Yesterday, I wrote about my blog giving me opportunities to write about people whom I never have thanked properly.
I received my Fulbright scholarship when I was pretty young and was headed for Austria for at least a year. Although German had been part of my life since I could first remember, I was raised in the United States. By the time I moved to Europe, I had been to Germany in the region where I still have cousins, but it’s not like I travelled back and forth every summer.
The area where my grandparents lived was settled by Bavarian immigrants, most of whom came to the United States between 1840 and 1920. German was our heritage; the Stations of the Cross in our church to this day are presented in German. The oldest of my grandfather’s 13 sisters prayed flawlessly in German although their versions of the prayers were antiquated.
But to find a “real” German speaker who had spent most of his or her life in Germany was rare in St. Marys or Swissmont (where my grandparents lived) by the time I came along. A few months before I left for Europe, my aunt introduced me to Mrs. Schneider. She was a war bride who came to St. Marys, lived in a modest home, had a thick German accent, a difficult marriage, and an extremely generous heart. I don’t know if the life Mrs. Schneider lived in Pennsylvania was what she expected although I imagine it was not. She was frail and indefatigable. We had great conversations together in German. She was a wonderful friend to my grandmother, my aunt, and many others.
The summer before German became my only language for a while, my grandmother reminded me to see Mrs. Schneider and thank her for all the time she spent with me. I smiled and said I would a little later. My grandmother raised her eyebrows. She knew all too well that the young always find better things to do.
In fact, I never thanked Mrs. Schneider in person. My stay in Europe lasted longer than originally planned and she left behind the rolling hills of Elk County for a different kind of heaven where I’m sure she still looks out for people. I hope she receives my thanks now.