Thursday, September 26, 2019

Momie Hilde and the Back Door Kids.....

When I first hit town in 1976 I found a job at Fernand in the Village…an old school French restaurant (where Corkscrew is now).  I showed up cold at the door in my Brooks Brothers blazer, my Bally loafers and all that, and started rattling in French about my wonderfulness.

Momie Hilde sent me in to talk to The Chef.  They were seriously amused, but hired me on the spot for some reason.

Turns out Momie Hilde Kalmus hadn’t spoken French since she left Alsace in 1918, and Werner Kalmus (aka The Chef….even Momie called him that) hadn’t spoken it since he left Haussmann’s in Paris in 1938.  They saw something, though…and took me on when they really didn’t need anyone.
Momie came from an old hotel/inn family.  She was one of the first recognized female chefs in Berlin before the War.  Her first husband was a Luftwaffe pilot who was shot down over the Balkans early on.

Momie: “Mensch…..I needed a chef! So I married one!”

Not for long. Werner…another Alsatian….was drafted and sent to the Russian front.  He was captured at Kursk and held in a Russian concentration camp until 1949.  The Russians dispensed with the expense of razor wire by having the prisoners sit in a chair with their feet on a block of wood, and they broke their knees backwards with rifle butts.  Live or die, sucker…..

Momie meanwhile took care of a building full of women….babies through babushkas…in Berlin during the bombing.  She foraged for kindling and critters in the Tiergarten….don’t ask. (Tiergarten means "zoo" in German).

When the Russians came, she sent all her charges….from 8 to 80…into the basement shelter to hide. Momie went up on the roof of the building and waited with her three year old son.  If the Russians came she was going to toss Gerhardt and jump after him.

The Mongols came, beat and raped all the women and girls in the cellar.  Momie waited on the roof....

She lived…as did most of her women and girls.   

Momie had a job at the Adlon…..the best hotel in Berlin.  She was the chef….all the men were dead. It was in the American sector, so Momie took care of the “Ami’s” as we were called.

Momie continued to take care of her “girls” and there was also one sweet very young couple that would show up at the kitchen back door of the Adlon.  They hid in the wreckage during the day….and had nothing.  No money, no clothes, no food.

Momie kept them going….sneaking them food with a wink and nod from the Ami’s. Clothing (the first winter after the war was one of the most brutal of the century).   

Karma for Hitler, but he was dead. Berlin humor.

Years later, Momie and The Chef moved to Paris (the commies got her father’s hotel on the Elbe), then to Sao Paolo….then on to Hoboken, Minneapolis, and finally….Carmel.

They were sponsored each time by Jews, by the way.  A German soldier and his wife were welcomed into the country and given job after job, and housing, by the Jewish community.

Anyway….in Carmel they landed at the Highlands Inn.  Momie did salads, The Chef ran the kitchen….and won the local Chef of the Year award so many times they stopped giving it out.

One day at a fancy party in the Highlands, Momie was replenishing a gorgeous buffet and she spotted someone she knew…..the couple from the back door of the Adlon!

The guy….Peter Stuber…had landed on his feet in America and was now the General Manager of the famous Mark Thomas Inn.  (It is now the Hyatt, but the street in front is still Mark Thomas Drive).  The Highlands, the Lodge and the Mark Thomas were the top of the heap in 1959.

Momie, in her headscarf and apron rushed over to say hello. Peter turned on his heel and walked away.....dragging his wife with him.  Momie and Peter worked in the same business in the same small town for 35 years, and he never acknowledge knowing her….or even spoke to her.

I’m not sure why this story came to me tonight.  The difference between then and now? America welcoming refugees of their recent deadly enemy? (The Jews being part of that is a no brainer still…..)

I think it came about feeding another young couple at the back door tonight……as Momie taught me.  And then the current climate of Fuck You, I Got Mine….GTFOH!  

MY backdoor friends are going to be friends for life.  But I am sure Momie thought that back at the Adlon, too.

I once asked her about the whole Peter Stuber thing.

“Micah…..vee feed ze people.  Vee take care of ze people.  It doesn’t matter who zey are, and if zey have money or not.  It is just vhat vee do……”

I think maybe this came to me tonight because I thought I was hearing history from her back in the day..   

It never occurred to me that in Carmel Valley, in 2019, at the beginning of my 70th year…..that I would also be feeding hungry young people at the back door of my own Adlon.

Miss you, Momie......