Wish you were here.
PERPLEXED, WITH NO CONTACT from grandmother for six years after the incident, Elizabeth wondered why she just now received her invitation. Grandmother’s telephone message was to the point, “Heard up at the Center Market you’re back to Maine for the summer before you go into nursing school. If you’re out running errands, stop by the farmhouse, I’ll be home.”
Errands could wait. Elizabeth drove directly to the farmhouse. Her thoughts raced. What does she want? Is she sorry for what happened? She’s old. Maybe she’ll tell me about grandfather, how he got here from Germany, and his ties to the Jews at Sunset Inn?
Elizabeth took a deep breath and murmured. “Really? Don’t get your hopes up that things have changed.”
Through the years 1904-1928, Elizabeth’s grandfather, Gustav F. Heim played first trumpet in all the major east coast city orchestras, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and solo trumpet for the New York Symphony. He expressed the true spirit of symphony trumpeting and captured the admiration of noted directors from around the world.
After Gustav died in 1933, Elizabeth’s Grandmother Edna kept his watch ritual a secret for twenty-four years until she felt the right time. Elizabeth’s eighteenth summer birthday, she would give her the watch and tell her the ritual.
Before each performance while in a musicians’ waiting lounge, Gustav reached into his vest pocket, and took out a gold pocket watch. Before opening it, he smiled and rubbed the floral engraved case. Inside he touched a faded sepia photograph of a young woman. In less than a minute, he returned the watch to the vest pocket, patted it, adjusted his silk-striped tie, buttoned his black formal jacket, and rejoined colleagues tuning their instruments. His mind turned back to music and his trumpet.
Elizabeth pulled up to the farmhouse, set beyond a clump of pine trees off the main road. Her mind flashed back to the upsetting incident six years ago. Clothes thrown in the trunk of a car, grandmother watched at a safe distance, her uncle’s remark. “You’re done with this. You’re coming with me, Elizabeth.”
Thoughts pushed aside, Elizabeth smoothed her long brown hair away from her face and set Cateye sunglasses on top of her head. Tall and tanned, she walked toward the front door. Her grandmother peered at her through the kitchen window.
Well known in the family, Grandmother Edna halfway accepted young Elizabeth in the presence of sister Jeanine, her favorite of four local grandchildren, and four in another state. Elizabeth’s beginning with grandmother was a mixture of disappointments and rejection. She looked French/English like her mother, not German like Jeanine and her father. Looks were a high priority for matriarch Edna.
Grandmother’s belief directed at Elizabeth, children should be seen and not heard. Her talkative, inquisitive, snooping around behaviors set off grandmother’s tongue-lashing. Even though born lucky because of a mystical, superior birth date, Elizabeth’s start with grandmother never included luck.
THE SUMMER ELIZABETH WAS BORN, a hot spell hit an all time high at 103 degrees. Townsfolk checking out at Harmons Grocery Store grumbled to the owner. “Another scorcher, Herb.” “Been eight days now.” “Don’t remember it ever bein’ this hot.” “ When’s it gonna stop.” “Hot and dry enough to hear pinecones pop.”
On the ninth day, an unexplained phenomenon happened. A mysterious cool breeze blew due east from New Hampshire’s White Mountains over the state line straight down to Lovell, Maine. The temperature dropped a whopping 20 degrees.
Hebert’s wife, Tess, the town psychic, announced her proclamation. “The cool breeze happened because of the mystical superiority and luck of odd numbers in the date, 7-9-1-9-3-9.”
Hebert got kidded about that down at the store. “Your Tess comes up with the darndest things.”
Tess’s friend and neighbor, Adeline, along with other skeptics didn’t believe in psychic ESP or her numerology claims. However, no one could argue the cool breeze connection to the date gave everyone a breather, and nine-month pregnant Adeline a comfortable fifteen-mile ride in the old maroon Ford to Bridgeton, the next town’s hospital maternity ward. Adeline remembered the long and difficult birth of her first child, Jeanine, sixteen months ago. After a few hours of uncomplicated labor, she gave birth to a predetermined superior, lucky baby, Elizabeth.
Adeline named the baby Elizabeth, her mother Mattie’s middle name, over mother-in-law Edna’s mother’s name, Christine. This would not set well with Edna.
She confided to good neighbor Tess. “I’ve had my share of Edna’s wrath over the years. If Elizabeth takes after my French/English side of the family and doesn’t look German, she’ll need plenty of luck to deal with her Grandmother Edna. Jeanine passed the test already with a full face and light brown hair like her father Karl.”
Tess elaborated on the number seven’s numerology significance of the name Elizabeth. “Number seven means an intuitive nature, inner guidance to gain goals, and a gift of words. That’s your Elizabeth.”
Surprised Adeline adjusted her skepticism. “Tess, I’m happy the name Elizabeth connects to my mother, a saint of a woman. I’m not interested what Christine means, it’s connected to Edna, a heartless, controlling mother-in-law. In good time I’ll deal with Edna’s blunt questions about the name choice, and no doubt other things.”
Adeline sided with her sister-in-law, Dorothy, in her struggle with Edna. They formed a bond of survival vowing to protect the rejected and ignored, French/English looking Elizabeth and Gus Jr., Elizabeth’s dark-haired French looking cousin. His brother Fred, born three days after Elizabeth looked like a German poster child. Jeanine and Fred became Grandmother Edna’s shining stars.
GRANDMOTHER EDNA’S PUBLIC FACE showed the opposite of prejudice, a kindness for families in town of any ethic background. She drove a Woodie station wagon laden with steaming pots of corn chowder to Annie Heald School every Friday during winter months, and fed all the school kids. She hosted multi-cultured folk dance groups from Maine and Massachusetts after her resort closed on Labor Day. Adeline and her sister-in law realized Edna’s family prejudice had deeper roots, unknown to them how this would play out over the years.
After husband Gustav died, Edna’s main concern centered on the acquired business and the wealthy German Jewish summer guests at her Kezar Lake resort, Sunset Inn. Gustav, at age twenty-two, came to the U.S. from Germany. His early life in Germany filled with tragedy after the loss of his mother when he was two, and his stepmother when he was nine. His father raised him in a strict German household, with obedience above all. Edna’s questions remained unanswered about his sketchy life, and ethnic background.
When Gustav died at age 54, his dying words revealed secrets. “No one is to look into my past. That history dies with me.” Edna suspected, but dared not say aloud, Judaism must have been there somewhere.
EDNA’S ALLEGIANCE TO GERMANY and concern for German Jews crossed the waters through ham operating, the first woman in Maine to hold a license. Her undisclosed German contacts gave her information on general WWII news, and before that the 1938 anti-Jewish demonstrations in Berlin. Nazi authorities ignored SA (paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) stormtroopers and civilians destroying storefronts. At that time ninety-one Jews were killed. 30,000 Jewish men, educated, well-dressed cultured professors, doctors, musicians and successful businessmen were stripped of their identity and hauled off to concentration camps. The Nazis invaded their homes and confiscated rare paintings, musical instruments, silver dinnerware, bone china artifacts, gold and precious gem jewelry. At the same time, in Nazi Germany, Nazi Youth burned books condemned as un-German, or Jewish Marxist.
Even though Edna lived in the US since birth, her knowledge of war history set her apart from others. Most locals depended on radio reports for news of fighting overseas. Edna got front line news through her ham radio.
The townsfolk gathered around their radios to hear U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt address the nation on September 3, 1939 promising to keep the country neutral. In this effort, the US Congress passed several neutrality acts pledging to stay out of the conflict.
Although Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland started WWII in Europe on September 1, 1939, the United States did not enter the war until December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The following day, America and Great Britain declared war on Japan. On December 10th Italy and Germany declared war on the U.S.
DAILY LIFE CHANGED DURING THE WAR YEARS 1939-45 in the U.S. Rationing began in 1942 on food, gas and clothing. Families received rationing stamps and used them to buy their allotment of meat, butter, sugar, fat, vegetables, fruit, gas, tires, clothing and fuel oil. Communities collected scrap metal, aluminum cans and rubber, which were recycled and used to build armaments necessary to win the war. Defense plants hired women to be welders, electricians, and riveters, symbolized by Rosie the Riveter posters. People purchased U.S war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed combat. Americans planted “victory gardens” to grow their own vegetables, fruit and herbs to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. By 1945 some 20 million such gardens were in use that accounted for around 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the U.S.
EDNA SEEMED TO ACCEPT ELIZABETH in the presence of Jeanine. She treated them equally as youngsters. Edna had her own “victory garden.” to supply fresh vegetables for the resort, Sunset Inn. Elizabeth and Jeanine helped her pick fresh beans, corn and tomatoes on occasional day visits.
During their overnight stays, they marched around her farmhouse living room, dining room and kitchen while she played lively music on a Hammond organ. She baked homemade brownies, and seemed to enjoy their giggles and silliness.
On one occasion, Edna’s hostility came out when, with permission, they tried on her rings and necklaces she kept in a carved wooden jewelry box on the dresser in her upstairs bedroom. They squealed with delight when she promised to leave them each a favorite ring when she died.
Elizabeth opened the bottom drawer of the jewelry box and found a folded white lace-edged handkerchief in the back. She picked it up and felt something hard, round, and slightly raised.
She held the handkerchief out for her grandmother to see. “What’s in this, grandma?”
Edna put her hand out, and growled. “Give me that, it’s none of your business. Stay out of that drawer.”
Elizabeth cringed and handed it to her. “Sss-orry, grandma.”
She thought about it a few times on other overnights. Once she sneaked into her grandmother’s bedroom and opened the jewelry box drawer only to find the handkerchief gone.
Jeanine warned her. “Don’t ask grandma about it, ever. You’ve gotta be careful, she gets mad at you snooping around her things.”
Elizabeth wrinkled up her face. “I know, grandma gets mad at me for everything. Aren’t you curious though? It might be something valuable ‘cause she hid it away. Wish I looked at it.”
“No, Elizabeth. Don’t even talk about it. You’ll get into big trouble.”
Elizabeth listened to Jeanine, and it stayed a mystery for twelve years.
Wish you were here!
CHAPTER TWO – Coming soon