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 Center Market you’re back to Maine for the summer before you go to 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’s secret life in Germany, and his ties to the Jews at Sunset Inn?
Elizabeth took a deep breath and murmured. “Really? Don’t get your hopes up.”
Through the years 1904-1928, Elizabeth’s grandfather, Gustav F. Heim played first trumpet in 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 world directors.
Gustav died in 1933. Elizabeth’s Grandmother Edna kept his gold watch, the photo inside, and the ritual a secret for twenty-four years until she felt the right time, Elizabeth’s eighteenth summer birthday.
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 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 from a 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 from a nearby 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. The German look, a symbol of status and strength, was a high priority for matriarch Edna.
Grandmother directed her belief, children should be seen and not heard, at Elizabeth. 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 a 103 degrees. Townsfolk checked out at Harmons Grocery Store, and grumbled to the owner. “Another scorcher, Herb.” “Been eight days now.” “ When’s it gonna stop.” “Hot and dry enough to hear pinecones pop.”
On the ninth day, 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 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.”
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. It 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 Edna’s mother’s name, Christine. This would not set well with mother-in-law 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 Elizabeth and the number seven. “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, happy the name Elizabeth connected to her mother, a saint of a woman. What Christine meant did not matter. It was connected to heartless, controlling Edna.
Grandmother Edna’s public face showed unbelievable kindness for multiethnic families in town. 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 multicultural folk dance groups from Maine and Massachusetts after her lakeside resort closed for the season on Labor Day.
Edna’s German looks bias in grandchildren had deeper roots. She wanted them to grow up and face difficulties with German chutzpa. Unlike her and hardships with the famous musician and heavy drinker Gustav. Ten years younger than he, she ran the Sunset Inn resort business, and raised four children, two from his previous marriage. Edna had enough after 15 years, and divorced him. The court awarded her the resort.
Gustav died at age 54, and Edna learned of his dying words. “No one is to look into my past. That history dies with me.”
When she received his belongings from the hospital, among the clothes she found a gold pocket watch wrapped with a scribbled note from Gustav. It started with tell no one about this. Shocked, Edna suspected the young woman’s photo inside the watch was a very dark secret.
Edna knew part of Gustav’s history. At age twenty-two, he came to the U.S. from Germany. He spoke about a tragic childhood. His mother died when he was two-years-old, his stepmother died when he was nine. His father raised him in a strict German household, with obedience above all.
Gustav’s mother died, however the ritual scribbled in the note, and the young woman’s photo disturbed Edna. Suspicions about his womanizing came back full force. Angry he entrusted her with this, she shoved the watch and note in a jewelry box drawer.
Edna had her own famous history. She crossed the waters to Germany through ham operating, the first woman in Maine to hold a license. Her undisclosed German contacts gave her front line WWII news through her ham radio. Most locals depended on radio reports for news of fighting overseas. 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. That changed on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland started WWII in Europe on September 1, 1939.
Daily life changed during the war years 1939-45 in the U.S. Rationing began in 1942. Families received rationing stamps and used them to buy their allotment of food, 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, economy minded, planted a “victory garden.” in back of the farmhouse to supply fresh vegetables for the resort’s kitchen. When Elizabeth and Jeanine were first and second graders, they helped pick and pack the produce for transport in the Woodie station wagon.
Edna accepted Elizabeth in the presence of Jeanine. 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 little girl giggles and silliness.
On one occasion, Edna’s harshness came out. Elizabeth and Jeanine, with permission, tried on her rings and necklaces she kept in a two-drawer rosewood jewelry box on the dresser in her upstairs bedroom.
Elizabeth opened the bottom drawer and found a folded piece of paper in the back. She picked it up and felt something hard, round, and slightly raised.
She held it for grandmother to see. “What’s this, grandma?”
Her grandmother grabbed it and snarled. “Stay out of that drawer. It’s none of your business.”
Elizabeth cringed and backed away. “Sorry, grandma.”
She thought about it on another overnight, sneaked into her grandmother’s bedroom, opened the jewelry box drawer, and found the folded paper gone.
Jeanine warned her. “Don’t ask grandma about it, ever. You 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 a secret thing from her past ‘cause she hid it. Wish I looked at it.”
“No, Elizabeth. Don’t even talk about it. You’ll get into big trouble.”
Elizabeth knew her sister was right. She never asked, and it stayed a mystery for the next twelve years.
Wish you were here!
CHAPTER TWO – Coming soon