Friday, December 31, 2010

Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe (Agathe von Trapp March 12, 1913 - December 28, 2010)

Tante Agathe died on December 28, 2010. I got an email from my brother George, forwarding the news from Aunt Lynne to all of the family. I was glad to get the notice, because before the end of the day I was getting condolences posts on Facebook from friends who had read about her death in the news. It would have been a bit of a shock that they knew before I did. That’s one interesting thing about being part of a famous family. It’s very likely that the general public hear about what for most is rather personal news before you do. It even made headlines in the local Phoenix paper, The Arizona Republic.

Agathe was 97, second oldest of the original children and closest in age to my father. I wish I had known her better. Most of my life, she lived in Maryland where she ran a preschool with her friend, Mary Lou Kane. I have no childhood recollections, and only knew her to be a quiet, gentle woman who I re-introduced myself to in the maybe 3 times I saw her in the past 20 years. (Hello Tante Agathe. Yes, I’m Francoise, Rupert’s youngest daughter. So nice to see you again!)

She was the family historian. I probably know her best through the family genealogy and autobiographies she wrote late in life. It was from her book that I learned about my father’s childhood with his own mother and grandmother; the places they lived, the games they played; how sweet and gentle and humorous Grandfather really was. I learned about the pageants they would put on, the games they played, and the dog they had that could pull them in a cart. There really was a whole story to it even before Maria came on the scene. My father never really talked about it much, so I’m grateful to Tante Agathe for having penned her memoirs.

Here’s what else I found myself thinking about when I learned of her death. Is it sad when someone dies at 97, or is it a celebration that they lived such a long, full and rich life? People offered condolences and said “I’m sorry to hear about your aunt’s passing.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, because I was thinking how amazing it is that she lived so long. My father died at 80 when I was 27. How cool would it have been if he had also lived to 97?

So I asked my friend Harry, who is 91. He’s my sister-in-law’s father who has become a surrogate father of sorts since I moved to Arizona. He lives in a retirement community, still drives a car, plays golf, has a “lady friend”, goes to the theater, drinks a beer now and again, and is great company. He called yesterday to say he was sorry to hear the sad news. That’s when I realized that for someone who is living the life of Riley at 91, news of a contemporary’s death at 97 is just as much of a shock as it would be for me to find out someone close to my age had died. Harry said it depends on if they were sick and failing or not. It’s sad if someone still had a full life, a blessing if someone was ailing and had no quality of life.

I like to think Tante Agathe is rejoining her loved ones who have gone before her. Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe, and give Papa a hug and kiss for me.

*******
Note: Agathe's  book is available at both Amazon and the Trapp Family Lodge online store. I just went to look for the link to the books on Amazon. The price has jumped from $21.95 for a new book to $167.21 for new, $777.00 for used and $2000 for a collectible edition. This completely blows my mind. At the Trapp Family online store, it’s still available for $13.99.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Random Encounters

It’s funny, what triggers the memories. I was on a walk this evening, and passed by a house with a refurbished 1974 Karmann Ghia for sale in the driveway. This is not a car you see very often. It made me think of Mutter, who was known for speeding around Stowe in her blue convertible Karmann Ghia, which, if I recall correctly, she eventually wrecked, breaking her leg for her efforts. It also made me think of a story.

We were still living in Bolton, Massachusetts, and had just hired Curt Plante to do some major renovation on our house. Through the process, we became friends with Curt and his wife, Holly. For my birthday, Curt presented me with a birthday card with three photos inside; two of the old Lodge from before the fire and one of Mutter at the wheel of the aforementioned Karmann Ghia. Turns out Curt’s mother had visited the Trapp Family Lodge back in the early 70’s and had taken these pictures. Although I had dozens of photos of the new Lodge, I had very few of the old Lodge, so getting these meant a lot. Encounters like this is what’s cool about being a von Trapp.

Mutter (Maria) in her Karmann Ghia in front of the Old Lodge

Old Lodge in Summer

Old Lodge in winter.

That reminds me of a more recent one: I was shopping at the Dress Barn, and when I made my purchase and handed over my credit card, the store associate did the classic and well recognized double take. Wait for it, wait for it, I told myself, expecting the usual Sound of Music reference. What came next surprised me; it doesn’t happen often out here in Arizona. “von Trapp. Of THE von Trapps….. The ones who own the Lodge in Stowe, Vermont? I grew up in St. Albans.” These are the connections I warm up to right away. She looked to be about my age, so I asked, “Really? Do you know the Walsh’s in St. Albans?” (My friend, Katie Walsh Lizewski, grew up in St. Albans, which is not a large city by most standards. She comes from a family of 10, so the likelihood of this woman knowing was good.) She said she thought she knew a Sean Walsh. I’m pretty sure that’s Katie’s brother. I left the store feeling like I had run into an old friend. And as always, I marveled at the smallness of the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Riding the Riesenrad

My friend Beverly Malley just got back from a trip to Vienna, and in her photos that she posted on Facebook, there was a shot of the giant ferris wheel that lives  in the Prater, Vienna’s famous amusement park. Speaking of dreams come true, did that bring back some memories…

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the album cover of the Boston Pop’s Viennese Nights, because the photo was of the most enormous ferris wheel I’d ever seen. My father told me it was located in Vienna, and it was largest ferris wheel in the world, with cars that held about 20 people. One day, he said, he would take me to Austria and we would go for a ride on it. Life circumstances interfered with that little plan, but although we didn’t get to ride the Riesenrad (the great wheel’s official name) together, he did make sure I got to it when I went off on my post-college backpacking trip with Hope, Ellen and Heather.

Two weeks into the trip and we finally made it to Vienna. The Riesenrad was a Holy Grail of sorts for me. Thanks to the guidance of my father’s friends, the Eggers, (remember them? I talked about them when I wrote about the Sound of Music Tour) who we visited on our first afternoon in the city, we found our way to the Prater. The quest became even more significant, because when we were at the Eggers' house, I made a phone call to Papa, only to discover he was in the hospital, recovering from a mild heart attack. I was told there was no need to come home – but at that moment, I was tempted to catch the next flight. Instead, at the urging of all, we went to the Prater and rode on the wheel. I sent this postcard to my father:


If you can't read it, it says:
Dear Papa and Jan, 
I finally got to ride on the big ferris wheel. I've finally fulfilled my childhood dream. We've also been to the Spanish Riding School, but couldn't get in - only saw some of the horses. The highlight of Vienna was our afternoon with Herr und Frau Egger - absolutely lovely people! We had a swim in the pool and then were invited for dinner - probably the best meal we've had in two weeks! After this experience, my travelling companions are very eager for me to call all your other friends, and I certainly will! We've decided to add Brugges, Belgium to our trip if there is time. There is so much to tell you, Papa, so get well quick for me. I love you! Francoise.

How often do we get to realize our childhood fantasies like that? I’m not even sure Hope, Heather and Ellen realized what a big deal it was for me to finally make that wish come true. The view at night was amazing. Well worth the effort if you ever get the chance.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Salzburg 2010

Lots of starts and stops  lately – some memories turn out to be just too personal to put in a blog, you know? I think its time to fast-forward to recent events.  If  that triggers other memories, I'll get back to them.....

I fulfilled an almost-life-long dream last week (life-long, in regards to my daughters’ lives.) I finally took them to see Salzburg. The city holds meaning for me way beyond the Sound of Music. I’ve now been there four times, although 20 years passed between the second and third visits. My father would have been pleased, I think. He died before my girls were born, and I’ve always been sad that they never got to know each other.

It was a quick trip. We were in Germany for two weeks visiting Holger -- also Jessie and Savannah’s first visit there -- so we took the train from Munich to Salzburg just for the day. It’s so hard to cram everything in – and we didn’t want to cram. We weren’t there to just be American tourists – 10 cities in as many days. This is just a starter trip, with many more to come. So we decided the Salzburg visit would be treated as such. We stuck to what we could get to on foot from the Hauptbahnhof.

I had a plan – take them the same route I took my first time – by the International Youth Hotel where I'd stayed with Hope, Heather and Ellen and two years later, with Katie, to the market at St. Andrew’s Church across from Schloss Mirabell, across the river to the Öesterreichischer Hof, where my parents stayed on their visit, to the Alte Stadt (old city). I mapped it out in my mind – get out of the Hauptbahnhof and turn left, walk to Paracelsustrasse , go right, the International Youth Hotel would be there… Except I hadn’t counted on so much renovation…

We arrived in at the station, completely under construction. I was lost. I pretended I knew where I was going. 15 minutes later as the girls informed me we’d just made a huge circle, I gave up and reluctantly admitted I had no idea where to go. Savannah pointed out the information booth. We went in, got directions….and a map…. and set out again. Jessie took charge of the map. I gave up on finding the International Youth Hotel. It was hot and humid – unusual for Salzburg, and there were more important things than my trip down memory lane. Plus, I reminded myself, this was a scouting trip. I toyed with taking them on the Sound of Music Tour –but an afternoon on a bus was not what we had in mind, after a morning on the train. I thought about taking them to Aigen to see my father's house. We all agreed –next time! The rest, we could see on foot.

Once we got past the new construction, things started to look familiar. There was St. Andrews Church and the market, in full swing. Drinks all around, and cross the street to Mirabell Gardens , where scenes from the Do-Re-Mi sequence were shot. Recognize anything?


We crossed the river. Last time I was here, my mother asked me if I went into the Öesterreichischer Hof? Honestly, it never even occurred to me to go inside a hotel where I was not a guest. So this time, we went in. It’s now the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, having been acquired by the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Still, it was the same building, and very elegant. I felt out-of-place and oh so American just walking into the lobby. The original plan, just have coffee and cake in the restaurant. Not happening - we were waaaaaay underdressed. The man at the reception desk “ Kann ich sie Hilfe?” (Can I help you?) Flustered, my resolve to use my newly acquired German flew right out the window. “Um, nein, Danke. My parents stayed here years ago…. I just wanted to see it.” I thought about coming right out with it “my father, Rupert von Trapp, used to stay here when he visited Salzburg.” Couldn’t do it. Not sure why…

So then – on to the next destination.. the Alte Stadt (old city). All the way, I pointed out other Sound of Music spots to the girls, in addition to Mozart’s birthplace.
 

We rode up the funicular and took an audio tour of the Festung, and then visited some of the museums within the fortress, the Salzburger Marionettentheater museum among them. Among the recent productions is, you guessed it, The Sound of Music. I wondered about the Lonely Goatherd scene – marionettes playing with marionettes –a bit ironic, don’t you think? They had those cutouts where you stick your face in and take a photo. There was a nice British couple who offered to take our photo, if we would take theirs. Sure, I said, wondering what they would do if they knew a real von Trapp had taken their photo at this spot. But neither the girls nor I offered the information. It was more fun to fly under the radar and keep it to ourselves.





Lunch at the top, then made our way back down to tour through the churches. Jessie and Savannah were awed by splendor of these cathedrals, especially when you consider the period of time when they were constructed. As for me, I was just pleased that they could appreciate all of this at age 16.


By evening, we were ready to return to Munich – slept most of the way… already thinking about what we’ll visit NEXT time…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Musical Misfit

Music was an integral part of our lives growing up. Unfortunately in our house, to be defined as “music” it had to be composed no later than the 19th century, and even that was borderline modern. On any given evening or Sunday you could be sure to be bathed in the sounds of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, (for obvious reasons, Papa's preference leaned towards the German and Austrian composers.) But unless you valued your very life, you would never attempt to contaminate the airwaves with the likes of the Beatles or even Simon and Garfunkel, never mind something more edgy like the Rolling Stones. “That’s not music! It’s NOISE!” And the offending LP was removed from the Hi Fi. Clearly, this put a child growing up in the 70’s at a great social disadvantage.

Our morning ride to school with Papa featured WGBH’s Morning Pro Musica with the King of Pause, Robert J. Lurtsema. By the age of ten, I could tell the difference between a Mozart piano sonata and the Brandenberg Concertos. I could differentiate between a clarinet and an oboe; a trumpet and a French horn, but ask me who was made the top 10 on the Billboard Charts, or who Casey Kasem was, and you’d be met with a blank stare. I remember sitting at lunch in second or third grade, when classmates were discussing their favorite singers. I wracked my brain for someone still living and pathetically came up with Andy Williams (no joke, must have been right after his Christmas special.)

My popular music education improved marginally after my parents divorced, and my mother developed a taste for elevator music. Tizzy and Chris came home from college and the family album collection grew to include John Denver, Chicago, Don McLean, and Bread. But I would have to say my education didn’t even begin until I transferred to the local public school in 7th grade, and went to my first dance. Finally, I was introduced to REAL rock-and-roll: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Steve Miller Band, REO Speedwagon, Bruce Springsteen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, etc. I had the joys and woes (depending on who asked) of dancing to Stairway to Heaven and Free Bird. I was a musical misfit no longer, or so I thought. Then one day,javascript:void(0) we had a substitute teacher in our music class, so we were talking about our favorite songs. I made the monumental error of referring to Led Zeppelin as “he” as in “I don’t know too many of his songs.” “Led Zeppelin’s not a HE, it’s a BAND” shouted Ray Helger, classmate and my secret crush. Humiliation ensued.

So here’s one thing I promised myself as a parent, I would do differently. I would NEVER refer to my children’s musical choices as Noise. I would expose them to the music of my own generation, while also embracing the music of theirs. The result? We survived the Raffi/Disney years; cruised through A-Teens and Jonas Brothers; could all sing along at the Plain White T’s concert a few years ago, and even swap iTunes downloads like Dixie Chicks, Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas… you get the idea.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Faded memories and the ones I don’t even have

Ever know about things that happened in your family, but don’t have any recollection of them, even though you KNOW you were there? I have a lot of those about times with my von Trapp cousins when I was a kid. I’m sure my older siblings remember much more, and I’m pretty sure any memories I have myself stem from stories they told. Perhaps I can persuade them to contribute some of their memories here? Remember, I had that gap from age 11 to about 22 where my contact with my von Trapp aunts, uncles, and cousins was sporadic, limited mostly to weddings. Even when my parents were married, we spent more time with our Lajoie cousins (my mother’s family). I have lots of memories and stories about them, but that's a different story altogether.

My father’s sister Eleanor (Aunt Lorli), who had married Hugh Campbell lived nearby in East Greenwich RI, where Hugh was the headmaster of Rocky Hill Preperatory Academy. Lorli and Hugh had seven daughters; Elizabeth, Peggy, Jeannie, Polly, Erika, Hope and Martina. Still, even though they were close by, I only remember a few visits. There was some sort of school carnival we went to with them once. Steph won a goldfish by tossing a ping pong ball into the fish bowl. (THESE are the types of things I remember.) Mostly, I remember using their ski house in Waitsfield VT when they weren’t using it, and going to family barbecues in the summer, swimming in their pond (or NOT swimming in their pond in my case, I was a pond wussie back then.) Martina and I were closest in age, and in my memory, we were always together – but she was cooler.

Uncle Werner and Aunt Erika lived nearby Stowe in Waitsfield, VT and had six children – Barbara, Bernie, Martin, Elisabeth, Toby, and Stefan. They lived on a working dairy farm, and my sister, Stephanie, has lots of stories about playing in their barn. Me – not one.

Tante Agathe (or Melein, as we called her) is the second oldest to my father. She never married, and ran a kindergarden with her friend MaryLou for years in Baltimore. My only memory of Tante Hedwig is the time she took me to pick wildflowers in the meadow. I still think of her when I see a Paintbrush flower. She died in 1972 of an asthma attack. Martina died way before I was born, as did my grandfather. Tante Mitzi (Maria) was the fun one. She was always laughing and telling stories and jokes or playing her accordion. She spent most of her adult life as a lay missionary in New Guinea. She brought back really cool Indonesian hand crafts. It was always exciting when Tante Mitzi came to visit because she lived in such an exotic place. I didn’t meet Tante Johanna until I was an adult; she lived most of my youth in Austria with her husband Ernst Winter and their six children. Tante Rosemarie is also not part of my childhood memories, but I helped her out at Sing-Alongs with my Senior groups as an adult. Uncle Johannes I remember well – he scared the crap out of me pretty much my whole life. His wife Lynn was cool, young and pretty – always smiling. Their children, Kristina and Sam, were the only cousins younger than me. Now Sam runs the place. Time sure flies.

Of course, I have adult memories of most of my cousins, aunts and uncles – especially after living and working in Vermont for 10 years. But aren’t adults completely different people than their child counterparts? I’m glad I got to know them better during that time, but I’ll always feel like I missed out on something by being the youngest and having that gap. (Wow, this is kind of sad – sorry about that. Posting it anyway!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Summer Vacations at the Trapp Family Lodge, Part II

For me the old Lodge was a magical place. It’s funny what your child mind remembers….things like the daily trek to the payphone by the front desk to jiggle the coin return looking for dimes that could then be spent in the soda machine downstairs in the rec room; making long domino trains in St. George’s Hall on rainy afternoons, or turning the long coffee tables into a slide by having an older kid hold up one end. (Get caught doing that by Uncle Johannes, and your life was over.) We ran around the place like we owned it, without adult supervision. There was no end to the fun.

The lodge itself was much smaller and more rustic than what is there today. My parents stayed in the apartment which had a separate entrance and a sitting room. And we got to stay on the other side of the lodge in the twin-bedded guest rooms.

I ate Wienerschnitzel and spätzle for dinner ever single night we were there, every year. (I’ve since come to find out though, that in Germany and Austria, spätzle is NEVER served with Wienerschnitzel, because there’s no sauce, and the whole point of spätzle is mopping up sauce. It’s normally served with French fries (frites), or potato salad (kartoffelsalat) (I completely embarrassed Holger by insisting on having spätzle with my Wienerschnitzel when I was visiting him in Germany. He apologized to the waiter as he asked for it. The waiter complied, and brought a side of sauce just because he couldn’t serve spätzle with out it… but I digress).  There was an accordion player who entertained the dinner guests with Austrian folk tunes. Mutter would visit each table every evening, chatting with her guests. She lived in private quarters on the second floor. Going to see her there was like entering the inner sanctum. I was very intimidated by her. She used to say if we didn’t behave, we’d have to sleep in the dog house, and I believed her.

All this came to a sad end for me when I was eleven. That fall, my parents separated and divorced. I lived with my mother, and the relations were strained so the summer visits didn’t happen anymore. In 1980, when I was 15, my brother George joined the management team of the Trapp Family Lodge, and we visited once again. That was the last time I saw the old lodge. It was consumed by a tragic fire on a frigid December night.

But if you visit today and look closely, you’ll still see some leftovers from the old days. What is now The Austrian Tea room was called Coffee House and Gift Shop. We were allowed to select a gift from Mutter from that shop. (I liked to pick the Sound of Music dolls. I had Liesl and Marta. ) Long after the trail riding was discontinued; the old stable was converted, first to guest rooms, then offices, then the children’s center. (Those who remembered its days as a stable were reluctant to sleep there, so they say). The spring fed pool hidden in the woods is still there (I think – it’s been a while since I visited), although it’s not so hidden anymore. And a short hike into the woods behind the lodge will take you to the stone chapel built by my uncle Werner, upon his safe return from WWII.


*Mutter actually means “mother” in German. Grandmother is “Großmutter”, but the more familiar term is “Oma”. I’m not really sure why she insisted we call her Mutter, but we did. Maybe because that’s what my father called her?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Summer vacations at the Trapp Family Lodge: Part 1

Every June until I was 10, my family piled into my father’s Oldsmobile and headed north to Stowe, Vermont to spend two glorious weeks at the Trapp Family Lodge to visit Mutter, and various aunts, uncles and cousins who had settled close to home. We sang songs on the way - in round and harmony. (Hey, what can I say, we're von Trapps, it's what we do.) Over the years, the memories of these trips have blended together for me into one montage. My earliest childhood memories of all are connected to this place.

The first time I ever rode on a horse was the summer my oldest brother George worked in the riding stable at the lodge. Her name was Rosie and she was old and slow. I was three. I don’t actually recall when I really got to ride by myself, but in my memory, my sister Stephanie and I signed up for trail rides every day of the two weeks we spent at the lodge. My brother, Chris, hated riding. I think it’s because his horse took off with him across the meadow. Steph was the one who really took to it though. She even lives on a small horse farm, and is an accomplished riding instructor. (photo: Steph and I on Rosie, Tizzy's holding the bridle, Monique is standing behind George. Chris is nowhere to be seen - did I mention he's not a fan of horses?)

I had my tonsils out the June I was six, but that didn't stop us from going on our annual trip to Stowe. Swimming in the outdoor pool tucked in the woods behind the pine grove was a favorite past time, but because of the surgery, the amount of time I was allowed to spend swimming that summer was limited. I’ll never forget the frustration of having to come out of the water BEFORE my lips turned blue.

My two oldest sisters spent summers working at the lodge; Monique worked at the Front Desk and Tizzy waitressed in the dining room. I couldn’t WAIT to be old enough to waitress too, and learn how to balance trays on my shoulder. So when we were visiting, I’d don the little dirndl my parents brought back from Salzburg and “helped” them (I couldn’t have been much more than five or six at the time). They let me carry small items on a bar tray and help the hostess seat guests. I remember a woman from Germany named Ingrid who worked there for several years. I followed her around like a puppy dog, and when she went back to Germany she sent me letters and gifts. I still have the doll, (which I of course named Ingrid) that she sent me.

So whereas Steph first discovered her love of horses from these annual trips, I, it seems, got a taste of what was going to be my first career – working in the Trapp Family Lodge dining room….. (Suddenly the memories are flowing like water. I’m going to stop here for now, but I’ve got at least two more parts to this particular story that are writing themselves in my head. Coming soon….)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beyond the Sound of Music….

I have to admit, I got stuck. I ran out of Sound of Music anecdotes (blog worthy ones, anyway) and then spent several weeks thinking – what do I write about next? I started with the easily remembered stories – the ones that come out at parties when people ask questions. But what about the parts of growing up as a von Trapp that had nothing to do with the Sound of Music? Will readers be interested in those? I guess there's only one way to find out. But first, let me set the stage.

Both my father and mother, Henriette Lajoie von Trapp, came from large families – my father the oldest of 10 and my mother, third oldest of 12. Mom likes to tell about having 14 bridesmaids in her wedding party – her seven sister’s and my father’s seven sisters.

Between all those aunts and uncles, I wound up with 46 FIRST cousins. 21 of them share the von Trapp heritage, and each of us have different stories to tell of growing up part von Trapp, part whatever our non-von Trapp parent brought to the table. For me, that part was an iron-willed woman whose mother emigrated from France to marry an American soldier she met during WWI.

So other than English as a native tongue, there was very little about my childhood that could be considered typically American. My parents’ strong European and Catholic backgrounds shaped their values, customs and beliefs, and subsequently our family.

On top of all that, in 1949 when my brother George was 1, and my sister Monique was 10 days old, our mother contracted Polio. After a long battle and slow recovery, she was confined to a wheelchair. Regardless, she and my father added four more to the brood, wrapping it all up with me in 1965, 17 years after they got started.

Based on that odd mix of circumstances, you can see the dilemma. There’s so much to tell, where do I start? And will people find the stories entertaining and interesting? I guess there’s only one way to find out. I’ll just dive in and let you tell me what you think. That’s the good thing about a blog. You know where you stand pretty quickly. – F.v.T.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

You’re Famous!

If I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me during my life, I’d ….. well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be constantly searching the Internet for cheap economy flights to Munich. Instead, I’d be traveling in style. First Class seats, all the way.

Today is the day before Easter, and the girls and I watched The Pacifier with Vin Diesel. Have you seen it? One of the subplots is about the boy in the family struggling with his desire to act rather than be on the wrestling team. The musical he tries out for? Sound of Music, of course. Vin Diesel becomes the director of the production as part of his nanny duties. It’s hilarious.

Guess what’s on tomorrow night on ABC Family? A Julie Andrews double feature: Mary Poppins followed by the Sound of Music. It’s about time, don’t you think? After all, they haven’t shown it since Super Bowl Sunday.

There was a time in my life when this kind of thing would fill me with dread. I knew the days that followed would bring an onslaught of questions from my peers. (Ok, it was in high school, when the last thing you want to be known for is being related to characters in a musical.) I remember one year, responding simply with a number, reflecting how many questions I got that day… 27, 28, 29.

But things change. Just the other day, I was in the post office buying stamps the other day. As I handed over my debit card, the clerk glanced at my name and commented the usual “von Trapp? As in the Sound of Music?” It felt different this time. I said “yes!” with purpose. She said “Really? How are you related?” I replied with my standard, “My father was the oldest of the original seven children.” But this time I added something. “I’m writing a blog about it, if you’re interested.” I wrote the website address down for her. “Thanks! I’ll do that.”

With maturity comes the realization that sometimes, in order to be successful, we need to leverage all the advantages God gave us. I guess in my case, that includes being born into a family whose name opens some doors. Where we take those advantages is up to us. – F.v.T.

PS - Here's a challenge: how often do you notice references to the Trapp Family or The Sound of Music in television shows or movies? Next time you hear one, make a note of it and post it here. I'll bet you'll be surprised at how many there are.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The mystique lives on, and on, and on….

The question is, how long can it last? I was talking about this recently with my boyfriend, Holger, who is German and lives just outside Munich, Germany. It was shortly after Christmas, and the movie had been recently aired. He expressed his amazement at the ongoing popularity and hype it still gets, particularly because many people nowadays – especially the younger generations – don’t even know of the Trapp Family Singers, or their music. Why does it continue to grow in popularity rather than fade into its place in movie history with the rest of the popular musicals?

Now understand, when we first met, he had heard of the Sound of Music, but had never seen it. He was more familiar with the original German film, Die Trapp-Familie. Of course, my daughters and I fixed that on his first visit – treating him to a private screening at our house, complete with sing-a-along and running commentary. I haven’t often had the opportunity to witness a virgin viewing – most people I know have seen it at least once. As a guy who’s more into Quentin Tarantino films than Rogers and Hammerstein musicals; he was a good sport to watch it with us. And while we didn’t succeed in creating a new groupie, he did appreciate it, especially since it was about our family.

Our conversation got me to thinking however, he did have a point. How often does a movie or theater production sustain the level of popularity that the Sound of Music has achieved – movies like Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter; and musicals like Phantom of the Opera, Les Misèrables, The Lion King, and Annie come to mind. But certainly there are even fewer whose fans span generations, and have experienced multiple revivals.

Take, for example, the aforementioned Sing-Along Sound of Music craze, which I just discovered is alive and well at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, WA (gotta love Google). Or how about the BBC reality show, How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? that Andrew Lloyd Webber created to fill the role of Maria in his West End London revival in 2006. That inspired a version that was aired in Belgium, Op zoek naar Maria, for which the now-famous viral video of 200 dancers performing Do Re Mi in the Antwerp train station was created to promote.
Even on a small scale, the infatuation continues. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a local performance of The Sizzling Strings – a one-family musical group from Utah – who opened their show with, you guessed it, a Sound of Music medley.

But these examples only illustrate the momentum that continues to propel SOM forward in popularity, rather than settling into a quiet, nostalgic type of fame like, for instance, My Fair Lady or Mary Poppins. They don’t, however, answer our original question of how long will it last? Readers, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

(Talk about coincidence – as I write this, I’m hearing a commercial on TV for Dove, Damaged Therapy, set to the tune of My Favorite Things, which reminded me about last night’s episode of Gossip Girl referenced the Sound of Music. See what I mean? It baffles the mind.) -- F.v.T.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Public Outing (aka: most embarrassing moment. Ever.)

Does anyone remember that short-lived phenomena that began in London called the Sing-along Sound of Music?  Someone got the bright idea that the film would adapt well to the Rocky Horror Picture Show concept of audience participation, complete with costumes. There were articles in the news about the guy who dressed in yellow spandex and went as “Ray, a drop of golden sun”….stuff like that.

So when my friend Susan found out that Sing-along SOM was coming to Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston, she called me right up.  This was way too funny.  We decided we had to go…in costume….. as The Curtains. (You know, the ones that Maria made the dirndls and lederhosen out of when Georg refused to give her fabric to make play clothes.)

In addition to Susan, her husband Steve, and my husband Colin, I invited my very dear friend (and coincidentally the minister of our church) Richard Jones, because he was one of the biggest Sound of Music Fans I know, and it was thanks to him that my 6-year-old daughters got to see the Broadway production when it came to the Colonial Theater.  He surprised us with tickets and took us all, because he didn’t want Jessie and Savannah to miss out on the experience.  (What he didn’t tell me was that he wanted to arrange for us to meet Richard Chamberlain himself, which fortunately never happened because he didn’t perform that night due to illness.) 

Notice I just said "fortunately that never happened?" That wasn' t a typo.  At that point in my life, I preferred to fly under the radar and had been enjoying the anonymity my married name of “Gibson” afforded me.  Yet here I was, about to surround myself with the groupiest of Sound of Music groupies.  So on the way to the theater, I reminded my companions that we were going Incognito.  I think I was even specific. Please do not tell anyone that I am a von Trapp.  I said it mostly for Richard's benefit, remembering the near-miss with Richard Chamberlain.

We arrived at a packed theater, and had to take seats close to the front.  Once we settled in, I noticed Richard had disappeared.  Then I saw him coming down the aisle – an entire camera crew and some news commentator with a microphone in tow.  What the hell was he doing?  I felt the panic start to rise in my throat. Remember:  stage fright.  (WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENT CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR READERS UNDER THE AGE OF 13 OR OLDER THAN 75 BUT IS NECESSARY FOR ACCURACY).

They came right to where we were sitting. Richard looked so proud. The woman with the microphone smiled her big news-magazine-reporter smile and told me she was from Chronicle, and would I mind being interviewed?  I was trapped in the row between Colin, Susan and Steve and a million other attendees.  There was no escape.   I pointed at Richard, “Fuck you! You’re a dead man.” (Yes, to my MINISTER, not one of my proudest moments, I must admit.) The smile on his face froze in place as he realized his mistake.

I only remember a couple of things after that. My friends and husband telling me to go ahead, I could do this. Me, picturing the whole thing on the news and all the stupid things I would say. I tried; I really tried to answer their questions. Then the adrenaline kicked in as I realized I had a choice.  “Fuck this shit. I’m out of here.”  And I fled, out of the theater, out of the building, halfway to the parking lot before collapsing to the curb, sobbing in mortification.  

Susan came to find me, and to coax me back inside. She told me the  camera crew was gone.  The woman reporter was right behind her. I told her to go away. She told me she was sorry, and assured me they wouldn’t use the footage.   (A minor relief – I had temporarily forgotten my academy award winning performance had been captured on tape).  Eventually, I calmed down, and went back inside to see the show. I even enjoyed it.  The Emcee, Ryan, dressed in drag, was a dead-ringer for Julie Andrews.  We won a prize for our curtain costumes. 

During the show, at intermission, and afterwards Richard apologized profusely. I think the experience actually brought him clarity about my life as a von Trapp. The next day, I received a dozen red roses and a card of apology from him. Poor guy, I think he was damaged by this experience more than I was. I’m happy to report that our friendship was not harmed, in fact, its stronger than ever (ironically, I’m no longer married to Colin, and have lost touch with Susan and Steve.)

I have to admit that for a while after this incident I was haunted by it. I couldn’t figure out why I had lost my composure.  I had spent years working at Trapp Family Lodge, and acting as a family spokesperson when called upon to do so.  Ultimately, I came to the realization that this public appearance hadn’t been on my terms. I hadn’t been given a choice or had time to prepare.  Quite the opposite – I had specifically asked NOT to be outed.  Even though I’m not famous in my own right, I feel empathy for those who are and have to deal with this kind of thing every day.    – F.v.T.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Closet Fan

I have a confession to make. Family connections aside, I am a diehard fan of the Sound of Music. I mean really, what’s not to like? Catchy score, classic boy-meets-girl story line, villains you love to hate, and sarcastic nuns to provide comic relief. Now I only own it in VHS, and I can’t say I watch it EVERY time it comes on TV, but every once in a while, it’s a guilty pleasure I indulge. So naturally, when given the opportunity to tour the Salzburg area and see the various locations where it was filmed, I was in.

Rewind a bit to June of 1987. I was backpacking through Europe with three college friends post-graduation; Hope, Ellen and Heather. We came to Salzburg by way of train from Vienna, where we had spent an afternoon as guests of my father’s friends, the Eggers. Mr. Egger was editor of Austria Today magazine. Mrs. Egger was a tour guide. The day after we visited, she was touring with some travel documentary film maker, and she had tried to arrange for us to meet, but it didn’t work out. (The significance of this non-meeting becomes apparent later in the story).

Anyhow, upon arriving in Salzburg (my first visit EVER – and a very significant part of this trip for me), we found accommodations at the International Youth Hotel, and set out for some sightseeing. With the understanding among my friends and me that I was going incognito, we signed up to go on the Sound of Music Tour the next afternoon. So far I’d been successful at flying under the radar. As I said, this tour visited all the locations where the Sound of Music had been filmed, in addition to some locations where the family had really lived. Needless to say, I was interested to hear the tour guide’s explanation of fact vs. fiction.

I was not disappointed; this guy had clearly done his homework. He had read my grandmother’s book, and did a great job explaining why certain locations had been used as opposed to the actual sites. He also picked up where the movie leaves off, and brought the group up to date on what had become of the von Trapp family. Someone asked if any members of the family still lived in Austria, to which he replied that he didn’t think so, but that a member of the family had arrived in Salzburg for vacation the day before. I was pretty sure I was the person he was referring to.

I whispered to my companions, “How did he know? Did you guys say something?” They claimed innocence. No one had betrayed my cover. I was stumped. I mentally ran through conversations I had had since arriving in Salzburg. I was sure I hadn’t divulged my identity. I couldn’t stand it. I had to know.

So at the next site stop, I waited until everyone had gone off to look at things and approached the tour guide. “How did you know a member of the family arrived yesterday?” I asked. “Why do you want to know?” he countered. “Because that’s ME!” I said. He laughed in surprise, and then told me that someone on his tour the previous afternoon told him that he had been on the train from Vienna with a family member.

Remember the documentary filmmaker I never met up with in Vienna? (or on the train for that matter) It had to be him. He knew we were traveling to Salzburg that day. Adding to the coincidence is that the tour guide told me he hadn’t even thought to mention it on the morning tour. If the girls and I had gone on that one, this little incident would have never happened.

Two years later, I returned to Salzburg with my friend Katie. She was a fellow employee at the Trapp Family Lodge. So of course, we went on the same tour. The same guy happened to be leading the tour again. He remembered me. This time, I sat up front and helped answer questions. It was great.
Here are some photos from the tour. 1. Castle on the lake in Anif. This appears in the aerial shot during the opening scene of the movie. 2. The actual family home in Aigen. 3. Mirabel Gardens - Maria and the children dance through here in Do-Re-Mi sequence. 4 and 5, The infamous 16 going on 17 gazebo.


One last note about this experience; it so happened that each day in the Youth Hotel there was a showing of – you guessed it – the Sound of Music. Watching it with that crowd who had just come off the tour was probably one of the best viewing experiences ever. We all pointed out locations we had seen – loudly. There was camaraderie in being “in-the-know.”

Run by Salzburg Panorama Tours, the Sound of Music Tour still exists. My daughters and I will be visiting this summer. I can’t wait to take them on it! - F.v.T.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Family Cemetery

Not every world class resort can boast having a cemetery on the grounds, but then again not every world-class resort was first and foremost a Vermont family homestead. In the northeast corner of the immediate grounds of Trapp Family Lodge is a small, private, well-tended family burial ground. As beautiful a final a resting place as it is, I’ve often had mixed feelings about my father being buried there.

My father died on February 22, 1992 at the ripe old age of 80 when I was 27. Writing this, I realized we just past the 18th anniversary of his death. It's hard to believe - it seems like just yesterday we had our last waltz together. Here's one of my favorite photos of us, taken on my wedding day, just six months before he died.

He was interred in the family plot alongside two of his sisters who both died young -- Martina at age 30 from complications of childbirth, and Hedwig at age 55 of asthma -- his father, and Maria. The area is surrounded by a split rail fence with a roped off entrance and the sign “Private,” in an attempt to keep the sightseeing traffic to a minimum. Of course, as a family member, I was allowed access whenever I wanted. At first, I liked the idea of him being so close by, and stopped by frequently on the way home from work, but often felt conspicuous going inside. It was like wearing a neon “I’m a member of the family” sign at a time when I preferred to be left alone. And on more than one occasion, I did exit only to be approached by an inquiring visitor, wanting to know if I was family, and who was buried in there.

I wasn’t the only one to field such questions. One that my older brother, George, likes to tell involves one of the staff maintenance crew, Roland (cannot for the life of me remember his last name), native Vermonter and TFL employee since the days of the Old Lodge. As the story goes, a guest approached Roland and asked where Maria was buried. “She’s buried right with the Captain,” said Roland. “But is there enough room?” was the inquiry back. “Well, she was cremalated, you know.” Roland explained. “That don’t take much room.” I bet that guest got more than she bargained for. – F.v.T.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Senior Moments

My last position at TFL before I left to have my daughters was in the Group Sales department, where I was in charge of booking and overseeing the bus tours. Now, I’ve never been particularly drawn to a career in sales (I really can’t handle the rejection that comes along with it), but thankfully TFL sold itself. The most challenging part of my job was convincing groups that the off-season in Vermont is just as lovely a time to visit as other times of year, and yes of course the tulips will be in bloom by May 5. (Photo below: me, 9 months pregnant with twins, and the tour guide from Wenham COA.)

The majority of the tours were booked by senior citizen organizations in New England, so we built tempting itineraries around such Vermonty activities as maple sugaring, visit’s to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory and the Cabot Cheese factory, and of course included a healthy dose of von Trapp lore. There was a daily showing of a 20 minute Trapp Family documentary and afternoon tea sing-along’s with my aunt Rosemarie, who would lead the groups in singing American folksongs, tunes from the Sound of Music, and other various crowd pleasers. The highlight of the visit was an evening performance by Elisabeth von Trapp, who would mesmerize the crowd with her enchanting voice (she really got the musical genes) and childhood memories of Maria.

For my part, I had to swallow my stage fright and play host to the group, welcome them when they arrived, sometimes act as tour guide for the day, and introduce Elisabeth before she performed. Sometimes I messed with their heads a bit. I remember one time using a remote mike to project my voice into the bus without physically being there. I put on my best Austrian accent and pretended to be Maria speaking from the grave. They ate it up. I loved my seniors – they thought I was hilarious.

But that’s not the best story. This one is. To promote these tours, I would often travel to exhibit at the Senior Travel Planners Association expos around New England. On one particular occasion, I was stationed at our booth, handing out brochures and little nip bottles of Vermont Maple Syrup (the attendees LOVED it), and answering all sorts of questions, openly admitting to being an authentic member of the family, and listening to stories of past trips, concerts, etc. A women approached who was much younger than the rest of the crowd, and I figured she must work at a Council on Aging or something. She stood there for a moment studying the family photos, taking in the sign “Trapp Family Lodge” clearly trying to make a connection. Then it hit her and she held up her finger in recognition. “Fiddler on the Roof, right?” I blinked. “Close!” I said.

And just like that, I had my opening joke for introducing Elisabeth from that day forward. How could I have not loved that job? -- F.v.T.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good times at TFL

After college, I spent about six years (on and off) working at the Trapp Family Lodge (or TFL as we called it) in various jobs, from administrative assistant for timeshare sales, to bartender and hostess in the Main Dining Room and Lounge, and ultimately to group sales. Those were some of the best years of my life. My co-workers were fun, the guests were, for the most part, really nice (those that weren’t, well they were the ones we mocked behind their backs). If you were going to be a von Trapp in public, well, it was the place to do it.

People who visited the Trapp Family Lodge generally fell into one of three categories. At the top of the list was my parents’ generation. They remembered the Trapp Family Singers from their touring days, and would often tell stories about the time they went to one concert or another. Or perhaps they had come to the Music Camp back in the 1940’s. I think I learned more about my own family history from them than anyone.

The second group is those who associate the von Trapp name first with the Trapp Family Lodge, and second with The Sound of Music. They were the guests who returned year after year and remembered the Lodge before the fire in 1980 (photo left). These folks felt like extended family. Lots of them became timeshare owners. Often, this group was from my own generation, having been introduced to the Lodge by their parents, who were part of the first group.

The last group is made up of hardcore movie fans that came to Trapp Family Lodge expecting to be greeted at the front door by Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and the rest of the original movie cast. They also were the greatest source of amusement.

So picture this: the luncheon crowd is clearing out, and I’m working behind the bar decked out in my standard-issue dirndl, setting up for evening service. Suddenly I hear this excited voice. “You’re one of THEM aren’t you?” I turn around. “Excuse me?” “DON’T say anything.” (Seriously, I think if the woman could have, she would have reached across the bar and put her finger to my lips.) “I just want to say I SAW one of THEM.” There was no escape. I just did as I was told and quietly let her qawk at me. When she left, I stuck my head through the service window , where the other waitstaff were trying to keep straight faces. “WHO TOLD?” I demanded. “What? She asked if there were any family members working here today,” said my friend, Kate...like it was a job requirement.

I got her back. A while later, some people came to the dining room during dinner set up, just to look. “Is this where the movie was filmed?” the woman asked excitedly. Oh, we had a live one here. “Um, no,” I said. “The movie was filmed in Salzburg, AUSTRIA.” Disappointed she asked hopefully, “Well, are any of you part of the family?” I quickly pointed to Kate “SHE IS!” and smiled innocently. What could she say? Denying it would just make it look like she was lying, and in her long braids and dirndl, she certainly looked the part. You know what they say, payback’s a bitch. Ah, those were the days. -- F.v.T.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions ….and the answers

I’m sure that if you polled the members of my family, we’d all come up with similar lists of FAQs related to being a von Trapp. (In fact, if any of you are reading this, feel free to add to the list.) Here are some of my all time favorites, along with my standard answers.

Can you sing?
Almost always first out of the gate (after how are you related, but we’ve already covered that), this question has always been awkward for me to answer. I’m sure people are just asking for a yes or no, but I tend to over think these things. Are they asking if I sing professionally? In public? Can I carry a tune? Here’s my final answer. I can carry a tune, and I like to sing, but I’ve never had formal training and I get stage fright, so my public performances have never extended beyond high school chorus or church choir.

You mean the Sound of Music is about a real family?

This one is more frequent in recent years as the Sound of Music audience gets younger, or among people who are seeing the movie for the first time. This can also be geographical. People who live in New England tend to be more aware just because the Trapp Family Lodge is a well-known resort in that part of the world.

So Julie Andrews is your grandmother?

This is mostly asked by people who have difficulty separating fact from fiction. Hello? Julie Andrews was the ACTRESS playing a role? MARIA (the real one) was my grandmother, and if you want to get technical, she was really my step- grandmother. My father’s mother, Agathe, was my grandmother, but I never got to meet her since she died when my father was 13. In the photo here, Maria is standing between my maternal grandfather, J. Edward Lajoie and my mother's brother, Uncle Bob.

You mean Liesl is really a BOY?
My father was the oldest child of the original seven, and when I tell people this it really confuses them, because in the movie, Liesl, a girl, was the oldest. “So you mean Friedrich was your father?” Technically, I guess that’s right. They changed the names and the birth order so that they could have the romance between Liesl and Rolf.

Does the family still sing?

Sadly, no. They retired in 1956 and got on with their adult lives. People still tend to picture them as children, but those still living are all over 70 now. (In the photo here left, taken circa 1988, (Top row L-R) Rupert, Eleonore, Maria (the daughter), Johanna, Werner, (bottom row: Johannes and Rosemarie). Of those pictured here, only Eleonore, Maria, Johannes and Rosemarie are still living, as well as Agathe, who isn't shown.) Eleonore, Johannes and Rosemarie are the children of Maria and Georg. Of the original seven who passed away before this photo was taken are Martina and Hedwig.
However, my cousin, Elisabeth von Trapp, daughter of Werner (Kurt) has carried on the legacy, as have her brother Stefan’s children, Sofia, Amanda, Justin and Melanie, now well known as The von Trapp Children. They are amazing.


Do you get royalties?

Is that really any of your business? I didn’t think so. F.v.T.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What’s in a name?

So you’re wondering what the name of the blog is all about. Have you ever Googled “von Trapp or Trapp Family”? Go ahead and give it a shot. There are thousands of links, and while many of them are to reference sites, archived news stories, books, and an assortment of legitimate family businesses, a good number of them contain an odd mix of fact, folklore and fiction.

In one account, a guy from the UK said that the name of my grandfather’s first wife (my grandmother) was Frances. I’m thinking, who the hell is Frances? Her name was Agathe. He also claimed they met in 1912. My father was born in 1911, so if it’s true, somebody’s got some explaining to do. Some of the sites are funny, but one was downright creepy, and honestly made me question whether I really wanted to keep going with this project. I mean, there are some real whack-jobs out there. What can of worms am I opening here? But then I remembered that I was tired of reading other people’s version of my family’s story. This is my story too. So onward we go!

Now, I’ve never been one to introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Francoise von Trapp, I’m related to the famous von Trapp’s.” It’s just not me. It’s easier just to let people ask. That got a little sticky during the 13 years that my last name was Gibson. I mean who was going to ask someone named Gibson if they were related to the famous von Trapps? It wasn’t that I wanted them to. It was just a little awkward when it came out long after I met someone. “We’ve been friends for a year and you never told me?” Stuff like that. My daughters volunteered the information to their music teacher in 1st grade when he started out by having them all learn Do Re Mi. I don’t think he believed them at first. It was actually a relief when I reverted back to my maiden name.

I remember one surreal experience when I was in college at the University of New Hampshire. It was the first day of my public speaking class, and the instructor paired us off to interview each other, and then give a speech about the other person. The person who interviewed me never asked if there was a connection, so I didn’t bother to volunteer the information. A little while later, a guy from across the room got up to introduce his interviewee whose name was, coincidentally, Virginia Trapp. The first thing he said about her was that she was related to the von Trapp’s in the Sound of Music. Could have knocked me over with a feather. At that point I thought I knew all my relatives – at least the ones who were my age and older, and I didn’t know any cousins named Virginia. She told me her aunt had done their genealogy and that she was distantly related. All right then. Who was I to question it? I saw her around campus those four years, but we lost touch after that. I wonder what happened to her?

Trapp and Von Trapp aren’t uncommon names (we spell it von Trapp). I was surprised to find this out when I did my own people search on FaceBook. There were over 300 results and I only know about 40 of them. I’ve always wondered what it must be like to NOT be related, but have to constantly live with that question? Do you just start making stuff up after a while? I think I would.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It started way before the movie…

The first reader comment came in, asking if I was able to understand that the characters in the movie were supposed to be my relatives. The short answer is here. The longwinded answer follows:

The Sound of Music
(the movie version) won the academy award for best picture in 1965, the year I was born. Of course this was before the age of video and DVD, so I didn’t see the film itself until it came out again in theaters a few years later (I was probably six or seven, I don’t remember). It was the second time I’d ever been to the movies, and I remember being really excited about seeing it because it was supposed to be about my father’s family.

Here I have to explain something: my father was a very quiet man, he didn’t talk much about his youth unless you asked him. By the time I came along, he was 53 years old, father of six, small town family practitioner. My older siblings probably have a better recollection of all the hoopla surrounding the Sound of Music when it first came out on Broadway starring Mary Martin, which opened in 1959 (funnily enough, the year my sister Stephanie was born. I’m starting to see a pattern here. …)

But that’s not to say I didn’t know my father’s family was famous. We spend each summer vacation at the Trapp Family Lodge, in Stowe VT visiting Mutter (what we called our grandmother, Maria) and various aunts, uncles and cousins who were around. In the photo here (1968 or 69), my family was photographed playing cards together, (L-R) Tizzy, Papa, George, Stephanie, me, Chris, Monique and Mom.

There were Saturday night Austrian folk dances in St. George’s Hall with the guests, and rainy-day screenings of the German version of the family story, Die Trapp-Familie, which preceded the stage show by 3 years, and was what both the stage and screen versions were based on. I actually prefer that version, because it' much more true to the real story. The sequel to that, Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika continued the story all the way to Vermont.

To us, the family’s fame came not from the movie adaptation, but from having spent over 20 years (1935-1957) touring the world as a family singing group. (If you want more history, go here.)

And oh, by the way, not to burst any bubbles, but the family did NOT go around singing Doe A Deer, My Favorite Things, and Climb Ev’ry Mountain…. Their repertoire comprised sacred, secular and folk music from around the world. Their musical director was a Catholic priest - Father Franz Wasner; not the opportunistic Max Detweiller (although I have to say he IS my favorite character in the movie.) And Edelweiss is NOT The Austrian National Anthem.

We’re just getting started here, but I can’t write all this in one day, can I? Keep the questions coming, I’ll do my best to keep up. -- F.v.T.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Are you one of THOSE von Trapps?

Awhile back on Facebook, there was a message in my inbox from someone I’ve never met before, asking if I were related to the von Trapps from the Sound of Music, who escaped from Austria into Switzerland and I thought… SERIOUSLY?? Has it really all come to this?

I've become used to this question during face-to-face meetings pretty much every time I meet someone new. I’m fine with it. I mean, if I wasn’t, I would never have reverted back to my maiden name after getting divorced. In fact, I’ve become quite adept at answering the questions with grace. But this took things to new heights.

So did I answer the question? Sadly, no. In that moment, I was overcome by a sudden need to protect my privacy and deleted the message. In retrospect, I now question that move – did I once again pass up the opportunity for some shameless self promotion? I mean, if Julie Powell can achieve fame and fortune by cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, then blogging about it, and Tucker Max can do the same by exploiting his debaucherous lifestyle, what’s stopping me? Maybe, just maybe, this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been meaning to start a blog for a while. I was just waiting for the perfect topic. Was it right in front of me the whole time? Would readers really be interested in knowing what it’s like to grow up as “a von Trapp of Sound-of-Music fame? You tell me.

So, let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, or so the story goes.….. sorry couldn’t resist that). Yes. I’m one of those von Trapps. My father was Rupert, eldest of the original seven children. But they didn’t escape from Austria into Switzerland. That was just for cinematic effect. Ever look at a map of Austria? When you climb the mountains near Salzburg, Germany is on the other side to the north, and more of Austria in the other three directions. What my father and his siblings did do is put on their hiking clothes, walk to the nearest train station, and hop a train to Italy for a hiking holiday.

So you’ve got questions? Go ahead, bring them on. I’m ready for you now! - F.v.T