55. Life of Extremes
Belle found the school's cafeteria to be much too small for the reception. There would be well over twice as many guests than for Rosemary and Sidney's; all the Whitehead clan and many others from John's side of the family and all their friends from the office of the State Department; in addition to their Austrian friends and their new friends in Vineland would be there.
Charmy had told her about the reception room in Vineland's only hotel. She had booked it immediately; along with the Blue Notes. They had suddenly become very popular all over the Delaware Valley. Nehemiah and Antonio would supply the heavy hors d'oeuvres; the Welch's Company all the grape juice. Liesl and John both had had champagne before but decided not to have it at their reception.
Sidney was the spy outside the door of the reception room. The family's pictures had been taken first; they were already inside. The singles of Liesl and John and Liesl alone were the last to be taken. He saw them exit the church.
He opened the door and used his navy whistle to quiet the group. "They're on their way." Belle spoke up, "get ready, glasses in hand."
Sidney could see Liesl; her smile was as bright as the afternoon sun; John's was similar. "Can we go in Uncle Sidney?"
"I'll open them together." He took hold of both doorknobs and pulled them open; revealing the crowd at the base of the three steps; they descended from the oblong landing which was perfect for a Bride and Groom.
Max, as usual took over, "A little birdy told me you already kissed, at least once; now we want a formal one for the camera."
"Shall we darling?"
John wasn't as dramatic as Sidney and Karl had been; drama didn't fit his personality. John's right hand rested mostly on her jaw bone; his thumb brushed her cheek. Liesl's hands were resting on his arms. Gently he pulled her to him; their lips met, the photographer got it on film. Their lips lingered; breaking away into one of those smiles that fills your face. Their guests cheered. The toasts began; including this one.
May you always find joy in all that you do.
May your hearts be filled with contentment and laughter.
And may true love be yours for ever after.
Georg and Charles spoke together. "Bottoms up everyone; cheers to the bride and groom."
The guest began to line up for the receiving line. It was time to greet and thank everyone. Charmy and Charles stood next to John; likewise Maria and Georg were next to Liesl.
Liesl knew who was attending; she had addressed most of the Adam's guest list; but meeting these dignitaries was overpowering. Among those in attendance were Allen Dulles, his father John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the head of both the Army and the Navy and many more who made Liesl's head spin.
John was meeting the Whitehead clan for the first time. "There are so many children Liesl; I'll never remember who belongs to whom."
Liesl giggled. "I get them confused too."
The last person had been greeted. Sidney got everyone's attention. His navy whistle did the trick; but Sidney also had a contemplated side of him. His old lodge had been a solace for many seminary students. He offered the blessing before partaking of the assortment of the heavy hors d'oeuvres.
"Like the goodness of the five loaves and two fishes,
Which God divided among the five thousand men,
May the blessing of the King who so divided
Be upon our share of this common meal. Amen"
The Blue Notes were playing softly in the background as the guests mingled. The time had come for the newlywed's first dance. John had left the selection of the music to Liesl; he enjoyed music but he knew she had good taste.
"Are we ready to see them dance?"
A chorus of yeses reached Max's ears. "John, Liesl the stage is yours."
Liesl had chosen one of the more popular songs of the day, Cheek to Cheek. The song had an up tempo beat; John started the dance by simply swaying to the music. Liesl knew the words; as they danced she would sing phrases into his ear. "Heaven, I'm in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak." He would kiss her cheek and smiled when she sang." When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek."
The song was coming to an end; another voice took up the vocals. They both heard.
"And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together dancing, out together dancing
Out together dancing cheek to cheek."
Their heads turned towards the music group. Liesl was stunned. There stood Victoria Grant. "John, I don't believe it."
"Yes, yes, Uncle Max, astounded is a better word."
"My friends please meet Victoria Grant, direct from Broadway."
"It's my privilege everyone. The Blue Notes have some incredible songs to play for your dancing pleasure. I'll join them later for one of them."
They began with Moonlight Serenade, a slow piece which was perfect for everyone to dance to; all the couples, Georg and Maria, Karl and Katia, Sidney and Rosemary and many others. The next was perfect for dancing as well, entitled Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
After those two, the group began to play more up tempo songs; swing songs danced jitter-bug style.
"And now a special song for you Gretl."
"Me, Uncle Max."
"We understand you are the originator of the phrase 'goody-goody'" She smiled at the leader of the Blue Notes. The music started and Victoria sang.
So you met someone who set you back on your heels, goody goody
So you met someone and now you know how it feels, goody goody
So you gave him your heart too, just as I gave mine to you
And we both feel that marriage is just around the corner, goody, goody.
So you lie awake just singin' the song that fills your heart, goody goody
So the love rocket exploded like a barrel of dynamite
Hooray and hallelujah, you say again and again
Goody goody for him, goody goody for me.
Maria and Georg shared their daughter's pleasure. Georg whispered. "I don't believe I've ever seen Gretl with a bigger smile."
"Thank you, thank you; you made my day."
"You're very welcome Gretl. Now it's time once again for everyone to dance." First was, the Jitterbug Waltz and a song for Karl to slap the bass with them, Chattanooga Choo Choo.
A musical interlude featuring Rhapsody in Blue gave way to the cake cutting tradition. The cake had been tucked away in a corner; it was moved front and center. Liesl sort of knew what it would look like; the real thing surprised them both.
The six layer cake was stacked; each layer rested on the one below. The layers grew smaller until it was topped by a six inch double-layer cake with bride and groom figures on the very top.
The sides were decorated in scrolls, ropes and very small roses in pale colors of pink and yellow with white ones all around the layer before the last one. The photographer clicked away; one which showed its grandeur and a close up to see the detail.
The hotel staff removed the top layer. It would be saved in the hotel's refrigerator until after they returned from their honeymoon. Liesl and John were ready to make the first cut. They posed for a picture. They cut their slice.
The servers removed the slice and placed it on a plate. Two keepsake forks were presented to them.
"Are you going to be nice to my sister, John?"
"I'm not sure Gretl. What do you think?"
"No Liesl I wouldn't. Sorry to disappoint anyone. I'm like Uncle Sidney. I want to look presentable when we leave."
The photographers clicked away as the couple first posed for a picture and then as the pieces were placed in the other's mouth. They moved away from the table and finished the piece. The servers immediately began to cut the cake for everyone to enjoy.
"They're all busy eating John. Let's go change."
"Good idea sweetheart."
The hotel had two small rooms close by; specifically for the newly married use. Liesl's dress was simple to get out of; no one needed to help her. They, like Rosemary and Sidney, had selected very comfortable travel clothes. Their honeymoon destination was the same place.
There were no steps in front of the hotel. Liesl knew she had to throw her bouquet very high to get over the crowd. "Oh no", someone was saying to herself, "it's coming right to me."
Mathew looked at Louisa, who blushed. Then she decided. "I don't care," and raised it for everyone to see.
Georg heard Maria. "I knew it."
"Yes darling, but it will be awhile. I don't think they've even kissed."
Later Louisa and Mathew assured them both. "It will be awhile; we both want to finish college."
John had a driver's license but preferred not to drive them; he more than willingly gave way to Martin. The two snuggled up in the back seat. Martin had them there in under two hours. They found the lodge to be exactly the way Sidney and Rosemary had described it; they were thrilled to be married and alone.
The men went back to work on Monday. They joined the others in the briefing room. Admiral Leahy the new Joint Chief of Staff conducted the briefing. He began on a light note. "My congratulations to you Charles and to you Georg on the marriage of you son and daughter. I'm sure it was a very happy occasion. I hope you didn't listen to much news over the weekend."
"I purposely kept the radio off at the house."
"And Charmy and I hardly ever listen to the news. She knows I will be told eventually."
The Admiral gave them the news out of Europe. "It's not good; not good at all. The Germans are invading a new country almost every day; it all began with Poland. Then it was Czechoslovakia followed by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg ending with Yugoslavia. And the atrocities against Jewish people keep increasing.
"The only bright spot involves France. General Charles de Gaulle has taken control of a part of the country known as Free France. It was recognized by the British and we followed their lead. Both countries feel this alliance will be very valuable in the future."
"What's next for the United States?"
"Best described as uncertain waiting; our President has no desire to get us into another war. He did take one step. He signed into law the Selective Service Act. It requires men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five to register with their local draft board."
The Admiral noticed the faces of Charles and Georg; he knew their sons. He looked directly at them. "I know you are both concerned about your sons. Georg, I assure you this will not affect Friedrich. His work with Dr. Fleming will give him a deferral. And Charles, now that John and Liesl are married, he might think again about the offer for working in the State Department."
"Thank you sir and I have a wife who will do the same."
"And William, I'll talk to John; this may be the push he needs."
The meeting ended before lunch. Georg and Charles sat together. "Are you going to share Charles?"
"He was offered a position as assistant to the Envoy to England, Robert Bingham; presumably to prepare him to one day replace him. John and John Quincy both served in the position; as you may remember; they both became President."
"Oh dear, I can just hear the wheels turning in Maria's head." They both laughed so loud; they drew attention from the others in the lunch room.
"And I'm glad for you; Friedrich's brilliant mind will keep him stateside. And what is this I hear about Kurt?"
"Along with taking engineering classes at the University of Pennsylvania, he will join Karl in the Army Corp of Engineers."
"That should keep him out of the Selective Service."
"Yes, but maybe not always stateside."
"He's still young; he has five years before he's twenty-one; I think the Corp will keep in country for a long time."
Charles returned to his office. Georg was working with the navy in the design of the new submarines. Ships he would only take for a dive on training missions.
That evening Georg did tune the radio to the evening news broadcast from London. Edward R. Murrow, an American broadcasted the evening news from there. Everyone, including all the children would gather around the radio.
"It's another sad day for Europe; Germans have invaded the last strong hold, Yugoslavia. All of Western Europe is now under their control. They have their sights on Britain; an air assault.
"And on the other side of the world, in Japan; things do not look good. They are supporting Hitler."
It was Maria who first spoke. "It's difficult to understand. Many may ask; why does God allow it? God gave us free will; he has given us multiple chances to believe in Him. People keep rejecting Him. Absolute peace will only come when all the world loves Him. We need to keep all the people of the world in our prayers."
"Well said Maria, as usual. Children lead us all in the Prayer of St. Francis."
"Good idea Georg."
They did. But now they were somber. Alice spoke up. "God doesn't want us to mope. Why don't we play charades? That game always makes us laugh."
That game would become a staple in their life. It would provide the diversion they needed to weather the next few years.
It was a short week for the newlyweds but they knew they would return someday. They came home on Saturday; not to the Trapp family compound but to John's parent's home there in Vineland. They had decided they wanted more privacy; they both knew they would still spend a lot of time with the family.
Lillian was there to greet them. "Look at you both; the epitome of happiness. I'm not staying. Martin and I will travel back to Philadelphia together. Your moms asked me to be sure everything was to your satisfaction; neither wanted to appear as medaling mother-in-laws."
Liesl and John smiled at each other.
"Come and check out the kitchen."
Liesl and John opened cabinets; pantry doors; the refrigerator and even the bread box.
"They certainly didn't want us to starve."
"And you remember how to operate the stove?"
"John can help me; he's boiled water before."
Now it was time for Lillian to laugh. "We're going home. Come on Martin; these two will be fine."
After they freshened up; they walked the couple blocks to the compound. They were pounced on with multiple hugs and kisses. "Did you enjoy the lodge?"
"What a wonderful place Rosemary. Mom and Dad you need to visit soon."
"Maybe when Samuel gets older, I must admit, I do miss the mountains."
Maria insisted they stay for dinner. "You can start cooking tomorrow Liesl."
With more hugs and kisses after dinner; they left. "It is going to be different John."
"I know. I think we will see them often; there and our home."
"Our home, I like those words."
For the next few days the couple stayed at home; they had extended their honeymoon. The telephone rang one afternoon; they both jumped. They hadn't heard its ring before. John answered it. Liesl heard his side on the conversation. "Yes, Dad I'll be ready at eight."
"Where are you going?"
"Martin is picking me up. I have an appointment with an official from the State Department."
"I have my choice of a couple of government appointments."
"John, that's wonderful news."
They were both excited in the morning. Martin was right on time. "I'll have your husband home by dinner time Liesl." She watched them drive away. Liesl had tidied up the house; made the dough for biscuits, left it to rise and decided to take a walk.
Maria was out for a stroll as well; both children were napping. Maria saw her; looked around. "Where's John?
"In the city, he's meeting with government officials for possible appointments to various positions."
"He was. I can't wait to see him; I miss him."
"I remember those feelings. I missed your dad those first weeks he began to work in the city. You will adjust just like I did. I better get home; Samuel will be awake soon." Maria kissed her daughter's cheek. They walked in opposite direction.
Maria thought. They may not stay here in Vineland.
The next couple of weeks were busy. All the children needed new clothes. During the week Maria went shopping with Louisa. They took a trip to Hazel's shop.
"So you need clothes for college, right Louisa."
"Yes, Mrs. Hazel, all my clothes are getting too tight."
She had a few dresses put aside to show her; shirtwaist styles; a definitive waist usually with a belt, slightly fitted through the hips with a flare to the skirt using several panels of fabric that resembled pleats. Some had short sleeves; a few had long loose sleeves.
"Mom, there are so many to choose from."
"We have time; try them on."
Louisa selected two; one was a mellow blue; the other was a rose color very much like Maria's suit that Georg loved.
"You need at least one casual suit Louisa."
She selected one with a mismatched blazer-like jacket in a deep pink with dark green edging. There was a plaid pleated skirt in the same colors of green and pink.
"Oh Louisa, I love it. It looks professional but also casual."
"I like it too Mom."
After adding shoes and stockings, the pair walked home with their purchases. Samuel had just woke up; he was waiting for his milk.
Georg was responsible for Kurt and Mathew. On Saturday they went to see Elias.
"I've been expecting you."
"Maria told you."
"Yes, the day she and Louisa were shopping. You both need to have one casual suit; nothing dressy or sophisticated; the rest can be shirts, sweaters and casual pants. Neither young man was picky; it took less than an hour for them both to make their selections.
"Your pants will be ready on Tuesday; you can get them anytime boys."
"Thank you Elias, we won't forget."
"Your mom is going to be surprised to see us home so soon."
"Katia told me she and Louisa got home just as Samuel woke up."
Georg didn't let his wife get the words out of her mouth. "I know Maria, we're speedy. They got what they wanted. They can model for you on Tuesday after they pick up their pants."
"I can't wait to see them all dressed up."
She would get that opportunity on the last holiday before school started; Labor Day. The family had enjoyed a picnic sponsored by the city. There was a dance that evening; for everyone. Max had booked the Blue Notes weeks ago.
Maria found Louisa and Mathew in the living room; all dressed up.
"My, my; you both look sharp."
"So you're using the latest word to describe us, Mrs. Maria."
"That's right Mathew; it's perfect."
They left for the dance.
"I knew she would become a young lady one day; Louisa had to find the right reason. It looks like she found him."
"You're absolutely right Alice. I remember well her tomboy days."
The two grandmothers were all smiles.
The next morning they noticed their grandson. Their exclamations were like Maria's. "I almost didn't recognize you Kurt."
"I told Maria he made a good selection."
"Do you approve mom?"
"Oh yes; you are going to make a very good first impression. I'll be right here to hear all about your day."
Kurt had his portfolio in his hand; he was anxious to show off his designs. Karl would accompany him.
All the others were anxious for school to begin. Those still attending Sacred Heart, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl were ready to meet up with their friends. Maria walked with them to the road.
They waited for their friends who were walking towards them. They kissed Maria goodbye. She stood and watched and listened; they gibber-jabbered all the way to school. Maria reflected on where they were a year ago; always looking over their shoulders; couldn't go anywhere without protection. She said a silent prayer of thanks.
The bus stop was on the corner. Louisa and Mathew waited with Maria; today was orientation they didn't need to be there until eleven o'clock.
"Are you both excited?"
"I am Mrs. Maria."
"Maybe a little scared Mom."
"You don't have time to be scared; the bus is here Louisa." Mathew took her hand and led her to the door. They waived from the open window. Maria stood there until the bus was out of sight.
Her two children were in the living room with the ladies. "I'm sure glad I have these two; I can't be sad or they will be upset." She immediately sat on the floor to play with Barbara.
Katia played with her when Samuel demanded food earlier than normal. "All this quiet must have woke him. Just as well now they will both sleep at the same time. I can have a few minutes alone with the girls when they get home.
The girls entered the front door. "Where's mom Franz?"
"Waiting for you in the living room."
The girls exploded with talk as soon as they saw her. "All that happened the first day?"
Maria soon heard. "We had a good day too. Both of us are enrolled in great classes."
"Your dad will want to hear all about it and I'm sure your brother will have news as well."
The family listened intently to each one. Brigitta had the biggest surprise. "I'm going to be editor of the school newspaper; the owner of the Vineland paper is our sponsor."
Kurt's news was exciting as well. "All my work with the Corp of Engineers will count as credits towards my degree. And I'm going to help design a platoon bridge."
John and Liesl walked down after dinner. Maria saw them first. "Do you have news John?"
"I do. Let me tell everyone at the same time."
"John visited the State Department today."
"And…" Georg said.
"I was offered a position in the transitional office for Austrian affairs; it coordinates with the work Dulles is still doing there. The down side; we need to move to Washington DC."
"It's not far Mom and Dad; the train goes right there. His parents will be there too."
Maria's deep breath was noticed. Georg put his arm around her. She wasn't sad. Instead she was overjoyed. "God continues to provide."
In three weeks the Adam's house was cleaned and closed. Charles knew they would sell it one day. The two couples rode together in a large limousine with State Department flags waiving. Their last words were, "Come see us soon."
"How are you darling? She's your oldest."
"Not as sad as I thought I'd be. I know she married a good man."
"I still remember the first time we met him. He had a presence; something I can't describe. Remember the proverb, There is a time for everything. This was Liesl and John's time to be married. And it was our time to guide them to this life. He will always be with them."
"How wonderful it is to be married to you. I thank God everyday Maria."
"And I do the same."
They went inside; a baby was waiting. All the children continued to grow in stature. Maria and Georg savoured each and every achievement.
October came and the children celebrated Halloween. They searched for costumes; it was more difficult; they had no attic full of treasures. Maria helped them stich together their choices. Barbara was a clown.
They didn't go trick-or-treating to many homes; still they received a lot of candy. Karl had as much fun as his nieces and nephews; Louisa didn't ask for candy. She and Mathew dressed up to walk around with the others.
Another new holiday was added; Thanksgiving. Marta and Gretl both had classes in American history. Their classes at school put on a play for the younger children. They were both Indian maidens; dressed to the nines. Marta and her mom were very creative.
Barbara sat in the front row the day all the ladies went to the performance. She now knew their names. Maria and Isabel heard. "See Marta, Gretl."
On Thanksgiving Day they joined other families at the church for dinner. Katia had prepared some cranberry sauce and made several dozen biscuits. Sidney and Rosemary took the long weekend for a second honeymoon at the lodge.
While they were there, they had a long conversation with the owners. They were an older couple who had grown weary of all the upkeep the lodge demanded. They made them an offer they couldn't refuse.
"All we ask is to live in the back cottage until our days are up. There's a small cemetery by the creek; we wish for it to be our final resting place."
Rosemary was brought to tears. "Now, now Rosemary, you know scripture; there is a time to die. We die to see Jesus; it's our reward. The mansion with many rooms is waiting for all of us."
"I know Joan, I know."
"Is it a deal Sidney?"
"Yes Joshua, it's a deal. It will be hard to tell Maria and Georg."
"Maybe not; you told me Maria has a love for the mountains."
"That is true. I'll let you know when."
"And I'll get the paperwork ready."
A handshake between the two men sealed the deal. Joan and Rosemary hugged.
They were quiet when they started driving home. "I believe this is where God wants us to be. I've have my Ham Radio license; the lodge is a perfect place to get and send messages. I will be one of many on the East Coast monitoring the Germans."
"At least I know you won't go to war."
"No Rosemary I won't. We will always be together."
Everything changed two week later. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon. Everyone was home. They were listening to some quiet music on the radio. The radio became silent; then a trembling voice sputtered out the words. "We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin; the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt just made the announcement."
A long silence engulfed the living room; no one moved or seemed to breathe. Maria immediately knew what they needed to do.
"Come on everybody, let's get to the church."
Father George had also heard the news; he was waiting for them. In fact all the churches that day had towns people pouring into them. The news was still sketchy. The military men were asked. "What does this mean?"
Georg stood and addressed those gathered. "Our government has known for some time that Japan was listening to Hitler. It seems obvious now; they had decided to begin the spread of Nazi-Socialism in the Pacific."
After reading of scripture and multiple prayers, the churches began to empty. The avenue was crowded with people; all still in total disbelief. Tomorrow they would learn America's response.
On Monday morning, Georg and the others drove into the city early. Alice and Isabel had both lived through the Great War; they stood steadfast with Maria as the car had pulled away. They tried to hide their feelings as the children left for school.
Max and Franz sat with them in the living room after lunch. The little ones were asleep. Max had found a radio channel playing classical music. At twelve-thirty the program was interrupted. "The President will address a Joint Session of Congress about the events of yesterday. Stay tuned."
They were unfamiliar with the workings of the American government; no one realized this was very unusual. They were not prepared for what he said. President Roosevelt began. "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
He went on to explain that the United States was at peace with Japan; they were engaged in discussions as to how to maintain peace in the Pacific. "We were lied to. It is evident this attack was deliberately planned over many weeks or months."
He listed other attacks the Japanese had made that day; Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands, Wake Island and that very morning Midway Island.
"There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces with the unbounded determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph; so help us God.
"I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
Max turned the radio off. They walked around in a daze. No one realized then that no battle would be fought on American soil; instead they would send men into harm's way all over Europe; and the Pacific islands. The loss of life would be in the hundreds of thousands.
Barbara and Samuel would also provide a diversion; they did, that very day. They waited for everyone to come home. They children had all gathered around a radio at school. They were somber when they came home.
Brigitta told her mom. "We know; we listened to the entire broadcast." They heard the same from Louisa. The family was anxious to talk to the military men. They had been sent home early. "You need to reassure your loved ones," they were told.
"Life can't stand still. Christmas will be here soon; Samuel and Barbara deserve a Christmas like we have always had. This year should be no different." Georg told them.
The family took his words to heart. They continued their preparation. There were no Father Christmas letters or letters to Santa Claus as Gretl and Marta had learned from their friends was the tradition in America; still they made it special for Barbara and Samuel.
The choir sang on Christmas Eve. Liesl and John came home. The base of the tree was surrounded by little presents for the little ones. Maria had bought a small Crèche; it was predominately displayed. "Merry Christmas," rang out loud and clear after the singing of Silent Night. The children had added the song Dona Nobis Pacem; a fitting reminder that peace is possible.
The nation waited until after the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah to begin their preparation for war.