Last week marked the Centennial anniversary of when America officially entered World War One. As I’ve been digging for information on my American relatives from that generation, I’ve also been finding more about Martin’s German family from that time period.
We got a hold of these photos just last year, showing Martin’s great-grandfather Georg. He was a career military man who joined in the late 1800s: he was already a non-commissioned officer by the time German fighting broke out in 1914.
The photo on the left was taken sometime between 1908-1912. The photo on the right is dated 1915. By then, he had five children at home, all under the age of 7. The difference in his appearance is remarkable. He survived the war, living well into his 60s, long enough to see two of his three sons conscripted into the Wehrmacht during WWII and taken as POWs by the Russians.
Only one son (Martin’s grandfather) returned after several years.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]D[/dropcap]uring our farewell tour in Cincinnati last week, my boys and I paid a visit to Union Terminal. It opened in 1932, and was one of the busiest locations in the whole city as all the train transportation for this area passed through it. And as all superhero and comic book fans may recognize, it was also the inspiration for the “Hall of Justice.”
These days, it doesn’t receive nearly as much train traffic, and is known as the Cincinnati Museum Center since it houses three separate and distinct museums. The place is amazing, and while we were there in Cincinnati, voters in Hamilton County overwhelmingly supported an issue that will raise taxes to pay for the upkeep and preservation of the building.
We were so excited by that news! Not only did I work there in high school as a performer in the Natural History museum, but my Dad is now an official volunteer there, too.
That place feels like home.
So, Martin, Jaz, and I paid a visit while the girls spent time with Nona and Aunt Jill.
Once we got there, we went straight to Tower A, which wasn’t open to the public when I was younger. You can see all the train tracks from there, and they’ve restored a lot of it. The views are amazing, and Jaz loved the toy train sets set up there for visitors.
After hanging around there for a little bit, we connected with my Dad who invited us back down into the main hall. The whole building was constructed in the Art Deco style, and it’s half-dome is amazing. It’s bright yellow, and there are colorful stone murals depicting the early days and evolution of Cincinnati. The acoustics are spectacular, and every now and then, an organ plays music to echo in the halls.
As soon as Jaz walked into the room, the organ began to play “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss — also known as the theme to Space Odyessy: 2001.
Now, you may know that Jaz is a huge Superman fan and more often than not, he’s wearing his Superman (or some superhero) shirt. It happens so often, I don’t even realize it anymore. I swear to you, his shirt didn’t dawn on me until I bent down to take a photo of him in front of Union Terminal and remembered the “Hall of Justice” connection.
So to have that music play as he entered the hall?
Perfect. Just perfect.
After the song ended, my Dad gave us his official tour, which included a pass by the various miniature train sets set up in the Cincinnati History Museum. Having him as a guide was so amusing and we tried to trip him up, but he stuck to his guns and relayed a lot of information. I think you could wander those halls for years, and still learn something new each time.
One other thing we accomplished that day: our son’s first visit to a hair salon. We were getting family portraits taken and I wanted him and Martin to look their best. Normally, I cut my men’s hair in the kitchen with clippers, but I didn’t bring them with me to Ohio. So, we did a walk-in and it was also pretty amusing. Jaz was not interested in any of it, which surprised me. Normally, he’s pretty tolerant when I cut his hair. But I think a new environment (and a much-needed nap) overwhelmed him, and he just didn’t enjoy it all.
And it’s not that I like seeing my son distressed … but I found it pretty adorable. The hairdresser was super fast, and he was done in less than five minutes. He left there with a sucker and a balloon, and was fast asleep by the time we pulled out of the parking lot, looking dapper as always.
My Dad started taking us to cemeteries shortly after the divorce. I realize that sounds pretty dark, but he was merely being resourceful. Money was tight, so frequent trips to the movies or zoo were out of the question. So, rather than have the three of us kids be restless and cramped in his small apartment on the weekends he had us, he decided to share his passion for history and fact-finding by driving us around to local cemeteries to find relatives, interesting tombstones, and remnants of the Civil War defenses put up in that area. Then, if we found any cool names, dates, or trends (like a group of people all dying around the same time), we headed over to the county library to research obits on Microfiche.
So, a trip to the a cemetery with my dad was in order on our farewell tour. Continue reading →
Right around this time a few years ago, I was preparing to attend my first high school reunion.
That was fun.
I spent a lot of time scanning in photos from dances and events to send to the reunion organizers. This was one of the photos I found, but didn’t submit, but I posted it on the blog with a few thoughts for the girl in the photo.
He didn’t say anything about it, but thought it was odd there were so many crosses leaning against such a large boulder on the side of the road. He assumed the crosses were for driving fatalities, and wondered how so many could happen at that one spot.
I didn’t see it.
I was too busy in the passenger seat, looking at our cell phone while navigating our way to Stacey’s house along a winding, tree-covered mountain road over the weekend.
It wasn’t until later that evening when we learned the story behind the rock and the crosses.
It was the point of impact when an airliner carrying 85 passengers and 7 crew members slammed into the side of the mountain on its approach to Dulles airport nearly 40 years ago.
We learned that little tidbit as we were sitting around in Stacey’s house, chit-chatting with the other adults. We were sharing stories of personal haunting experiences, things we remembered from childhood that scared us, or even things we experienced as adults that made us pause. This was to be expected, I suppose. Stacey is an author who has published several “horror-lite” books and articles, and with a background in anthropology and archaeology and a passion for both history and the paranormal, her stories are always good.
So, it’s not surprising that we were talking of such things.
However, I think it was one of her neighbors who first brought it up, and Stacey confirmed that the spot Martin had seen on the side of the road was, in fact, the scene of a violent and horrific tragedy that took place decades earlier.
Of course, once we got home late that evening, I got online and immediately researched it.
It was TWA Flight 514, and it crashed on December 1, 1974 shortly after 11 a.m.
The flight originated in Indianapolis, Indiana and had a lay-over in Columbus, Ohio. It was meant to land at Washington National Airport, but due to weather, was re-directed to land at Dulles Airport instead.
Because it happened in 1974, there wasn’t an avalanche of information readily available on the Internet. Not like other, more recent airplane disasters.
But I did find quite a bit online, especially since that specific plane crash changed a lot in the aviation industry. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was split as to what caused the crash, and eventually it was decided it was a combination of many things, but mostly miscommunication and language used between the pilots and the air traffic controller. They learned that six weeks earlier, a United flight almost met the same fate due to the same miscommunication errors, but the pilots were able to divert the plane in time.
So flights became safer because of the lessons learned from the crash of TWA Flight 514.
So the crosses are there, and a small plaque listing the names of those killed. It’s not permanent. It’s just placed there, balanced on top.
But in that space, even without the small plaque and the crosses, I’m sure a person coming upon the spot would know something definitely happened there.
On Sunday, as we were driving home, I had Martin pull up alongside the boulders so I could get some pictures. I intended just to hop out, take a few, and jump right back in since it’s just a two-lane road there on the mountain.
But as soon as I stepped out and closed the door, Martin pulled away, leaving me there. He saw a space up ahead where he could park off to the side and wait for me.
But it left me alone in that spot.
And it was quiet.
I turned to face west, and could see the very trees that in the old black-and-white photos were razed and cut away decades ago. They’ve grown back, of course. But they’re not as thick and tall as those around.
I turned to the east, and faced the boulders.
When the plane hit, the nose cone slammed into the boulders and disintegrated. In my online research, I read many accounts made by locals who lived near the spot, who recalled where they were and what they were doing when they heard the sound of the airplane hit. Many said they could feel it, even being miles away. With the sort of force, the debris flew up the mountain and into the trees up there.
The most identifiable piece of aircraft was the tail with TWA on it. The rest was just bits and pieces, spread over a large part of the land. Even now, decades later, folks can still find things up there. In my Internet search, I’ve found blog and forum posts and pictures from as recent as last year, describing things like singed and dated clothing, credit cards, wires, and aircraft pieces found up in those woods.
I didn’t dare go up there myself.
My curiosity allowed for me to stand there at the boulders, but that was enough for me. For one thing, Martin and the kids were waiting for me down the road. But also, while I wouldn’t say I was spooked, I was definitely aware that there was an energy that demanded from me some respect and reverence. The idea of picking around up there and disturbing the area just didn’t appeal to me.
That kind of energy, the damage, the loss of life … I think that sort of thing stays around and gets absorbed in the places where these things happen. It was similar to how I felt in the 9/11 chapel at the Pentagon, at the 9/11 site in New York City, the Oklahoma City memorial site, and on the Civil War battlefields surrounding our area. And on the hill in Northern Kentucky where the Beverly Hills supper club caught fire and killed 165 people, to include some of my father’s cousins.
Life goes on, of course.
But I think it’s definitely worth something to pause, learn and reflect wherever history presents itself.
After years of careful eating and delicate maintenance, the bonding over my chipped front tooth fell off yesterday morning.
The dentist who first put it on in 2005 warned me that would happen probably in five years time. So I’m pretty stoked I had it on there for eight.
Just because I’m tenacious like that.
I first noticed a weird sensation as I ate a plum, and then later, when Martin came in for a kiss goodbye as he left the house, something just felt wrong.
It took, but just a second as I closed my lips and felt something sharp and jagged in the front to suspect that my chip was back.
A glance in the mirror confirmed it.
For those who notice these things (and/or have known me for some time), you may recall that I had a chipped tooth for most of my childhood, all of my teen years, and the first few years of adulthood. As the story goes, I first chipped it when I was about seven or eight years old.
As I recall, I was horsing around with my sisters when I stumbled headfirst onto the metal bar on the back of my baby sister’s highchair.
My parents never got it fixed. I think it’s because they were told such a fix would require a crown — a costly procedure — and there just wasn’t the money for it. Same with braces to fix my overbite. We always got dental check-ups and we never had any cavities (still don’t!), my teeth and gums were always healthy, and as far as my parents could tell, a chipped tooth and an overbite didn’t prevent me from eating or talking or whistling, so why spend all that money for what was ultimately a vanity thing.
So, my chipped tooth became a part of my identity.
I was never bothered by it.
Even during puberty when I was uncomfortable with everything else, I liked my smile. People remembered me for it. I was thrilled when one of the characters in one of my favorite books — the beautiful Miss Swetnick in Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself — was repeatedly pointed out for having a chipped front tooth. (In fact, Sally wanted a chipped tooth herself!)
And just as I hit high school in the late 1990s, it became fashionable NOT to have perfect Hollywood teeth, thanks to celebs such as Kate Moss and Jewel. My imperfect smile was perfectly acceptable.
So, that’s how Martin met me. And just as I found the little gap between his teeth endearing, he thought my chipped tooth was cute.
I never once looked in the mirror and thought anything was wrong.
Yet, a few years after we were married, when we were stationed in Italy, I went in for my annual Air Force-mandated dental appointment. As usual, I got an examination and a cleaning: only this time, the dentist spoke up about my chipped tooth.
“You know, I can fix that,” he said to me as I lay there under the lights, my mouth pried open as he scraped and tapped at my teeth. I gargled a response, expressing interest.
“Oh, yes,” he continued. “It would be easy. I do it all the time. I would just put some enamel on there, and bond it to your tooth. Be sure to schedule an appointment on your way out today.”
I made the appointment.
And then I went home conflicted about it.
Martin was conflicted, too. He liked my tooth. He thought it was adorable.
And that became my issue: everyone thought it was adorable. Cute. Sweet.
I was 24 years old, for pete’s sake! A mom. An Airman! With orders to the Pentagon!
I didn’t want to be seen as adorable, cute, or sweet anymore. I wanted to look like a grown-up. I wanted to be taken seriously as a professional.
And I didn’t want my tooth to be a distraction at my new job.
So, I kept the appointment. It took only about 30 minutes. I didn’t even blog about it.
I was warned to be careful with it, not to use my front teeth to open bags or pull strings, to crunch from the side and not from the front. The dentist explained that because of the location — front and center of my top tooth — it was vulnerable, and that’s when he predicted I’d need the procedure again in about five years.
Here we are eight years later, and I need another fix.
Seriously, I do.
That part of my tooth hasn’t been exposed for years, and ooofff, it’s so sensitive. And sharp, from where my tooth was made a little ragged to grip the bond.
Just breathing through my mouth … I can feel the intake of air rush past my tooth. Not a fun sensation!
It needs to be fixed.
But in the meantime, my old quirky smile is back again.
I’ve always wanted to tell the kind of story that is real, earnest, honest, not rose-colored or censored. I wanted to tell the kind of story that you can’t get in a headline, but rather the secrets you hear on the sidelines. The real, authentic, vulnerable true story that is only shared within the bond of love and trust. I finally found it.
It involves war, tragedy, loss.
It radiates hope, courage, and love.
It is a love story above all.
Against the backdrop of hate, my story illuminates with love.
It all starts with a family of four: a boy and a girl and their parents. The boy is Tom, or as I called him: Opa. He was my Grandfather, a German immigrant who was stubborn and sweet. He spoke impeccable English in hushed German tones.
Before he became my Grandfather, he was a child in a country haunted by The Great War, or World War 1 as we know it. His family lived in a large apartment in Berlin, Germany and he witnessed the Nazi party’s rise to power.
Opa told me snippets of his family history while I was growing up, and I was always fascinated. I can still hear his German accent in my memories. As a young girl, I was mesmerized by the love story between him and my Grandmother.
Grandmother grew up in Kansas, the youngest of 4, spoiled as the only girl. When she and Opa met, she was engaged to another man. My two sisters and I never heard any details about this story until we spent the night with my Grandmother on the evening after Opa’s funeral. It was a slumber party to keep her company, and to relive a little of our girlish youth. Grandmother told us that the “other boy’s” name was Archie and that she certainly had made the right decision to marry Opa.
Several years later, after being the primary caregiver for my Grandmother who had declined in health, I convinced my parents that she needed to live closer to them. I had a young child with plans to expand my family and we were not guaranteed to always live close to my Grandmother. We needed to move her to the stableness of my parents, so she could be near family, her son is my Dad. We spent hours cleaning and packing for the move. One day my husband and I found a box in Grandmother’s office.
It was a box of letters.
The letters date as far back as November, 1939 and showcase the correspondence within my Grandfather’s family as he emigrated to the United States, letters of courtship from Opa to Grandmother, letters between the families on either side of the ocean, and letters of news of loved ones near and far. I was enthralled. I read handfuls of letters, crying over the news of those who had died long before I was born as if it was real time.
It turns out that my Grandfather left me a legend. As someone with a writer’s heart, I have always wanted to tell a story, but I never had one that was good enough. Now I did. I had the earnestness, the true love, the vulnerability. These letters slowed the moving process to a crawl before my family evicted me out of the box and promised that we would go through the letters later.
Now my Grandmother has joined Opa in heaven and I begin my journey through their story.
My blog will share that journey. My husband has volunteered himself as my researcher. I will journey through these letters in chronological order, read documents and articles about the world around that time.
I will show you the letters and give you the information I learned, and I’ll share with you how it has moved my soul. You, my reader, have a chance to experience this story of love firsthand. The love that is shown through multiple generations, between strangers and family.
It is a story that brings me hope. Light in the darkness.
It all starts with a little boy and his sister, his Jewish mother, and agnostic father in Berlin.
Somehow broken engagements, true love, Albert Einstein, Nazi’s, the holocaust, the US Army, and even the Quakers- all get involved.
Join me in my journey.
Sarah is the seminary-educated mother of two boys. She and her husband Jason met in seminary, and were the first couple we met when we started attending our church, where Jason was the pastor. Sarah grew up in a military family with two sisters, who are her best friends. She dreams of writing, finding her call in ministry and changing this world one little dark corner at a time. Follow her as she researches her grandparents’ love story at “Tom and Marjorie.” Word has it that she just recently talked to the 90-year-old woman in Berlin who was her Opa’s first kiss.
Martin, Miss C, and I were talking about the two Civil War battles of Bull Run yesterday, which happened in the area where we live. I got on the Internet to find out some more information, and came across this link from the Library of Congress.
Back in the 1930s, a film was made of elderly Confederate soldiers performing the “Rebel Yell” they screamed on the battlefield. A few other recordings exist, but this one is my favorite because it shows these men and their humor.
You may have missed it, but yesterday was German-American Day here in America.
If you missed it, don’t feel bad. I didn’t learn about it until 2 p.m., when I got an email with a White House attachment on it. President Obama made it official [again] with a proclamation, which you can read HERE.
As you can imagine, this was very big news in our house. We’re about as German-American as you can get. Martin grew up in Nuremberg. I grew up just outside Cincinnati with my ancestors hailing from the Schwarzwald. Despite our backgrounds, though, we didn’t know there was such a day here in America, even if it has been around for decades.
I decided that if we could go all out for St. Patrick’s Day without having a drop of Irish in our DNA, we could certainly have a German-American feast to celebrate a day recognizing our family’s dual heritage. In fact, I deemed it absolutely necessary.
I already had vegetable beef stew warming up in the slow cooker, which is very close to Rindergemuesesuppe. So I added a few more frozen veggies, kept that going, and pulled out ingredients to make German apple streusel, or Apfelstrudel.
Before I started throwing that together, though, I took three of our German beer steins and tossed them in the freezer.
The girls were very curious about the streusel.
Each one came up to me in the kitchen, expecting me to toss down a crumb, but like a good German mama, I shoo’ed them away, saying in my best, most authoritative German voice, “Nein! Nein! Keine kleinen Haende in die streusel!”
“No, no, no small hands in the streusel!”
They thought this was hilarious, so most of my time was spent chasing them away instead of paying attention to how much I kneaded the dough, which got too moist and not enough “crumbly” for that streusel topping.
So it became more of a pie. But as it baked, nobody seemed to mind. It smelled delicious.
Then, I pulled out our German flag to display on the table, and searched our basement, closets and decoration boxes for our American flag, which couldn’t be found.
No fear – I called my husband at his work and asked if he could pick one up on his way home. He ended up driving to three different shops trying to find an American flag, and the only one he could find was this huge flag that stretched across our dining room window. It looked very patriotic.
Lola was impressed.
As soon as we got the flag up, we served the Suppe with fresh, homemade bread. Miss C has Schokoladenmilch (chocolate milk) in her frosty mug; Martin and I had American beer.Lola had her sippy cup of milk, and really enjoyed picking the green beans out of her soup. Every time I make this slow-cooker soup, the girls ask for seconds, slurping up the last drop.
Like that Daniel Fahrenheit guy who helped us determine if we need to wear a sweater or a swimsuit outside. Or Charles Schulz who brought us Snoopy and Charlie Brown.Or David Hasselhoff. We can not forget the Hoff, who needs no explanation.Then we listed other German-Americans we know of: Leo DiCaprio, Heidi Klum, Albert Einstein, Miss C, Lola ….
Miss C is learning about the continents, and told us of what she knows about Europe and how it’d take a really long time to drive (and swim) to Germany from where we live on the East Coast.
And we daydreamed, and determined that if we could expand our arms all the way out to embrace both our American family in the States (all the way to Oklahoma!) to our family living in Germany (all the way to Nuremberg!), we’d be embracing half the world.
And aren’t we so lucky to have so much love in the world?
Then we ate my American attempt at German apple streusel and declared it a good day.
Doesn’t it look like President Obama is smiling down at Miss C through the television? I kept her home from school today since traffic was expected to be horrible in our area and because I wanted to enjoy the inauguration with her. Since we live just outside Washington DC, it’s not surprising Miss C really enjoys learning about the Presidents, both past and present. She loves to point them out on money, she can name just about every monument downtown, and she confidently believes any “old man” featured in museum paintings is a President. She was pretty sad to hear that President George W. Bush had to move out of the White House — she’s believed him to be a close family friend ever since I got my photo taken with him a few years ago — but ever since she learned about President Obama’s two little girls, she’s showed a lot of interest in him. Together, we watched the swearing-in ceremony and parade on television, marveling at the crowds and scanning the faces to see if we recognized anyone. It’s such an exciting time for our country and I’m so happy we got to witness this event, even if only through the television.
These were the posts I made online today in chronological order. As Facebook only allows posts beginning with “Julie …” they sound and look funny here.
– Julie is amazed how often the word “inauguration” can be repeated in ONE newscast. 20 times? 50 times? Too many to count ….
– Julie and her husband go together like chicken and peas. (No, seriously — we heard this compliment on television.)
– Julie is loving the local news coverage of the Event. It’s 6:30 a.m., yet people on the Mall are partying like its 1999!
– Julie is thinking of her friends who are working the parade today as she sits underneath her warm, electric blanket watching the action from home.
– Julie is preparing breakfast for her girls now. Swearing-in is still hours away….