Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Find Your Own Way Home

Should a person really be this excited about a trip to a place that is neither exciting nor exotic?  Well, to be honest, maybe Wisconsin is both; I’ve never been there. I just know my mom USED to live there. Until her father passed away in 1941, she lived in Eau Claire. She worked at a candy plant and the pressure cooker plant. I know this because there are old black and white photos of her with the “pressure cooker gang” or the "Webster's Crew 1939" from the candy factory. There are countless pictures of her with her friends and old beau in their brand new winter coats hanging out in a park along a river. Well, next month I plan to see that river and, hopefully, that little park. 

While she is on maternity leave, Monica (along with little Alton) will accompany me on this adventure to Wisconsin to visit the graves of my grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles. We’ll visit the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay where there is a research library of Wisconsin history in hopes of tracking down my elusive uncle Charlie. I hope to meet family but, to be honest, I’m not sure they feel the same. I have searched with Ancestry.com and the world-wide interwebs, the names of my cousins and their children then have tried to make connections through Facebook but they don’t respond.  My paranoid self wonders, could it mean they have looked at my profile and don’t see anything they like. Perhaps they don’t often go on Facebook so just haven’t seen my messages. Perhaps they will eventually respond and we will knock back shots of Patron and have a high ol’ time. I hope so.

Aloisia and Karl Goettlicher
My German (actually Austrian) side seems to be a mite....standoffish which was the impression I got from my mom and, in later years, my aunt who I contacted for info.  Seems no one ever talked about the past.  They didn’t discuss the journey they made from the old country when my grandfather and his oldest son, Charlie, boarded the SS Cassell in Bremen on August 4 of 1910 and barely two weeks later, made their American landfall in Baltimore.  My grandmother didn't talk about the subsequent trip she made in October, with six children, including a 9-month-old Raley sailing on the Freidrich der Gross (Fredrick the Great), coming through Ellis Island.  Such an amazing journey but they didn’t talk about it.  They apparently didn’t share the stories of their portage that would make them come alive in my mind.

So I have the headstones of Karl and Aloisia; just their names carved in granite.  Aloisia, the inspiration for my middle name - Louise.  I wrinkled my nose at the name as a child but have grown to love my connection with a grandmother I never met, who died when my mother was only nine.  It was also passed on to her second daughter, Louise.  When in Eau Claire, we will visit my Uncle Joseph who is buried with his wife near Grandma and Grandpa as well as my Aunt Raley, Aurelia, and her husband.  I have tracked the locations of my aunts Louise and Augusta (Gusty) and Anna but am still searching for Mary.  And Charlie.  But if they are all I have, I want to visit.  I want to walk among those fields of granite and stroll past the river where my mom hung with her besties.  

Mark and I have traveled the southern part of the country on our honeymoon drive to South Carolina.  We've visited the east coast and the north as far as Montana.  Until now, the midwest has escaped my company.  We will actually stay in Green Bay...two people people who care less about baseball, you’ll never find...*kidding*.  We’ll probably spend a bit of time tracking down a lighthouse or two along Lake Michigan. But mostly this trip will be about family and about following the trail of crumbs that lead us to our ancesters.  The connections that make me laugh when I see my mom and her sisters when I look in the mirror.  It's nice to know I have that connection.  If my relatives are concerned about this stranger from California, I suspect they will see the family resemblance.

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