The Way It Was – Schadenfreude


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

When I was in college during the 1950s I had a language requirement, so I studied German for two years. It ended up being one of my favorite classes, partly because I had such good teachers, and partly because I loved the way the German language takes words and strings them together to make a new word. Sometimes the new word may stretch all the way across the page.
Let me give you a much shorter example – the word Schadenfreude. It combines the word schaden, meaning damage or injury, with the word freude, which means joy or pleasure. Put the two together, and you get Schadenfreude, a noun for the pleasure someone gets from the misfortunes of someone else.
Here’s an example: If there is one thing that touched all of our lives during World War II, it was rationing. Among the first things rationed was gasoline. A book of rationing coupons and a windshield sticker were issued for every car. Our sticker and coupons entitled us to purchase four gallons of gas per week.
Needless to say, people often walked to the store to do their shopping. They tried to conserve as much gas as possible. I can’t remember hearing folks complain about rationing. It was just something that people accepted to help the war effort.
I had a cousin, Duane, who lived in Columbus. On one of his trips to Marysville, my dad asked him what kind of mileage his car delivered. He said he didn’t know. He said he really didn’t care because he could always buy gasoline on the black market. He knew a man who owned a gas station, and he sold Duane gas without a rationing coupon. He charged a very high price, but he provided the gas.
Oh man, did that make my dad angry. I could tell, because his face got redder and redder as Duane talked. My dad had nothing but contempt for anyone who would cheat on rationing during that time. He said they were just hurting the war effort.
In spite of his anger, however, he didn’t say anything to Duane. That was unlike him, but Duane was related through my mother’s side of the family, and I don’t think my dad wanted to start a family feud.
It wasn’t long before many other things were rationed – tires, meat, butter, sugar, canned goods, even shoes. And over time, Duane revealed that he was hoarding just about all of them. He bought a lot of things on the black market, things he didn’t even need, and he hoarded them in his attic. Every time my dad learned of one of these things, his anger flared once again. But, for the sake of family unity, he remained silent. He just seethed inside.
Then on one of Duane’s trips to Marysville, he told us about a great quantity of sugar he had purchased to hoard in his attic. It seems there was some sort of accident at a grocery store he frequented, and a large display of bags of sugar was damaged. About half of the bags were badly ripped in the accident.
The grocer was going to offer the damaged bags to his customers at a cut price, but he would require the rationing coupons. Duane offered to buy all those ripped bags at an inflated price, if the grocer would do the deal without requiring any sugar rationing coupons. The grocer agreed, and delivered the damaged bags. He even helped Duane carry all of them to his attic. So Duane had more than enough sugar to last a lifetime.
When my dad heard about the sugar caper, I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack. That’s how angry he was.
A couple months later Duane came to Marysville again. He didn’t seem to be in good spirits, and then he told about something that had just happened. He recently went into his attic and found that a colony of tiny red ants had invaded the attic and taken up residence in all of those damaged sugar bags. Duane had to throw out a lifetime supply of sugar.
He was heartsick, but I watched my dad as Duane explained the whole thing. At first, I noticed a tiny grin on my dad’s face. But the longer Duane talked, the broader my dad’s grin became, until finally he was grinning ear to ear. That was Schadenfreude pure and simple.
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