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.