The Swiss Underpants
After blitzing through Europe for close to three months, I headed for Switzerland, a perfect refuge for my weary bones. My flight home from Zurich was just three weeks away, and visions of peaceful pastures and sinful chocolates swirled in my head. How could I resist the alluring “Ferien Auf Dem Bauernhof” (Farm Vacation) program touted in tourist brochures? I knew it would be a cultural eye-opener for this city-slicker, housework-challenged American. So, I made a beeline for the Zurich office, plopped down the booking fee, and scooped up the address of my hosts. Then I happily hopped the train for my taste of rural life.
Rolf and Ruth Sprunger welcomed me into their 400 year-old farm house nestled high in the hills of Baselland. It was the place of my dreams, complete with a menagerie of cows, horses, pigs, hens, goats, and assorted dogs and cats; cherry and apple orchards; organic veggie gardens; and the tastiest hazelnut carrot cake in all of Europe. Dark wooden floors creaked with the secrets of centuries as the smell of freshly baked bread from the wood-burning oven wafted through the house.
Yep, I was in my element. Well, except for one thing. The Sprungers had an odd obsession with ironing, including nearly every piece of clothing worn by their army of kids…14 of the rascals, to be exact. Naturally one of my duties was the mammoth stacks of daily ironing. Who ever heard of pressing denim work coveralls, or heaven help us, bed linens?! Now this was going overboard with the Martha Stewart thing. To my credit, I never once complained, reminding myself that hard work builds character.
One beautiful afternoon, I plotted to finish my ironing chores in record time. No way was I staying cooped up inside with nature beckoning me on such a gorgeous autumn day. As I ironed away, at the bottom of a huge pile I spotted three pairs of the fanciest men’s underpants I had ever laid eyes on…you know, those skimpy, low-cut, nylon net Euro kind no red-blooded American male would be caught dead wearing.
Instinctively I knew these snazzy briefs were not to be pressed. Folding them in the precise Swiss manner I had been instructed, (in thirds, with fronts facing up), I laid the undies aside on the ironing board. In out of nowhere bolted the family Saint Bernard. Then the unthinkable: a dense mushroom cloud spiraled to the ceiling, soon filling the laundry room with stinky black smoke. Mein Gott, I had knocked over the iron! It had hit the prized skivvies dead center. My first impulse was to run.
Struggling to regain my composure, I unplugged the hissing iron, grabbed a spatula from the kitchen, and feverishly scraped. My efforts were in vain. A sticky glob of nylon was plastered all over the charred bottom. And worse, the underpants were gooey goners, welded together at what used to be the crotches. I resolved then and there not to breathe a word to the Sprungers about this mishap; at least not until I had found suitable replacements.
Thankfully, the next day I succeeded in buying both a new iron and underwear. Somehow I just never fessed up to the Sprungers. Why spoil a great reputation? My last day on the farm, the family gave me a farewell present. It was a lovely travel scrapbook inscribed “To our favorite guest.” Touched by their thoughtfulness, I peeked inside. On the very first page were a sketched smiley-faced iron and..a chunk of Herr Sprunger’s fried underpants.