Tuesday, February 14, 2012

years ago

My mother and father married in 1955. After the wedding they sat at a table outside of a cafe in Vienna and watched Russian convoys leaving their occupied sector of the city in preparation for the end of the ten year occupation mandated by the end of world war two. My father was a corporal in the US Army and my mother the daughter of an Austrian wine maker. Needless to say, not many of us have such dramatic recollections of our wedding day. As intriguing as that story may be, there is a better one for them and it occurred a year earlier, on Valentine's Day. Here is the long and short of it.

My father was born in Chicago but emigrated as a child with his mother back to a town in Austria along the Hungarian border called Schandorf. This is where he grew up, witnessed the reunification of Austria with Germany during the Anschluss, and saw his application to join the Hitler Youth with the rest of his friends denied because he was an American Citizen. After the war, at age 17 he returned to America with his family and began life anew. In 1952 while attending Northwestern University, he was drafted initially to go to Korea. His German language skills and college experience instead placed him in the Black Forest with the Signal Corps.

My mother lived in a town in Austria called Eisenberg, approximately five miles from Schandorf. She and her sister lived with her mother, a home maker, and father, an avid sportsman, wine maker, and restauranteur. He taught my mother how to hunt among other things. He would find himself in the German Army for nine years, leaving his family in the care of relatives. My mother tells me every morning her mother would put on an apron, load a revolver, and place it inside of one of the apron pockets. At night when she took off the apron she would unload the pistol and put it away. It was war time. It is what was done. When the war was over and her father returned, he set back to the practice of wine making and tending to his vineyard.

Dad was familiar with the area and would visit his relatives whenever he could, always making sure to bring wine back to his barracks. On one such visit, a relative introduced him to my mother while they were purchasing a few bottles. And that, as they say, is that. He was smitten and their courtship began.

Being only a corporal, he could only get away when he was allowed. As a romantic gesture, for Valentine's Day in 1954, he thought of my mother and decided to send her a telegram asking if she would be his valentine. Locally, the telegram and telephone service was handled by the post master, Postler in German, whose name was Franz. When he received a telegram it was his responsibility to make sure it got delivered. He also transcribed the message as it came across the wires. On that particular February 14, in 1954, Franz found himself in a quandary as he scratched down the words being tapped out in front of him. This was Franz's first valentine ever.

Sending a valentine was, by my mother's recollection, unheard of in Austria at the time. She described her father as something of an entrepreneur and the local villagers never knew what he would be up to next. It then made perfect sense that Franz the Postler would say sarcastically upon looking over the valentine message from my father, "What are those people on the hill starting again?"

To answer Franz's question, here is what was started. It was my mom and my dad and the family and the experience of children and grandchildren and bills and diapers and banks and vacations and cars and jobs and houses and photographs and memories. Who knew that just a few words would have that kind of power, even when delivered by a cranky Postler in Austria 58 years ago.