At the end of a taxing bike tour to the Czech Republic, Wendy dutifully headed home with our cyclist group while I made a beeline for Switzerland. I was sure it'd be an ideal refuge for my travel-weary bones. And anyway, how could I possibly pass up that tempting farm vacation program in the catchy Swiss Tourism brochure? Never mind I was an American city-slicker. Visions of creamy chocolate, contented cows in rich green pastures, Edelweiss, and pristine glacial lakes swirled in my head. I deserved a break. So, I rushed in the Zurich booking office and plopped down the finder's fee. Then I scooped up my host family's address and hopped a train to the country for a taste of rural life.
Rolf and Ruth Springer welcomed me into their 400-year-old farm house nestled high in the hills of a tiny village, a stone's throw from the German border. And the farm? It was the place of tourist dreams: happy dairy cows with huge bells and over-sized udders, and a lively menagerie of horses, pigs, sheep, hens, goats, cats, and pooches. There were rows and rows of cherry and apple trees bursting with fruit, manicured gardens full of organic veggies and homeopathic plants, and each weekend, the best homemade hazelnut carrot cake this side of the Atlantic. "Idyllic?" There had to be a better word. I'd died and slipped through heaven's pearly gates.
The worn wooden floors with secrets of centuries creaked musically with every step we took in the old house, especially during midnight kitchen raids. Bowls of homemade honey yoghurt, pitchers of fresh cider, and crunchy loaves of bread were impossible to resist. Oooh, that bread....Mondays and Fridays were hands down my favorite days of the week. Just like Swiss clockwork promptly at 9 a.m., the heavenly scent of fresh wholegrain loaves baked in the wood-burning oven began to float lazily through every room.
I had found my "inner farm girl." Quite frankly, I didn't even miss usual creature comforts like central heating or private bathrooms. Dear Mom and Dad would have been so proud. I quickly mastered the evening task of stoking the fire in my very own bedroom furnace and heating the nifty mini-pillows stuffed with cherry pits. On the brisk early September nights, they kept my feet toasty under a fluffy goose down quilt. "What a perfect way of life," I smiled each night as I drifted off to sleep.
Well, life was pretty close to perfect...except for one ever-so-slight annoyance. The otherwise normal Springers were hell bent on ironing, pressing anything remotely resembling fabric. Their obsession included the meticulous ironing of every piece of clothing worn by their army of children: 14 of the rascals to be exact. Naturally, I got stuck with the dreaded chore. Who ever heard of ironing farmer denim coveralls destined for work in the stall, or heaven help us, bed linens? Now this was going way overboard with the Martha Stewart thing! To my credit, I never once complained. Channeling my grandma, I reminded myself that hard work builds character.
One afternoon on a gorgeous autumn Tuesday, I plotted to finish my ironing duties in record time. "No more numb hands and fingers for me today!" I thought. Nor was I about to stay cooped up in the house with such beautiful weather beckoning me outside. I sang tunes from "The Sound of Music" as my ironing picked up speed. About halfway through one massive pile of clothes, something caught my eye. I spotted three pairs of the fanciest, skimpiest men's underpants I had ever laid eyes on. Maybe you California folks might know the kind I'm talking about. But in the deep South, no red-blooded American male I know would be caught dead wearing a pair of tiny, low-rise Euro-style briefs. And that black nylon mesh, like a net ready to snare a big catch of fish, for jockey briefs?? No way! Definitely off limits for studly Southern guys.
I immediately guessed the fancy underwear had been hidden inside the festively-wrapped birthday present a giggling Frau Springer had given her hubby a few days before. Sure, I might be a domestically challenged city gal, but still I realized instinctively these underpants were special. It was plain as day to me they weren't meant to be ironed. Carefully folding all three pairs in the precise Swiss manner I had been taught (in thirds, with the fronts facing up), I gently put the undies at the far end of the ironing board. The picture of concentration, I felt pleased at how much I now knew about the fine art of household chores.
Next came Leo's turn. He was the family's always playful, borderline hyperactive St. Bernard. Somehow I sensed that dog exactly knew whenever he bounded in out of nowhere, he'd scare the bejeevers out of me. With impeccable timing, he succeeded once again. This time was tragically different. The ugly scene that followed is forever emblazoned in my middle-aged mind. Mein Gott! I'd knocked over the scalding iron! And bull's eye...it had hit the prized skivvies dead center. I froze in sheer horror.
A dense cloud of billowing, stinky gray smoke jolted me out of my shock. My first impulse was to bolt. Regaining my composure, I managed to unplug the hissing iron. Then I sprinted to the kitchen to grab a spatula. Frantically I began scraping the bottom of the smoking metal menace. After five minutes of panic and furious scraping, I realized it was hopeless. A sticky glob of melted charred nylon was plastered underneath the iron. Even worse, the underpants were welded together at what used to be three distinct crotch areas.
Then and there, I made a very wise decision. I decided not to breathe a word of the minor mishap to Frau Springer. I could always confess to her later, but the timing had to be right. A far safer strategy would be for me to wait until after I had purchased a brand new iron along with three pairs of skimpy underwear. The hunt in a neighboring village began. Thankfully, Lady Luck took quick pity. Within 48 hours of my little accident, I scored identical replacements. Somehow I just never got around to fessing up. Why spoil a vacation? Ignorance is bliss. My two weeks on the farm whizzed by.
The last day of my stay, while I reminisced and packed my bag, there was a knock on my bedroom door. It was Mrs. Springer, holding a pink box inscribed "To Ann, our unforgettable American visitor." Touched by the surprise farewell gift, I unwrapped the package. The family's present to me was a colorful scrapbook decorated with pictures of alphorns, cheese wheels, St. Bernards, and hardy farmers in traditional Swiss costumes. I peeked inside the album. On the very first page, Mrs. Springer had thoughtfully placed.... a sketch of a smiley-faced iron engulfed in smoke...and a neatly-glued black chunk of Herr Springer's fried underpants.
~ A true tale by Ann Lombardi
The Trip Chicks
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