14 August 2018

an obituary 1944

Karoline H. was born on 30 January 1864 as the third child of the brewery owners Johann and Katharina O. in U.
She lost her father when she was still a child. Faithfully and diligently, she stood beside her widowed mother until, in September 1890, she entered into marriage to Johann
K. H in F.
The happy marriage produced four children. In her unselfish, devoted way, she dedicated herself to her family, assisted her husband in running the family business, and raised her children in quiet modesty.
In the year 1930, her husband predeceased her. For the last fifteen years she lived in retirement partly in F., partly in A.
Humbly and peacefully as she had lived, she passed away on Sunday morning, trusting in her Redeemer.

I find this obituary among my grandmother's letters. She wrote in her neat handwriting, adding and crossing off bits of information here and there, in the week after her mother's death. This appears to be the final version which must have been published in the local newspaper. My grandmother was the oldest of Karoline's four children. She may have been raised by her mother in quiet modesty but believe me, she was anything but quiet and as for modesty, it depends on definition.

But this is about Karoline of whom I know nothing.

Karoline is seated 2nd from left, my grandmother is standing next to her

So I call my father.

How did they meet, I ask, your grandparents, my great grandparents.
He laughs. "His family paid a Hochzeitsschmuser (schmoozer, matchmaker) to find her, it wasn't cheap."

What was she like, tell me.

"She was a tiny person, but tough, never talked much but always humming under her breath, always busy, cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting. After her husband died, her sons bought the old forester's lodge and fixed it up for her. You know the house, it's where E and G live now. The one with the steep slope of a garden, the typical Franconian orchard, pears and apples (I don't remember the house, in fact, I am quite certain I've never been there, but he is in full flow now and I just want to hear more). She had a bedroom upstairs for me when I was sent to stay during the summer months. But I was scared of the dark and so she fixed me a bed in her bedroom.
During the summer holidays in F. I roamed through town all day, playing with my cousins, getting fed wherever I happened to be at midday and in the evening, I found my way back to her house and dinner. "

(F. where my father's grandmother and most of his mother's family lived, still live today, is about 25 km from A. where my father lived as a boy - and where he has been living again for the last 30 years. He was sent there to get out of my grandmother's hair during the long summer holidays.)

"We grew tobacco together, she showed me how to test the drying leaves and later, during the war, we sold it on the black market.  She always had chickens and I learned all about them by watching her. During the winter months, she always came to live with us in the big house in A. She brought her chickens along, one of my uncles drove up in the family business truck with her sitting in the back watching her hens, and the other uncle would pick her up come spring. We kept the chickens downstairs in the laundry until after the frost. My uncle, the locksmith, built an elaborate hen house on wheels and when the days started to get warmer, I wheeled it outside and once the days grew longer and the hens became restless,  I was allowed to let them out, had to watch them scratching and digging in the rose beds. By the time her hens got broody, it was time for my grandmother to move back to her house and start working in her garden.
When she stayed with us during the war winters, she disappeared into the library with my father after dinner to listen to the BBC, to Mr Churchill, she had a soft spot for him and his deep voice."

 (I suddenly realise that my father's father, my grandfather, was only seven years older than her, my great grandmother, his mother in law.)

Did you get on, I ask. 

"Oh yes, mostly. Lots of gardening, really. She helped me study for my holy confirmation, she knew all the catechism by heart. But once I got really mad. You see, I had to do homework over the summer holidays, mainly revising my Latin vocabulary and she had to test me every evening. Of course, she only went to school for a few years and knew not a bit of Latin, so I fibbed and she found out and wrote to my parents and then my mother arrived the next morning and well, you can imagine."

He sighs. Eighty years later, I can still hear the little boy in his voice.


am said...

I can imagine what happened when his mother arrived.

Was your father's father born around 1871? my father's father was born in 1875. I have xerox copies of the letters that he wrote to my grandmother, beginning in 1895 when he was 20 and she was 16, until after they married in 1907. The final letter I have was written to her a few months after their marriage, while he was on a business trip. I had just gotten them out to read again.

Isn't it astonishing and fortunate that we have these old photos and letters? We know so little about the lives of the people in them. In the photos, their demeanor speaks to us mysteriously without words. I spend a long time looking at your family photos. There is something compelling to me about them. My great grandfather on my mother's side was born in 1836 in Stadtlengsfeld. That seems to make him from the generation of Karoline's parents.

Thank you again, Sabine, for these glimpses into your family's past, into those events and circumstances that formed your father.

Ms. Moon said...

So fascinating! I felt as if I might be her, reincarnated, until you got to the part about the catechism. But that detail of her chickens and how she moved them back and forth between winter and summer homes and how she sat in the back of the wagon watching them- well. That I understand so well. And setting up the bed in the bedroom where she slept because your father was scared. What memories!

Linda d said...

What a fabulous story!! Your dad sounds like
A real character.

Roderick Robinson said...

As you mention earlier, the mind lights upon a tiny detail and then goes walkabout.

Mercedes sells a sports car. To make it seem more desirable to foolishly besotted men with too much money the marketingmen attach the word Kompressor to the lid of the boot (US: trunk) as an augmentation of the model number. There are several justifications for this info none of which matter. But I for one am hooked, simply because the word which would start with c in English and would thus be humdrum, starts with a k. Somehow, and after all some marketingmen may be intellectuals, that k makes all the difference, invoking power with roots that reach deep into dispassionate German technology. The only thing that separates me from those other besotted males is money; I want that car; I want that somewhat tenuous etymological connection.

And lo. Your Caroline is in fact Karoline. I am drawn to this transformation. Karoline-with-a-K is, in my flibbetygibbety mind, a deeply attractive, serious woman who read about the Uncertainty Principle when it was first promulgated. I would approach her humbly and expectantly, but while wrestling with a problem. Might there be different ways of pronouncing the two versions of the name? Subtle but detectable by those who care. Despite its appearance this is not a digression.

Sabine said...

Listen here: https://www.germannames.de/wiki/Karoline

Anonymous said...

I love reading your family history. Such rich stories from the old days.

Colette said...

Wonderful picture of her family! She is quite pretty, I think, with a soft, lovely smile. I'm glad their arranged marriage worked out. I am also happy that your father has fond memories of her.

Steve Reed said...

That's a great photo, and how terrific to have these stories recorded here on your blog.

37paddington said...

Wow, your father is a font of memory. So wise of you to get his recollections of family history.

Taxmom said...

I always think it is crazy that there are people alive (like your father) who knew people (his grandmother) who could have spoken to people who had spoken to Goethe. The American version is that at least as late as 2017, and possibly still, two grandchildren of President John Tyler (US president in the 1840s) were still living. A view into a past world.