Old Europe

To say I was a little nervous about Sunday night was a lot like saying Eisenhower was a little concerned on D-Day. After my fourth pace around the first floor and my fifth exhortation to the Brunette (in my best Basil Fawlty voice) to "not mention the war!" she herded me to a dining room chair and forced me to sit.

"I know you are nervous," she said soothingly. "But it is your Great Aunt Iva's birthday, and this is what she wanted to do."

"But Great Uncle Leadbelly was in the War!" I said. I did calm down a little, though. When the Brunette plays along with my imaginary relatives, I can cope somewhat better (although when I start to think about how wiggy I must have been to get her to talk as if my Great Aunt and Uncle really exist...)The truth of the matter was that Leadbelly's service was not entirely clear, even to the extent of being sure which war he fought.

On the other hand, I was also worried about Great Aunt Iva's "playful" streak, which Leadbelly generally calls "downright nasty." I knew she picked a German restaurant just to get under her brother's skin. As it turned out, however, we made it all the way through the entrees without major interruption. Old Europe (on Wisconsin Avenue in the District) had all the tack ornamentation one wants from a German theme park -- heavy-framed paintings, hanging model Bismarck ships, cuckoo clocks, and miniature deer skulls.

Not only that, but the food was pretty good, too. The gulasch had a nice flavor and the bratwurst was delicious.

Leadbelly's good behavior seemed to be getting under Great Aunt Iva's skin. I suppose she had expected fireworks, but Leadbelly refused to oblige. Even her praise of German workmanship went unheeded. She sat with a strained smile through the last half of dinner and our round of presents. Leadbelly's natural animosity to "the enemy" was utterly non-existent.

She gave up all pretense of smiling completely when Great Uncle Leadbelly went over to sing along with the blind woman at the piano -- old German love songs and homages to drinking, no doubt. And when Leadbelly got the whole room going in a German rendition of Happy Birthday to You, Great Aunt Iva ran crying from the room, taking refuge in the ladies room.

When Leadbelly returned to the table for Strudel and Black Forest cake, I was feeling confident that all thought of the war was ought of his head. I asked if he was enjoying himself. He leaned over to me, looked over each shoulder, and whispered to me.

"Not really," he said, though his eyes twinkled. "It's just like during the war." Then he went on to whisper a long story about spying behind enemy lines. The story went on and on and on. By the end of it, I was completely bored out of my skull, so much so that I couldn't see straight. Eventually, Great Aunt Iva returned to the table and Leadbelly sat back in his chair. Iva had a mischievous grin.

"So, Leadbelly -- " she started. I immediately interrupted with a shout: "Don't mention the war!"

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