did as she had been instructed.  I, however, protested proudly I had turned five the week before. It caused some amusement among travellers in our compartment. Kaethe, however, was not amused. She was fined.

In Kindergarten, earlier, I had suffered some teasing. “O-beine” they had called me – “Bow-legs.”

A few weeks before the move I had been seriously ill with one of the many childhood diseases then common – measles or scarlet fever, I’m not certain which. I ran a high temperatures and my anxious parents called in a child specialist from Breslau who was a family friend. He came by train, a journey of some three hours. On enquiring, Dr Weigert was shocked to find that I had not yet been started on supplementary feeding and was being reared entirely on breast milk. But that was what my peasant nurses thought right and mother did not know any better.

Dr Weigert demanded an immediate change. He pointed out that it was this diet had made me bow-legged. He hoped the changed diet he recommended had come early enough to straighten out my bones.

It did.

Looking back, almost 90 years later, it surprises me that my mother would have relied entirely on the advice of semiliterate peasant girls in such matters … but she was very young. She had married at 20 and had a child – me – before 22. There were, of course, doctors at Kosel – one was even a good friend – but, apparently, there was no child specialist.

True, an entire avalanche of books on child-rearing followed, but later and I fear my bow legs did nothing to hurry it along.